The charm, emotional attachment and uniqueness of an older bike are not the only reasons for using, preserving and restoring one. The bicycles of the past 50 or 60 years had, in many respects, been optimized in design for their various uses through technological evolution. If it broke, it got redesigned. If it rode badly, the angles, rake or trail got fiddled with. There was an ongoing dialogue between theory and usage with the result that by the 50s, 60s and 70s, the steel bicycle was as close to technical perfection as the existing metallurgy and use would permit. True, the details were constantly changing in much the same way as skirt lengths do and while arguments raged over the preferred tubing brand or assembly method, the skill or artistic vision of the builder/constructeur, the central core of accepted best practice remained.
However, this does not mean every bike from the period was a classic nor that any of them were perfect! Mass produced bikes from the 70’s boom were often poorly brazed, assembled and painted as any person who saw some of Peugeot’s paint jobs would attest! Nonetheless, the design and tubing diameters were optimized and these bikes often have a lovely ride/handling compromise that is very much lacking in contemporary designs due to the new bicycles’ tightly focused specializations.
This is a very long background to explain the desire of Tim M. from Virginia, to get things right with his Bertin C 35 by restoring it.
When Tim was in college in 1980, he decided he would buy a Bertin C 35 from Richard Hallett’s World Championship Bicycles in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The bike was a 1979 clearance model advertised in Bicycling magazine and selected from Dick Hallett’s catalogue. The order was placed for a C 35, 60 cm frameset, finished in Fire Engine Red. What arrived was a 58 cm C 35, finished in an orangey-red. No matter. It was beautiful, it was light, it was reddish and the sizing was almost right. The bike was ridden for the next 15 years until retired to the garage and replaced with a Mercian. Even then, Tim began the process leading to restoration by starting to collect period appropriate parts through EBay auctions.
One of the things acquired off of EBay was a black, 60cm sized Bertin C 37 frameset. The size and the fit were right in a way that the C 35 had never quite been and so the C 37 got built up and ridden. But the C 37 is a racing bike not a randonneuse and by the 1970s its design had adopted modern racing geometry. The old, laid back, low trail Cyclo-Touriste design of the C 35 was fondly remembered by Tim but it was no longer what he was riding. The intention of getting the older C 35 refurbished strengthened despite his enjoyment of his C 37.
Once again, EBay provided the opportunity for change. A light blue, 60 cm, 1978 Bertin C 35 was offered in an auction and Tim bought it. The online photos of the bike were quite attractive but the actual bike was far rougher than first supposed. There were paint chips as you would expect in a 33 year old frameset but paint was worn right through to metal in spots as well. The biggest issue by far were the bent fork blades. Judicious cold setting with a fork jig helped as did filing away 5mm of metal from the inside top of a dropout. The result was a bike with that fondly remembered ride but an obstinate tendency to go its own way rather than track true down the road. The extra 2 cm of frame on the blue C 35 gave Tim the position and comfort of his black C 37 but the geometry provided The Ride. Correspondence with the previous owner revealed what equipment had been on the frame and Tim built up the blue C 35 with a combination of NOS and parts recycled from his other Bertins.
One of the additions was a NOS TA front rack to support a handlebar bag. That was acquired through Via Bicycle in Philadelphia. The fenders were from Velo Orange and once fully assembled the C 35 looked like this:
Tim described his now favourite bike as “smooth and well mannered” recreating the core experience of his too small 1980 C 35 with a properly sized and set up 1978. All’s well and so to the happy ending? Not quite yet.
Tim loved the bike, loved the ride but kept thinking about the not-quite-right fork, the unmatchable paint chips and scrapes and the “not my real choice” colour. Then he began thinking about decal makers, painters and frame builders who might be able to make the C 35 into everything it should have been in that college year of 1980.
Eventually, Tim decided to restore his blue C 35. He settled on Elliott Bay Bicycles/Davidson Handbuilt Bicycles as the team to do the work. He knew of the store, its proprietor Bob Freeman and Bill Davidson through his travels. He was also aware of the deep knowledge and enthusiasm both men would bring to the restoration process. Equally importantly, he decided to arrange for J.R. Anderson at VeloCals to create and produce a correct set of Bertin decals for the project. The meticulously correct Vitus stickers came from Cyclomondo. While he was making supplier choices, Tim, like every restorer, had to face the issue of how the restoration would be done. Would it be “original”, a complete reproduction of what the bike was like as it came off the assembly line in 1979? Not necessarily good for a bike that would be subsequently ridden rather than displayed.
Another possibility was “period correct” in which the look or visual “feel” of the bike is retained but subtle functional improvements like Kool Stop brake pads, lined brake cables or index freewheels and chains are added to make the bike perform better or more safely.
Finally, there is “it’s my bike and I will do as I please” which ignores all aspects of the bike’s heritage and period in favor of the owner’s unique, personal vision. This approach should really be called hot rodding not restoration.
Tim’s choice was “period correct”. For example, he chose to keep all his clip on frame accessories but did add one set of down tube braze-ons for his bottle cage. As well, the cage itself was a Velo Orange re-creation of the early TA cage design which had been supplanted by the time the bike was built but which could easily have been a parts box item. In the interests of originality, light metallic blue should have been the colour choice but real originality, 1980 originality, demanded bright, fire engine red and that was the paint colour chosen and then sprayed on at Davidson’s. All of this was part of the dialogue between originality and meaning for the owner doing the restoration or having it done.
Once the concept was arrived at and refined, decisions made and locked in, suppliers and craftsmen selected, then and only then, was the frameset sent off to Davidson Handbuilt Bicycles in Seattle in December of 2010. Some restorations are simply blast it, prime it, paint it , add decals and done. Others are more complex and as complexity increases so does cost as every would-be restorer needs to consider.
For Tim, the added complexity was the fork. The blue one was basically unsalvageable but the old orange C 35 had a perfect fork that had a steerer that was two centimetres too short. The solution was the fork blades and crown from the old bike with the usable and correct length steerer from the blue bike. The application of excellent craftsmanship, time, and chrome plating to the “new” fork increased Tim’s cost substantially but addressed perfectly the tracking issues of the blue bike’s frameset.
While the metalwork and paint were in progress, VeloCals turned out a set of reproductions for the decals which were indistinguishable from the original foil Bertin applications. Eventually, in early June of 2011, the frameset was done and shipped back to Tim on the East Coast.
Once the frameset was returned, Tim completed the re-assembly with the parts he had acquired prior to its restoration. The impressive and beautiful results may be seen below.
So, after six months, custom decals, careful craftsmanship and rebrazing of the fork and a full frame alignment followed by a beautiful fire engine red paint job, the frameset is home, assembled and being ridden. Tim comments,”It rides wonderfully, just like it always has, with the exception that now it will go straight down the road… .” Looking back on the restoration process from the start of his Bertin ownership in 1980 to the present, Tim commented, “… after 32 years, I finally have the bike that I ordered!”
Thanks to Tim M. for fact checking the accuracy of the post and for shipping his old black C 37 to a new home — mine (for a future Bertin Classic Cycles restoration project which should begin in early 2012). Readers, please also remember that there is an orphan Bertin C 35 frame, size 58 cm and orangey red in colour. If you are interested, send me a message via my Contact Form and I will forward it to Tim so that he can respond to you directly.