Mercier-Badged Open Mould Carbon Fibre Road Bicycle Medium 54cm equipped with Campagnolo Athena EPS Electronic 11-Speed Groupset.
There’s something about the French way, even the simplest of simplest things has an air of elegance and traditional expertise about it. The humblest of daily items, the baguette, it signifies a touch of flair, of passion, of the qualities you’d expect from artisans making bespoke incredible things. Not like our stack of pain, *cough*, sorry ‘bread’ in aisle two that resembles a cubist influenced block of white dough from a sturdy and safe stackable hard wearing rectangular tin, presented in a colourful plastic bag with a matching white square collar around its spun neck. That’s just tip top.
Gasping? So am I.
But there it is, your daily bread in France, created by an artificer flamboyantly sifting and lifting just a few ingredients; flour, salt and water. Evoking the same expertise in its production as you have upon the allure of Baccarat Crystal dining wear as you’re encompassed in the joie de vivre imbued upon you as you lift your butter knife in the restaurant bearing the same name, Cristal Room Baccarat, Paris.
How is it that this ultimate craftsmanship for a simple daily doughy icon seems so far out of reach?
Mercier-Badged Campagnolo EPS Road Open Mould Bike Project
This is it then, the true challenge of inviting exuberance and pleasure into our every day through the simple things.
Not one child would argue, well after forgetting about the wobbly handlebars and the multiple skinned knees from those first free-spirited pedal strokes without training wheels, that riding a bicycle is the most wonderful of simple pleasures.
Whether its euro-living and you’re perched upon the Gazelle Mama Fiets with your fresh broodje or het stokbrood poking out the top of your handlebar-mounted brown hand-woven wicker basket, as the wind teases your hair behind you along the loft of the canal, sans helmet, and the clatter of the chain beats erratically inside the steel guard whilst the broad grooved tyres bumble over the brick pavers, or its cruising beside the Seine looking nothing but debonair in your pressed work attire and woollen long black winter coat.
Cycling. There’s a simple beauty to it. And through it you can evoke any such spirit you wish.
When I first spotted this project bike frame available second hand, I was immediately taken by the subtle stealthy matte finish, and most of all, the front forks in their pale blue lacquer. It sparked a degree of unseen potential, of such simplicity in the effect, yet just a shy bit short of the detailing to catch the eyes. It was bare, merely the black frame and blue forks, no branding, nothing else to work with, in its own way, speechless, without any muster of character, but it’s voice was in there somewhere, shyly awaiting an introduction.
The frame sat there for weeks as the cogs of inspiration spun under the springing of keyboard keys up and down, seeking, sorting, mouse-clicking, scrolling through pages upon pages of custom bicycle photos on the internet in all manner of colours and styles. Bicycle brands popped up here, there, everywhere, but the necessary highlights just didn’t seem to reveal themselves.
A palette of silvers, golds, and hues of blue that the sky would daily try to transgress in its latest showing.
With the passage of time, and like a statue slowly beginning to reveal its curves and form as the stonemason chips away at the tall square block of hard stone, as more and more material is discarded at the end of the chisel, the vision doth emerge clearly and defiantly, rising above the jagged mess of refuse left afoot.
Now, before we get carried away with French eloquence, honour and a life lived with genuine spirit and contentment through persistence and tenacity, let’s peer a little more closely into the modern practice of creating carbon fibre frames.
The Rise of Carbon Fibre
Having spent a good ten years in the bicycle industry, in retail, racing and managing race and ambassador teams, that period was particular for the heyday of carbon fibre frames becoming an accessible item on the consumer market as manufacturers transitioned from steel, aluminium and scandium in the 1990s-2000s.
The scourge then quickly rose when rip-offs, copies and all manner of disenchantment as large bike brands began to shift their traditional production from in-country to off-shore. Suddenly it was apparent that big name esteemed European brands like Pinarello and Colnago were only retaining the production of their halo models within Italy, with the entry and mid-range models being outsourced and produced in massive factories in Asia, Taiwan itself evidencing a stronghold in carbon fibre production houses.
Made in Italy, aka Taiwan & Value-add at Home
The companies and their bikes were somewhat protected however, as the “Made in Italy” badge could still be emblazoned upon finished goods if a certain percentage of value-add was completed in-country, for example, painting, finishing and final build.
