Motobécane was a French manufacturer of bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, and other small vehicles, established in 1923. "Motobécane" is a compound word made up of two colloquialisms stuck together. "Moto" is a slang word for motorcycle; "bécane" is slang for "bike."
In 1981, Motobécane filed for bankruptcy, and was subsequently purchased by Yamaha and reformed in 1984 as MBK; the French company continues to make motorscooters, and has no relation to Motobecane USA, which imports bicycles from Taiwan and China, manufactured to their specification under the Motobécane trademark.
Charles Benoit and Abel Bardin joined forces in 1922 and designed their first motorcycle in 1923, a 175cc single cylinder two-stroke-engined bike. In 1933, they produced their first four-stroke machine with a 250cc capacity. During the 1930s, they also manufactured a longitudinal four-cylinder 750cc motorcycle. During this period, the firm entered road racing competitions and won the famous Bol d'or endurance race.
After the Second World War they produced the popular single cylinder D45 motorbike that filled a need for cheap transportation. The successor to the D45 was the Z46, equipped with modern suspension. Like many European motorcycle manufacturers, the 1960s proved to be difficult times for Motobécane as cars became affordable for the average person. As a result, motorcycle sales decreased. The arrival of cheap, efficient Japanese motorcycles also hurt the company's sales. They continued to produce two-cylinder 125cc motorcycles throughout the 1970s. They also manufactured a small number of two-stroke, three-cylinder 350cc and 500cc bikes.
For a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the company competed in Grand Prix motorcycle racing claiming several victories in the 125cc class and finishing second in the 1980 125cc road racing world championship.
Motobécane was a major and respected manufacturer in the French bicycle industry. The frames on Motobécane's mid-to-upper end bikes were typically double-butted lugged steel made from Vitus or Reynolds 531 molybdenum/manganese steel tubing with elegant Nervex lugs. Thus, they were light, sturdy, and well made. Motobécane finished their frames in exceptionally beautiful and high-quality paints, a practice not often followed in the French bicycle 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 an exceptional value; the company kept prices reasonable by matching their high-quality frames with lower-priced, but higher-quality components from Japan, at a time when their competitors were putting higher-priced, lower quality French components on their mid-range bikes. Motobécane bicycle models included the Nomade, Mirage, Super Mirage, Super Touring, Grand Touring, Sprint, Jubilee, Grand Record, Le Champion, and Team Champion.
In addition to the standard diamond frame bicycles, Motobécane also produced mixte frame versions of their bicycles; 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 joining with the seat tube. Later mixte Grand Touring models also used this design. Motobécane also produced a tandem bicycle.
Vintage French bicycles, including Motobécanes, are often sought out today by experienced riders for their value as a fixed gear conversion; for others, the unequaled pleasure of riding a vintage, well-made lugged steel bike is its own reward.
Buyers should be aware that many French bicycles manufactured before 1980 use the old-style French reverse-threaded bottom brackets, which can be difficult to find, although they are still available new through manufacturers such as Phil Wood, as well as through the used market. However, Motobecane broke ranks with other French manufacturers, beginning in the mid-seventies, by using Swiss-threaded bottom brackets, which are available through the same sources as the French-threaded bottom brackets, and buyers should be aware of the thread difference when replacing their bottom brackets.
Likewise, buyers should realize that French headsets are threaded differently than the more common English headset, although they can still be found by the persistent shopper.