Mercier bossed professional cycling for over 50 years between 1933 and 1984. Antonin Magne, Louison Bobet, Raymond Poulidor, Cyrille Guimard, Joop Zoetemelk and of course Britain’s Barry Hoban all rode for the various incarnations of the team from Mercier-Hutchinson in the early days through to the final Coop-Mercier-Mavic squad.
A Mercier rider never won the Tour de France, although Poulidor, ‘the eternal second’, who rode for Mercier for his entire career, was runner-up three times and third five times. There were plenty of stage wins and Classics victories and Mercier claims the most participations in the history of the Tour.
The story of the decline of a bicycle manufacturer in Europe in the 1980s is a familiar one and Mercier, whose bikes had been a major part of French cycling since the original St Etienne factory opened in 1919, closed its doors in 1985.
So to see the name reappear as a clothing brand will be a source of joy – and possibly surprise – for fans of the golden era of bike racing. Furthermore, it’s Emile Mercier Jr, the son and nephew of the founders, and his son-in-law Alexis Descollonges who are behind it, making it an authentic family business once again.
The resurgent Mercier collaborated with designers from the cycling and outdoor clothing industries in Annecy and Chamonix to develop its new range, and is now based in that region.
The majority of its textiles are made in France and the garments are manufactured in northern Italy, 150 kilometres from its HQ. Mercier says working within such a small perimeter allows it to better control the supply and quality of its materials, invest in the knowledge of its partners and also minimise transportation, lessening its ecological impact.
Very sensibly, the brand has steered well clear of making replica team kit - though there is a very cool limited-edition Miko-Mercier tribute jersey in the range, which is the closest thing - and has instead included lots of much more tasteful nods to the team’s history.
The range covers every cycling garment and eventuality, all featuring the signature pink of Mercier’s bikes, the purple of the BP-era jersey and the dark blue of the GAN-Mercier-Hutchinson team, incorporating the classic crown logo which used to feature on the tops of the fork legs and evocative scripts from the past.
There’s a story that Barry Hoban used to bring suitcases full of Mercier kit back home and give it to his mates, who would wear it around the roads of the UK. When Mercier sent me a selection of kit to review from France, I couldn’t help thinking of that. Like Barry’s mates back in the 70s, I was proud to wear it.
Mercier Saint-Etienne jersey - €175
Named after the city where Mercier was founded, the Saint-Etienne cycling jersey is made from three different materials - mainly from a stretchy, breathable fabric that has a stylish, classic look but packs an impressively modern performance.
Mercier describes this jersey as “versatile … protects from the cold and wind when conditions require it,” and having tested it in Britain where it’s possible to experience four seasons in a single ride, that’s a fair description.
While the main body of the jersey is a single block colour, there are lots of hidden details. The inward-facing side of the pockets has a repeating pattern of the Mercier ‘M’ in different fonts from the different eras and there’s a label sewn in with a short biography of the Mercier team. This recalls - or may even be inspired by - Rapha’s tributes to legendary riders. There was even a Rapha ‘Trade Team’ jersey in 2012 that was based on Poulidor’s purple-and-yellow Mercier-BP-Hutchinson jersey of 1962: Mercier has decided it can do its own tribute, merci beaucoup.
There are embroidered Mercier logos on the breast and on the central rear pocket and the inside of the collar is a shower of little pink Ms.
The cuffs are elasticated and there’s a section of silicone-backed elastic at the rear to support the pockets and to keep the bottom of the jersey in place, although with this jersey’s well judged fit it’s probably not even necessary.
There are four men’s and four women’s sizes. I tested the size S and found the men’s size guide on Mercier’s website is accurate, with the caveat that its kit is made to fit tightly and is designed for training and racing conditions. “If you like to eat and drink well then choose the larger size - it will be the right one,” advises Mercier.
There’s a choice of three colourways - including ‘Sycamore Green’, which may not have been an official colour back in the team’s salad days but is definitely in vogue in 2023.
The build quality of the Saint-Etienne jersey is really exceptional - it’s beautifully made (in Italy) and looks and has a high-end feel.
Mercier Emile bib shorts - €230
Mercier offers the Emile and the Ernest bib shorts for men and just the Louison waist shorts for women.
The Emile is the flagship model and just like the Saint-Etienne jersey, they’re designed for real performance rather than retro posturing. Although the logos and lettering recall the team kit of the mid-20th century, they’re lightyears ahead of the scratchy shorts that chafed the undercarriages of Poulidor et al.
Mercier says they’re made from a 360 degree fabric exclusively designed for them, and it’s very much like the type the current best bib shorts from the big brands use: it’s matt and considerably compressive - though Mercier doesn’t claim any compressive benefits - and smooth fitting without wrinkles.
There’s a mesh panel at the lower back where the jersey overlaps, and another one is set between the bib straps at the upper back.
The bib straps are smooth elastic that have enough stretch to hold the shorts section in the bike position, but they never pull on the shoulders, even when standing or sitting upright.