Contempt soon followed in the local peloton and as riders clip-clopped in their hard plastic slippery cleated road-shoes around concrete-floored cafes in the early hours of the morning with their lattes, frowns on brows queried, “is that a Pinarello or Chinarello?”, with the festering intention of denigrating the rider for their choice. Ahhh the sinister tongue of the fragile ego…
Worse however, even though confidence in the major European brands stayed true, and the economics of shifting large gamuts of production away from the more expensive labour of Italy and France to Taiwan was easily justifiable and resulted in the trickle-down of both prices and the accessibility of pro-peloton level bikes to enthusiasts, not just fortunate store or club team sponsored riders, there emerged the real threat of counterfeit frames, copies and rip-offs.
Now you can search and find a bulk of arguments across the web about Pinarello versus Chinarello etc about which is better, why it’s justified, why it isn’t, why you should be scared, why you should take out full comprehensive hospital and dental cover if you have one of them, and suffer Statler and Waldorf-esque online trolling that not even a commercial prawn-trawler could endure. However, what the off-shore production of bicycle brands like Colnago and Pinarello achieved, along with powerhouses like Giant bikes, was to create a centre of expertise and excellence in carbon fibre bike manufacturing in extremely large quantities with incredibly advanced testing and development methodologies.
Traditional family operations the likes of Cicli Casati never entertained the idea of going off-shore, they sought to retain the 100 years of history and tradition in Monza, Italy and instead adapted and learned the art themselves, combining well-heeled bicycle hand-made techniques to new materials.
Therefore then, with this confidence in the new off-shore manufacturing processes and frame integrity, there slowly began to be a level of acceptance about brands like Pinarello and Colnago that had their frames produced in Asia, even though they were thoroughbred Italian brands, marquee bikes in the peloton that held a lot of cache.
Logo, Copy or Open Mould
The issue of copies and counterfeits permeated however and continues to be source of anxiety and a real threat to the integrity and authenticity of long-enduring and trusted brands. You do need to be wary of copies and counterfeits that exist in the market. [Read here Campagnolo’s attempts to combat forgery and counterfeit production of their popular carbon fibre Bora wheelsets.]
On the flip side of this market and industry development is another feather to the bow, or arrow to the quiver, in that the anti-brand movement (brought to better consciousness by Naomi Klein’s book, “No Logo” – purchase on Amazon (commission may be earned by this site from eligible purchases) via the link here), also brought about the appetite from consumers for unbranded, or no logo items. Think of cleanskin wines for example, without the costs of marketing and advertising, the raw product in a bottle with a basic label is just as tasty as the labeled one, however at far reduced cost.
The bicycle market is no sleeper to this concept either and YouTube is awash with videos and personal long-term reviews of enthusiast cyclists that have purchased high-end carbon fibre frames direct from Asia-based mass-production carbon-fibre un-branded frame manufacturers. At less than a half or third of the cost of name-branded products.
This has meant for some enthusiasts that have saved like crazy to amass their funds to invest in a new road bike, instead of forking out $10,000, $12,000 or even $20,000 on the top model bikes, suddenly by purchasing a new frame direct from a Bike X frame house and sourcing second hand parts and carbon wheels from the internet marketplace, their $5-$6k has stretched further than the kilometres they’ll now ride this year.
Yes, there’s the things you don’t get when you purchase direct from an online-only retailer. Instead of wheeling the bike into the shop the next day to chat to the mechanic or salesperson that wants to know about how your new weapon is going, or to seek a warranty claim with the backing of a local wholesaler/distributor within days or a week, it’s going to be a swathe of emails, trips to the post office and longer periods of weeks or months waiting from that response overseas. These are the balances one must weigh up though in this new world of accessible international supply.
And so, why this long essay on carbon fibre frame history and production? Well, as I learned once I began pouring over the toroidal elements of this handsome frame looking for signs of branding that resembled the idea I’d been given by the previous owner that it was a Canyon bicycle, but by fact, it is not a Canyon. However, it is, as it’s called in the market these days, an ‘open mould’ frame. This is the term used to refer to carbon fibre products produced as an individual product in it’s own right, kind of like white label products, those items made by reputable houses that are unbranded, so as not to eat into the good will of the actual brand icons they produce.
Open mould is different to counterfeit or copy. It is not trying to be something it’s not, it’s simply trying to be something on it’s own, in the quiet, without a moniker. See the video at the end of this post portraying the production within an open mould type facility.
Mercy, Merci or Mercier?
With all the aforementioned guff about brands, no logos, clean finishes and bare all, if the open mould frame arrived in my hands without a logo, why does it have one now?
