2017.11.15 Please ignore the blue rust


When Ron Apger called about something last week, he suggested that I write about my rusty bicycle. He remembers it leaning against the front of the Observer office back when he was a kid.

I think that might be stretching things a little. He’s not that old and I’m not that young. Or maybe it’s the other way around: he’s not that young and I’m not that old.

I bought the bike in 1972 right after college and I soon left Morenci for six years or so. It probably didn’t start leaning against the Disturber until 1980 when I started leaning my head onto my desk at the office.

I rode an older bike through college—the same one that I won in a drawing at the summer festival in town when I was about 12 years old. It operated on one variable speed that depended on how tired I was.

I lived off campus the last two years of college and the neighbor to the south owned a really sharp French bicycle called a Bobet. I once asked the owner if I could ride it for a little bit and I was surprised when she said that I could. 

I headed for the track at East Lansing High School and suffered temporary blindness when I approached the sign forbidding wheeled vehicles on the track. I wanted to see what it felt like to speed on a fast bicycle.

A year later when I graduated I was asked by my parents what I wanted for a gift. By then I realized that I would not be the owner of an expensive Bobet. I had narrowed my sights to a Mercier—a cheaper French bicycle that still sounded too expensive to my parents.

The Cycles Mercier bicycle manufacturer was founded in 1919 by Emile Mercier in Saint-Etienne. What I was eyeing certainly wasn’t the top-of-line model. This was down two tiers and it sold for $150. My parents agreed to split the cost with me.

I remember they were not pleased when I damaged it in the first week of ownership. I could have bought a good sturdy model at the hardware downtown, but I had to have the fancy French thing.

Here’s what happened. I decided to pedal to Adrian to meet Chris Price when she got out of work. Traffic was heavy on US-223 north of town so I rode along the berm. A large, handsome Queen Anne’s Lace got stuck in the chain, bent the derailleur and the bike was suddenly inoperable.

I’m not sure how I got home. The world’s first cell phone call was still a year away and common cell usage was decades into the future. I probably found a phone booth and told Chris where to meet me.

The bike was my main form of transportation until I finally bought Connie Ries’s old VW bug–and later sold it and returned to the bike.

The Mercier carried me 2,000 miles in the summer of 1975 when my friend, John, and I traveled through the Canadian Maritimes. It was my transportation when I spent a year in Maine and once again that’s how I got around when I lived in Portland, Ore., for a couple of years.

It must have been on the bus with me when I returned to Morenci. The Mercier is 45 years old now and just keeps rolling along under the occasional care of Will Harsh at his bike shop.

I think Will once told me that it’s probably worth more now than it was when it was new. There’s a market for classic old road bikes. Even a bike that’s turned from the original color—sort of a robin’s egg color—to the current state of blue rust?

Dr. Tom Cable is a great bicycle fan, but when I told him the story of my left handlebar collapsing as I dismounted one night, Tom suggested that I mount the bike on the wall like a trophy and go to Will’s shop for something new.

I went to Will’s shop, but it was for a new handlebar set. I still think about getting something new. There must be something more suitable, something with a seat that would offer the comfort that the deteriorating seat fails to provide. The comment I hear about most about my bike refers to that seat.

Will I go for a new bike that’s perhaps more suitable to my age? It wouldn’t be easy to give up a nice road bike, and here’s something new from Mercier: the Draco sells for only $2,695. Even the basic model that I would choose costs $795.

Come spring, you know I’m going be riding the same set of wheels. It’s a living, moving, utilitarian trophy.