Renewing a 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile - Doug Barnes

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Renewing a 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile

I have my doubts. The C and O bike loan program has just received a donation of a vintage 21 inch Motobecane Grande Jubile bicycle. The program manager had saved it from the junk pile especially for me. He says, “Doug, do you want to take this on as a project. I don’t know much about it. What do you think?”

The silver and red two-wheeler is leaning against the bicycle shed adjacent to the Great Falls Tavern in the C & O Canal National Historic Park near Washington, DC. The first impression is not a good one. The bike is covered in grime from years of sitting in a garage. This bike has the look of an over-powdered aging French Madame, down on her luck. The silver frame is covered with years of garage brown dirt hiding the imperfections of aging. The thin 27 by 1/8 inch tires are cracked and sagging. The rubber brake hoods are marbleized and wrinkled. The formerly bright ruby red cables have faded to an austere, dark maroon brown and are frayed at the bends. At first glance I balk at the thought of renewing this bicycle, considering it too much work.

“I’m not sure. She’s definitely a classic. But I don’t know what’s under all that dirt?”

Then I take a closer look. One good sign is that the bike has a set of Japanese Suntour Cyclone derailleurs. I see that under the grimy handlebar tape is a set of made in French Pivo Professonal handlebars. I read the sticker on the frame and it says “Construit avec Reynolds 531 3 Tubes Renforces,” or constructed with Reynolds 531 double butted chrome-molly main tubing. This the highest quality frame material back in those days. The cranks are classic French Stronglight, among the best of their times. I check the rims and they are Araya, 1970s classics from Japan. The hubs are Normandy, made in France. I measure the French Sedis chain and I can’t believe it is almost in original condition except for a bit of grime. The black and red winged head badge is bright and clear (figure 1). My curiosity is piqued.

Red and Black Bicycle Headbadge Closeup
Figure 1. Headbadge of 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile.
Source: Doug Barnes
“This bike might have some potential, but it depends on condition of the paint and the compoenents. I’ll take it home and have a closer look.”



At the end of the day I put the Motobecane on my car rack, drive it home. As I carry it to my bike work area in my basement, my wife gives me a sideways glare, suggesting she’s thinking, “Not another one.” She is accustomed to me bringing home orphaned bikes, and is used to humoring me. But she does become annoyed when I have too many projects crowding the basement.

That evening I do some research on the bike. The 1976 Motobecane catalog (Motogecane 1976) reads, “Hand built for long distance touring. Reynolds 531 double butted tubing. Beautifully detailed Nervex professional lugs. Fitted with carefully selected alloy components.” The paint and lugs on the Motobecane bikes were among the best in the bike industry during the 1970s. Although known more for motorcycles, Motobecane made bikes from 1923 to 1984. The bike frames cleans up very nicely (figure 2). The paint is very hard and cleans up well with only one exception. The silver paint on the front forks was covered with some kind of protective coating that softened up over time. With cleaning this removed the top coating of the pain revealing a silver color very close to the tone of the paint.

Silver bicycle frame with red letering.
Figure 2. Made in France, Motobecane
Photo: Doug Barnes
Like Schwinn, Motobecane fell victim to the Japanese imports that flooded the USA and European markets in the late 1970s and 1980s. Motobecane tried to fight this trend becoming one of the first of the European manufacturers to use the high quality Japanese components to complement its hand-built French frames. This made them quite popular during the 1970s, but slowly their sales declined and the company entered bankruptcy in 1981. Unlike Schwinn which tried to fight the global competition by producing bicycles in Chicago, Mississippi, Taiwan and China, Motobecane never took on the challenges from abroad. As a consequence, they slowly lost market share during the 1980s, faded as a brand and eventually declared bankruptcy. The bicycles made under the Motobecane name today have no relationship with the historic French company.

The Motobecane Grand Jubile (figure 3) is a touring bike and is listed in the 1974 catalog as the fourth highest model in their line of bicycles. According to the catalog the bike weighs 24 pounds. Motebecane's highest rated model is only one pound lighter. As I go over the bike I notice the components on the catalog match those on the bicycle. The 1976 catalog lists the Suntour derailleur set for the first time, making this the probable year that this bicycle was assembled in France.


Red Lettering on Bicycle Silver Top Tube
Figure 3. Grand Jubile on Motobecane Top Tube
Photo: Doug Barnes
The silver frame with red lettering is very attractive. The frame is made in France and is composed of Reynolds 531 tubing. The main tubes are double butted (thicker at the ends and thinner in the middle). The silver paint has a deep luster even after 40 years (figure 4). The red lettering is clear and distinctive against the light silver background.

