Velobrico Workshop: Motobecane Eclair (1986) update 

A couple of weeks back I posted about the latest addition to the Velobrico pile of bicycles. A mysterious Motobecane Eclair. Mysterious mostly becuase I couldn’t find out much information about the bike.

Since then, I found that Motobecane went bankrupt in 1983. The remaining assets were purchased by multiple parties, including Yamaha, and rebranded MBK.

I found a French Motobecane brochure from 1986, but no Eclair. All brochures I could find from after this date were for mountain bikes or BMXs, under the MBK badge.

So still no trace of the Eclair (which from looking at the components, should date from about 1986).

Then a breakthrough clue.

Through a Google image search I found some photos of a couple of Motobecane Eclairs. All had been repurposed as fixies or otherwise lightly modified, but were always in the same colour scheme and interestingly also in the same large frame size.

And all located in Germany….

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The other clue as to provenance came from a sticker on the down tube with ZEG written on it. This stands for “Zweirad Einkauf Gemeinschaft“, which I understand to be a bulk purchasing cooperative.

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So I’m guessing when MBK went bankrupt, they sold their remaining inventory, along with exclusive licences to sell Motobecane branded bikes, in certain national markets.

So Germany got the Eclair, and similar variants maybe appeared in other countries. I wonder if Spain got the Profiterole, and Italy the Paris-Brest (yes, it is the name of a patisserie as well as a bike race).

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Has anyone spotted something similar? Just this morning I saw a MBK (not Motobecane) Mirage with a similar looking frame (internal cable routing and same seatpost clamp under the rear stays) in Zurich.

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The Eclair needed quite a bit of tweaking before it could be safely ridden, but eventually I got it out the door and went for a fairly long 65km test ride.

Prior to the test ride I noticed the rear wheel was untrue and had very loose spokes. I tightened them, trued the wheel, and after a few small test runs they seemed to loosen again. So further tightened them, same story. Then I switched out the spoke nipples on the loosened spokes.

This was sufficient for it to survive the test ride, but the spokes definitely loosened again by the end of the ride. Given I can’t remove the spokes without removing the freewheel and can’t do that without a tool that doesn’t disintegrate on the first use, it seems easier to just switch out the rear wheel with a new one. I can’t really imagine why spoke threads could be stripped (which seems the only explanation for the continual loss of spoke tension). Does anyone have experience with that?

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The test ride was otherwise very positive. The brakes are good, though not as powerful as modern equivalents. The mudguards kept me clean =). I was glad not to have to use the lights as the dynamo seems to add 5kgs to the bike when in use…

The handlebar position gave me pins and needles. I get that on some of my bikes but not on others, and have never figured out exactly why that is. Reach or top tube length?

The VP Components pedals were a pleasant surprise, well built, comfortable and suitable for both regular shoes or MTB cleats. Apparently the low cost B’Twin pedals sold in Decathlon are made by VP Components, so buy with confidence.

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The bar tape has stretched apart in the usual spot, on the tops behind the brake levers.

Basically, the downward pressure applied by one’s hands spreads the wrap open over time. This is very common and is so easily avoided by “reverse wrapping”, where you rotate the tape outward from the top (right bar clockwise, left bar counter-clockwise). It’s a neat technique, and worth trying if you haven’t done so already.

I averaged 29 km/hr for first 18kms of my ride (until my phone died) and never did the bike feel unstable. Not bad for a purpose-confused hybrid/aero/tourer/commuter frame!

While the test ride was successful, and this frame offers a good ride, it is just far too big for me.

The current saddle doesn’t look good, so I intend to swap that onto another bike and replace it with a more comfortable one, more suited to a hybrid bike and less “race-y”.

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For me this frame makes for a better a road racer than a commuter, mainly because I have never been a fan of commuting on drop-handlebar bikes. I find the riding position awkward for stop-start riding from traffic light to traffic light, and the skinny tyres poorly suited to cobble stones and tram tracks! But as a weekend racer for a taller cyclist. This bike would be great.

As a final thought, while browsing the Motobecane catalogues, I came across this most fetching photo from 1984.

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I just couldn’t wear shorts that… short.

Maybe that’s why I’m not a fan of Motobecanes?

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Dear Santa…

Admittedly I’m a sucker for cromovelato, but wow.

Velobrico Workshop: Motobecane Eclair (1986)

The newest addition to the Velobrico stable is an unusual Motobecane road bike.

I say unusual because at first glance it looks pretty normal, while a second glance invites a few questions.