As with the jersey, Mercier’s size guide is accurate. The size S was ideal for me (5ft 10in, 69kg) and the legs are a decent length even for long femurs.
There are the same three colourways as the Saint-Etienne jersey.
Like most good-quality bib shorts, the Emiles use a chamois from one of the specialist manufacturers - in this case a three-density pad made by Elastic Interface. No Magne-era raw steak necessary. The full three densities are stacked underneath the sitbones - it’s targeted cushioning, again like brands such as Assos and Castelli are using, rather than a pad of uniform thickness, and works very well.
The Mercier branding is discreet on these shorts so that you could get away with wearing them outside of the Mercier ensemble without committing the crime of mixing pro kit, and their performance is good enough that they warrant it. These are on a par with the best bib shorts this year - super comfortable for long mileage, well fitting and stylish looking.
Mercier Chess gilet €130
Presumably named after the ‘chess-on-wheels’ of road racing even though the name suggests the jersey of Mercier’s rival team Peugeot, the Chess gilet is the lightweight, single-layer type that fits easily into a jersey pocket, to be donned or removed as conditions dictate.
Like the Emile shorts, it comes in four men’s sizes but there’s no women’s gilet.
The Chess has a windproof, water-resistant front (though Mercier doesn’t claim any hydrophobic properties); stretchy side panels and a mesh back, while behind the shoulders is a yoke section that’s both windproof and lined - in a drop-bar position this part bears the brunt of the weather.
While for most of the kit the Mercier branding is minimal and relatively discreet, the gilet gets big Mercier lettering across the upper back, but this is justified since the letters are reflective. So it seems if you really want to bask in Mercier’s reflected glory, you’ll have to wait for bad weather.
Whereas the Mercier Saint-Etienne jersey and Emile bib shorts are consistent in their sizing, the size small gilet comes up slightly larger than you’d expect - which means that you could wear it over a winter jacket as an extra layer if you wanted to. Over just the snug-fitting jersey it’s on the loose side, however.
The Chess has all the elements and performance of a top gilet: there’s a two-way zip that can be undone at the bottom for extra ventilation on long climbs; the mesh rear works well to let heat escape and the front keeps out the chill and the showers.
Like the other Mercier kit, it looks super chic. This time there’s no green colourway - it’s pink or dark blue.
Mercier Peloton base layer €58
The Peloton base layer comes in men’s and women’s versions - both of them sleeveless, string vest style. Though, as with all the modern Mercier offerings, it’s a bit more high tech than what Pou Pou had.
The Peloton is made from super-lightweight synthetic mesh - claimed record density of only 60g/m2 - with very thin panels of ‘solid’ silky fabric at the sides.
There’s a repeating pattern of different Mercier Ms and crown logos, and for the men’s base layer you can choose between blue, green or black patterns on the white background, while for women it’s just blue since the women’s Saint-Etienne jersey is only available in blue.
Since there’s no room for a label with a miniature cycling history lesson on it, a simple motivational message ‘Bien faire et laisser dire’ is printed on the bottom hem - roughly translated as ‘do well and let them talk’ or more idiomatically ‘do right and fear no man’ - a well chosen motto for a sport historically shot-through with skulduggery. Poulidor famously accepted drug testing even though it set him against the majority of the peloton which was at the time vociferously opposed to it.
As for sizing, the Peloton base layer is consistent with Mercier’s guide, with the size small perfect for me (5ft 10in, 69kg) and also a perfect length, with no bunching inside the shorts.
It wicks moisture away from the body effectively, which is the job of a base layer, is conversely helpful at trapping warm air in cooler conditions, and crucially matches the Mercier Saint-Etienne jersey.
Mercier Massif socks €24
Last but not least, the Massif socks (available in three sizes going from 35 up to 46, suitable for most men and women).
Sock height has been one of the most contentious issues in cycling in recent years, both for sartorial and aerodynamic reasons. Although Merckx had a preference for socks that ended just above his ankle bone, and on occasions may even have turned them down himself, Pouldor’s mostly extended at least to his lower calf. Mercier’s Massif socks are generous in length, just a little higher than Poulidor’s in his final Tour de France in 1976.
Socks were traditionally white, but Mercier now offers five colours.
And of course the fabrics are now more advanced: they’re made from what Mercier calls Q-Skin fabric, which according to the brand has antibacterial properties and sweat-wicking technologies.
They’re super soft and I’ve found them to be extremely comfortable - and it’s also worth noting that they’re still looking fresh after quite a few wash cycles. Shabby-looking socks can wreck your whole carefully curated kit combo - these won’t do that.
The 21st-century Mercier successfully celebrates its own history in the professional peloton with a thoroughly modern, super stylish range of clothing that performs well and looks fantastic.
Pricing is at the upper end of the scale, but these are all beautifully designed garments that are made in Europe with European fabrics.
It’s a ‘oui’ from me.