Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More on the Mercier Nano Mini-Velo: In defense of the 20" wheeled road bike!

So far, I've found three old blog sites regarding the Mercier Nano Mini-Velo, so I'm going to give you a little more than just the scarce reviews on this little bike. If you're just tuning in, my first ride impressions can be found HERE.

I've ridden it a handful of times (remember I own 8 bikes, and I rotate riding them) and I didn't want to give the Nano the full spin until I came to a good upgrade stopping point. My FSA compact crankset finally came in and it's now complete at a husky 26.3 lbs.

Here is the list of upgrades I have done:

1. Primo Comet 1.5 tires (I already had one from my flatland BMX bike)
2. Drilled rims to fit Schrader tubes (because 20" presta tubes are hard to find, plus I can add Stans sealant in Schrader tubes)
3. 11-32 cassette
4. Shimano 2X8 brake shifters
5. Origin 8 Velo Seat
6. Cork look bar tape (it's actually gel tape)
7. FSA Compact Crankset
8. Eggbeater pedals (parts bin)

Today's ride was my normal roadie loop, and, after having to stop a half dozen times to get the shifting straightened out, I really dug the new gearing. It "wakes up" the speed and climbing efficiency of the little bike, and add the 100psi tires... it easily can hang with 700c wheeled bikes at a layman's pace.

Of course, the looks on the faces of the hardcore roadies are priceless when almost all of them took double-takes and the riders I passed must've really thought "WTF?" when they saw me go by.

In the last four rides, I've layed down 85.2 miles and 3800ft. of elevation gain (climbing). The fastest I've gone on this bike was from today's ride of 48.3MPH - so if you're wondering if this bike is still a contender for serious road rides... it is. The small wheels make very little difference with the minute decrease in rolling momentum on flat ground (when compared to a 700c road bike).

People will criticize the small wheels for not being able to absorb bumps on the road. This is easily fixed with a high volume, wide tire. I believe, if you're going down to 20 X 1.25 (and skinnier) with high pressures, you are bound to feel the road a little more, and yes, you may lose some of the road bump shock advantage a 700c wheel may have. The Primo Comets 1.50 seem to ride in the sweet spot of low rolling resistance and shock absorption.

Having 53/39 X 11-32 gearing gives this bike a much wider range of usable gears that the stock 52/42 X 12-25 has. In the low end of things, the 53T X 11T gearing scoots you along very well on the flats and descends (spin out is about 40MPH), and on the upper end of things, the 39T combined with the chain dancing between the four biggest cogs in back will have you spinning at a faster rate up hills without crushing your knees. Swapping out the gearing transformed this bike from a recreational city commuter to a long haul, touring friendly hill climber.

I'm not a fan of letting my hands leave the handlebar to shift, so new shifters were at the top of my list when thinking of upgrades. The head tube shifters are fine for daily strolls and commuting, but I was looking to "unlock" the full potential of this bike. At first I considered bar end shifters, but after finding Shimano ST2200's on eBay for $95 (shipped), the extra $20 was worth it.

Lesson learned when installing new shifters: don't rely only on bench testing them before going out for a fast paced ride. Like I said previously, I had to stop nearly a half dozen times to adjust both derailleurs before the chain would sit in a cog and the front derailleur would push the chain to the small ring. After that, it was nice having those quick, positive shifts. The front derailleur has a fine tune micro-shift option that allows a rider to ride the whole cassette while in the small ring.

The stock seat, was very, very uncomfortable. As I said previously, it seems right for an upright, flat bar bike, but when leaned a little more forward, this wide, jelly seat was just the pits. I purchased a thinner "velo" seat from Origin 8 and it did the trick beautifully; I did not get saddle sore at all. Seats are an individual matter, so the stock seat may work for you - it clearly did not for me. However, the stock Nano seat found it's way to my fixed gear bum bike, which is in the works (stay tuned for that build).

Finally, I want to make the suggestion to all those interested in this bike: drill out the rims to fit Schrader tubes! I have a close and personal relationship with 20" tubes (BMX state of mind, forever!) and it is very, very difficult to find 20" Presta valve tubes. Conversely, 20" Schrader valve tubes are widely available - even drug and hardware stores carry them. Most importantly, flat protection is a snap by simply removing the valve core and squirting in tire sealant of your choice. I prefer Stan's sealant over Slime since it's a little lighter and comes in 2oz bottles that squirt right into the tube. I picked up three goat heads (two in front, one in back) on my ride today and none of them flattened my tires.

My biggest criticism is the weight of this bike. 26.3 lbs after upgrades seems a bit portly to me, and I feel the culprit are the wheels, heavy parts and frame material. It would be nice to bring this down to a reasonable steel bike weight of 22-24 lbs. but then you are looking at replacing every part of this bike... which makes a $300 into an expensive endeavor. I'm keeping it AS IS and will just deal. All that aside, you really don't feel the weight when riding it, and the steel frame is very comfortable. Maybe I'm just being nit picky.

Interested in a Mini-Velo? Get one! They are fun, they hang right along with the bigger bikes and they are a blast to ride. You forget you are on tiny wheels and people freak out when you pass them. Be ready to upgrade if you want to fully unlock the potential of this bike... but if you don't, it does wonderfully in stock form.


  1. Are you making the stock Sora derailer work with that 32 on the cassette? I didn't see a new derailer in your parts list and I thought its max was 27ish.

  2. Hi @Matt,

    It works, it's just a little tight. I haven't had the need to go all the way up to the 32, but on the bench it shifts just fine.

  3. Hey Dion, stumbled upon the site while researching the minivelos. I may end up getting one as a cheap date (I think I'm past my go-fast years) and doing some of the mods you described. Thanks for taking the time to keep this blog. Much appreciated

  4. Good info Dion as I just got a Nano off ebay and should receive it next week. My other bikes are mainly folders so this will be my first, and probably only, roadie.

    John Klein

  5. Hi Dion Thanks for keeping this informative blog. It helped me alot.
    If you don't mind could you specify the model name for cassette and the crankset? There is so many FSA Compact crankset so I don't really know which model I should purchase. and same with cassette.

    Thank you in advance.


    1. Hi Yong,

      8sp. cassettes are pretty abundant, and I found mine on eBay. It's a Shimano cassette, but I can't tell you the model number. As far as the crankset goes, again, I bought it on eBay - but you can narrow your search by simply typing in "square taper crankset road" or something like that. Good luck!

  6. What size tires does this accept? I'm curious if you think it would accept the hookworm 20x2.00 or if any 20x2.00 tire would work. I'm a bit of a Clydesdale and I love the Panarace Uff Da tires 26x2.35 on my GT Timberline Commuter bike.

  7. Hi Richard,

    Sorry it took so long to reply to your post. I don't know why I'mnot getting notifications...

    The hookworm may not work, and I can't go outside to check because I sold this. You may want to try contacting BikesDirect or create a post in the folder section of BikeForums. Sorry I can't help!