Monday, May 19, 2014

New Old Project Mercian

Regular readers of this blog know I have quite a collection of bikes from the Mercian company of England. I wrote up a pretty thorough overview of the company back in February. From a Retrogrouch perspective, it's hard not to like a company that's been making bikes the same way since 1946.

With seven Mercians already (as well as several other bikes), the last thing I need is another one in the collection -- but I recently found one in my size, and in good condition, and the price was right, and I just couldn't say no. It was not a complete bike, but almost so -- it came with a pair of wheels, bar and stem, crank, bottom bracket, headset, seat post, and saddle. Basically, it just needs derailleurs, brakes, levers, chain, and cables.

The frame is a 1980 Strada Speciale, which is one of the more deluxe models in the lineup, and is still made today. According to old catalogs the model would have been introduced in the early 70s. The flamboyant red paint is in pretty good shape overall -- it does have some scuffs and a few chips and scratches as one would expect from a 34 year old bike. I've found a touch-up paint that is a pretty close match for the chips, and I'll use a bit of buffing compound to take care of the scuffs and dull spots. When I'm done cleaning it up, it will look awfully sharp. The wheelbase and angles are fairly tight and steep for 1980, (I have an old Mercian catalog from the era that lists the typical geometry as 74 degrees parallel!) so I'm guessing it'll have pretty zippy handling. No way to know 'till it's done, though. The seatpost is an SR Laprade -- which was ubiquitous in the 80s. And the 80s vintage Selle Italia Turbo saddle is in pretty nice shape for its age. 
The frame came with a Tange Falcon headset -- all steel, and with styling that looks a lot like a Campy Nuovo Record. The fork crown is a pretty basic semi-sloping design -- probably from Cinelli, or else a good copy. I have occasionally seen Strada Speciales with some engraving on the shoulders of the fork crown to match the cutouts in the lugs -- but this one is kept simple.
The fast-back seat stay attachment is one of the hallmarks of the Strada Speciale. Mercian catalogs from the 60s claim that they were one of the pioneers in that style (going back to the late 1950s Superlight), though it was used on a number of British bikes in the 60s and 70s, such as the Raleigh/Carlton Professional. Note how the seat lug has that little extension to support the stays. Note also the reinforced binder area, which was typically a weak point on the stamped lugs -- not on this one, though.
Another feature of the model is the "clover" cutout in the lugs -- one on the long point, and one on each side. The lugs are Prugnat "S" lugs, which were one of the more basic, but very popular long-point lugs of the time. The cutouts are nicely done by hand and I think look really sharp.
A look at the top head lug and the clover leaf cutouts. If you look closely, you can also see the slight "spiderweb" in the paint -- that seems typical considering the age of the paint job, and the kind of paint used. The way I see it, it's just another sign that the bike has its original paint. Mercian used (still uses) oven-baked enamels. A "flamboyant" finish like this one (also called "candy apple") would start with a silver base coat. Then a translucent color goes over top, building in intensity as it is built up in multiple coats. It can look like it has some "sparkle" but that is in fact the silver base coat that gives that effect. Overall, it has a lot of "depth," especially in the sunlight.
Another view of the seat lug -- this time from the front/top. The attachment of the seat stays is nice and clean. The cutout in the lug looks good, with the points thinned slightly. The lugs themselves have also been thinned, but just slightly. I notice that they are outlined in black -- I would have expected gold (the "Mercian" decals are black with gold outlines), but the black looks good against the red.
The frame still has a sticker on the seat tube from the bike shop that originally sold it: The Spoke, in Boulder, CO. I'm not sure they are still in business (if some reader out there knows otherwise, leave a comment!) but I know they once were a pretty well-known Mercian dealer and even sponsored a team with Mercian.

I'll be touching up the chips and buffing up the finish to bring back the shine, and then I'll get it put the bike back together and try it out on the road. Although vintage Campy (or Campag for my British and Australian friends) would of course be a perfect choice, I'm building it up with period-correct Japanese parts to give it a bit of a different flavor. The crank that was included is an old Sugino with drilled rings, and I have a late 70s/early 80s pair of SunTour derailleurs that I can install. For brakes, I've got a nice pair of Dia Compes from the same era that should work well. I'll post more when it's all finished.


  1. That is gorgeous as it is and will be stunning when finished! Please do post an update when it's on the road - looking forward to seeing it!

  2. You can see my mid-1980s Mercian on Cyclofiend, 2009, #280:
    I bought it as a bare frame, unbuilt, but second hand. It was on consignment at the Seattle Mercian dealer of the time, Mountlake Bicycle Shop. Story was a racer had ordered it but when it wasn't available on time for his racing season he bought a stock bike instead. My good luck! It was, is, a little smaller than I usually ride but it was my racy bike and that was the style then. Originally it was fitted with the Nuovo Record group I had on a Romani frame in 1983. A few years later that durable group migrated to an early '90s Colnago, still my current racy bike. Eventually my son built up the old Mercian frame as a fixed wheel. I then set it up with the curious "single speed" arrangement shown.
    From the old catalogues on the Mercian site, I would guess this custom order frame is basically a mid-80s Mercian Professional, with the distinctive 3" long-point lugs on the bottom bracket shell and the Prugnat lugs on the head tube. However, the seat cluster is as on your Strada Speciale with the shot-in seat stays (also apparently used on the Superlight model).
    This is a good frame for single speed or fixed wheel because it is the most 'efficient' cycle I have ever ridden; whether seated or standing, the effort put into the pedals seems to go directly into forward motion. Delightful handling as well. Long live the royal cycles of Mercia!

    1. That Mercian of yours has a really cool paint job. I would agree that it is a Professional model, given the bottom bracket and lugs. The shot-in stays were a standard feature of the Strada Speciale and the Superlight -- but Mercian would do it on other bikes upon special request, as was the case with your bike I'm sure. Thanks for sharing!

  3. great to see this written about this mercian strada special i bought this model frame in 1981 as i left school, i still got this frame my pride a joy was hanging on my bedroom wall when i was not on it lol, it is now rebuilt it with modern parts, i did a time trial 2 years ago on it did a 28 min for a ten mile not to bad after 34 year since last on i got a bit of work to do to get to my personal best 22.30 merry christmas steve

  4. I have had one for 20 years plus is it worth anything,its in excellent condition everything original except the seat.thank you

  5. That frame looks like it's just my size...