Andre Bertin was a French professional cyclist, team manager and entrepreneur. His life spanned the period pre-WW I to nearly the end of the 20th century. In addition to his early career in cycle racing, many of Andre Bertin’s considerable accomplishments were achieved in the bicycle manufacturing and distribution business in France and the rest of Europe.
Bertin was born on March 3, 1912 in the rural commune (municipality) of Ecques in the Nord Pas de Calais region of Northern France near the Belgian border. It is situated about 50 km Northwest of Arras. The commune remains relatively small ( population 1900) even today but this may reflect its deep rural location and the fact that it was fought over, totally levelled in WW I and subsequently re-built post war.
Bertin’s family resettled in St.-Laurent-Blangy, probably post WW I as well. St.-Laurent-Blangy is also a commune in the Nord Pas de Calais and has become a suburb of the city of Arras. It too was destroyed during WW I during the Battle of Arras and re-built afterward. Although the region was in Nazi occupied France during WWII, the commune avoided extensive damage. Consequently, it was here that Bertin established a bicycle factory in 1946 to feed the post war French need for personal transportation. Also, there are indications he may have resumed racing in some capacity in 1945 to 1946 as France began to shake off the effects of the war as well as in occasional events thereafter as demonstrated by the period poster shown below.
Andre Bertin had been a professional cyclist for three years racing for France-Sport from 1935 to 1937. He was primarily a track rider and raced in one day and six day events and had trained and raced, developing his talent, on the local Rosati velodrome in St. Laurent Blagny. This professional level track was designed by M. Durand, the engineer responsible for the Velodrome D’ Hiver in Paris. Bertin appears to have been a domestique for Antonin Magne a 2 time Tour de France winner, World champion in 1936 and 3 time winner of the GP des Nations. Bertin left the team before the start of the 1938 season. A list of his fellow team members and palmares can be found in the main link (above) or here for 1936. It was at this time that he established, in St. Laurent Blangy, a wholesale distribution business for bicycle and motorcycle parts in the Rue Salengro.
During WW II, Bertin remained in France in the Nazi occupied North. He apparently was active with the Resistance and was involved in providing the Allies with information on the launch sites of the V1 cruise missiles deployed in the Pas de Calais area as well as the V2 ballistic missiles. He was effective enough at this to be decorated by the British government postwar for his role in supressing the V1 assault on London in 1944.
After WW II, Bertin began his career as a bicycle manufacturer in St. Laurant-Blangy. Both the original factory and the offices (seen in the photos below) of the company appear to have been located there, the offices having moved from Rue Salengro to Rue Georges Clemenceau in 1943.
(See also the Website of Le Club Beaurains 2000 Cyclo/ Les Cycles Bertin en 1950 and Velo Retro sections for a further number of highly detailed black and white period photos.)
Bertin’s distinctive Tri-colour and Eagle logo was registered in 1950 and remains a registered trademark to this day. (WIPO states that the logo can be published as long as credit is given — which I have done with the previous link.)
In addition to his company’s founding, Bertin raced as an independent pro in 1945 and 1946. Thereafter, until 1966, he was the manager and sponsor of the Cycles Bertin professional team which was allied with various co-sponsors over the life of the squad.
His teams were sponsored quite consistently over several years in the 1960′s by Porter 39 a brewery (later absorbed by Heineken) as well as his associate company, Milremo. Bertin was also deeply involved in amateur racing in northern France and in Belgium. His company sponsored amateur teams and pros such as Barry Hoban and Albert Sercu who got their start through Bertin.
Team uniforms were always in some combination of Bertin colours of red, white and black and frequently had a sponsor’s name as well.
As though all this commercial activity was not sufficient, Bertin, in 1970, took on the French distributorship for Shimano. The business expanded and was located on Rue Georges-Clemenceau in St. Laurent-Blagny.
This affiliation with Shimano led to the surprising appearance of Japanese parts on otherwise quintessentially French bicycles. Bertin had bicycles built under his name by Cycles Bertin Belgium and created a sales and manufacturing subsidiary in Morocco for his products (see note below). As well, Bertin was assembling and selling mopeds (to the mid-60s) and motorcycles (to the late 50s) out of the French factory. The colour photo above shows the new factory built in 1974 to replace the old factory destroyed by fire the previous year. Assisted in the business by his son Dominique, Bertin took on assembly/manufacturer of other brands for a time. Labels such as Go Sport, Nickel, Nakamura and , possibly, some European Specialized bicycles were produced through Bertin. The company was exporting to both the U.S. and Canada during the bike boom in the 70s and older stock Bertins were still being sold in the Western U.S. by R. Hallett at World Champion Bicycles and in Western Canada by Ed Novotni at Vitasport Cycles up until the early 1990′s. Mike Barry at Bicycle Specialties in Toronto was also a seller of Bertins, on occasion.
In October of 2000, Ets. Bertin sold its Shimano distributorship to Shimano but continued in production with bicycles. The end for the family business begun by Andre Bertin was drawing near. Ets. Andre Bertin had previously been sold to a holding company, Cibo Participations, in 1993 (as described in the previous Shimano link). Cibo was headquartered in Auch, in Gascony, in southern France and appears to have stopped trading about the time of the end of bicycle production in 1999 – 2000. Sadly, the takeover in 1993 had soon been followed by the death of Andre Bertin himself on January 5, 1994 in St.-Laurent-Blangy at the age of 81.
Note: A company called Bertin Cycles S.A.R.L. continues(2009) based out of Casablanca in Morocco and was a subsidiary of Cycles Bertin until nationalized by the Moroccan government. Apparently, according to a man who worked for Cycles Bertin (Alain Merlier who has been in touch with me via e-mail), the company continues to build and sell bicycles. The showroom was found at 117 Boulvard Rahal El Meskinni. It was originally run by a Mr. Mekki and his children now manage the store although it is, supposedly, for sale.
Merci Beaucoup! to Alain Merlier, who worked for Cycles Bertin and is a founding Member of Le Club Beaurains 2000 Cyclo. He has provided much of the information here and his help is invaluable.
Merci Beaucoup! to Jerome Bertin, grandson of Andre Bertin, who provided details of his uncle’s participation in the family business as well as information on M.Bertin’s work in the Resistance in WW II.
Updated September 1, 2012.