Friday, March 21, 2014

1987-88 Merlin Titanium

Every now and again I am fortunate to have a very cool bike show up in my garage. This is definitely one of those times. The following is my best attempt at documenting the story of Merlin #50

The story of this bike starts the same way as many other mountain bike origin stories; in a dusty garage in the 80s. The story goes that Gery Helfrich (formerly of Fat Chance), Gwyn Jones and Mike Augspurger founded Merlin in Somerville, MA in 1986 (Merlin history at Apparently their first order to build frames came from Marin. Depending on who you believe that order was either for 50, 100 or 200 frames. The story goes on that Marin rejected those frames, based on one account (unconfirmed) this happened because the seat tubes, which were reamed by hand were not reamed to the correct diameter. Some or all of the frames were returned to Merlin and eventually sold directly to customers or shops.

That is the case with this one. The previous owner used to work at the Hothead bike shop in Somerville. Evidently the Hothead and Merlin buildings we co-located, so when the frames ended up back at Merlin (around 1988) he was able to buy it directly from them, for a reported $500. It's hard to pin point the exact date of manufacture for these frames. One point of reference is the Titanium frame that Gary Helfrich made while at Fat Chance (which is nearly identical to this one) was supposedly built in late 1985 and raced by Chris Iglehart in 1986/87. So, reason stands that the first batch of Merlin made frames could have been built in 86/87. It's hard to say how many they would have built a month/year. But, my best guess is that this is a mid 87 production frame. If the guys set up shop in mid 86, it would have taken some time to get things going, get enough Ti to start building, weld the frames to get up to #50, get them to Marin, have them rejected, back to Merlin and sold in 88. There are many holes in this theory, but it seems plausible.

Anyways, onto the pics. Like the frame Gary built while at Fat Chance, this Merlin features rear facing drop outs, flared bottom bracket shell and head tube, and let's be honest... rather crude welds :)

Backwards facing dropouts. It seems that they were only used on the earliest Merlins, #90 (as seen on the Merlin Titanium history page) is confirmed to have vertical dropouts.

Merlin had to flare the head tube and bottom bracket shell because they could only get a couple sizes of Titanium tubes and they could not press in headsets and bottom bracket bearings into them without opening up the end. This design element seems to have been used on Merlin frames up to around #150.

You can see some of the area affected by the heat from welding.

Flared BB shell to accommodate pressed in, sealed cartridge bearings. 

Seat cluster might be the best executed piece of the frame. Ironic that it may have been the reason that it was rejected in the first place.

Cable routing runs under the down tube, this would be the norm on merlins for a long time to come.

 I love this little cable stop, looks like a lot of attention went into it. Still see the heat stress marks as well.

The bike came with some nice components, including WTB GG hubs laced to Mavic MA40 rims, an Ibis straight blade fork and 6-spd Shimano M730 XT. I will attempt to preserve the build, and may change out a few pieces for slightly better ones. As homage to the Titanium Fat Chance that Gary built, I may paint the fork yellow, we'll see.

1 comment:

  1. Nice, thoughtful assessment...though I kinda am fond of those welds, for the most part! Cool find.