Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Corvallis, Oregon
Upright bicycles already have an illustrious history in Europe and America is catching on. The “city bike” may be the latest in Stateside cycling but comfort is never a trend.
So, what makes for a qualified vintage city bike candidate?
When I purchased this bicycle, even before the handshake, I could clearly see the final build in my mind’s eye. This Motobecane seemed a perfect fit for a more practical town bike rather than bringing it back to its long distance touring roots. The longer rear chainstays were a favorable beginning giving a more relaxed handling, along with a bit more stability. The graceful and generous fork curve (known as “rake”) the French are so notoriously known for, extended splendidly. Knowing that, as a rule of thumb, the more rake, the more road absorption, I knew this bicycle simply begged for a different purpose. Something more suited for Portland riding, such as a trip to the library or to visit a friend, rather than a multi-day tour juggernaut.
Thus the Motobecane was born into the ranks of a city bike. But what qualifies a bicycle as a city bike? Plenty of different examples exists but when I think of a bicycle built for urban riding, I begin with the handlebars. High and sweeping, they are designed to bring one to an upright position rather than the their hunched over drop bar counterparts. This is a more comfortable position that takes all the strain off your back, shoulders, forearms, wrists, and hands. Drop bars aren’t something I am against by any means but city riding is less about speed and aerodynamics and more about inviting one to ride at anytime as more inclusive activity.
Bars are important in a build like this. Many hybrid, mountain and city bicycles use flat bars and although suitable for some riding, they typically compromise wrist position and can cause pain. The curve is important for ergonomic comfort and the Soma Sparrow’s fit the description for their elegant curve, the high quality material and the ability to still keep a necessary vintage aesthetic. Plus, these bars are more agile than most allowing the rider to squeeze through tighter spots while navigating through the urban jungle.
Another item I had to specifically consider is grips and braking. Nearly every bicycle I have worked on terminates with wrapped bars but tape did not feel right for this build. But cork does! The addition of natural cork and 4 coats of shellac leave a gorgeous shine while being protected from the weather and able to be touched up in case of any flaking or shellac rubbing off.
The Tektro FL750 brake levers are a modern upgrade that allow for strong pull with ease along with a clean and minimalist look. Also favorable is Tektro’s signature blessing of a higher-than-most- quality standard. Plus, the lever is wide enough to use with winter gloves on. A sure fire city bike score.
Another city bike necessity is bringing the shifting to the top of the handlebars. For this purpose, I removed the stock, French Huret downtube shifters and replaced them with a set of notoriously bulletproof Suntour Power Ratchet thumb shifters. The combination was spot on adding just the right amount of solid feeling resistance and a crisp, satisfying shifting click when changing the rear gears.
The Stronglight 99 triple crankset seems to be the component on this bicycle that catches my eye the most. I spent a generous amount of time on this crankset. I polished each crank along with the spider and arms until they shined like justice and, to me, the results seem to be worth the effort. It cleaned up splendidly and provides the rider a significant range of gearing up front. This is paramount for touring but also works well in the city, especially in the Northwest where we typically face more hilly conditions than most. This may be more pronounced in places like Seattle but Portland certainly is far from flat.
So, what does this bicycle need to be ready for daily city riding? Not much really. Of course, a few small aftermarket additions would assist in completing the complete package. A set of chrome, Velo Orange fenders would be the most significant and useful addition as this would certainly set it off and from a practical standpoint, keep the rain from soiling ones clothing. A brass Crane (or similar) bell would be a classy and useful item while riding among the masses of Portland cyclists, runners and pedestrians. However, I could see the Coup de grâce being a stately, cotton duck and chromed leather rear bag by Carradice. Because, one must have a place to put their lock and few other essentials. But, of course, the possibilities really are wide open for interpretation and customization.
