Ron Kitching & Andre Bertin as Associates

Update: I am now able to include a photo of Andre Bertin and Ron Kitching, courtesy of Alain Merlier, with my sincere thanks. Please see below under “Commercial Success.”

Ron Kitching was a remarkable British cyclist and businessman best known to English speaking riders and cycling enthusiasts as the publisher of Everything Cycling, an encyclopedia of knowledge, products and practical techniques. However, that was but one of the expressions of a life filled with accomplishments in sport, business and in the area of public philanthropy. The original 1955 cover of the first Everything Cycling, shown to the left, features a portrait of Kitching in full racing kit.

Early Years

The man was born in northern England in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria on April 14th, 1916 and the bicycle came to occupy a prominent place in Kitching’s life as he matured. By the age of 14, he was a Youth Hostel member and a member of the CTC (Cyclists’ Touring Club). He spent many of his weekends touring at this stage in his life. In 1934, when he was 18, he took up racing. He entered time trials, long distance endurance events, cyclocross and massed start road races. Kitching visited Australia to race in the later 30s, returning to Great Britain in 1938.

Commercial Success

At this point, Kitching, like Andre Bertin in France, had to decide between racing professionally or going into the wholesale/retail bicycle trade. Again, like Bertin, Ron Kitching opted for the bicycle business and opened his Cycling Centre in Harrogate, in North Yorkshire in June of 1938. The business prospered up until the commencement of WW II. For the duration, cycle parts and production were largely co-opted by the war effort. Although racing was curtailed, it did not entirely end during the War and Kitching placed 3rd in the 1944 British National Road Race Championship. Kitching worked in a munitions factory while his wife ran the cycle shop. Post War, Kitching used his contacts and promotional abilities to advocate for Continental style road racing through the BLRC (British League of Racing Cyclists). As well, he personally raced on the other side of the English Channel in Northern Europe which gave him valuable contacts within the cycle and component industry there. These, in turn, allowed him to begin the importation of Continental components, framesets and bicycles.

Andre Bertin (Left), cyclist Eileen Sheridan & Ron Kitching (Right) at Earl's Court 1954-55

One of these contacts was Andre Bertin who was reviving, temporarily, his own racing career for promotional purposes. Bertin was also reviving his cycle/moped/motorcycle business at the same time that Ron Kitching was doing similarly in Britain with his Harrogate Cycling Centre. The synergy between the two would prove profitable for both. In this period, both components and bicycles in Britain were deemed, by many British enthusiasts, to be dated or backward. British parts manufacturers simply re-issued pre-War  designs whereas the Europeans re-designed and re-tooled for new products. British cycle design languished with 72 degree parallel frame angles whereas the Europeans  steepened the head angle and fiddled the fork rake and trail for quicker handling. All this resulted in a sustained and growing demand for European bicycles and components which Ron Kitching was both happy to meet and helpful in creating.

RonKit

Bertin, and his company Cycles Bertin, exported framesets and bicycles directly to Kitching for resale in Britain. As well, Ron Kitching created a “house” brand of cycles called RonKit or Ron Kitching. These were quality machines usually manufactured in France by Cycles Bertin to Kitching’s design. They ranged from the lower end of the quality bicycle price point to the middle-upper segment. As was true for Bertin in France, Kitching promoted the line by sponsoring riders and providing kit to promising talents. The great  British cyclist Beryl Burton rode RonKit as can be seen in the photograph above.

Post War Expansion

By 1948, Ron Kitching’s Cycling Centre was importing a wide range of goods and ideas from Europe. In 1953, Kitching began to wholesale to other British shops and his influence and success grew in parallel with his  European associates and suppliers, especially Andre Bertin. Five years later, the two men launched Milremo (see previous post) as the house brand for their businesses. Bertin wholesaled and retailed the brand in Europe and used the parts as original equipment on his line of Bertin bicycles. In Britain, Kitching sold the line through his Cycling Centre and wholesaled to other retailers through Ron Kitching Wholesalers Ltd.

In the 1960s, both businesses continue to develop. Kitching built a new Cycling Centre in Harrogate and by the end of the decade added more warehouse space doubling its capacity. Similarly, Bertin expanded and then rebuilt his factory in France at about the same period. Ron was also the silent, supportive partner behind MKM Cycles at the elite, custom level of the business.

