Motobécane was a French manufacturer of bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, and other small vehicles, established in 1923. “Motobécane” is a compound of “moto”, short for motorcycle; “bécane” is slang for “bike.”
Motobécane is a different corporation from Motobecane USA, which imports a wide range of bicycles from Taiwan manufactured by Kinesis Industry Co. Ltd. under the Motobécane trademark. In 1981, the original Motobécane filed for bankruptcy and was purchased by Yamaha and reformed in 1984 as MBK.
Motobécane was a major manufacturer in the French bicycle industry. Motobecane is known for designing very light weight mountain bicycles. Motobecane was the first French maker to start using Japanese parts, in the late 1970s, with Japanese derailleurs and crank sets performing far above the older French designs common on mid-priced 10-speeds. The change was largely due to the influence of their U.S. importer, Ben Lawee. The frames on Motobécane’s mid-to-upper bikes were typically double-butted lugged steel made from Vitus or Reynolds 531 molybdenum/manganese steel tubing with Nervex lugs. Unlike most French makers of the era, Motobecane used Swiss thread bottom brackets for most models. Motobécane finished their frames in beautiful and high-quality paint, a practice not often followed in the French industry. Considered the second most prestigious French bicycle (after Peugeot, whose more durable design they emulated, but ahead of Gitane), Motobécane’s mid-range bikes were good value; the company kept prices reasonable by matching high-quality frames with lower-priced, but higher-quality components from Japan, at a time when competitors were putting higher-priced, lower quality French components on mid-range bikes. Motobécane bicycles included the Nomade, Mirage, Super Mirage, Super Touring, Grand Touring, Sprint, Super Sprint, Jubilee Sport, Grand Record, Le Champion, and Team Champion.
In addition to the standard diamond frame bicycles, Motobécane produced mixte frame versions; the mixte frame Grand Touring had twin lateral stays in place of a top tube, extending from the head tube to the seat tube, while the Super Touring and Grand Jubilé had a single top tube sloping down towards the seat tube, but diverging into twin lateral stays just before the seat tube. Later mixte Grand Touring models also used this design. Motobécane also produced a tandem bicycle.
In the early ’80s Motobécane launched a new range of bikes under the “Profil” name. These bikes were made from 2040 tubing and this had been “Ovaled” or formed into a tear-drop shape to aid aerodynamics (supposedly one of the first bikes designed in a wind tunnel). They included some hidden cabling through the top tube and full use of Shimano’s Adamax 600 ax components which had been designed specifically for aerodynamics.
French bicycles before 1980 often used French-threaded bottom brackets (now difficult to find replacement parts for). French bottom brackets, like Italian ones, used right-hand threading on the fixed cups, making them subject to loosening by precession. Motobécane broke ranks with most other French manufacturers in the mid-70s, using Swiss-threaded bottom brackets (also difficult to find replacement parts for now). Swiss bottom brackets were identical to French, save that the fixed cups were reverse-threaded (like English ones), making them immune to loosening by precession.
In addition, French headsets are sized and threaded slightly differently from the more common English headset.
The name Motobécane is also used for current bikes of Taiwanese manufacture. These vehicles bear no relation to the older French made bicycles, other than the name.