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23 September 2014 2 comments

A Trip to Mercian Cycles

Correspondence Saddles, Bags, Etc. Bicycles Heritage Art & Design
By jim holland
A Trip to Mercian Cycles
I first came to know Mercian Cycles a long time ago, back when nobody really wore Lycra and everybody took sandwiches. Growing up in the shadow of the Black Country the custom frame was considered as it is now, a luxury item, though they were perhaps a bit more common before the advent of carbon and aluminium. Not to mention that, once you had your frame, that was it, you kept it until you pegged out, components and wheels would be replaced as required, but a custom frame was for life. To a certain extent, that’s still true, not least because often a custom geometry will only really suit the rider it was designed for. Major Nichols of Smethwick was perhaps the most known and local builder to where I grew up, he had a loyal following and deserved reputation for fine handling frames and a somewhat cantankerous temperament, Trevor Jarvis was not far away either and was well regarded for his Lugwork and the unorthodox ‘Flying Gate’, Bob Jackson was and is somewhat ubiquitous…but Mercian always had a certain class or prestige, of all the builders I could think of in my younger days, Mercian seemed the most desirable. Perhaps that was just my perception, but it was a perception that stuck and after finally having exhausted all attempts to find a comfortable stock frame, Mercian was where I ended up. The shop sits on an unimposing road in Alvaston, a suburb of Derby, at first glance, it looks much like most other bike shops, except that it’s front window is populated with rather stunning hand built steel. There are perhaps a dozen or so bikes built up in the shop which proves for quite a sight, I don’t remember having seen so many steel frames in one shop since I was in my teens. After gazing over the bikes for a sufficient amount of time, Ray, the shops manager, efficiently steered me through the fitting and order process and I was shortly off to check out the workshop, which is based just down the road from the shop. The current home of the Mercian workshop was a bespoke space, built in 1965. It sits (somewhat awkwardly) on an industrial estate surrounded by newer buildings, to which it looks comparatively small, the simple entrance and steeped sides of it’s roof have a somewhat church like look about them, and indeed the inside is a veritable cathedral of frame building. Mercian employs three frame builders and there are probably very few work-spaces in the country that have changed so little since 1965, since day one Mercian’s method of brazing free hand, on an open hearth has remained unchanged, amongst the very last practitioners of this method, they believe it to be gentler on the tubes, which contributes to the longevity of the frame. Mercian holds a unique position in the UK ’s cycling history and with their numerous Paul Smith collaborations and full to bursting order book, it’s a pleasure to see that they’re still going strong. I’m counting the days until mine arrives. Find you perfect machine: http://www.merciancycles.co.uk See more images from Jim's visit over on his blog: http://ridingcircles.tumblr.com
I'm sure you'll be absolutely delighted with your frame once it arrives! I myself recently put an order in for a hand built steel frame, from Shand Cycles in Scotland - also free-hand fillet brazed. Spectacular bikes. Can't wait until it arrives!
Euan 23 May 2016 at 17:00
You mention Mercian's use of an open hearth. What does that look like?
Alan 23 May 2016 at 17:00