Classic Lightweights UK
Classic Frame Builders
Christopher Barbour, Veteran-Cycle Club
Mercian Cycles have published an historical essay on the company web site. A few notes on published sources and frame models will lend important background to Mercian history and point to lines of further enquiry.
Of foremost interest to owners of older Mercians wishing to identify their machines is the fact that records for frames built before 1970 no longer exist; they are assumed to have been lost or discarded when Mercian moved shop in 1971. The Mercian Cycles Register, compiled and published by Chris Barbour and Martin Hanczyc of the Veteran-Cycle Club, is an attempt to reconstruct the lost record of earlier Mercian frames.
All sources agree that Mercian Cycles was founded in 1946 by Tom Crowther and Lou Barker, and that frame production started soon thereafter. Mick Madgett of the V-CC has records of Mercian frames sales at Madgett Cycles, Diss, Norfolk, that show frame no. M1146 was sold on 17 April 1947 - the oldest documented Mercian, its whereabouts unknown. Another Mercian, no. 444, survives and is reputed to have been made in 1946.
Identification of models without original documentation or first-hand knowledge of original specification can be tricky. Mercian has used many lug patterns and model names over the years, which sometimes correspond, but at other times do not. Reliably identified models in the register show that the same pattern could be used for different models; on the other hand, some individual models were available with different lugs, or even lugless, at the same time [see Hilary Stone, “Design Classic: Mercian Tourers”, Cycling Plus, June 2004]. The pattern of frame numbers has varied over the years, and especially on 1950s frames, the year of manufacture could be either the last two digits or the first two. There are a sufficient number of frames in the Register to show trends, but some frames - number 59557 for example, which may have been made in either 1957 or 1959 - will be impossible to date precisely without corroborating information. Further information on Mercian in the period 1956-60.
Some early frames carry “Tom Crowther” transfers, and to confuse matters, there are frames of that marque that would seem to date from periods after Crowther sold the business to Mercian builder William Betton in 1965. Grant Mosley, a longtime employee who purchased the business with current director Jane Smith upon Betton’s retirement in 2003, confirms that these later Crowther frames were made under contract in the Mercian shops [see Nic Henderson, http://www.bikebrothers.co.uk/tomcrowther.htm].
The most important primary documents before 1970 are Mercian frame brochures. Several have been published on the Mercian history page. It is unfortunate that photographs in the 1950s brochures do not show sufficient detail to discern lug patterns.
In 2006 a brochure surfaced with a separate, enclosed printed price list dated November 1st, 1951. Featured therein are the Vigorelli Pursuit, Miss Mercian, and Massed Start frames, all constructed with Oscar Egg lugs, a common brand
of fitting on early Mercians. Models listed without photos include the Standard Track frame (Oscar Egg lugs), the
lugless Whitemeadows Road Racing frame, and the lugless Short Distance Road-Track frame. The separate price card adds the King of Mercia and, in a handwritten addition, “Vigorelli Scroll Lugs” (left?) at a pound dearer than the Vigorelli Pursuit. In light of Hilary Stone’s Cycling Plus article, wherein he describes the early 1950s Super Vigorelli with lugs of “a similar design to the Vincitore’s”, it would seem that the scroll-lug model is likely to be the first appearance of the Mercian’s signature motif in hand-cut lugs, seen since the mid-1960s in the Vincitore racing and touring models.
In addition to Oscar Egg lugs, the 1951 brochure mentions use of Agrati ends and brazed-on fittings for Simplex or Benelux gears.
It will be for others to relate the history of racing men and women on Mercian cycles. It should be noted that throughout the excellent Bicycling book: transportation, recreation, sport (John and Vera van der Reis Krausz. – NY: Dial Press, 1982) one sees a number of Mercians photographed on tour and in rough stuff, cyclocross, and hill climbs. On November 11, 1954, when Cycling featured Ray Booty as its Man of the Year, he was shown at speed on a Mercian bike.
Models of long standing in the frame brochures include:
Vigorelli - almost always a fixed-wheel track or time trial frame, although Dave Keeler’s 1954 Mercians appear to be geared Vigorellis; still available in 2006, but since the 1960s, not with fancy lugs.
Miss Mercian – twin lateral mixte configuration still available in 2006.
Welded frames – still available in 2006 as the Pro Lugless.
King of Mercia – usually the top-of-the-line among Mercian frames made with commercially available lugs.
Superlight – introduced in the late 1950s, it used Mercian’s own hand-cut lugs and shot-in stays; in 2005 it disappeared from the online catalog.
Campionissimo/Olympic/Classic/Audax ... slightly less expensive frames than the King of Mercia, sometimes with simpler lugs, often available only in a fixed frame specification; introduced by the late 1950s.
Vincitore – according to Hilary Stone’s research, this frame with fancy lugs in the motif of the 1950s Vigorelli, but with some differences in the lug profiles, was revived under Bill Betton’s ownership circa 1965; Mercian’s signature lug pattern.
Hilary Stone’s article in Cycling Plus and Mercian’s own potted history are the best overviews. Many Americans will be familiar with the chapter on Mercian in The Custom Bicycle, by Michael Kolin and Denise De la Rosa (Emmaus, PA, 1979), which provides a glimpse of the firm under Bill Betton’s direction in a time of booming production. The author would be grateful to hear from readers of this page who have other articles or documentation on Mercian Cycles, such as reviews of Mercian bicycles in British cycling magazines.
Peter Underwood attaches some details of a couple of interesting older machines. The first is a 1954 machine, frame No. 36254 (54 at the end denotes year on this frame) which was built for Dave Keeler of the Vegetarian C & AC. Dave was a leading time-triallist in the UK and also competed in track and road racing events spanning all disciplines from 4000 Metres Pursuit on the track to attacking and getting the Land's End to John O' Groats (850 miles) record in 1958.
Always interested in cycle technology, Dave had been impressed with the Paris/Roubaix gear thinking that it would be ideal for a time-triallist who would not need to change gear so often and had purchased one when in Milan during 1954. He brought it home to the UK and took it to Mercian Cycles where this frame was built with the special toothed rear ends needed for the gear. Some time after 1958 Dave had the frame changed by having normal Campagnolo road rear ends and gear bosses fitted. This was the specification when I got it from him earlier this year and I had the paintwork restored as the original.
The 1954 Vigorelli frame is 25" from bottom-bracket to top of top tube; the top tube is 24" centre-to-centre and the chainstays 17¾". It has twin braze-on Campag gear bosses with cable guides at B B plus cable stop on chainstay. Brake cable stops under top tube.
I recently acquired a second Mercian frame in rather sorry condition. This time a welded version, frame number 4953 (1949). It has now been restored and is listed in Readers' Bikes
John Crump's 1950 Mercian with long tangs added to the Nervex Professional lugs on
the underside of top tube and down tube.
He tells us the Mercian catalogue he owns does mention Super Bi-laminated on all lugs with 3" extensions under all tubes
Further information on Mercian in the period 1956-60
Some well-known Mercian riders
Chris Barbour and Martin Hanczyc have their own website to cover the history of pre-1970 Mercians at:
Mercian Cycles own website is at:
Kyle Brooks has created a very informative blog on Mercian with some help from Grant Moseley, the owner of Mercian. As you are on this page I'm sure you will want to read it.
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