New life for an old bike

Mercian Full View

No tears were shed, though my eyes were misty, as I left Sellwood Cycle Repair. My 43-year-old Mercian Vincitore bicycle stayed behind. After a little fixing up and cleaning, it will be made available for purchase by someone who can appreciate its classic lines and fine feel on the road.

I first saw a Mercian frameset in the spring of 1973 at Chuck Sink’s bike shop in Marion, Indiana, and it was love at first sight. A few months later, the day before we started an automobile trip from Indianapolis to Portland to visit our families, my entry-level ten-speed disappeared from our garage. Before summer’s end, it would have to be replaced.

Already Portland was a premier location for adult cycling. In shops around the city, I saw examples of the best European imports. Action Sports in Beaverton (a farm village during my Portland boyhood but now a rapidly growing suburb) featured Mercian frame sets. Half a dozen were hanging on the wall, two of them my size. The plain King of Mercia model, for $125, was the sensible choice but the ornate Vincitore, for $150, was the one that caught my eye and set the juices running.

Mercian Steering TubeBrilliant metallic blue with white panels, Reynolds 531 steel tubing, and sleek lines were part of the appeal, but the gold-lined, intricate lugs were what set this bicycle frame apart from ordinary bikes. The price included bottom bracket, headset, and seat post by Campagnolo, the Italian company that manufactured the most highly prized components of the time.

With my wife’s consent, I went for the Vincitore. Entry-level wheels, drive train, brakes, and handlebars, mostly by Sun Tour, and a Brooks saddle, added another $125 to the cost. I had to borrow $200 from my mother to swing the deal.

A few days after the purchase my wife drove Mike (our cycling son) and me to Action Sports so that I could get the bike. I can still feel the excitement in my muscles that I experienced while riding this classy and performance-oriented bicycle back to Mother’s apartment. Nothing had ever felt the same.

During the next 30 years I rode the Mercian well over 100,000 miles. Some of them were done exactly 40 years ago in June and July of America’s Bicentennial Summer. Daughter Sharon, a recent college graduate, and I traveled self-contained across the country from Portland to Indianapolis, she on her orange Peugeot and I on my blue Mercian.

23 years later, in the spring of 1999, I rode my Mercian on a solo, motel-at-night trip from San Diego to St. Augustine, averaging 86 miles a day. During these years I commuted to the campus where I taught, regardless of weather except when the roads were slick, and most of those miles were on the Mercian. Countless training rides, day trips, invitational century rides, week-long (and longer) road trips piled up year after year.

Components have been upgraded several times, and twice the frame has been repainted, in authentic colors and genuine decals. The rear dropouts were spread to accommodate modern cassettes. Despite these changes, this fine old bike, that still catches the eye in bike shops and on rides, is much the same as it has always been.

That’s the problem, because I have changed. With advancing years, I’m not as limber as I used to be and I need a softer ride, although on a bike still designed for long, hard, fast miles. In recent years, I have bought two bicycles that accommodate my current stage in life. One is set up for winter and city riding, with fenders, generator lights, and capabilities to carry things like books and groceries. The other is custom designed and built so that it accommodates my current needs and can be adapted to the gradual changes that will come during the next few years.

I have thought seriously of keeping this bicycle as a remembrance of times past, but space and the cold light of reason do not allow. As I downsize in order to fit into a smaller living space, I’m turning my Mercian free to find someone who can restore it to more active life.

The crew at Sellwood Cycle think they can find a new owner. After making it showroom ready, they’ll post photos online and one of these days—maybe even before the winter rains return—someone younger and nimbler than I will fall in love with this bicycle, which was for so many years the two-wheeled love of my life. (By the way, a new Mercian Vincitore frameset costs about $1,500 plus VAT and shipping.)


2 Responses to New life for an old bike

  1. Dave says:

    You’ve written before about physical change and paying attention to those implements used in the past and the need of changing/up-grading them to meet the changing body. I appreciate such insight and recognizing there is an emotional/spiritual loss in leaving behind chunks of metal or wood that have been dearly used. I find this speaks something about–though maybe a bit heretical (on my part)?–to the life (creation?) of what we think of as inanimate. May good cycling be with you!

  2. jacbikes says:

    I just now got back to read your entire blog about the Mercian after reading the initial part when you first posted it. It was fun to read about your excitement upon seeing your first Mercian & then riding your new bike, still feeling it in your muscles. Muscle memory is a great thing! It was also interexting to see the history of upgrades you’ve made, & now to know it is back in the fold. As Jesus said: “I know My sheep and My sheep know Me.” 🙂

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