What to do with a ‘perfect’ vintage bike?

Last year I bought a 1982 Merican custom racing bike from its original owner. The man was a perfectionist, having even sent the metal bottle cage over to Mercian to get it sprayed to match the frame. The original (bum cleaving) saddle, which is not the one in the photograph, even came boxed with the bike. The appearance of the bike, which boasts a first generation Dura-Ace EX drive chain, is as near to perfection as you’re likely the find in a 30 year-old, unrestored machine. Why so? Well, the owner rode it two or three times, covering “less than 100 miles” and then decided it was too nice a bicycle to get chipped or worn out, so he kept it indoors for 30 years. I was the lucky beneficiary of his caution.

Mercian custom road bike
This 30-year old Mercian is almost like new. Now I don’t know whether to ride it or keep it that way.

I can’t decide whether to ride it regularly or keep it in its present superb condition – it would be a real challenge to do both, even if I restrict its use to summer riding. Of course, it would make a great bike for L’Eroica in October. (I registered for this year’s ride earlier today.) But should I risk such a lovely bike to baggage handlers at Bristol and Pisa airports?

My instinct is to ride it, and maybe use it for the classic ride in Italy. I don’t want to damage it – and if anything will make parts fall off, the strada bianche of L’Eroica will do the job nicely – but I can’t help thinking about the craftsman that made the frame, and perhaps assembled the bike too. Would he have wanted it to languish in a garage or shed, or would he have wanted the results of his labours to be tested, exploited and enjoyed? I think the latter, don’t you?

4 thoughts on “What to do with a ‘perfect’ vintage bike?

  1. Chikashi February 2, 2013 / 8:30 am

    I think the bike and the boys at Mercian would like the lucky owner to ride it. Furthermore, I think that if anything bad is going to happen to a bike, there is no better place and occasion than l’Eroica. I don’t think your bike would have it any other way. I might even consider taking it to Devon to have Mercian do a full service before packing it in a good bike bag like the one from evoc, which I have and can recommend highly, and go ride the strade bianche!! By the way, you may have missed another comment I left on your hub post, in reply to your question about my Eroica rise. It seems to be awaiting moderation but I hope that I did not say anything inappropriate.


    • Bob Jones February 2, 2013 / 9:10 am

      Sorry – missed your earlier post about L’Eroica – it’s been a busy week. The Motobécane looks great, particularly the leather around the moustache bars. As someone who doesn’t race, or even go very fast, I like the simplicity of 5 speed freewheels, providing I can make a set up that gives me enough range. My recent Freddie Grubb commuter does that with the compact double on the front and I’ve just found a 6 speed Suntour cassette that goes from 13-34, which would fit, but maybe is taking things a step too far. I’ve built a wheel for the Gillott using a 5-speed Sturmey hub so hope to have that back on the road next week and will post some pictures. I may bring the Mercian to L’Eroica but it really is set up for racing with very compact ratios so I’m still changing my mind from day to day. Good luck with the draw in March – I hope you manage to secure a place. Will you do the ride anyway, even if not officially?


      • Chikashi February 3, 2013 / 8:36 pm

        The lowest gear on my wife’s chrome bike is 34×34. I must admit that I was pleased to have that low gear at times. However, I think that one can be a bit lazy knowing that there is that rather low gear…

        We’ll see how my luck is, but I cannot really see myself riding the Eroica without a number pinned to my back.

        Thank you for the kind words on the Motobécane. I had a rather nice calfskin and took the bit that would have been discarded (the belly). I shaped and braided it one weekend but was not sure how it would age. Luckily, it did age quite well and acquired a pleasing patina.


  2. Bob Jones February 3, 2013 / 8:45 pm

    If the number of L’Eroica entries is the same as last year (about 5400) and they are going to allow 5000 this year, it suggests that most applicants will get a place, so I hope you’ll be lucky. In fact, I think that last year the ‘official’ limit was 3000 or 3500, so they exceeded that by a wide margin. Maybe this is all just a ruse to get everyone registered early…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s