Before most RBA readers were born, Motobecane was one of this country’s mystery monikers that came to us from over the Atlantic Ocean in small numbers and were ridden by experienced members of Saturday club races. The feel of a vintage Motobecane was stretched out and comfortable-the kind of racer that can climb for an hour, run smoothly over cobbles, and corner with conviction down one-lane mountain passes. Sadly, the French bicycle and motorcycle manufacturer closed its doors in the early ’80s, but the classic name was restored to life recently as Motobecane U.S.A. We’ll admit up front that the name is the only thing French you’ll find on the modern Asian-made Motobecane, but we held high hopes that this month’s test bike, the Immortal Ice, would replicate the distinctive ride that marked its French predecessors. <
Slender tubes with an aero-dynamic touch bridge old and new for the Immortal Ice.
‘Immortal’ refers to Motobecane’s most prestigious frameset-a monocoque, carbon fiber front section mated to a wishbone design seat and chainstay arrangement. The frame design is a smoothed-out version of the classic double-diamond frame, with a slight aero profile treatment on its seat tube and head tube. The profile is modern, but respectful of tradition. Modern bits include integrated headset bearings and a semi-aero-profile carbon fork. Tradition is maintained with relatively slender tubes and slightly relaxed seat and head angles. The ‘Ice’ part of its name refers to its first-year Shimano Ultegra ‘Ice’ SL component ensemble (wheels included), which is as close as one can get to Dura-Ace as Shimano will allow in both weight and performance. Add a few Ritchey WCS cockpit items and you have finished your Immortal Ice walk-around-except for its price: a surprisingly affordable $3095, with a weight at 16.5 pounds and the fact that you can get one in five sizes: 50, 53, 56, 59 and 62 centimeters.
Our 56-centimeter test model rolled on Michelin Pro Race clinchers, which were very quiet on any type of pavement. The Immortal Ice frame also does a good job of damping noise and small vibrations, which is a plus when you are on the bike for a half a day. The top tube is traditional-length, at 56 centimeters, which gives the Motobecane a long and low feel when combined with its 110-millimeter stem and level top tube. A round-profile handlebar reinforces its classic road racer feel.
Thumbs up for the Motobecane’s Shimano Ultegra SL ensemble-what a treat to shift and brake an affordable race bike and have it respond as if it was taken from atop a team car at the Tour. Braking was strong, controllable and silent. Shifting was relegated to a subconscious task within fifteen minutes aboard the Ice. We did manage to get the rear wheel to wiggle two millimeters out of true, but its conventional spoke pattern made it a snap to bring it back straight and true once we got home. And finally, call us bike snobs, but at 16.5 pounds, you’ll feel its weight if the summit lies more than 30-minutes’ distance. We would recommend a cassette with a 27-tooth low for those who spend time in the mountains.
On the flats, the Motobecane can be coaxed into a taller gear, if its rider wants to push the point, without the sense that the slightest elevation change or gust of wind will defeat the effort. The chassis accelerates smoothly while seated and holds a line without requiring much attention.
Sprinting is made easier by the Immortal Ice’s steady steering, and there is more than enough stiffness in the frame to handle powerful efforts. In the hoods, when climbing or closing gaps, the Ice feels perfectly balanced below its rider and picks up speed without hesitation. The frame’s rigidity comes at a price, however, and that is a slight lack of ‘liveliness’ when making brisk efforts both in and out of the saddle. The Motobecane favors a strong, aggressive riding style.
|Fast back seatstays keep the seat tube area clean.|
Climbing is best done with a combination of seated and out-of-the-saddle efforts. The extra rigid bottom bracket of the Ice will trick your legs into feeling less effective when your watt output is low and suffering is the order of the day (don’t ask us how, but a slight degree of frame flex seems to mute the onset of pain with each pedal stroke). Stand on the pedals and the torsionally rigid carbon frame will deliver precisely metered power to the cranks, without a hint of your power being wasted on lateral movement.
When pressed, Motobecane officials outlined the Immortal Ice’s mission as a perfect choice for a race enthusiast or a fast club racer. We would heartily agree with this. Motobecane has assembled a worthy competitor for enthusiasts who put the time into their training, ride with conviction, and need the most race bike they can get without busting the family budget. Great looks, classic performance and an honorable heritage, for about three grand. Motobecane’s Immortal Ice doesn’t parlez vous Francais, but nobody’s perfect.
Pirce: $1800 (frameset) $4300 (tested)
Weight: 16.5 pounds