13 Sep 2010

C Bertrand trike

Another trike has come up on eBay(UK).

A TRIKE FRAME BY C. BERTRAND & Co TRICYCLE RACING FRAME on eBay (end time 12-Sep-10 18:59:54 BST)
This time a 24" by C Bertrand of London. I completely missed the auction but thankfully a contact kindly emailed me just after the event. I shall have to fine tune my eBay saved searches to capture any racing trikes up for auction.

685 views and 25 bids ending in £196.55 suggests that buyers knew exactly what they were bidding for. Judging by the few remaining accessories I'll hazard a (very) wild guess of 1950s - early 1960s at the latest.

All images are "borrowed" from the vendor's eBay auction. I have resized them upwards from the 500x375 originals to 800 x 600. Then "sharpened" them slightly in PhotoFiltre for the blog. Usually gamma+ and contrast + crisps things up nicely.

If the new owner is reading this I would be most grateful for larger images showing much more detail. (triker (at) nypost.dk)  Not just for myself, but for a wider, international readership interested in trikes.

The overall view of the C Bertrand trike. Old steel HP wheels and early steel calliper brakes. Neat "Wrap over" seat stays and what looks remarkably like a Higgins rear axle. Rather high, Chater-Lea, eccentric bottom bracket set. The pedals can't hit the ground on corners so there is no need for so much ground clearance on a trike. A lower bottom bracket allows the rider to sit lower keeping his/her Cof G lower.  Nothing obviously unique so far. The forks are typically trike or pre-modern. It is known that Higgins provided axle assemblies for independent frame builders. No doubt I will hear about it eventually if I'm wrong.

The interesting, plated steel, cantilever front brakes by Mafac. I don't have any real idea as to date. They look as if they'll clean up nicely and I doubt they weigh any more than any, more-modern, alloy type.  A nice, original feature.

The maker's signature on the down tube is tastefully done. I'm fairly sure the Huret gear change lever is a bit earlier than my own early 1960s introduction to sporting and racing bikes. I had Huret gears myself at one point but I don't remember anything like this. I moved to bar-end Campag levers early on so my memory may well be playing tricks. (It usually is)

The axle reinforcing loops look very similar to my 1954 Higgins. Typical screw-on, close ratio, 4 speed, sprocket block probably indicates a dedicated, time trial machine. Easily upgraded with a Trykit freehub adaptor kit if more speeds are desired. The Trykit website is "off the air" so I wont link to it just now.

C.Bertrand seat tube badge. "Tally-Ho Corner", 654 High Rd. N Finchley, London N.12. Why the reference to hunting on horseback? Possibly a coincidence of address? Please feel free to educate me if you know any more about this trike or its builder. (see Comments below for full details)

The view of the idler axle bearing from the other side of the sprocket block. Typical bottom bracket cup and lock ring. The end of the idler axle is visible in the bearing cup aperture.

The Chater-Lea, eccentric, bottom bracket set. The axle is designed for cottered, steel cranks but easily changed to something more modern if desired. The clamping bolts looks as if they need a good soak in penetrating oil. The eccentric body allows chain tension adjustment by rotation of the entire assembly. The two clamping bolts, underneath the bottom bracket shell, are them tightened to hold the chosen setting.  I tried to brighten the shadows in this image but it is still difficult to see the dark crescent to the right of the bottom bracket assembly. This dark crescent is the (outer) eccentric body with the oversized, steel frameset shell.

The vendor has attempted to brighten an original HP steel rim with steel wool. Given that the spokes are also rusty a new set of wheels would improve the cosmetic appearance of the trike considerably. This assumes (of course) that the new owner does not want to maintain an original, period look. I myself replaced the rusty wheels on my Higgins and consider it a great improvement. Not to mention much less work to keep them looking "tidy".  As fast as I rubbed the original wheels with fine steel wool they rusted over again. It is virtually impossible to clean around the ferrules, hubs, nipples and spokes properly without access to sand blasting. (or similar, more gentle methods) The fastidious restorer could no doubt source steel components in better condition if total originality is sought.

I can't see any transfers describing the frame materials. Can we assume Reynolds 531 butted tubes are used on the frameset triangle?

