In a color combination that recalls pumpkins, charred wood, and Eddy Merckx, Motobecane’s top mid-70s model in orange and black livery is a lusted after machine. To see one is to want one. And I wanted one this one in particular from the first time I laid eyes on a photo of it. During its production run, the bike was variously named the Team Champion, or Champion Team, or in the case of my european issue bicycle, the Super Champion.
My Super Champion came to me by way of Tempe bicycle aficionado Pat Moffat. In fact, I had seen photos of the bicycle before I ever even met Pat. A mutual friend had sent me photos of bikes in Pat’s collection, and I spied the Motobecane’s orange paint, and black “speed lettering” nestled between a Schwinn Paramount and a Bianchi Specialissima X4. Over the years, I got to know Pat, and of all of his lovely bikes, his orange Motobecane Super Champion spoke to me the loudest. At each visit, I told Pat, “if you ever decide to part with that Motobecane…”
One day Pat called. It was time. The Super Champ was coming into my custody. With it, Pat relayed the story of its acquisition. In the 1980s, Pat had ridden in an annual “Grand Canyon to Mexico” ride in several consecutive years. Each year, the group would stop in Flagstaff for coffee and treats, and walk over to Cosmic bikes. One year, Pat asked to use the bathroom, and as he walked to the facilities, he spotted the orange and black frame hanging in the rafters. He fell in love, and made an inquiry, but was told that the frame belonged to the father of the shop owner, and that he had brought it back from Europe, and that it was not for sale. Pat asked about the frame for three years in a row, and on the third year, the family consented to sell it to him. As a rider with a long family history in Arizona, and a love for riding in and around Flagstaff, I like that the bike has an Arizona story behind it.
As a 1973 model, my Super Champion has the black seatstay caps which go away on the later model years. With the orange color scheme, Motobecane marketed the Team Champion upon the success of the Bic team, and particularly Luis Ocana, who won the 1973 Tour de France. All of the Team Champions I’ve seen sport distinctive angled fish-mouth rear dropout attachments as opposed to the Le Champion that have domed dropout connections.
I got the Super Champ as a frame only, and my build is not all period correct. As a sort of homage to Luis Ocana’s Spanish heritage, it build it with Zeus 2000 rear derailleur and shifters, which I acquired from Viva Bicicletas in Madrid, a shop with lots of vintage bikes around the corner from my daughter’s flat. I also used black Spanish leather brake hoods, also from Madrid, hand sewn by the craftsman, Francisco Panadero (find him on Instagram as @ollomao_taller). The rest of the build is more conventional: Campy Record hubs, seatpost and headset, TTT stem and bars, Mavic rims.
I have a thing for French bikes, and I’ve ridden a lot of them. But as collector Peter Kohler remarks, the Team Champion, with its full Italian Campagnolo group, was “truly a racing bicycle for people who hate French bikes!” As someone who only keeps bicycles that have exceptional ride quality, it is always a little scary to go ride a bike whose looks you’ve already fallen for. What if it disappoints and is a better garage queen than road warrior? With the Super Champ, I didn’t need to fear, from the first pedal stroke, it had that “ride me all day” French geometry that is confidence inspiring, and not too twitchy. It was like a more refined, and slightly racier version of my Lejeune.
It is a rider, and by that I mean both that I ride it, and that its finish is far from pristine. The original orange paint has a crazed pattern sometimes see in old porcelain and high-fired ceramics; the chainstays and seatstays have various chips, but overall, I like how the patina tells a story. I also like the very understated branding and graphics on the bike–the script “speed lettering” is fine and black and almost like box striping. It is the opposite of the oversized brand advertising plastered along the downtubes of most any modern production bike. I’ve now put in enough miles on the Super Champ, including several climbs and longer rides, that I know it is a keeper. Curiously for a climate where rainfall is rare, I’ve been rained on thrice while riding the Super Champ, and have come home muddy and grinning. I look forward to taking this halloween-colored beauty on more rides, maybe even a bistro ramble on Bastille Day.