Overall I have not been a huge fan of French made bicycles. That is not to say that there are not some desirable French bicycles out there, its just that they have not captured my imagination like the Italian Marques have. The French Randonneur bikes are an exception to that however. The French invented the sport of randonneuring and for a time made the best bicycles intended for that sport. The best of these were light and fast and designed for any weather and any road. They could take an intrepid rider far and wide through the French countryside.
This 1958 Motobecane Randonneur recently arrived to me from France where it appears to have been lightly used over many years but probably not very recently. It is complete and original in every detail except the tires which seem to have been replaced recently. Even the grease in the hubs seems original and was a dried out paste. There is minimal rust so I believe that the bike has been stored indoors for much of its life. Every bike has a story to tell, I would love to know some of the history of this old bike, where it lived, who rode it and where. It appears to have been used gently, which means it was loved and cared for. That does not mean however that it did see some amazing rides in the country!
It is perhaps not the best example of a quality randonneur bike as is demonstrated by its finished weight of 34 lbs. I do believe however that it is an excellent representation of the French Randonneur style of bicycle. It is virtually an all steel bike, including hubs, rims, bars etc. The only aluminum parts are the stem, brake levers and fenders. Even the cantilever brakes are steel. The drive-train is a 4 speed with Nervar, Atom and Simplex components.
The Motobecane received a complete mechanical work-over. Virtually every part was disassembled and cleaned, then lubricated and reassembled. Every moving part was taken down, including the wheels which were completely re-built. Repairs were made to the frame which had a bent stay and there was a damaged fender which was also mended. The original “patina” is essentially intact. This bike appears as it should be, as a well maintained rider of 55 years of age. Rust free but showing all the signs of a life well lived.
For gearing there is a 4 speed Atom freewheel shifted by a Simplex rear derailleur and friction shifter. I thought about trying to update it to a 5 speed freewheel which has a greater range of gears, but even though a 5 speed cluster would fit on this hub and rear spacing, the derailleur did not have enough travel to shift the range. There are no adjustments on this derailleur, its full range of travel, stop to stop, shifts the 4 gears. I did change the front chain-ring though. The original Nervar chain-ring had some nice scrollwork on it but I thought 48 teeth was a little large. I found a compatible Stronglight ring with 36 teeth. With the narrow 13 – 22 cluster on the rear that should give me some usable range.
The original Motobecane branded saddle was still on the bike but was no longer usable. It still looks like a seat but the old leather could not sustain any use. I put on an sprung Brooks saddle that I had laying around. It is a good match for the bike! Still functional is the original ROB bottle generator lighting system. It offers weak illumination by todays standards but it was state of the art back in the day. Even though it adds some weight it will stay, to keep the bike correct.
As you can imagine, this bike is more of a showpiece than a “real rider” but I hope to find some rides to do on this bike, perhaps vintage events, tweed rides or other shorter distance events. It is a little heavy and will not be a strong performer but it will certainly look good on the road. After all, how many 55+ year old bikes do you see out there?
When the bike was received it had been damaged in shipping. The rear fender had been bent and torn as a result. Below are before and after pictures of the repair. An aluminum backing plate was fashioned and then glued and riveted into place after the fender was re-formed into its original shape. You could look at it as just another blemish but I choose to see it as just one more point in the story of this bike. The repair is subtle and will last for many years of use!