Catalogue Sales

The 1970s saw a tremendous boom for cycling brought on by a combination of fitness awareness and fashion. Both companies profited from the  trend and increased their commercial success. As well, both were publishing mail order catalogues to serve the heavy demand for cycles and accessories. For Kitching, it was his classic Everything  Cycling, expanded and updated whereas Bertin sold through the Encyclopedie Andre Bertin. By the middle 80s, the peak had been reached and both companies discontinued their catalogues by the end of the decade. ( All catalogue covers courtesy of Velo-retro)

Transition

By the mid-1980s, the Milremo joint venture was wound down and ended. Ron Kitching sold his business as did Bertin. For Ron, it was temporary as he bought back the failing business, restored it to health and re-sold it much like Bob Jackson had to do. For Bertin, the sale to Cibo – a holding company- was permanent in 1993. By the middle of the decade, Andre Bertin was dead and Ron Kitching was pursuing other interests.

Philanthropy

Ron Kitching had, over the course of both his personal and professional lifetime, made contributions to cycling that were non-commercial. He had, of course, sponsored cycling teams and races, contributed to advising and coaching riders, donated prizes and trophies but one of his lasting contributions came in his creating and endowing  a national cycling library/resource centre on the premises of the Otley Cycling Club. Kitching had also been instrumental in establishing Audax riding in the U.K. Too, he had sponsored and promoted the British Schools Cycling Association to develop cycling skills in younger children. All in all, when his life ended December 17, 2001, some seven years after his old associate Andre Bertin, Ron Kitching had packed a full measure of life and accomplishment into his allotted time.

17 comments on “Ron Kitching & Andre Bertin as Associates

  1. Mike,
    I’m sorry to report that I do not know. Only the two men were identified to me for the caption.
    I will try to find out.

    Jim

  2. I am almost certain that it is Eileen from the photos and videos I have of her record breaking, possibly taken at a trade fair 1950s/60s with Kitching and Bertin. She is still alive and in her 80s living in the Midlands and a member of VCC. I will see if I can contact her for more info. Mike Baker VCC.

  3. Hi Jim, I have contacted Eileen Sheridan, living in London incidentally,and she confirms that the picture is of her at an Earl Courts cycle show, 1954 or 1955. Eileen broke many place to place records in the 50s ,some of which still stand.I asked her if she knew who built her lightweight frames for Hercules, but she says that the firm would never divulge this, commercial pride, I suppose.
    By the way, did you know that Barry Hoban was employed by Andre Bertin for a year in Northern France as an independent prior to his Contract with Mercier? He won numerous races for Bertin, and Presumably Ron Kitching had a hand in arranging this. Best Wishes, Mike Baker, VCC.

  4. Mike, Thank you so much for confirming Eileen’s identity in the photo. I will modify the caption accordingly. I did know about Barry and intend, in some future post, to discuss Bertin’s role in nurturing amateur/young pro talents like Barry Hoban. The similarities betweenBertin and Kitching amaze me in the way they supported and nurtured talent in both countries. Jim

  5. You mention that Kitching imported French-built frames early on, but what about the later bicycles? I have read they were built by top builders of the day at MKM. I have what I believe is an early 70s Kitching with Dura ace/Crane components. The brake calipers say Dura ace, the rear der. is a Crane, I believe this is the year before it was labeled a complete group. However the cranks are Sugino with “drillium” rings, the stem is SR. The color and decals are similar to the Kitching you show at the top of the page on the left–Ron Kit cyclassic on the tt, etc. Mine has an especially beautiful fork curve and long chainstays, a real smooth rider. I would love to find out who built it. The bb shell is engraved “202” with possibly a “1” below that. I don’t suppose there is anyone who can tell us what this means.

    Thanks for any help!

  6. I think you are probably right about MKM. I regret I cannot help you with the serial numbers. Are there any decals on the bike currently or evidence of previous placement? That might help you establish identity.

    Jim

  7. The green Ron Kitching above is the bike I purchased off Simon Kennett in Wellington NZ a couple of years back & sent to my brother Roger in Australia. He restored it to the condition seen here (pictured in his Sydney back yard), but it has since been on-sold. When I bought the bike it was very tatty, but was in the same green as you see in this photo – a very faithful restoration!

  8. My green is faded to almost a robin’s egg blue, but I see remnants of the original color in protected spots.

    The seat post that came with the bike did not fit properly. Does anyone know the seatpost size?

    I’ve ridden the bike a few times this summer, but discovered a tracking problem. It dives to the right when you take your hands off the bar. I believe it is a frame alignment issue. The rear wheel goes in okay, but while it is centered between the chainstays, it is not lined up with the brake bridge center line. I did the string alignment and it was a couple millimeters off, so I tried cold setting a la Sheldon Brown. Also flipped the wheel to make sure it was not a dish problem. After several attempts, I will now try to find a local framebuilder or shop to realign the frame(I’m in Dutchess co. NY, any ideas?) . Is there a way for me to post a picture here at some point?

  9. Hi again, Mike-

    It was a lovely restoration and I am glad I could make it available to others for viewing. Bertin and Kitching were remarkable and their works deserve to be better known.

