The Bertin C 37 was Cycles Bertin’s competitor to the Peugeot PX 10 and the Gitane Tour de France bicycles most commonly seen in North America during the bike boom of the 1970s. These bicycles had the Nervex lugs, Reynolds 531 tubing and French componentry typical of their price class. However, the bicycle in this post pre-dates that era by a decade. In the 1960s, in both the United States and Canada, road racing was nearly extinct. It was a sport pursued mostly by immigrant communities with little awareness among the general population. Racing bicycles were generally sold by small, obscure dealers in large, urban areas who imported their bicycles from Europe, often in small numbers or to order, to meet the local demand.
This was the case of the bicycle featured here and the rider who has owned it for the last 50 years. What began as an email evolved into a longer summary of the bike’s history and I have received permission to share the story with you in the words of the original owner, Michel M. from Santa Barbara in southern California:
Here’s the story of my 50-year-old, one-owner André Bertin, still my only road bike and daily ride. I ordered it in spring 1960 from Hans Ohrt Lightweight Bicycles in Beverly Hills, and received it in November 1960.
It was a 60cm C37 model, with Reynolds 531 double-butted frame tubes, Reynolds 531 forks and stays, and Nervex Professional lugs. Hans Ohrt apparently specified Campagnolo dropouts and fork tips for the Campagnolo Record shifters, but the cable braze-ons were still all set up for dual-cable Simplex derailleurs. The lugs and fork crown were chromed, the forks and stays were half-chromed, the large middle section of the seat tube was chromed, and the rest was painted a transparent red. The brakes were MAFAC centerpulls, the chainset was Stronglight, the pedals Lyotard, the saddle an Idéale with duraluminum “rails”, the derailleurs and shift levers Campagnolo, the hubs were Campy hi-flange, with Campy skewers, and the rims (Milremo?) were for tubulars (sew-ups). The seat-tube angle was 72°, but I think the head was maybe one degree steeper, for quicker handling. The frame was superb, and it gave a much more comfortable ride than the Italian Columbus frames my friends all rode, especially on rough roads. It cost $213.74 brand-new; expensive, but much cheaper than a new Cinelli.
I raced it for one year and rode it hard, touring it the length of California from Santa Barbara to Eureka and back to San Francisco. The light-weight accessories quickly proved to be of inferior quality. The Ava (?) stem broke first in a sprint, then the seat-post snapped off when I hit a bump, then I twisted off one of the cranks on a hill-climb sprint, resulting in a spectacular fall. The dural rails of the saddle cracked, the pedal axles bent, and the rims collapsed. The red paint faded fast, and the chrome pitted rapidly, since I lived near the beach. By the end of the year it was a very different bike! But the lovely frame survived the abuse, and I continued to ride it, though my racing days were over. I never bought another road bike.
Over the years, the shifting gear mutated from Campagnolo to Huret to Suntour to Shimano and back to Campagnolo, and it currently wears a Campagnolo “Rally” rear derailleur, the best of them all, in my opinion. The brakes are now Shimano sidepulls, the seat-post is a Campagnolo “aero” model, the headset a Campagnolo “waterproof”, and the crankset is now also Campagnolo. The saddle is a Selle An-Atomica, a sort of modified Brooks B17 and very comfortable (at last!), and the stem is a custom steel job from Salsa, made special with a French-sized quill. The wheels are now 700C, but the dropout spacing remains 120mm. The braze-ons have gone through many, many iterations over the years. It has been repainted 3 times, the last time a beautiful job by Joe Bell, with stickers that approximate the originals but miss in a few details, and the head badge was repainted by CycleArt. The only original parts now on the bike are the Campagnolo shift levers, and a piece of the original broken-off seatpost stuck down in the seat tube.
As well, I have taken my Bertin to France and ridden it for several months in the Dordogne. It loves those French roads! My wife and I stayed 2 months in Rouffignac, which is on top of a crest, so it was downhill in every direction. I would take off, ride for a couple of hours, find a good café and call my wife on the cell phone. She would come and find me, we would dine and drink wine, then I got a ride back home! The Bertin still is a very comfortable and responsive bike to ride, and I look forward to at least part of the next 50 years of happily riding it.
This is a remarkable story about one man and his one bicycle and is a tribute to the tenacity of the owner and the quality and durability of his Bertin C 37.