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 Motobécane USA, which imports bicycles from Taiwan and China, manufactured to their specification under the Motobécane trademark.
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/mangenese 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 or track bike 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 stll 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.
Motobécane introduced a moped, the Mobylette, in 1949; over the next 48 years, Motobécane manufactured 14 million Mobylettes.
Motobécane manufactured motorcycles from its inception in 1923 until its demise in 1981.