This my friends, is evidence of the contradictions that are at the core of the creative world.
Circling back then to French eloquence, tenacity, persistence and a life lived with genuine spirit and honour, it’s with a certain gratitude and thanks we look back on icons that provide inspiration in the face of adversity.
If a brand name bike is all about winning and being the leader, what of the organisation that is intent on not being known, for being known? Or being known, for not being known? The confusing space of open mould.
Mercier Brand and Raymond Poulidor, Cycling Racer
Mercier is a French bicycle brand that harks back to the early 1900s. Emerging from St Etienne, south-west of Lyon, an area I was fortunate to visit on student exchange as a teenager, where the memory of being involved in a car chase not far from the Fresque of the Cour de Loges, resembling the 5-Star Luxury Hotel of the same name, which we had just visited there in Lyon, when the family clipped into the Renault van squealed and screeched, that’s the tyre sounds, not the family, in the attempt of apprehending a man who had snatched a hand-bag from an old lady right beside us on the footpath. And then he hoofed it.
Mercier is not about rebellion, or thieving handbags, but this particular bike certainly resembles the acceleration of the thief there in Lyon, powerful and assured.
Mercier was in fact a brand targeted at that delicate appeal, being within the reach of all, yet prestigious. The modern term mass-stiege rings a bell. Ding ding. Though the bicycles were intended to be coveted by many, Emile Mercier actually began in 1919 in a partnership with two business partners producing bicycle parts. In 1924 he bought them out and began producing his own bicycle frames, eventually offering complete bicycles around 1930, solidifying his vision.
The year of 1933 welcomed the beginning of Mercier bicycles to the professional ranks as the first foray into cycling team sponsorship. There it was, his very capable French manufacturing proudly present at the top levels of cycling. The bicycles were seen mostly bearing it’s purple-coloured coat in what is probably the longest serving pro-cycling team sponsorship in the history of the sport, only barely missing the silver anniversary in its 49-year run, from 1935 to 1984. The company folded in 1985.
Famous cycling Frenchman Louis Bobet was an important figure on the team, winning the 1955 Tour of Flanders, however the real icon of Mercier was France’s most popular cycle racer – and arguably the country’s most best-loved sportsman of all time, who spent his entire professional cycling career with Mercier, was the inimitable Raymond Poulidor.
Cherished as “Pou-Pou”, he evoked a spirit in the people, touching souls in a way a winner never ever, and I mean ever could. Profoundly, Pou-Pou never won La Grande Boucle, the French Nation’s yellow-jersey tour, the Tour de France, despite being a heralded contender that attended 15 editions from 1962-1976. Known as the Eternal Second, he finished in second place three times, and in third place five times (including his final Tour at the age of 40) and despite his consistency of eight podium finishes, he never once wore the yellow jersey as leader of the Tour. Though let’s not use that as an excuse to cover up the fact that he did win. And he won well, taking out the number one podium in the Vuelta a Espana Grand Tour in 1964.
It didn’t concern him in the way you think it might, Poulidor wasn’t in fact that concerned with winning, he himself admitted that ambition was maybe the thing lacking in his professional career. However, with the bright disposition of eternal gratitude and the sun shining down from clear blue sky, he was so happily taken by what was happening in his life, it was marvellous enough in its own essence. So much so that he felt he was already winning in life itself, so he never woke up in the morning with the thought only of winning a bicycle race.
The great antithesis is what he symbolises. Projecting the poise and spirit that any champion would be at the extremes of jealousy to have, however not having the display case of yellow jerseys to evidence it. Yet here he was, the love of the French people, and in that grounding zen way, you could say his eschew of winning curves the lens differently to those who above all else in the blind pursuit of Champion ambition seemingly unknowingly serve themselves to drive that balanced, cheerful, accessible friendly spirit further away.
Whilst his ongoing rivalry with cycling dominator, brazen winner and race clinician Jacques Anquetil sustained, meanwhile PouPou (he actually didn’t like that nickname) established his reputation for his persistence and tenacity, with the ever growing friendly, cuddly, accessible image that his adoring fans loved about him.
It makes you consider the construct of competition and winning differently. For the people lauded PouPou for his spirit, not for his winning. Poulidor simply loved what he did, he marvelled at his life and dedicated himself to his art, his career on two wheels. His approach made him the hero.
When asked about his longevity compared to fellow racing cyclists, Poulidor said he took things in moderation and did not overstretch himself. Isn’t this a beautiful way? That he became his best simply by enjoying himself, not chasing wins, he was living his dream!
