Any long-term fan of the Tour de France will undoubtedly recognize the jerseys of the Mercier teams and their partners — Gan, Hutchinson, BP et al — a garish clash of purple and yellow, before evolving to light and dark blues with a splash of pink. The Mercier team was active, with numerous affiliations, from 1935 to 1983 — the halcyon days of professional cycling. The constant that bound the different teams together were their elegant, proud and pink steel Mercier steeds.
Neil Schlecht was kind enough to share with me some pictures of his recently restored Mercier Le Vélo, a loving resurrection of his first road bike. “I can’t take much credit for the restoration, outside of aesthetic decisions and signing the check, but Doug Gold of Assabat River Bicycles in Hudson, MA, did a great job on it and I’d like for him to get some love”.
“As he told me, “I have been doing this type of thing as a hobby for about 40 years and each bicycle has its own unique personality. Returning them to their original condition as a work of mechanical art is its own reward.” Doug can wax poetic about Brooks saddles and vintage cycles for hours, and he’s also got a phenomenal handlebar mustache”.
“This Mercier “Le Vélo” was my first real road bike, purchased in 1986 while in grad school in Austin, TX. It had been very gently used, if at all. I bought it from a UT undergrad who I don’t think ever threw a leg over the saddle. At the time I didn’t know anything about the Mercier brand, other than that it was French. But I was psyched that it had a Campagnolo gruppo (which sounded exotic to my then-neophyte ears) and was hot pink. Over the years I added clip-less pedals and had the brake cables wired under the bar tape, but that was about it”.
“I took it with me when I moved to Barcelona, Spain, where I lived for most of the 1990s, and rode it there and in the Pyrenees (including some past Tour mountain passes in Andorra) and northern Spain (in Navarra I once had the incredible fortune to ride it a few kilometers alongside Miguel Indurain, who had just returned home after winning his 5th Tour de France and was out on a solo training ride, with no teammates, bodyguards or hangers-on. Just Indurain in a Banesto kit)”.
“When I returned to the States and moved on first to aluminum and then carbon, the Mercier was relegated to the barn for nearly 15 years. A couple years ago, I started to see some good vintage bikes around and pay attention to steel again, so I was happy I’d held on to the Mercier, even if it had been a little neglected”.
“It’s mostly all original, a mix of Campy Record, Chorus, Victory and Corsa (according to Doug, it wasn’t uncommon for the assembling shop to put a variety of part families together). The bike now has a complete, original Campagnolo BB and new (vintage) brake levers and headset. The Mavic wheelset is original. Nothing else was done beyond the basic cleaning and polishing after complete disassembly and inspection of all parts”.
“The painting (by Frank Patterson of Stow, MA) included walnut shell blasting, 3 base coats of primer, 3 color coats, application of decals (which had to be fabricated, as they were much deteriorated), and final 2 layers of clear coat. The pinstriping was not original to the bike, but something I thought would add to the aesthetic appeal, like the adapted head badge decal. The resulting pink is just slightly different from the original, Pepto-Bismol hot pink. It’s more of a rich guava color, but I think looks even better with the new Brooks Swallow saddle and Prologo leather bar tape”.
“I’ve always believed the bike was a 1984, based on the date I bought it and what I seem to remember the seller telling me, but Doug says “based on the wheels, headset, and the derailleurs it’s most likely closer to a 1980-82 machine.” I’ve looked online and almost every Mercier one can find is from the 1970s, with very different graphics. Perhaps someone with specific knowledge of period Merciers could help “carbon date” this bike!”