19 October 2015

There's Nothing Like The First

Whenever I ride my Mercians, I find that I've actually ridden faster than I thought I was riding and, even when riding on rough stretches or climbing into the wind, I don't feel beat-up or worn-down at the end.  This is particulary true of Arielle, my Mercian Audax.

It's a bike meant for longer rides, hence the model name.  With such a purpose in mind, the bike is  designed with a somewhat longer wheelbase and slightly shallower angles than a dedicated racing bike.  On the other hand, its geometry is tighter than that of a full-load touring bike or even many randonneur bikes.   It also has, according to my specification, a shorter top tube than is typically found on touring (and even some racing) frames in Arielle's size (56 cm center-to-center) to accomodate the rather long legs and short torso I have for a person of my height.

When I was ordering Arielle--the first Mercian I bought--I was going to specify 16mm diameter seat stays.  At the time, Mercian was still offering 12mm on some models, including the Audax.  Hal Ruzal at Bicycle Habitat talked me into going with the 12mm, in part because that's what he has on one of his Mercians, which is very similar to Arielle. 

I'm glad he did.  Tosca, my Mercian fixed-gear, has 16mm stays.  It feels stiffer, but that may have to do with the geometry of the bike rather than the stay diameter.   Arielle, however, never felt flexy or noodly to me.  Yet those 12mm stays, I believe, absorb more road shock than the thicker stays, which--I'm guessing--is the reason why I never feel "beat up" after riding her.  

I also am glad Hal--and the folks at Mercian--convinced me to buy an Audax rather than one of the other models.  I didn't want a full-on touring bike:  If I ever do another multi-day tour, it will probably be with a light load.  On the other hand, I didn't want another racing-specific bike:  I'd owned and ridden a number of those and felt as if I were past being even a "wannabe", let alone an actual racer.

On this bike, I can ride fast when I want to, but--more important to me at this point in my life--I can simply enjoy the ride.  It has never felt like a "compromise":  It's simply a bike that fits well and feels good. 

Because Arielle fits and rides so well, specifying my next two custom Mercians--Tosca, my fixed-gear and Helene, one of my Miss Mercians--easy.  Tosca's geometry is just a bit tighter; Helene's dimensions were tweaked to allow wider tires and fenders. 

Vera, my other Miss Mercian, is the only one of my Mercians that wasn't custom-built for me:  I bought it second-hand.  So, while its fit is a bit different from that of the others (the imaginary top tube length is 15mm longer than on Arielle or Helene and 10 mm longer than on Tosca, and the chain stays are about 15 mm longer than the ones on Helene), my experience with my other Mercians served as a good guideline in helping me choose the right stem length and such.  Overall, it has the cushiest ride of my "Mercs" and, not surprisingly, Tosca has the stiffest and most responsive. 

All of them feel great, but, as the saying goes, there's nothing like the first.  And mine (at least in terms of my Mercians) is Arielle.


  1. My heart sinks a little when I realise that any chance of a custom gem has passed me by and my distance cycling days have passed too...

    Curiosity took me to the Mercian google page and what struck me most was that your forward sloping stems have infinitely more grace and elegance than any bicycle on their site. Their frames may be wonders of fit and engineering but contemporary stem fittings seem to have bulk and ugliness as their priority.

    Being an old fashioned girl I still love my first and only built by me bicycle, I would be unfaithful to even look at another...

  2. My unclear English... I seriously thought of getting trained as a frame builder, my bike shop owner persuaded me that custom frames was adying trade!! What I meant was that I ordered a frame with custom grazings and bought the parts and assembled the bike. It would have been a custom frame such as a Mercian but I was running short of time to have the bike ready for a tour. Sadly the first frame to arrive was not as specified and I could have got my dream frame anyway!

    I do like the Mercian frames though wish that the girls options were more extensive with a mixte option as more elegant than the T lug. A friend has just built up a bike on a mixte Flying Scot in a large frame size where the original builder converted an old frame from a diamond. The delicately tapering front forks are a thing of beauty.

    As much as I am still fascinated by bicycle design I do fear that much has been thrown out without thought. Like the stems, most bikes are just plain lumpen and ugly and the concept of correct castor and spring in front forks replaced by stiff straight forks...

    I now forget when I am on a diamond frame like today and try to swing my leg through the middle! Even if a Mercian was within budget and they are one of the few who cater for women, I am not sure that I could commit. They are things of beauty but...

  3. When I ordered my first Mercian, I talked with someone at Bicycle Habitat also. It might have been Hal. We didn't have any Mercian dealers or experts in my area, but a good phone conversation with the experts at BH gave some advice and some confidence as I ordered my bike.

  4. Coline--Thanks for the clarification. Although I like my new-style Miss Mercian, I agree with you when you say that you wish they offered more options for women.

    And I agree with what you say about much being "thrown out without thought". So many bikes and parts are just plain ugly and have no real justification save, perhaps, for a few racers who don't have to buy their own equipment anyway.

    Brooks--That person probably was Hal. He's been with BH, and dealt with Mercian, for a long time. He does indeed know what he's talking about.