Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mobilizing the Motobecanes

These are the finest bicycles I have worked on to date.

A close friend of mine forwarded me to a couple of family friends, Stan and Oi, who bought these Motobecanes brand new in Boston in 1974. After having them stored for a couple decades, they wanted to get riding again and figured I would be interested in helping out. And that I was.

Oi's candy-apple-red Grand Jubile was a stunner at first sight. Not only was it super clean, but it had Huret Jubilee derailleurs and a Stronglight crankset requiring a specially-threaded pulling tool. The frame was also made of Reynolds 531 steel.

The bike had clearly been extremely well cared for; the alloy parts had their factory shine even without having been polished. The quality of the components was apparent, as each nut and bolt head had crisp edges and shiny faces. Even the bottom bracket cable guide was beautifully crafted.

The Huret Jubilee has the reputation of being one of the lightest, if not the lightest rear derailleur of all time. It looked quite fragile - quite a bit slimmer and over 100g lighter than a modern Shimano 105 - but I made sure not to find out myself how strong it really was. As a side note, I was surprised at the complete lack of brazed-on cable stops or guides on both bikes. They relied on clamp-on stops for the rear derailleur cable, shown here, and separate clamp-on guides for the rear brake cable and bottom bracket cable guides.

The original front derailleur had a snapped clamp, so it had to be replaced. Included with the bikes was a bag of spare tubes and derailleurs that were purchased over twenty years ago but never used.

I had the honor of opening a brand new Suntour Spirt (not Spirit or Sprint) derailleur from the late '70s. It was what Shimano would call a "rapid rise," where the default was the large chainring. Also in the bag of spares was a new Suntour GT derailleur from the same era, the same as the one on the yellow bike, which weighed darn near a pound and was beefy enough to have been used as a kickstand.

As a side note, the bag of spares also included an unused Raleigh tubular tire from the '70s. I have no idea why they had it, as the rims on the bikes were for clincher tires, it's beyond riding age at this point. Still a cool thing to have.

The red Gran Jubile evidently had chain line issues since it was new. The bottom bracket spindle installed at the factory was far too short, limiting Oi to the inner few gears when using the small ring. That was unfortunate because even the quality of the bottom bracket spindle was on par with the rest of the bike. The square taper had sharp edges and nearly a mirror finish.

I bought a standard-dimension, standard-quality 124 mm spindle for it but the shoulders for the bearings ended up being a few millimeters too close together. I ended up taking apart a different bike and salvaging the same length spindle from that one. I may have purchased a spindle meant for bigger ball bearings.

Here are some more photos showing the breathtaking details of the bike (and the rear brake cable clamp)

The original Ideale saddle was in beautiful shape so I treated it with Proofide to give some moisture back to it.

Weinmann 610 center pull brakes were used on almost all road bikes from this era. Evidently they were cheap enough to produce where even a Huffy could have them, but performed well enough for the best of the bikes. Also, check out the hand-drawn gold lines around the frame lugs. It's rare that they are this well done on a bike that was not custom built.

The quill tension bolt for the AVA stem had evidently been replaced with a weird 7 mm allen bolt, which I very nearly had to go buy a key for separately, before I realized I had one meant for a 3/8" socket drive. Whew.

Oi also had me install a really cool alloy touring rack that she had, which may have been on the bike at some point. And by cool, I mean that all of the "speed holes" in the upper frame were actually bolt holes, making all of the supports completely reconfigurable for optimal fore-aft  weight distribution.

Stan's yellow Grand Record was very similar but also different in many ways. It too was made of 531 tubes, but had evidently come from the factory with Campagnolo derailleurs.

Knowing close to nothing about Campy products in general, I was surprised the original front derailleur doing the shifting on a triple-ring setup. The rear cluster was something like a 12-22 with very small ratio jumps. Stan said that he "foolishly" did that on purpose to make sure there was zero overlap between the ratios when shifting between the chainrings, but that's actually how old-school racers did it. As mentioned before, the rear derailleur is a very heavy Sugino GT medium-cage, installed to take up the slack when using the small ring.

A quick browse online indicates that The Bicycle Exchange has been in business since 1992, which I would guess was about the last time these bikes were serviced.

The paint on this bike was not quite as nice as the red one, as it had been used more. There was an interesting checking/cracking pattern on it, although the rest of the bike did not show evidence of excessive outdoor storage. The bearings were still clean and in very good shape.

The Brooks Pro saddle on this bike was so wonderfully oiled and broken in that it resembled a piece of rubber. Jealous!

The Grand Record had Universal Model 61 brakes which I know very little about, save for the fact that people seem to like them a lot. They look to have a bit more mechanical advantage than the Weinmanns, if anything.

This bike did not have the chrome fork ends that high-end bikes usually used, but I enjoyed the little detail at the top of the fork that echoed the frame lugs. They were probably right that covering the entire fork crown in black would have been too much.

Other than the bottom bracket and derailleur for the red bike, both bikes received what I would call a standard full overhaul from me: new brake cables, KMC Z50 chains, a cleaning and new grease for all of the bearings, new tubes (which came in that bag), new good-but-cheap Dia Compe gray matter brake pads, and my favorite all-purpose Continental Tour Ride tires. I took these photos in a rush before returning the bikes, so I'm surprised I didn't miss anything crucial ...

And here are the happy owners, Stan and Oi, upon receiving their new old bikes. I was honored to have been chosen to do the work, and I wish them many more happy years and enjoyable miles with their bikes.