The story of Cycles Bertin would seem to be a French story. The founder was French, born in Ecques in the Pas de Calais, the business operated out of the Arras area in northern France, the logo of the company featured the French tri-colour with a superimposed eagle – what could be more French.
So, how does Belgium enter into the narrative? The basis of this story is that this area of Europe is a border area. Sometimes independent, sometimes ruled by the Spanish, sometimes by the French and sometimes by the Dutch the fluidity of the area’s politics had little to do with families who lived in the region. The border moved back and forth over them, arbitrarily making some family members French or Dutch or, after 1830, Belgian, once political independence arrived.
This would seem to be what happened to the Bertin family. Prior to World War 1, Andre Bertin’s immediate family lived in the small town of Ecques, about 8km south of St. Omer in the Nord Pas de Calais. This is very close to the Belgian border which is several kilometres to the north and east of the commune.
WW 1 had them re-locating to St. Laurent-Blagny just outside of Arras which is where, in the mid-1930s, Andre Bertin began his motorcycle and bicycle parts business in parallel with his professional cycling career. While the tides of war had displaced Andre Bertin’s family, some extended family must have remained in Belgium.
Once World War 2 had ended and European recovery began in conjunction with the Marshall Plan, Andre Bertin ramped up production of affordable utility and transportation bicycles in the later part of the 1940s. Gradually, as prosperity took root, sport and racing bicycles began to be catalogued and sold by Cycles Bertin.
While this was going on in France, Bertin’s extended family had not been idle in Belgium. As Cycles Bertin was exporting to Britain, New Zealand, Morocco and Viet Nam and assembling bicycles in Morocco as well, one of Andre Bertin’s cousins had established a production facility in Belgium.
This, apparently, was not a subsidiary of Cycles Bertin but a production facility that licensed the trade marks and name and did not merely turn out clones of the standard French production models. It appears to have been started in the late 1950s and very much went its own unique way in terms of specifications, graphics and production techniques. The factory seems to have been located in Poperinge, Belgium about 100 km North of the Arras area. This town of about 20,000 is around 15 km from the Franco-Belgian border and within easy distance of the Bertin factory in St. Laurent-Blagny.
Part Two will be posted Feb.17th and Part 3, the conclusion, on Feb. 24th.
Belgian Bertins Part 2: Not How Andre Made Them! (Variations, Finishes and Decals)
Belgian Bertins Part 3: Models & Types (Utility, Sport and Racing)