Vera, the 1994 Miss Mercian I bought in July, has become my commuter. So, I have ridden her for a pretty fair amount of time which, I believe, gives me a basis for making some preliminary observations and comparisons.
As I expected, Vera offers a very nimble but comfortable ride. Still, I was surprised (pleasantly) to find that she cuts as much as twenty minutes off my previous time for the ten-mile (each way) commute I do three times a week. That, when carrying a full load of books and papers, a strong lock and sometimes a change of shoes.
What I really wasn't expecting, though, is that the rear triangle is not as stiff, or as stable, as that of Helene, my other Miss Mercian. Vera's twin lateral top tubes extend all the way back to the rear stays, near the points where they're brazed to the drop-outs. In theory, this is supposed to make for a stiffer rear end than that of a more traditional women's or mixte bike like Helene, on which there's a traditional top tube that ends at the seat tube.
It occcured to me even though Helene and Vera are about the same size and are similar kinds of bikes, their geometries might vary, however slightly. Measurements I took the other day confirmed this hypothesis: Vera's chainstay is seven millimeters longer (434 vs. 427) and its overall wheelbase spans 19 more millimeters (1031 vs. 1012). For comparison, the chainstay and wheelbase measurements are 987 and 415 on Arielle, my Mercian Audax road bike, and 980 and 412 on Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear bike.
Now, of course, some of the componentry is different on each bike. Though I'm running 700x32 tires on both Helene and Vera, the tires on the latter bike are about 170 grams heavier. Plus, the components are a bit heavier on Vera, which makes her a somewhat heavier bike overall. But those factors should not account for the difference in ride that I noticed, while the differences in geometry should.
What I've noted about Vera should not be taken as a complaint. She is an extremely pleasant bike to ride; even though my commutes are faster, I feel less beat up after pedaling over streets that, in some places, resemble the Ho Chi Minh trail. For that reason, I could see taking her on longer rides; however, on multi-day rides, I would probably want a dropped road-style bar like the Nitto Noodle. And, just for fun, I might try riding Vera with the lighter tires I use on my other bikes to see just how fast she can be. I don't envision her as my "speed" bike, but I am curious to see what she can do.
On the subject of handlebars: Vera now has a pair of flipped-over North Road-style bars. I believe that it, rather than the design of the frame itself, is the reason why--perhaps paradoxically, given its longer wheelbase and (seemingly) longer fork rake--the front seemed twitchier at first. I flipped the bars back to the position for which they were designed, and the steering more stable, though still more responsive than that of other bikes I've ridden with upright bars. That is to say, it felt a bit more like Helene.
So far, I am very happy that I gave in to my impulse to buy Vera. She is both the fastest and most elegant commuter I've had: Nearly any time I ride her, she gets compliments.
I will probably write more about her ride qualities, and those of my other Mercians, in later posts.