Today, France is far from taking the leading positions on the world’s motorcycle manufacturing stage, though the country is known as the one where the motorcycle was invented. It was in 1868x when Louis-Guillaume Perrault first time adapted an engine to a bicycle. The first bike was able to cover a 15 km distance and had a compact steam engine with a boiler.
That gave an amazingly fast and successful start to the French motorcycle industry, and between 1900 and 1950 its motorcycles were exported all over the world, even to Japan.
Hard times for the industry started at the end of the 1950s, and automobiles started to be more affordable. Of all the very French motorcycle lineup, only Motobécane and Peugeot remained.
Though in the 1970s the motorcycle industry was brought back to life, and in 1973 Motobecane introduced its 350 CC three-cylinder two-stroke model. They were produced until the end of the 1970s, and then all got quiet again.
Today only Peugeot keeps producing bikes. Though there are three brands, which tried to operate in the 2000s.
Founder: Armand Peugeot
Headquarters: Mandeure, France
Parent organization: Mahindra & Mahindra
Owner: Mahindra (100%)
Peugeot is the older manufacturer of motorcycles. They started in 1898 and keep producing motorcycles, scooters, and motorcycle parts, which are exported all over the globe. There was a pause with motorcycles for the company — it was only manufacturing scooters for more than five decades, but in the middle of the 2010s, came back to the roots and introduced Peugeot P2x Roadster and P2x Cafe Racer.
In 2019 the French motorcycle brand was acquired by the Indian Mahindra. Today Peugeot produces scooters and three-wheeled motorcycles from 50 to 500 CC. It operates 2 production sites in Mandeure, France, and Jinan, China. Peugeot scooters are sold in 60 countries.
Headquarters: Rouvroy, France
Parent: Yamaha Motor Company
MBK is a brand, which was born from the iconic Motobecane, a French company that was founded back in 1922 and produced bicycles. The first motorcycle under the brand was released already in 1923, by the company’s founders Charles Benoit and Abel Bardin. It was a 175 CC single-cylinder motorcycle with a two-stroke motor inserted in the bicycle frame. By 1930, Motobecane developed into the hugest motorcycle manufacturer in France.
The company was on top of all European motorcycle manufacturers lists until the end of the 1950s when the whole industry suffered a lot. And by 1981 it got too bad, Motobecane claimed bankruptcy. In 1984 the brand was acquired by the Japanese Yamaha.
The Motobecane was rebranded and shortened to MBK. The factory became a European site for the production of Japanese scooters, which it still is now.
Founder: Jacques Gardette
Headquarters: Fontvieille, Monaco, Monaco
Parent: Venturi Automobiles
Voxan is another French brand of motorcycles, which belongs to Venturi from Monaco, since 2009. The company specializes in two things: the development and production of electric propulsion systems and setting records for a wide variety of electric vehicles.
The most famous breakthrough of the company was the Voxan Wattman, a motorcycle with an electric engine. The motorcycle Voxan Wattman engine at 10500 rpm can provide 200 horsepower (150 kW) with 200 nm of torque, which has a stable value for most of the curve of the dynamic characteristics of the engine. Thanks to this, the bike does not need a gearbox and makes do with a simple belt-driven transmission, because the torque of the electric motor is sufficient for riding in any mode.
Founder: René Gillet
The iconic French brand, which was established by Rene Gillet at the very beginning of the 20th century has introduced its first motorcycle already in 1902. For the prototypes, René used standard bicycles, mounting the motors above the front wheel. He then realized that it was better to put the motor inside the frame. René initially worked in a workshop and was able to establish real commercial production in 1902, and a few years later he switched his attention to V-motors.
The first V2 model had a 500 CC engine with automatic intake valves. Rene Gillet’s motorcycles were popular for their reliability and good handling. Though the crisis times were hard even for Gillet, and in the postwar period, Rene Gillet motorcycles did not sell well because of poor development. In 1955, Peugeot absorbed the brand and production stopped in 1958.
Gnome & Rhone
Founded: 12 January 1915
Defunct: 29 May 1945
Headquarters: Paris, France
Gnome et Rhône was a major French manufacturer of aircraft engines that were used in most aircraft during the first half of the war, both Allied and German designs.
In the postwar era they started a new design series originally based on the Bristol Jupiter but later evolved into the superior Gnome-Rhône 14K Mistral Major two-row 750 kW radial engine, which was also licensed and used worldwide during World War II. They were a major supplier of engines to the German Luftwaffe, producing their designs as well as German ones under license. Their factories were subjected to the precision bombing that knocked them out of business.
The company was nationalized as part of Snecma in 1949, but for a time the brand existed as the manufacturer of Gnome et Rhône motorcycles and Gnome et Rhône bicycles.