1982 Mercian touring bicycle- an exercise in exorcism

This Mercian arrived over a year ago, but ended up hanging in the shop until this last July. It took me awhile to decide what to do with it. You see, the components weren’t bad, it’s just that they weren’t in keeping with the spirit of the bike. The frameset looked to have originally been built as a day-tourer with a longish wheelbase, cantilever studs and lots of dropout eyelets. The components were more in keeping with a racing bike with double chainrings, lightweight wheels and downtube shifters. I’d always wanted to build up an vintage bike with a Campagnolo touring setup so this looked like the perfect opportunity. I began hunting parts down; a Nuovo Record triple crankset here, a Rally rear derailleur there, until I had everything I needed to dive in.

…And that’s when the Mercian started fighting. For some reason the “correct” bottom bracket length ended up not being the right bottom bracket length, the Mafac cantilever brakes wouldn’t work with the pads I’d chosen, and I couldn’t for the life of me get the fenders spaced evenly around the wheels. I cleaned, overhauled and polished a set of Nuovo Record hubs, built them into wheels, only to find out that the rims were too small in diameter. The cantilever studs had been mounted for taller 27″ wheels. I overhauled a new set of Campy hubs, built them into the new rims, but forgot to space the rear hub correctly.

Along the way, I ended up installing the Campagnolo bar-end shifters multiple times, something you don’t want to do with these irascible pieces. First, I forgot to mount the Mafac brake levers so off the levers came off, then I had to remove them to switch the Mafac brake levers with Campagnolos when I discovered the Mafacs I’d chosen were an unmatched set. Then the shifters came off and on again when I found the matching single Mafac at the bottom of the parts box. What were three brake levers doing in the box to begin with?

Somewhere in the midst of this I started making mental mistakes, cutting cable housing and fender braces too short, for example. I also completely monkeyed up the first round of bar tape. I bet I hadn’t messed up a tape job that bad in 20+ years. It was becoming pretty clear the bike was possessed. Originally the job had been one that shouldn’t have taken more than a week. It had now been in the stand for well over a month.

For my part, I began second-guessing every step. I also questioned my supposed bike knowledge, fussed and worried to no end, and even went on the wagon for the better part of a week in hopes that I might be able to reach a higher level of mechanical consciousness.

About the time I was seriously considering involving the clergy the project finally started seeing headway. in the end the Mercian went together when it was damned good and ready. The final irony of the whole deal is that it is a real pleasure to ride. Any of the possessed qualities it showed in the workstand never showed up on the road. It rides like a champ and shifts surprisingly well given all the extra gears. The Mafac cantilever brakes have no devilish tendencies and grab the rims with aplomb. The frame feels light and efficient to the point where sometimes I forget it isn’t a true racer.

Currently the bike sits in the living room. Normally finished projects don’t stay in the house as long as the Mercian, but I like having it around if only to remind me that it isn’t downstairs, still in the workstand.

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