Renewing a 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile - Doug Barnes

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Renewing a 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile

Road Bike on plain background

I have my doubts. I am looking at a vintage 21 inch Motobecane Grande Jubile bicycle. The former owner 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 a shed. 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 Professional 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.

Figure 1. Headbadge of 1976 Motobecane Grand Jubile.
(Photo: Doug Barnes)
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 (Motobecane 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 lettering.
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,/b>
(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.


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

Griffith, Steve. 2017. Classic Lightweights: UK, Weinmann Components. Accessed 2017.

Motobecane. 1976. USA Catalog produced by Motobecane.  Accessed 2017. Velobase Website.


  1. Very nice bike. I picked up what a I believe is a 1977 model yesterday. I was curious as to what kind of cleaning supplies/methods you used with to renew the different components and materials in the bike? Thanks..

    1. I used to clean everything off with WD40 and it was a lot of work. I still use WD40 as a cleaner for light duty or quick jobs, but if you have the time it is easier just to throw parts into a solution. I now use Simple Green (a really strong detergent) for soaking all the parts. It does a great job and has no toxic fumes.

      If there is rust on something, I use Evaporust for soaking ay parts with rust. I generally soak them overnight and you should not use it longer than 24 hours. Depending on the carbon in the metal, it can sometimes make the steel look a bit dark if you overdo it.

      My neighbor is riding this bike almost daily and really loves it. He gets all kind of good comments on it.

    2. Thanks for your quick reply - I'm using Simple Green and Meguire's Rubbing Compound - It's amzing what it does to the old dull paint - it's now bright and shiny. Daniel

    3. BTW, any recommendations on which tires to buy?

    4. Great. I have also use Meguire's rubbing compound, but be gentle. The old paint sometimes is not too thick in spots. However, it does a terrific job. These old Motobecane bikes were known for their nice paint jobs.

    5. Any recommendations for reasonably priced tires? thanks!

    6. I like the Michelin ProTek city tires. This is a belted tire that costs between $20 and $30. I put a set on this bike. They are a bit wide, which is actually a good thing. This is a small frame, and it just barely fit. Remember, that if the wheels are original, it will require a 27 1/4 tire. You will probably have to do some searching around to find them. I was able to get them on Amazon, but they don't always have the 27 inch tires. The 700c tires will not fit, but 700c tubes will fit.

  2. I just bought the same model - a 1976 Grand Jubilé, but with the Huret derailleur. I wish I could trade you, because the 23 inch one I have is a little too big for me.
    Your article answered questions I had, and I appreciate the historical background. Thank you. These vintage bikes are a ceash course in industrial archaeology!

  3. I came upon a'87 GJ and am about to dismantle and rebuild it. It's the black and red version and is my size 25". Even the swade saddle is like new. I'm thinking of changing very little at first maybe a set of barend shifters. The stretch to dt shifters has become a bit much over time. I love the history and hope it will be my everyday rider. Why the touring bike nomenclature? No triple crank and the short chainstays make it unsuitable although it looks like a 28t big on the 5 speed freewheel. BTW my wife gave me the same look as this is the 8th bike joining the crowd.

    1. The 1976 Motobecane catalog categorizes the bike as "fast touring." The rear chainstays are short and I had trouble mountain a 27 X 1 1/4 tire on it. The fit is really tight. My neighbor rides it now and he reports it is a very responsive bike and rides quite well. I also think that it may not be too suitable for touring.

  4. I owned one I believe in 1973 or so. Can't remember the frame size. I clocked about 75 miles daily, won one race in Norwell Massachusetts and did my best of riding from Plymouth Massachusetts to Enfield Connecticut or approx 188 miles in little over 9 hours and 15 minutes. Awesome bike!


  5. Wow, thanks for the memories. This bike served as my primary means of transportation during college, allowing bit of racing on the the weekend, and it was my trusted companion for long-distance touring during school breaks. This bike took me on many remarkable adventures up and down the California coast. I rode it from California to Jasper BC, and then down to Yellowstone before my funds ran out. I could easily knock out 100 mile days for weeks at a time. Unfortunately it wasn't always easy to find spare parts for a French bike in rural areas. The the pounding expansion joints on the Icefield Parkway (Jasper to Banaff) road cracked the ball races in the headset--I was stuck camping along that road for a week. Fixing it was no easy task since Motobecane headset threads are non-standard.

    To add to the challenges of that trip, when I crossed back into the United States, I was told to disassemble the bike for customs inspection. With my long hair and granola stashed in the saddlebags, I should have anticipated some extra scrutiny. The customs officials examined the tubes and probed areas they couldn't easily see. Their disappointment matched mine. Reassembling the bike took hours.

    That 28-pound bike was capable of tirelessly covering 100-mile distances day after day, and it could put in 200 miles if it had to. It truly was an amazing machine. Sadly, all of this happened back in 1990. On one fateful day, I left it locked inside the shell of my truck in downtown LA while I grabbed a bite to eat. When I returned, I was devastated to find the shell's door completely ripped apart and my beloved bike gone.

    1. This is a really nice bike. After I restored it, I gave it to my neighbor and he loves it. He gets compliments on it all the time when he is riding. I did have to respoke his back wheel because the old spokes could not take the stress. They kept breaking.

      Thanks for sharing your story.