The Bertrand partly wrapped for onward carriage. I would prefer to see every tube covered in foam pipe insulation. Then tightly wrapped on top of the foam in several layers of box cardboard and taped really well. Cardboard over foam is an amazingly strong structure offering far more protection than the foam wrapping alone. The tape is also vitally important to ensure the cardboard doesn't come loose. Loose cardboard immediately loses its stiffness and resistance to bending and crushing forces. Foam cored panels and tubes are used for some very serious stiffness in some very high.tech. structures. A strong skin is vital to their design. In its place, at much lower cost and much greater bulk and weight, the taped, cardboard, thick-wall "pipes" over the foam does well enough for our purposes. 

As shown, the wheels offer some extra protection to the delicate frame tubes but not nearly enough. Lightweight cycle frames have very thin tubing and its high tensile strength is not perfect protection to localised impacts. In carriage, an object is likely to meet any number of unforeseen risks. Undoing damage is infinitely more difficult, expensive and time consuming than an extra bit of foam. Plus an extra quarter of an hour wrapping everything very tightly over the top in free, scrap, cardboard packaging from the local supermarket.

All this should take place before the machine is boxed. A bike box is merely cosmetic unless the contents inside are very well protected. My own, decades-long experience of dealing with deliveries of all kinds does not bode well for anything not suitably armoured for the perilous journey.

Time and again I have seen bored, underpaid and uncaring delivery staff deliberately drop delicate objects from raised vehicle tail lifts or from shoulder height. I have watched countless attempts to use other packages and pallet trucks as battering rams to move packages around within their delivery truck.

The presence of others does not alter their pattern of behaviour one iota. They have no personal investment in the care of the packages and it shows in their body language and manner. They are high turnover, disposable, delivery fodder running on a low grade level of rage. The very few who actually care stand out like sore thumbs! But are much more likely to move onto pastures new. Usually due to the total lack of positive feedback from their employers. Nor do they get any from the receiving staff at their delivery points. The driver faces awful traffic every single day and is an outsider without sympathy at every delivery point. Their employers compete by undercutting their staff's wages and placing onerous delivery schedules on their bowed shoulders. It's a no-win situation for anybody in the chain (including those who paid for the supposed service) and you must be prepared for it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, progress is being made in the restoration of this fine trike:


Click on any image for an enlargement. Back click to return to the text. Do the same with links.


  1. Greetings---

    I am the lucky chap (a Yank) who won the Bertrand trike at auction. I've had the trike fascination for a few years but had never ridden anything but the kiddies' version. Nevertheless, I'm intrigued with all the innovative eccentricities of British framebuilding (Flying Gate, Thanet, Paris Galibier, etc.) and to me trikes and tandem trikes are the most eccentric. So I've got the bug and have been keeping my eye out. Problem----I ride a 24 or 25-inch frame and I don't see a lot of trikes in that size. But I kept looking, hoping that the odd Higgins, Longstaff or Ken Rogers would pass my way. Considered a Holdsworth conversion but really wanted a purpose-built trike.

    Well, a couple of weeks ago my eyes just about shot out from their sockets, for an ebay UK listing appeared which was not merely a trike, and not just in my size, and not only original, but built by the very small but extremely well-respected maker which happens to be my collecting specialty----C. Bertrand.

    I had lucked upon a Bertrand solo frame five years ago with the longest spearpoint lugs I'd ever seen, and that started my infatuation with the marque. The frame when I acquired it from England was in horrible shape with no transfers remaining. It wasn't until two years later when I obtained another Bertrand far too small for me that I learned what the transfers looked like. I bought that frame simply to get a good look at those "decals," as we Americans say.

    Now, in the eight years that I have been watching ebay faithfully and monitoring sales lists for Bertrands, I had only seen three solo frames go up for sale (bought two, lost one to a deep-pocketed Japanese bidder) and one complete bike (a tandem which I almost went for though it was far too small for me). Then, out of the blue, this trike appeared.

    So I just had to have it.

