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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.