Color: Gun metal grey with burgundy trim
Frame Size: 51cm (C-T) seat post & 53cm (C-C) top tube
Frame/Drop-outs: Vitus 888 steel
Fork: Vitus 888 steel; Chromed
Bars: Soma Sparrow
Bar Wrap: Cork grips with shellac (4 coats; clear)
Headset: Motobecane OEM (made by Stronglight)
Saddle: Brooks B17; Brown
Seat Post: Sakae SR; Fluted
Crankset: Stronglight 99; 52/47/36; 165mm
Front Derailleur: Huret Challenger S
Rear Derailleur: Huret Duopar Eco
Shifting: Suntour thumb shifters
Brake Levers: Tektro FL750
Brake Calipers: Weinman Vainqueur
Cable and Housing: Jagwire
Freewheel: 6-Speed Atom Compact (14/17/21/24/28/32)
Chain: KMC Z51
Hubs: Maillard Normandy Sport
Wheels: Weinman 124-A Concave; 27″ x 1-1/4″; 36h; Maillard skewers
Tires: Panaracer Pasela PT; 27″ x 1-1/4″
Pedals: Maillard RA500
Special Features: Single eyelets front/rear; Hand pinstriped lugs; Wrap-around seat stays; Raised Motobecane M logo, Single bottle mount; Chain rest
Bicycles that I rebuild typically take much longer than any profit driven bike shop spends. But, that’s only because I have the time and inclination to do so. Plus I don’t feel the pressure of sales, rent, bills and impatient customers weighing heavy on me. Comparing my shop and theirs isn’t fair but I happily take my time on a project and like to find a buyer that the build speaks to. Luckily, Gary, the new owner of the Motobecane Grand Touring, is the right fit and has the right combination of needs that the Motobecane offers.
After Gary purchased the Tobec (as they call Motobecane’s in France), his next step was to add form and functionality with a set of Velo Orange Zeppelin fenders. Although a necessary step for any regular Portland rider, I am pleased to see his decision to choose fenders that compliment the vintage and aesthetics of the bicycle.
Gary happily snapped some shots and was eager to provide them for the blog post.
After a week of riding, reports back from Gary are glowing. After an extended hiatus from cycling, Gary informed me that “this bike has me truly loving riding again.” Wonderful news, Gary! Enjoy it! It will serve you well for years.
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Thank you, Paula. Much obliged.
Just gorgeous! Mostly out of curiosity, how much?
Thank you for the remarks, Will. For price, I like to take those conversations offline. If you are interested, please do send me an email through the Contact page.
Nicely done. Makes me pine for my long-gone Grand Touring, even though my bike had a less-expensive crank. And the Concave rims remind me of a set of wheels I built for a Sekai 2400. Though the bicycle was later stolen, the local shop got the wheels back for me because no one else in the area had laced a set of Weinmanns to Hi-E hubs.
Thanks for the comments and the reminiscence. I suppose that even though the rest of the Sekai disappeared, at least you got the wheels back. It’s odd that they weren’t connected with the frame though.
I know. Right?
Great job Josh, and a wonderful vision of what a “useful” bike can be! It is nice to see someone else putting their personal signature on a great old bike, and making it ready for another 20 years of service! I think of it as saving the world, one bicycle at a time!
Lonnie, you nailed exactly what I was going for. Thanks for the post! I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Nice job on this bicycle. I see what you meant about using components that aren’t original but appropriate. Your builds are inspiring and clasy.
Thank you, John! I do try to blend the two when I see that a combined solution is appropriate.
I’m now the proud owner of this beautiful bicycle. Josh is a class act. It was a true pleasure meeting him. The bicycle is everything I hoped it would be….and more! I rode it home and kept going past my house, it was so much fun to ride.
I am most proud and excited when I know a bicycle has found the right owner. Someone who fits the frame perfectly and is delighted to use it for its intended purpose and not hang it on a wall as art. Someone who will take care of it, giving it occasional, light upkeep along with a safe storage area. You are exactly that buyer, Gary. Enjoy it as I wish you many miles of enjoyment and bliss on two wheels!
Also, please feel free to send any images of alterations that you feel readers may enjoy seeing such as fenders or a rack.
What Fenders did you put on your bike? was the fender mounts modified in any way? I have a motobecane grand touring and want to put fenders on it but don’t know where to get them.
Not sure if Gary is still following this thread and I certainly don’t want to steal his thunder but he informed me after the purchase that he picked up some Velo Orange Zeppelin fenders. He didn’t mention modifying the mounts and I haven’t ever had to on any VO fenders I have installed.
Have any thoughts about your fenders, Gary, now that you’ve had some time to break them in?
Lovely bikes. I’ve got two in my loft, both of which toured extensively over Europe and the US. I still take them out now and then if only for men to clean them and grin.
I once refurbed a MB Nomade II and it fit like a glove so much that I considered keeping it, but instead I measured carefully and swore to keep my eye out for a more “fancy” Motobecane. In 2014 I finally came across a 1978 Grand Touring in my size and it just awaits some upgrades (VO 46/30 cranks) and a rider in better shape to find some new adventures.
Holding out was the correct move, Ryan. I’ve found that sometimes the thrill of the hunt that pursues months, or even years, is more satisfying than the end result!
Maybe it’s time to start planning those upgrades for your steed!
very nice build! I also love old bikes and manual shifting. Now hunting for the suntour shifters… never tried them before.