Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Portland, 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?
Upon purchasing this 1982 Motobecane Grand Touring, 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.
This bike is currently for sale.
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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