Liberia was the brand name of cycles…and once upon a time, in the firm’s early days, of the motorcycles built by the Grenoble-based company MFC – *M*anufacture *F*rancaise Cycles. I say ‘was’ because like many other regional French bike companies, it went out of business in the early 1990s having been founded in 1918.
The firm was the brain-child of Antoine Biboud, who had been the co-founder of the first cycle and motorbike company in that region – Magnat-Debon. On leaving the army at the end of WWI he set up the company with a view to building high quality hand made bikes – one of his sayings being ‘Don’t follow the peloton, lead it!’
In 1925 the firm had outgrown its current shop and workshop in the centre of the city, so Antoine moved out to rue de Mortillet a street that crosses the bulge of land in the NE corner of the city that is caught up in a meander of the powerful River Isere, an area called L’Ile Verte. The move made the company notch up from artisan production to an industrial scale.
The firm grew into a typical French regional bike producer, much like Lapierre in nearby Dijon or Mercier in St Etienne, but it seemed happy to restrict its sales to the south of France in order to be able to control quality.
Control of the company passed down the family to Antoine’s children, Suzanne, Jean, and Gerard, who were still running the show at the time the firm had to close – a victim of the Taiwanese bike invasion.
Frame construction adapted hand-building techniques to industrial methods, but all frames were accurately mitred, had their tubes thoroughly cleaned prior to torch – brazing and their lugs filed correctly. The firm had an ultra-modern electrostatic enameling system.
Antoine was a keen cyclist who had co-founded the Brevet Randonneur des Alpes, but he also liked to be involved in cycle-racing and LIBERIA often had a sponsored team in the French peloton post WWII, from 1948 until 1962. During that period riders such as Henri Anglade, Pierre Brambill, Jean Dotto wore the team’s colours, Anglade becoming French Champion in 1959. The firm returned to the peloton in 1988 as a co-sponsor of the RMO team. alongside
MAVIC, with riders such as Mottet, the Madiot brothers, Virenque, Caritoux, Claveyrolat.
Unfortunately, much like Mercier’s fate, a return to the peloton could not increase sales sufficiently and the firm disappeared in 92/93.
Some of the firms earlier bikes – 1960s and 1970s were attractively built and finished, but later models, although well-built tended to be bland with poor transfers. Occasionally decent frames, with engraved crowns and top-eyes even in Reynolds 753 appear on French Ebay, and about a year ago I bought, by chance, a superb late 40s randonneur, worthy of most constructeurs.
The head badge – almost an Art-Deco Rising Sun seems a little odd as it gives the frames, at first glance something of an Asian appearance.