He came from a grounded beginning, growing up on a farm and helping his parents work the poor soil as a 14 year old, instead of going to school. He was given his first bike by a local shop owner and began racing a couple of years later at 16, though hid this passion from his Mother owing to her fear of the the sport’s dangers.
This seemingly simple joy that Poulidor emitted, founded on hard work and genuine appreciation, isn’t it marvellous to consider that this is in fact what it takes if we are to become good at anything, regardless of the hall of competition. Why dare we judge the art of life? How can we best refine the craft of our choosing? Look at your neighbours, are they trying to come first in the human race? Where’s the winner’s rostrum anyway? Isn’t the point, and the development of the craft in the doing, more specifically, in the joy of the doing, not the rise to perceived top. Today’s competition winner is tomorrow’s forgotten hero, are they not, as the long line of new young Champions in training seek the limelight.
And maybe this is why Pou-Pou touched the hearts of all that followed him. Because he stood for contentment, over winning. Even in the months before his passing last year (2019) aged 83, he still received a warmer applause at his appearances on Tour than any of the current top names. Allez Pou-Pou!
And so, Mercier, the name. It now graces the tubes of this very bike, and forever more will evoke a connection with the simple joy of contentment.
It’s funny how synchronicities emerge. This build was always going to be about matching subtlety with details, pizzazz with stealth, tradition with flair, passion for the finer things, and the beauty that simplicity bathes within.
That the Mercier marque became emblazoned upon an open mould frame, that Pou-Pou’s antithesis was at the core of the success of the Mercier brandname, his marvel at the very heart of enjoyment of life, and adoration by the people for an enchanted career, it all just mysteriously fits.
The 54cm carbon fibre frame with internal cable routing options, optimised for electronic gearing, accelerates powerfully. The oversized bottom bracket is stiff and you sense the drive through the cranks to the rear wheel in each revolution. The headtube tapers outwards at the fork crown, holding the front wheel steady as you point it in the direction to swoop. Running a longer 130mm stem, your body weight naturally shifts a little forward, chest desiring the aerodynamics of sitting closer to the bar, back laying flatter, missile-like, Exocet perhaps even. Turning in is direct, the steeper angle of the headtube suggesting angles of 73.5 degrees potentially and the aerodynamic tapered fork blades offering certainty through their rigidity. Thinly profiled rear seat stays offer comfort via their dampening spring effect, mated to reasonably tall profile chain-stays that ensure limitation of sideways flex and that the rear wheel remains in its track as you drive forward on the pedals.
A racer at heart, Campagnolo drivetrain and wheels essentially complete the bicycle. The Campagnolo Athena 11-Speed EPS electronic groupset is one that was entirely underestimated, again the antithesis rises.
When it was released the numbers in the price of the Athena EPS groupset will make you think gold plating was hidden in the circuit boards. Launched into the market at over GBP2,400, that’s correct, well over AUD$3,500, now superseded by 12-speed, it still commands in the vicinity of AUD$2,400 on the market. I have to say though, I’ve ridden many thousands of kilometres on the Campagnolo spectrum of groupsets, Centaur, Chorus, Record etc and for me the Athena EPS brake levers and calipers offer the best feel, response and actuation of all the rim-brake configurations experienced.
On this particular machine the gear ratios offer a compact 50/34 crankset up front and a 12-25 Chorus 11-Speed cog cassette locked on to the Campagnolo Scirocco 35mm profile aero alloy G3 wheel at the rear. The electronic gear change buttons on the shift levers make for easy and swift movement up and down the gears, whilst the front derailleur auto-trims the position on the large chainwheels to avoid rubbing on the chain. The power unit sits just under the down-tune bidon cage and offers over 1500kms of riding before re-charging is required. LED indicator lights on the power unit and on the interface cable under the head stem keep you informed of the system status.
Even before any other component was selected, I knew that the traditional look of gumwall tyres would be the only choice. Fitted to the Scirocco 35mm aero profile wheelset, they confirm the panache of the ensemble.
Completing the aero nature, the Bontrager Elite Aero flat-tapered handlebar with internal cable routing suits the ambitions of this flying Frenchman.
This bike is ideally suited to the rolling and undulating roads that hug the bay, purposefully echoing the calls of the French Riviera, the Mediterranean coastline that lines the beautiful azure waters from Cannes, through Antibes to Monaco.
