Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Visit To Mercian Cycles

People may or may not have noticed a lack of posts to the blog for the last couple of weeks. I generally don't like to announce to the world at large when I'm out of town (Hey everyone on the internet, we'll be gone for two weeks on vacation - would somebody be kind enough to pop in to water our plants? The key's in one of those fake plastic "rocks" in the garden. Thanks!) but now that I'm back in the world of reliable WiFi, I don't mind revealing that I was gone on a pretty terrific family trip to London and Paris. It was an awesome experience, but now we're home.

The scene from outside the Derby rail station.
As long as I was in England, I thought it would be a great opportunity to visit the folks at Mercian Cycles to see the shop and meet some of the folks who made some of my own bikes. So I boarded a train in London and rode about an hour-and-a-half north to Derby, where I was met at the station by the lovely Jane Mosely, co-owner of Mercian along with her husband Grant.

Before heading over to the shop, Jane took me to the recently opened Derby Velodrome - an impressive, modern facility that houses not only a state-of-the-art indoor track, but also a fitness center, and a concert venue. While we were there, we got to see a couple members of the British Women's Team warming up on a tandem.


Our next stop was the Mercian workshop, which sits in an unassuming little garage-like building in an industrial park, about a mile away from the retail store.


Stepping inside is almost like traveling back in time. I doubt that the workshop looks much different today than it would have about 50 years ago when they first moved the framebuilding operations into this building. Inside, I got to meet two of the Mercian builders - John, and John. Senior builder, Tony, was on vacation.
There's John, working on a Vincitore bottom bracket.
John shows me some of his work, explaining how the extra-long tangs are welded onto the shell, then filed seamlessly. That bottom bracket shell is a cool but dangerous-looking piece. 



The younger John showed me the brazing on a Mercian fork. The open hearth brazing method is something the company is well-known for, and Mercian is one of the few builders that still use it.


Next I got to see the paint shop, where Rob and Phil were working their magic.

Phil masks off the head tube lugs on a Vincitore model.
Senior painter, Rob, prepares a contrasting seat-tube panel on a new touring frame. Rob's been at the shop for more than 40 years, so if you have a Mercian made since the 1970s, chances are, Rob painted it.
Phil adds some lug lining to finish off a new fork.
There's the color board, along with an old advertising sign from the '50s.
Some of Rob's work - he mixes most of the colors himself.
A special treat was next, as I got an insider's look at something I'm sure few people get to see - the design boards for a new collaboration between Mercian and famous fashion designer Paul Smith. Unfortunately, I cannot show the newest design, since it hasn't yet been released by Paul Smith, but I think I'm safe showing the boards from a couple of previous collaborations.


Seeing this set of boards, from a 2007 collaboration, I immediately spotted something familiar. Among the sketches and color samples were some photos of a bike that helped inspire Smith's design. That green and white frame shown was my own bike, built for me in 2003, and afterwards photographed for the company's website before shipping. That was very cool to see.
After the workshop, Jane drove me over to the retail store, where Grant and Carl were preparing some bikes to take to Eroica Brittania that upcoming weekend. Mercian would have a stand set up at the event.
Love the red, black, and gold scheme on this King of Mercia touring frame.
Orange pearl and silver Vincitore track bike.
I spotted this Eroica-ready bike (well, maybe everything except the dual-pivot brakes) out on the showroom floor.  The color combination was truly eye-catching. 
These outline-only downtube decals were a cool touch I'd never seen before. 
Some new frames ready for purchase.
Here's a limited edition path racer in the shop window. The bike uses vintage lugs from the '60s, and there are only enough of them for 10 classic-styled bikes.
I spotted this cool poster hanging in the shop, but forgot to ask about how old it is. They ought to look into getting them reproduced.
Grant, Jane, and me in front of the Mercian shop. (Thanks go to Carl for snapping the picture.)
Visiting the shop was a great experience, and I have to heartily thank Grant and Jane for their hospitality, and all the guys at the shop for taking time out to chat. It was a real pleasure!

14 comments:

  1. A great account w/ terrific pictures. Thanks. Billy, Chicago.

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  2. Nice article. I want a Mercian badly, but its not cheap...

    I am happy that you liked your trip, but you should have visited Belgium...:D

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    1. Prices are pretty good compared to most other custom frames. But watch the exchange rates. With news of yesterday's Brexit vote, the pound has taken a dive.

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  3. I love how the Mercian workshop looks exactly like you'd hope it would. Delightful.

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  4. Kyle you're a winner. You know I'm a big Mercian fan. Thanks for posting. I dismounted my '84 just a little while ago.

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  5. Excellent story; thanks. What are the pro's and con's of open hearth brazing?

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    1. There are a lot of pros and cons, and experienced builders could probably go on and on debating them. I'm not a builder, so I can only repeat a few things I've heard over the years. If I understand correctly, open hearth uses regular natural gas through the torch, along with oxygen that is either compressed or concentrated in some fashion. The flame is larger and more disperse. Oxy-acetelyne (I may have spelled that wrong) uses a small, very hot, very concentrated flame. Most modern builders have gone to oxy-acetelyne because they feel it is very fast and precise. Proponents like Mercian of the older method would say that open hearth is a little slower, but puts less stress on the joints, and lowers the chance for distortion. Proponents of O-A might counter that the speed and concentration they get, along with a skilled hand, prevents stress and distortion.

      There are likely many more arguments that could be made on either side, but Mercians builders feel that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" - and they routinely get old Mercian bikes in the shop for renovation that are holding up quite well after decades of use, and they feel that is a good testament.

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  6. I am so happy you were able to take such a trip. And it's really cool to see the Mercian workshop. Now you've given me incentive to take a trip there!

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  7. Among the 50 head badges on the sides I do NOT see a Motobecane. Thousands of others, sure, are also 'left out' but no collection (fantastic otherwise) could be complete without one. ;>} Great photo tour. Thanks.

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    1. Are you referring to the head badge collage that makes up the "wallpaper" background of the blog? There actually IS a Motobecane badge pictured, just to the right (and slightly overlapped by) a Galmozzi badge. But there are a lot of really cool badges that get hidden or covered by the text of the blog. I had an older post that showed the entire collage and explained how it was made - http://bikeretrogrouch.blogspot.com/2015/09/making-headbadge-collage.html

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  8. Awesome! Great write up, thanks for sharing. Sounds like a good time was had, for sure!

    Love seeing others work benches. Any time I start to feel a little self conscious about my less than spic and span work surface, pics like the above let me know it's okay, a cluttered bench is the sign of a fertile mind....

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    1. My workbench is at least as cluttered - if not more so.

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  9. Great pics, thanks for sharing!

    That red/black/gold Mercian is killin' me. I want one just like it. Well, bigger, and with bar-ends, but otherwise just like it.


    Wolf.

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