Bertin C 37 Restoration Part 3

“You say you want a restoration…” (apologies to Lennon and McCartney) well, you should have a clear understanding of what you mean. “Restoration” to some people is any kind of work done to an older bike that makes it even semi-presentable. To others it is a complete renewal that leaves the bicycle looking as though it was just unpacked from the factory’s shipping box and assembled. Purists think it means a careful cleaning and repair/preservation of the bike as it is now after decades of service. A different group considers restoration to be a cosmetic and a functional process that  enhances the functionality in a subtle and sensitive manner leaving the bike improved but visually unchanged in its essentials. The final category of restoration really isn’t restoration. Taking a bicycle and radically revising it from the factory or artisan original and making it “new” is really customization and not restoration at all.

Inevitably, you will choose one of these categories whether it is a deliberate, conscious choice or just bumbling along through circumstances. One of the key things to remember before you start is that, unless you are immortal, you are the temporary custodian of the bike not the owner. Down the road, it will pass into someone else’s care as an example of the life and technology of a particular period.

A major factor, beyond your own mortality,  influencing your choice of restoration is the type of bike and its history. Eddy Merckx’s hour record track bike ei Bertin C 56 blkwould be a really poor choice to spray paint matt black and turn into a fixe with dayglo green pedals. Do the same thing to one of the millions of Peugeot UO 8s and it’s no big issue. The rarity and historical importance of the bicycle should and will affect your choice of “restoration” type. Whether it is a full-on back to original restoration, a stabilizing conservation of the bike as it is, a restification (restoration/modification) which upgrades functionality or a flat out I’m-doing -it-my-way customization, your choices will drop you in one of these categories.

You can read more about the specifics of different types of restoration. Period correct restoration is covered here on Classic Rendezvous in an article written by the American frame builder Richard Sachs. It also has a page with links for basic techniques if you are a novice at the whole restoration process. I would recommend reading the page by The Retrogrouch on the topic as well. Try becoming a member at Bike Forums. Look especially at the Classic & Vintage section as well as the Bicycle Mechanics one. Use the Search feature in the upper right corner.  For example, a sample search for Bicycle Restoration produced 795 hits. Tim Dawson, an exponent of the preservationist approach to old bikes, can be found at Vintage Bicycle. No matter which approach you take, have a clear focus and intention before you begin your process. The next post will attempt to do exactly this for my “new” 1970s Bertin C 37.

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.

Bertin Biography Update

Andre Bertin 2As of July 15th, 2009 I have updated the Bertin Biography page. You may click here or at the top of the page to view the revised article. New photos have been included along with further details of M. Bertin’s commercial activity post WW II. Many thanks to former Bertin employee Alain Merlier for many of the added details.

Bertin C 37

As I mentioned much earlier in a previous post, I would be commenting on and describing details about my personal C 37 and its restoration. The bike was purchased from Bicycle Specialties in Toronto, Canada. It had previously been converted to a randonneuse as you can see in an original promotional photo from Bicycle Specialties.

                                                                              Old Bertin Photo

The bike had a full set of Nervex Professional lugs including the bottom bracket and fork crown. It also had most of the necessary braze ons added in its previous renovation. Mike Barry then added the generator and cable hanger braze ons to complete the kit. As shown previously, the renovated bike looks like this:

                                                                        Bertin - Jim # 2

People have asked about its vintage and to my knowledge, it is a late 60s C 37 made with Reynolds 531. Its angles are relatively shallow, about 72 degrees.  As well, some have wondered about its layout and for their information, I have included the annotated photo below to permit comparisons with their personal machines.

Bertin Experiment 2

Andre Bertin Biography

Photo credit Willem Dingemanse

Photo credit Willem Dingemanse

Andre Bertin was a French professional cyclist, team manager and entrepreneur. His life spanned the period pre-WW I to nearly the end of the 20th century. Many of his accomplishments were achieved in the bicycle manufacturing and distribution business.

