By Shannon Mominee
Some have a warm spot in their heart for Motobécane, the French manufacturer of motorcycles, mopeds, and lightweight road bikes made from 1923 to 1981. Motobecane USA, however, has no relation to the original and is owned by the Kinesis Industry Company, which fabricates a significant portion of bicycles made in China and Taiwan. It also imports bicycles into the U.S. under the Motobecane trademark and sells them through BikesDirect.com at incredibly low prices. Free shipping is included to the lower 48 states with some assembly required.
I wondered if the deal was too good to be true and looked into it with the Fantom Cross UNO. This is Motobecane’s singlespeed cyclocross offering, described on the website as a “sport grade track bike, transformed and more aggressive for rougher terrain.” The UNO is identical in geometry and material to Motobecane’s steel-frame track bike, but with the addition of ‘cross tires, cantilever brakes, and braze-ons for front and rear rack and fenders. The frame and fork are butted and tapered 4130 chromoly, with horizontal dropouts and aggressive 73.5-degree head and 73-degree seat tube angles on the size 58cm. The UNO has 120mm rear hub spacing, whereas most ‘cross bikes typically have 130mm spacing to accommodate a wider range of wheel options.
Depending on the set-up, the UNO can be used as a full-fledged commuter, ‘cross racer, or urban fixie with all the hip stuff that goes along with it. To take advantage of the bike’s commutability, I installed full-coverage fenders and 35mm tires. If you like a wider tire, there’s room for a 42mm without fenders. The 38×16-tooth gear package was a good choice for a bike that could find itself on or off pavement. It felt slightly easy to pedal on the road, but was perfect when I detoured into the parks and had to climb gravel trails or grass.
The geometry is more aggressive than a cyclocross bike’s, and much more so than a dedicated commuter, making my riding position more forward than I traditionally ride. The short 405mm chainstays and steep angles create a snappy bike with a short wheelbase that has prompt rear end tracking. This is great, if that’s what you’re looking for. On dry surfaces, handling was fun and fast, slice and dice. But, some stability is compromised with the short wheelbase and amplified with a loaded rack. On all kinds of terrain, the Avid Shorty brakes did a fine job of stopping.
The frame itself has the comfortable feel of steel, smoothing road vibration while providing good handling feedback. It’s easy to push the bike through turns, and it holds a line well and rolls smoothly. The UNO feels light and fast when standing to climb hills or taking off from a stop. I like that the frame and fork felt relatively stiff and didn’t shimmy at speed or feel flexy when track-standing at red lights. On crushed limestone trails and gravel paths, the bike felt solid and rode quietly—no chain slap. With one gear, the UNO is easy to maintain.
To offer the low price, the majority of components on the bike are nameless. However, they function fine, including the flip-flop rear hub, which allows the bike to be ridden singlespeed or fixed gear. I thought the 175mm crank arms were too long for riding fixed, so I rode it singlespeed. I swapped the bar and stem, and would have replaced the thin, uncomfortable brake levers too, if I had an extra pair.
The Fantom Cross UNO is a practical track bike outfit- ted with the necessities to make it an all-weather commuter. Its snappy handling makes it fun to ride fast on city streets. With a tire swap, it can be used as a ‘cross bike too, or add shorter crankarms and you have a track bike. Its versatility would make it a good entry-level bike for someone who is not dedicated to one style of riding, but wants to try a few disciplines before settling into a purpose-built bicycle. At $400, it’s a good deal. The stock parts might meet your comfort needs, but if they don’t, a hundred bucks should be enough to swap in ones that do.
- Age: 38
- Height: 6’
- Weight: 183lbs.
- inseam: 33”
- Country of Origin: China
- Price: $400
- Weight: 23.8lbs.
- Sizes available: 49, 52, 54, 56, 58 (tested), 61, 64cm