    Jim

  10. Mr. Roland,
    Could you let the readers know the brand or model of bicycle? Perhaps a photo could be sent to bertinclassiccyclesATyahooDOTca making the corrections necessary? I know of a good framebuilder in Welland County, Ontario about 30 miles from Buffalo but none on the US side of the border. Perhaps a Web search? It sounds as though your frame needs time on a surface table to have all alignment aspects checked. Good luck.

    Jim

  11. Hello again, Jim. My understanding was that Kitching frames were built by a firm in Yorkshire called MKM,financed by Kitching, with 2 partners, ex pro.Wes. Mason, Kitching, and ex pro. Arthur Metcalfe, hence MKM. The frames were very high quality, and still sought after in UK. Team colours were green, usually with a black band on downtube, and I remember seeing Beryl Burton racing on one with TA components.
    Kitching also sold Anquetil frames, allegedly built in France by Gitane or Geminiani, but the Kitching history is very convoluted, so I am not so sure now ! The Veteran Cycle Club has research on both these marques so I will get back when I have read it up. Best Wishes, Mike Baker, VCC.

  12. Hi, Mike-
    Thanks for the comment. I believe you are correct that at least some, higher end Kitching framesets, were produced by MKM. However, I believe earlier framesets were produced in France by Bertin. I owned one in the early 70s, purchased at Bicyclesport in Toronto, that was made from Durifort tubing. It had a Lightrace headset and a cottered style Lightrace bottom bracket in French dimensions, as I recall. It was a nicely made and sweet handling bike but in no way was at the level of an MKM in craftmanship. Please update us as your VCC inquiries progress.

    Jim

  13. The Bertin frames were certainly made to the spec. you describe and were shown in Kitching catalogues circa 1960. The top end models used Reynolds 531. More when I have done more research! Mike.

  14. Sorry to reply to an old post, but I am now restoring my MKM bike that I originally purchased in the mid-1970’s. My frame number is 2804. From the research I’ve done, I think it might be an “Ace” model frame. I purchased the frame when I was in college and working in a bike shop in a suburb of Los Angeles, and the shop came across this beautiful red MKM frame that I purchased, and subsequently equipped it with Campy record components (except for Dura-Ace brakes). After my bike has been collecting dust for 30 years in my garage, I decided (after watching the 2011 Tour de France) to restore my bike. I have pictures of my bike to send if anyone is interested. Hopefully this “Guest” comment gets posted.

  15. Hi, Daniel-

    Congratulations on resurrecting your old MKM. If you can send photos, I will try and work a profile shot into the the article .

    Jim

  16. Jim,

    Thank you for your reply. I didn’t know if I should reply to your email and send pictures or to post them in this web blog, so I tried to send photos in a reply email. How do I submit photos here if the return email doesn’t work? In any case, here is a little about my bike. From what I can tell after doing research, I think my frame is an MKM “Ace” model because of how the rear seat stays are and the Campy dropouts. The photos are how my bike looked before I started the restoration. I now have every nut, bolt and bearing off of the frame. The frame is polishing up nicely and I am trying to buy the few pieces I need to complete the bike, like a new seat, a Campy Record front derailleur and new brake hoods.
    After watching bits of the current 2011 Tour de France, I was motivated to restore my old MKM. Back in the mid-70’s I was working at a bicycle shop while in college in a suburb of Los Angeles, and at that time I was doing a bit of cycle racing, both road and track. I can’t remember how or why the shop came across an MKM frame, but it was love at first sight for me and I bought it. The frame, #2804, is red with a cream white head post and cream white horizontal stripes on the seat tube, and it has cream white MKM letters on the down tube. I equipped this frame with all Campagnolo parts, except for the brakes which were Shimano. My MKM has been collecting dust for almost 30 years, and today I started to break down my bike into every separate nut, bolt and bearing so I can restore it to it’s former glory. I even built my own wheels, and being a nutty kid that I was, I built the front wheel with a radial spoke pattern instead of the traditional 3-cross pattern. It looked stunning with stainless spokes and a Campy low-flange hub. My big dilemma is whether to keep my rims which used sew-up tires or get new clinchers. Does anyone even use sew-ups any more? My frame had such short chain stays that even with sew-ups there was only 1/2cm clearance between the tire and the seat tube. The forks are not MKM. I had an accident one morning back around 1976 while doing a morning training ride before school, and as I sprinted through an intersection, I hit a kid crossing the street. Everyone was OK, but my forks were bent. Thankfully the bike shop in which I was working, had some Japanese Pro-Bike forks that I used. I actually liked them better than the MKM forks because they had less rake, making the frame even more responsive.
    On the photos, I was doing measurements without tires on the rims, so the height of the bottom bracket centerline off the ground is probably 10.5 to 11″ off the ground.

    Thank you again,
    Dan Filice

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