Bertin was born on March 3, 1912 in the rural commune (municipality) of Ecques in the Nord Pas de Calais region in Northern France near the Belgian border. ecques1It is situated about 50 km Northwest of Arras. The commune remains relatively small ( population 1900) even today but this may reflect its deep rural location and the fact that it was fought over, totally levelled in WW I and subsequently re-built post war.

Bertin’s family resettled in St.-Laurent-Blangy, possibly during or post WW I. St.-Laurent-Blangy is also a commune in the Nord Pas de Calais and has become a suburb of the city of Arras. It too was fought over during WW I and re-built. Although the region was in Nazi occupied France during WWII the commune avoided extensive damage. Consequently, it was here that Bertin established a bicycle factory in 1946 to feed the post warSt French need for personal transportation. As well, there are indications he may have resumed racing in some capacity in 1945 to 1946 as France began to shake off the effects of the war.

Andre Bertin had been a professional cyclist for three years, racing for France-Sport from 1935 to 1937. He appears to have been a domestique for Antonin Magne a 2 time Tour de France winner, World champion in1936 and 3 time winner of the GP des Nations. Bertin left the team before the start of the 1938 season. A list of his fellow team members and palmares can be found in the main link (above) or here for 1936.

After WW II, Bertin began his career as a bicycle manufacturer in St. Laurant-Blangy. Both the factory and the offices (seen in the photos below) of the company appear to have been located there.bertin-factory-19505 (See also the Website of Le Club Beaurains 2000 Cyclo/Les Cycles Bertin en1950 and Velo Retro sections.) The actual address was on Rue Georges-Clemenceau in St.Laurant-Blagny. Bertin’s distinctive Tri-colour and Eagle logo bertin-logowas registered in 1950 and remains a registered trademark to this day. (WIPO states that the logo can be published as long as credit is given — which I have done with the previous link.)bertin-admin2

In addition to his company’s founding, Bertin continued to race as an independent pro in 1945 and 1946. Thereafter, until 1966, he was the manager and sponsor of the Cycles Bertin professional team which was allied with various co-sponsors over the life of the squad.

The team uniforms varied but all jerseys were presented in a distinctive black and red form during the existence of the team. See photo examples below right of two such jerseys. Others can be viewed here and by clicking on a team name.bertin-jersey-2bertin-jersey-1

Bertin’s commercial activity grew as he allied himself with Ron Kitching in the UK. The two acted as distributors for a line of European sourced cycling parts and accessories known as Milremo. As well, Kitching sourced some of his Ron Kit framesets from Bertin and sold Bertin labelled bicycles and framesets. (I owned one of these Kitching framesets built in Durifort tubing and full credit to Bertin as it was a lovely little bike.)

As though this commercial activity was not sufficient, Bertin, in 1970, took on the French distributorship for Shimano. This led to the surprising appearance of Japanese parts on otherwise quintessentially French bicycles. The company was exporting to both the U.S. and Canada during the bike boom and Bertins were being sold in Western Canada up until the early 1990’s.

In October of 1990, Cycles Bertin sold its Shimano distributorship to Shimano but continued in production with its bicycles. The end for the family business begun by Andre Bertin was drawing near. Ets. Andre Bertin was sold to a holding company Cibo Participations in 1993 (as described in the previous Shimano link). Sadly, this was soon followed by the death of Andre Bertin himself on January 5, 1994 in St.-Laurent-Blangy at the age of 81.

Note: A company called Bertin Cycles S.A.R.L. continues based out of Casablanca in Morocco and was a subsidiary of Cycles Bertin until nationalized by the Moroccan government. The showroom was found at 117  Boulvard Rahal El Meskinni. Apparently, according to a man who worked for Cycles Bertin (Alain Merlier who has been in touch with me via e-mail), the company continues to build bicycles but may now be up for sale or closing..

Last updated June 18, 2009