Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Motobecane: Francophilia

I studied German in school, though I'd like to add French eventually. I think it's because it's so different than English, so foreign. German is similar enough to English that many of the words are spelled and pronounced similarly, cognates. Like the language, the French don't really do anything "the right way" by American standards, and of course that's appealing to me. Their cars are odd ducks, or gorgeous, depending on your point of view. The Citroën DS is a prime example of this - a plush dream of literally riding on air, swept yacht-like looks, and controls, well, made with the French logic.

The beautiful(?) DS.

Plush, if illogically appointed interior.

It's the same way with bicycles. The older French names like Rene Herse and Alex Singer conjure up images of beautifully constructed bikes that excelled at transportation while looking beautiful. Elegant steel frames, shiny metal fenders, polished racks all added up to a bike that could comfortably cruise for miles. They're the kind of bicycles collectors rightfully drool over, and spend big eBay bucks on.

The bike boom in the seventies saw somewhat of a reduction in the status of French-built bikes. Japanese components like shifters, derailers, and cranksets, came to be the equal and then far superior of the French. Japanese frame designs improved to the point that customers no longer looked down on them, but rather preferred them. The outmoded French threading on bottom brackets and pedals became a joking point in bike shops everywhere, and the French began to lose ground quickly. In many ways this is similar to what happened recently when Taiwan, and now China, took over the production of most bikes.

That's not to say they're bad bikes. The Peugeot in particular is the "in" hipster bike for fixie conversion, and Motobecane, as always, plays a sort of second fiddle, and though I've been looking for a Peugeot, car or bike, for quite some time, I was more than ready to pounce when a free Motobecane Grand Jubilé came my way. It needed wheels, seatpost, and saddle, but otherwise it was in great shape with the original Suntour Cyclone components intact. After some contemplation, I appropriated the Suntour shifting gear for Holly's new mixte, since its Simplex stuff was so awful, and threw the (made in France rims!) budget fixed/free wheelset on the Moto. Local bike mechanic Jon-Marc Eyer cried foul when he saw that I had hipster-fied such a nice bike, but with a name like Jon-Marc, of course he's going to be a French traditionalist.

Appropriately, I used my extra-special French Ideale 90 saddle, which I had been saving for something like this, and suited up the wheels with a brand-spankin-new set of 700x28 Tim Potter edition Paselas. I'll get shit from friend and Pasela dogger Mike Weigand, who trashed them in the newest edition of "Dreamboat Cyclist" magazine, but they're bulletproof for riding our rutted roads, and I have yet to get a flat on a set. The frame is a bit odd as it's got tons of clearance and long-reach brakes to make you think "touring bike," but no rack braze-ons, or even water bottle cage braze-ons! It works great with the fenders though - no toe overlap at all, which is important in a fixed-gear. And now for the pics:

Ideale saddle with extra-rare hand-hammered copper rivets. Rare because the French have long since lost the strength to hammer rivets by hand.


J Ake said...

Okay, so as I remember, there were two reasons that bikes like this Motebecane had no braze-ons. One was cost, pure and simple. The other was the use of relatively thin walled tubing, even in lower grade chromoly steel frames, which meant that brazing on water bottle bosses and/or eyelets would (it was believed) weaken the frame too much due to the application of heat. My Raleigh Professional doesn't even have top tube cable routing or a front derailleur braze on fitting. Of course, this was about the same time that everyone was drilling out their cranksets and brake calipers, so who knows.

Erich said...

Good to know Jorn. I actually may yet make this into a road/touring style of bike, but as of now it's a good summer commuter. I think my eventual goal is to get down to two bikes: a road/tour/daily bike, and the mountain bike for offroad and winter use.