Silver and Red Bicycle with fence in background
Figure 4. Restored 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile
Photo: Doug Barnes
The French Pivo handlebars cleaned up quite well after I dissolved 40 year old glue left from the old bar tape. The finish is a bit scratched, but it also is quite shiny (figure 5).

Logo on Silver bicycle handlebar
Figure 5. French Pivo Professional Handlebar Logo
Photo: Doug Barnes
The SR Alloy stem is made in Japan (figure 6). They were high quality and quite popular in the 1970s.

Bicycle Handlebar stem with red reflection of brake wire
Figure 6. SR Alloy Japanese Handlebar Stem
Photo: Doug Barnes

The derailleur set is Suntour Cyclone (figure 7). Suntour made very high quality components in the 1970s and 1980. These are non-index derailleurs. The Cyclone was introduced in 1975 and was a more polished version of the very popular Suntour V. Despite more expensive models produced at the time, these derailleurs were shifted reliably and predictably (Berti 2017). The production of Suntour components peaked in 1985 and they came late to the market with index shifters. As a consequence, the company lost market share to Shimano and eventually declared bankrupcy in 1988. The company was purchased by Sakae Ringyo Company, and the company today is called SR Suntour, which today still makes a wide variety of bicycle parts including forks.


Figure 7. Suntour Cyclone Derailleur on 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile
Photo: Doug Barnes
The Swiss company Weinmann had the market on medium quality brakes during the 1970s and also produced rims since the 1930s. The Swiss company sold the largest volume of any supplier of rims and brakes during those times. They were featured on many British sports bikes including Raleigh, Carlton, Dawes and Falcon (Griffith 2017). Weinmann is not found on the highest quality bikes of the era, but they made solid components. The brakes on this bike are Vainquer 999 (winner in French) and they are center pull (figure 8). They are difficult to adjust, but I have an old third hand tool that does the job. After designing an excellent line of products, the company rested on its past performance and some of its products became outmoded. Weinmann brake production ceased during the 1990s.

Figure 8. Swiss Made Weinmann Vainqueur Brakes, 1976
Photo: Doug Barnes
The Weinmann rims were known to be strong and true even when ridden of the roughest conditions (figure 9). Eventually the production of the rims was shifted to Belgium. The are still produced today by Alesa and they are made in China.

Figure 9. Classic Weinmann Rim on 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile Bicycle
Photo: Doug Barnes
The drivetrain consists of a Stronglight square taper crank and chainrings (figure 10). I had to buy a special Stronglight compatible crank puller to removed the cranks for servicing the bottom bracket. They are larger than the standard Shimano size and even different than other French cranksets. The size of the correct crank extractor for this bike is 23.35 mm.

Chainrings of bicycle on white background
Figure 10. Stronglight Crankset and Chainrings, 1976
Photo: Doug Barnes
The axles are French and made by Normandy. The Sedis chain is also a French the company that originally was formed after encouragement by Peugeot bicycles (figure 11). Sedis still makes high quality chains today. The 5 speed freewheel was made by the French company Atom, but in this case it was made in Italy.
Freewheel and Chain on Bicycle with grass in background
Figure 11. Chain and Freewheel on 1976 Motobecane Bicycle
Photo: Doug Barnes
Once can sense the beginnings of globalization in the components of the bike and especially the drivetrain. Factories in Europe were humming to produce components for French and other European bicycle frames. The Suntour and SR components was the first nod towards the globalization of the bike industry. In just a few decades after this bike was produced, most companies that made the bicycle components either went out of business or moved their production to Asia.

I did not ride this bike extensively because at 21 inch size is quite small for me. However, my short ride indicated that this bicycle is very stable and is ideal for touring. If you want to take a look at this bike, it is on display at the Bicycle Loan Program at Great Falls Tavern in Maryland. This is located in the C & O Canal National Historic Park. For more pictures of the bike use this link.


References

Berto, Frank, 2017. The Dancing Chain: History and Development of the Derailleur Bichycle. 5th Edition. San Francisco: Cycle Publishing/van de Plas Publications. 

Griffith, Steve. 2017. Classic Lightweights: UK, Weinmann Components. Accessed 2017. http://www.classiclightweights.co.uk/components/weinmann-components.html

Motobecane. 1976. USA Catalog produced by Motobecane.  Accessed. Velobase Website.  http://velobase.com/Resource_Tools/CatalogScans.aspx



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