Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

10 May 2013

Silver Lilacs

After yesterday's deluges, riding to work this morning under a sun thinly veiled by high cirrus clouds was simply delightful.  Doing the commute with an engaging man--and good cyclist--made it even better.

His name is Allen.  Or is it Alan?  However, he spelled it, he was keeping up a good pace--and riding an intriguing bike.  I'd seen one or two like it before, but his was the first I'd seen in a large frame size.  I didn't get a chance to photograph it, but I've found images of that model on the web.

It's a Motobecane Le Champion.  He said he bought it used in 1981, in his native California.  I'm not surprised that he's still riding it: The frame, which was hand-brazed with Reynolds 531 tubing, is as solidly as it is beautifully built.  

If I recall correctly, Le Champion was the top Motobecane racing model until the Team Champion, on which Luis Ocana won the 1973 Tour de France, came out.  Allan's Le Champion appeared to be from about 1974 or so, based on decals and paint that looked like this:

Sometime in around 1975, Motobecane started to use blockier lettering rather than the script you see in the photo.  But, in 1974, Le Champions were offered in the color shown. The catalogues referred to it as "silver lilac."  It's one of my favorite bike colors of all time, because it has the character of purple that I so love, but it also has, to some degree, the elegance of silver Cinelli bikes from that same era.  

"Velouria"--who inspired me to start this blog--has a Mercian fixed-gear bike  in a similar color, although I think hers is a bit more purplish.  I love it, too.  It's what I would have chosen for my own Mercians if I hadn't gone with the purple/green (which actually looks purple most of the time) finish they sport.

Le Champions were equipped with a combination of high-end French and Campagnolo components. Alan, or someone else, swapped out the original Campy Nuovo Record derailleurs for Sun Tour Cyclones which, in my opinion, shift better.  And modern Mavic rims were laced to the vintage Campagnolo hubs.  But the bike still had its original Stronglight cranks, Campagnolo brakes and other parts.

He said he'd like to give the bike a "facelift."  Whatever he does, I hope he keeps the original color.


  1. Motobecanes of that period seem to have unusual paint durability compared to any other bike.

  2. Steve, I think you're right about that. I also think Motobecane's finishes were more attractive than those on other French bikes of that period.

  3. I just purchased a lilac le champion in 56 from the original owner. I have sought this model for some time. very finely crafted bike.