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First off, from the rear you might notice the rear stays are particularly thin, aero indeed. Secondly there’s the internal brake cable routing which gives it a sleek, clean look.

But then there’s front and rear mudguards and internal electrical cable routing for the dynamo powered lights (brazed on fork mounts).

Finally, the frame is larger than one typically sees (60cm seat tube length). And this all seems to be a stock set-up, not subsequent modifications.

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So it’s effectively half urban commuter, half racer. A bit of a confused identity!

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To be honest, I never really cared for Motobecanes. Of all the major French bikes, I always found them to be a bit humdrum and uninteresting. I’d always more fancy a Peugeot, or a Mercier. Though I’m sure someone can convince me they are actually great, so feel free to do so!

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Nonetheless, if you want to find info on a Motobecane bicycle, there’s an obvious place to turn.

Except… no French website, ad site or forum would yield any info, or even a photo of a Motobecane Eclair.

Rien du tout!

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No Motobecane brochures I sourced contain any evidence of the Eclair. Though they do show very similar frames, also labelled as “inexternal brazing, lugless”.

The first appearance is in the 1982 catalogue, showing a “Profil” with internal routing and aero rear stays, similar to the Eclair. But it’s definitely not a commuter.

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So, a little more detective work was required.

Starting with the apparently original parts: The bike has a nice Shimano Golden Arrow crankset (FC-S125 1983-1986), Shimano Light Action rear derailleur (RD-L523 1986-1988), Shimano 105 indexed 6 speed downtube shifters (SL-1050, mid-late 80s), Weinmann brakes (570).

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The parts suggest the bike is from 1986, but made no catalogue appearances, and there is no evidence of it ever having existed in France. A mystery indeed!

Eclair means “lightning bolt” in French, but it’s also the name of a nice oblong pastry filled with crême patissière and chocolate icing, which you may be familiar with. So maybe this bike is a hybrid: half electric, half doughnut… Seems oddly fitting.

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Looks like some further detective work is required. Watch this space.

Some see death trap, I see… opportunity!

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I happened across an advert for the Peugeot Galaxie by accident.

At the time I had never seen such an elegant, early aluminium frame, and was not yet familiar with the lovely Vitus 979, 989 and 992 aluminium frames.

I really like the unpainted look, so you can see the material from which the bike is made, without much embellishment.

That’s probably why I like my Lemond Chambery so much, though the clear lacquer over the aluminium is prone to damage and bubbling.

I have never seen a Peugeot Galaxie in the flesh, so would be keen to see if and how the aluminium is treated to stop “worming” and other effects of aluminium corrosion.

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In summary, I think the lines of the Peugeot Pechiney Alumiunium frames are really quite beautiful. Simple, raw, sleek.

In the mid 1980s, Peugeot partnered with French aluminium manufacturer Pechiney, to develop an innovative new frame. The end result was a full lugged aluminium frame + fork weighing about 2kgs, held together without any bonding. Total weight including all components would be just under 9kgs.

A quick bit of googling will tell you these bikes are death traps, and that if you even look at one, you will spontaneously combust.

Pechiney Peugeot frame fault exampleApparently, the frame is prone to cracking at the bottom bracket and lugs, so definitely worth close examination before buying.

While I can well believe that early designs using new engineering concepts can have inherent design or manufacturing flaws, I wonder how much these are exaggerated by word of mouth. This does seem to be an issue with these frames, but surely this only affects a certain percentage of bikes?

As this technique is not used today, that does suggest this was a failed experiment, but it remains interesting from an engineering and aesthetic perspective nonetheless.

One positive outcome of fear is that it keeps buyers away, and prevents a bike becoming so sought after that it is unreasonably expensive. Not that this was ever a top line racing frame with high-end components…

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There seem to be three variants built around the same frame. In order of prestige and original sale price, these are: Galaxie (Shimano components), Comete, Cosmic (both with French components). Oddly, some Galaxies have external cable routing, and some internal, though they were only sold for a couple of years.

These come up regularly on French second hand websites for not much money, often misdescribed, and one day I will pick one up.

If I stop posting after I buy one, it’s because I spontaneously combusted.

Dear Santa…

I know it’s asking a lot, but this one’s even nicer than the last one on my Christmas list…

Not sure how to fix something? Watch someone else do it first!

Bikes are relatively simple machines. Much easier to repair than say, a motorbike, or a car, or a TV. But while they are relatively simple, they still pose a number of challenges to the home mechanic.

Each component on a bike is relatively straightforward, mechanically speaking. But anyone with more than one bike will know there’s been a whole host of different components over the last decades.