    This time the planets all aligned and the seller, while she wouldn't ship to the States, would ship locally. And this go-round I had a friend willing to help me. I was ready to bet the farm on this one, but for a number of reasons (not the least of which was Classic Rendezvous bike discussion list here in the States was down the day the auction was ending and you missed this auction yourself!), I won the auction for what I consider the very reasonable sum of $300. Now my friend is packing the trike and preparing it for overseas shipment. For me, finding this Bertrand tricycle is a once-in-a-lifetime blessing, one of those little bits of serendipity not to be repeated. I cherish simply the thought of it, and can scarcely imagine how it will feel to actually possess this magnificent machine 'in the flesh'.

    I don't have good photos yet, just the pre-enhancement auction pix you have and one my friend sent to show how the frame had arrived boxed up from the UK seller. But as I say it looks to be a Nervex-lugged (at the headtube, anyway-- fillet brazed at the bb) machine with---I'm guessing as you are here---a Higgins rear? So I'm waiting to receive it and enter what I'm told is the love-it or hate-it world of trike ownership. As I am 6'-4" tall your comment about the high bottom bracket has me a bit concerned, as my center of gravity is up there already! And as the saying goes, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall." In addition to my helmet, it may be prudent to don body armor!

    I will certainly take oodles of pictures once the trike arrives on U.S. shores so that you may post them as you see fit. And I will keep you aware as to the progress of this new and precarious relationship I now have with the three-wheeled beast.

    A follow-up post will address Bertrand history.

    Cheerio for now,

    Peter, "Stateside"

  2. Hello, again---

    This is a follow-up post to my previous one about my new steed---the above Bertrand trike. It will address what little I know of the firm's history.

    Bertrand was a small firm in North Finchley, just outside of London, located near Tally-Ho Corner. The corner used to be a frequent departing point for the gentry's fox hunts and the "Tally-Ho!" coaching inn was a famous landmark. The riding crop on the Bertrand logo is in reference to this, and also, perhaps, in homage to the analogy of the carriage-building trade vis-a-vis frame building, and to the fact that a cycle is often referred to as a 'mount'.

    The firm was started pre-WWI and had a sterling reputation for very well-built frames. I have a catalogue from the 1930s showing a full range of machines on offer, from solos to tandems, but no trikes mentioned. I am aware, however, of a trike in the US which had set some sort of road record.

    In any event, they were one of the first two UK builders (the other being Thanet) to in the '40s exclusively silver braze their frames at low temperatures. This according to my friend, A.L. "Lon" Pullen, author of Cycling Handbook. And they had an outstanding reputation right up to when they closed in the mid-50s or so. I heard from a friend whose elderly father had ridden a Bertrand that Charlie Bertrand (the "C" of C. Bertrand) and his wife were very warm and kindly people. And they employed some amazing builders, including, in the '30s, H.R. Morris, who loved the environment of the place but left for more money.

    Just post-War (WWII) Edward A. Sage acquired the Bertrand name and shop and it was he who did all of the building right up until the shop closed. Under Sage's guidance Bertrand built some marvelous frames. One innovation was the Bertrand Sololite, designed by Lon Pullen. It was the lightest, fastest tandem of its day, having been built with solo tubes. The machine was profiled in "Cycling" back in the day, and was also the subject of letter (again, from its designer, Lon Pullen) in a Veteran Cycling Club publication.

    The above trike which I now own was undoubtedly built by Mr. Sage and is probably quite late in the firm's existence, as it is only some of the late builds that sport Nervex-style lugs. No doubt, too, the frame is built of Reynolds 531.

    The Eddie Sage version of Bertrand advertised regularly in the small classified ads in the back of "Cycling," but they seem to disappear in the early '50s. I do know that Sage in the late '40s was looking for wider distribution of Bertrand frames, seeking a few select dealers.

    The efforts to extend Bertrand's reach ultimately failed and the firm went out of business sometime in the mid-to-late 50s, from what I am told. Another storied small shop which fell victim to the post-war motorcycle and auto boom and cheap mass production.


  3. Peter,

    It is a great pleasure to read your articulate and expert enthusiasm for cycling. Thank you for sharing your research. I look forwards with great anticipation to seeing your progress in the restoration of the Bertrand. Which is a wonderful name in itself. Surely of French origin?

    Fear not! You would not be alone in becoming a tall tricyclist. The taller you are the further you can lean in to balance your C of G against centripetal forces. Dave Overton came second at Warwick and seems not to suffer unduly from altitude sickness on his trike. ;-)