Bertins in New Zealand

The title of this post seems counter intuitive. One would immediately link Bertin with France and the UK due to Andre Bertin’s partnership with Ron Kitching as well as the close physical proximity. One of the former French colonies like Morocco might spring to mind or possibly that 1970’s bike boom market of the United States but New Zealand? What possible connection could there be between a small, (population 2 million in 1952) Pacific former British colony on the other side of the globe and a French bicycle manufacturer?

Map Credit Wikipedia

It seems Bertin’s affiliation with New Zealand was begun by a WW II veteran named Doug Hills. In 1952, The New Zealand economy was still recovering from the effects of the war. As well, New Zealand has traditionally had high tariffs on manufactured goods like automobiles and bicycles to protect its small market from dumping so businesses had to obtain  government licences to import such commodities. Doug Hills was able to do this and began importing Hartley framesets from Australia and Bertin framesets from France. This was allowed because they were bicycle components rather than finished bicycles which would have been direct competitors with local industries. While this was going on, Doug Hills had started a bicycle shop in Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island. There he sold the components which could make the framesets up into the elite, high end machines they would become. He also marketed components to the local enthusiast cyclists who rode the custom framesets built in New Zealand along with the higher end Raleighs and Carltons one would expect.

The shop logo is an interesting take off on the classic Bertin logo. For whatever reason, Doug Hills must have been greatly impressed by Bertins if he went to all the trouble necessary to import them and then modelled his shop graphics on the unmistakable Eagle/Tricolour design of Cycles Bertin. Bertins, as marketed in NZ, were a high end brand as they sold at a premium price. An imported Hartley road frameset with seat pillar, headset and bottom bracket was 15 NZ pounds and a Bertin with the same fittings sold for 27 NZ pounds. This represents about 55% over the comparable Australian framset and must have been substantially above locally sourced and constructed framesets.

Something I have notice over the years I have been writing about Bertins is the number of well, and sometimes not so well, preserved Bertins found on for sale sites and enthusiast’s websites which have a New Zealand connection. It would seem that the initial high cost, good handling and reputation for quality of the bicycles has led to their preservation, aided by New Zealand’s tendency to protect local industries with import duties. Included below are photographs of Bertins from various New Zealand sources:

Early 1960s Bertin C 38

 


Restored and Repainted C 38 with Modernized Track Gruppo

 

 

 Unrestored Pre-1963 Bertin C 37 Road Bike

The lovely thing about these Bertins and others like them is that they remain an ongoing source of enjoyment for their owners and a living, rolling tribute to Andre Bertin and the people who worked with him to create such excellent machines.

Special Thanks: I would like to acknowledge the permission of Adrian Thornton of The Flying Wheel to use the Hills Cycles photos from his website as well as the useful information found there. Take a look via the link above and you will find it well worthwhile.

Note: The final photo above of the blue, pre-1963 Bertin C 37 will have an upcoming post done about it in the not too far future. Thanks to Mike W. for his kind provision of information and photos.

4 comments on “Bertins in New Zealand

  1. Very interesting post.
    I recently picked up an unrestored gold 70s Bertin with brooks saddle and full campagnolo groupset. the bike rides beautifully. Not sure whether to restore or keep as original?
    I live in Wellington NZ.
    Could send photos if you like.

  2. Hi, Ralph-

    Thanks for the comment. I’m sure other readers would love to see photos of your Bertin. Please send them along and I will do my best to publish them.

    Jim

  3. The story about Doug Hills struck a chord…I am restoring the Bertin that my father bought for me from Hills Cycles in Auckland in 1961 when I apparently showed some competitive promise. I am now living in North Queensland and thoroughly enjoying riding the steel frame in the multi-day tours that are available. Peter Bundy in western Sydney is helping me with the restoration. Greg Softly has the script A Bertin decal, but I am having trouble sourcing the eagle head badge. Do you have any suggestions on that?

  4. Hi, Mal-

    Alloy/painted headbadges show up on EBay on rare occassions. The transfer style can be obtained from Velocals and will include the yellow top tube ribband and the diamond shaped AB decal for the downtube as well. Good luck with the restoration!

    Jim

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