Every bike has a bottom bracket, and hubs, and pedals, and handlebars, and brakes. But the way these have been designed and put together over the years has varied dramatically.

As a result of these variations, each different component works slightly differently, is adjusted differently, might be threaded differently, etc. Pretty quickly, the home mechanic finds they need a whole host of tools to undertake the same task (e.g. change a bottom bracket) on different bikes!

But the web is your friend. The internet is an amazing resource to check things out without damaging components by doing something incorrectly, and youtube channels allow you to see people fixing stuff first-hand.

Repair and maintenance instructions can be unclear in written/photo form, and video can really help improve clarity.

I’ve recently added a few youtube channels to my Blogroll that I find helpful. They’re over on the right of my page. Check them out, hopefully they can help you too.

Retro Rescue: This is the ugliest bike I’ve ever ridden

Though saying that makes me feel pretty mean. Like insulting an orphaned child… After all, this sad, abandoned mountain bike was rescued from a bin and brought home to be resuscitated.

Something in me just can’t leave a bike in a bin, even if it does have a purple and pink-spatter paint job that I could never imagine being seen riding on.

My wife is (unsurprisingly) unsupportive of my “addiction”…

The initial light hose-down revealed the bike to be in decent condition. No major rust, no bottom bracket wobble, true rims, no major dings in the paintwork. The seatpost and saddle were missing, tyres were punctured, the front shift lever did not work and both derailleurs were not correctly indexed and limited. That’s it, pretty good going.

But it was still ugly.

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Not much on the frame to indicate manufacturer, and as I have previously seen on some mid 80-90s bikes, the name of the components is shown on the top tube (in this case Deore LX STI), but not the bike brand. But I did see a partially erased decal which I deciphered as “Creation Kristall”.

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Kristall is a small Swiss frame maker, based north of Zurich, in Kleindoettingen, near the German border. They have been building frames since 1945 and currently have a full range of city, road, mountain and electric bikes.

This one has a cro-moly frame (and is HEAVY), full Shimano Deore LX component group, Biopace triple chainring, STI shifters, cantilever brakes and fat (almost) semi-slick tyres. And apparently a custom paintjob.

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The Deore LX component group dates this bike as early 90s, and is described by Velobase as replacing “Deore DX, ranked below XTR and Deore XT”.

I’ve been keen to ride a Biopace chain ring for a while, to see the difference with an elliptical chainring. Though after a few weeks on this one, I can’t feel any difference to power delivery, or ride.

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However I’m surprised to report that I’m pretty surprised with the cantilever brakes. It’s the first time I have ridden with them, and fully expected them to be inferior to the v-brakes which replaced them. Nonetheless, they have great stopping power, good modulation and inspire enough confidence to ride pretty hard, and in some pretty bad weather.

For a 25 year old brake system, that’s pretty impressive.

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Also, it’s got a Deore XT shark fin, which is designed to keen mud off the tyres and stop chain suck. Though I can’t imagine this bike ever been ridden such that this would be an issue.

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The Deore LX component group dates this bike as early 90s, and is described by Velobase as replacing “Deore DX, ranked below XTR and Deore XT”.

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I previously wrote a post on repairing the front shifter, which would shift up but not down. I made the schoolboy error of dismantling the entire shifter when simply a bit of spray lube in the mechanism would have been sufficient to return full functionality. Lesson learned!

The tyres are Vredestein Mont Blancs, and honestly seem better suited to cruising a Pacific coast beach than a mountain. If they ever ended up on Mont Blanc, they’d be in serious trouble. A Californian in swimming trunks surrounded by snow.

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Either the tyres or the geometry give this bike generally a real “cruiser” feel. Slow and measured acceleration and steering, but comfortable at speed. Definitely not a true off-roader.

As this bike has a great set of mudguards and fat tyres (and my other mountain bike has a worn BB) I put the Kristall to work as a winter “beater”. I’ve added reflectors, a seatpost and saddle from another bike, as well as front/rear lights. To be fair, it’s doing a pretty good job at winter commuting.

There’s a great expression that “life’s too short to ride ugly bikes”. I’ve obviously completely misunderstood the essence of that here. Thus far nobody has pointed at me and laughed while riding it, but then the Swiss are generally polite. And it does get dark early at this time of year…

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There’s a couple of neat little touches on the frame, like the rear brake cable guide and the internal cable routing through the stem.

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This is probably the roughest “crystal” the world has ever seen, but I’m sure it’s happy to be ridden again after a few years of neglect.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

But just look at that paintjob…

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