Now those roads, if you ever find the opportunity to cycle them, they will send the mistral right through your mind. Not only can you pause at the top of the hill exiting Nice and find yourself in the cemetery admiring the grave of Mercedes-Benz entrepreneur Emil Jellinek-Mercedes, the man responsible for commissioning the first modern car in 1900, you can also follow the route maintaining a hawk-like gaze for discreetly placed Space-Invader tiles, laid there by artist Invader (yes, you can find them in Melbourne too). Your jaw will swiftly drop at the views down the steep cliffs to the clear blue water passing by Villefranche-sur-Mer, the location where freedivers train to depth on one single breath too. Be mindful not to allow your jaw to take you and the bike dropping to the sea as well. It’s an incredibly picturesque ride and be-fitting of the spirit of Mercier.
I digress. The bicycle and aero profile wheels are the perfect set up for constant undulations and maintaining speed. Once at speed they roll easily, the aero profile cutting the wind and the deeper section providing momentum with more economic pedalling input.
Finished with matching-to-the-handlebar Bontrager saddle, sitting atop a matte finish carbon fibre micro-adjust seat pillar.
Geometry and Technical Specifications
Seat-tube: 53cm (measured centre-top)
Top-tube: 54cm (actual top tube centre-centre)
Top-tube: 55cm (virtual top tube centre-centre)
Headset: Integrated 1-1/8 inch
Bike Weight: 7.5kg (+/- 200grm : weighed on household digital scales)
Make it Yours?
FRAME: Open Mould carbon fibre frame, size Medium, 54cm
SHIFTERS / BRAKE LEVERS: Campagnolo Athena EPS Electronic 11-speed
BRAKE CALIPERS: Campagnolo Athena Skeleton 11-speed
HANDLEBAR: Bontrager Elite Aero VR-CF Alloy 42cm with internal cabling
BAR TAPE: Fizik silver bar tape and Supacaz laser-etched alloy bar ends
STEM: Thomson Elite X2 lighter narrower 2-bolt interlocking stem
SEATPOST: Carbon fibre monocoque 2x bolt micro adjust
SADDLE: Bontrager Arvada saddle
CRANKSET: Campagnolo Athena Carbon 11-spd 50/34t compact crankset 172.5mm
PEDALS: LOOK Keo 2 Max Carbon (cleats not included)
FRONT DERAILLEUR: Campagnolo Athena EPS Electronic 11-speed
REAR DERAILLEUR: Campagnolo Athena EPS Electronic 11-speed
CASSETTE: Campagnolo Chorus 11-spd 12-25t
CHAIN: Campagnolo Chorus 11-spd with KMC quick-link joiner
WHEELSET: Campagnolo Scirocco 35mm deep aero profile wheelset with titanium skewers
TYRES: Vittoria Corsa gumwall 700 x 23c
BOTTLE CAGE: Tacx Black Bidon Bottle Cage
Photo Shoot Location: Le Capucin French Cafe, Portsea
Where else to pay justice to the simple elegance, refined tradition and humble daily delicacies other than Portsea’s epitome of French heart than Loïc and Kirsty Duchet‘s Le Capucin Cafe. It’s not only worth the drive to Portsea, it’s worth the stopping and tasting! Before opening the cafe, Loïc and Kirsty spent 6 months in France researching, working, eating and immersing in the ideas of this new life they were about to embark upon. And we’re all glad they did.
Loïc was raised in a tiny village in South West France, where the flavours of traditional cooking were an integral part of the culture. Sourcing food locally, hunting and gathering to bring meals to the table accompanied by fruit and vegetables grown in kitchen gardens all brought together and prepared with every family member involved. It’s another symbol of simple life that we all admire in magazines, but here now, you can experience the tastes of a life lived, right here in Portsea.
Visiting the cafe, traditional beauties of cassoulet and coq au vin are the ones you’ll be drawn towards, but it’s the home recipes that will really make you appreciate what a gem Loïc and Kirsty have created.
Many thanks to the kindness and patience of Loïc and Kirsty for sharing their space and tasty authentic French treats and soothing coffee to create these images.
Please support local Mornington Peninsula businesses and the people behind them who are striving during these very challenging times to continue to serve you their delicious food made with genuine passion and traditional French expertise. Please give them a like, place an order or share the care with a follow on their FB or Instagram pages.
Thanks for visiting.
Making of Carbon Fibre Bicycle Frames
Here’s a look at the ICAN production of carbon fibre bicycle frames.
The process is quite involved and it is easy to appreciate the steps required to create a single carbon bike frame.