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Bought a 40 year old Bertin C220 bicycle: My ownership experience

It was priced rather modestly at 170 Euros, it looked in great condition, and it was walking distance away from me.

BHPian RiderZone recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

A few weeks ago my tooth started hurting. It wasn't too painful, but it was the kind of painful that makes you believe it's really gonna get painful soon, like it's on the edge of explosion. I tried to see a dentist here in Germany, but nobody had an appointment, for weeks.

While I waited in pain to be seen by a doctor, a pain that could've been fixed within hours in India, I noticed that distracting myself helped ease the pain. If I sat down, the thoughts spiraled towards the pain, and the anticipation of it getting worse made me more anxious, which increased the sensation of pain. If I kept myself busy, the pain went away, almost.

So naturally I bought a second hand bicycle from 40 years ago. Say hello to my 1982 Bertin C220.

Why?

A lot of people have asked me why I'm not taking advantage of my time here in Europe by driving cars and riding motorcycles on some of the best roads in the world, why I'm wasting it on cycling. There are a number of reasons for this, in a previous article I mentioned the most obvious one, that it's very expensive to get a license here, and so are the insurance costs.

But that's not all. I once drove a car around Scotland, and although the views were nice the drive was rather boring. Being on the road in India is a very intense experience, you never know what the next turn is going to turn up. Without that constant fear of imminent death, in a place where everyone is following the rules of the road, where you don't have to dodge cows and dogs and humans, it feels like a job, and I already have a couple of those.

More importantly, I want to do things in Europe that I can't do in India. I can't cycle in India for hundreds of kilometers without crossing paths with a single car. I can't cycle in India behind a woman in a sundress who is carrying a baby in a basket in front of her bike and two dogs in the basket behind. I can't cycle in India on a vintage French machine that's older than I am.

Why not new?

I already have a Decathlon RC500 cycle that I bought new, and if I wanted to distract myself some more I could've bought something new from Decathlon or anywhere else. But I have come to hate the unnecessary overcomplication and consumerism of the cycling culture, and I didn't want to fuel the dumpster fire.

Cycling is supposed to be the simplest form of transport, two wheels with a bit of metal in between and a way to put energy from the food you ate last night into the tires. However, over the last few months I've explored the world of cycling as it exists on the internet, and I find it to be ugly and stupid.

Maybe it's a natural part of any online community where people take their hobbies too seriously, but cycling to me seems like the worst of the bunch, even worse than car or bike internet. People spending thousands of Euros to shave off a few grams, idiotic obsession based on an incorrect understanding of aerodynamics, and most annoying of all this tendency to follow trends with no rhyme or reason.

This attitude is so common that if you search for anything bicycle adjacent on Youtube, your entire timeline will be taken over by gravel racers, nutrition experts, and GCN. Over time you find yourself slowly being absorbed by this bubble of FTP and carbon and Zwift, a universe where people talk about the watts they put out today as if they're toasters, and you actually listen to them rather than laughing in their face.

I found myself being interested in bikes that cost more than my Interceptor, bikes with electronic shifting, bikes with power meters, bikes that are more computer than bike. I found myself browsing the Canyon website one day and realized I was genuinely considering buying a bicycle that cost 3500 Euros, and that's when it hit me. I was about to join the cult, it was time to run away.

How?

There's a huge culture in Europe around buying second hand things, far bigger than it is in India. Ebay died years ago there, but here it's alive and thriving. My friends introduced me to something called Kleinanzeigen in Germany, and I was in love.

I started looking for used bicycles online, and the first problem was, as in life in general, deciding what the hell I wanted. Again I followed the same principle, I can buy practical bicycles in India too, bikes that'll take me from point A to B in most comfort, so I should get something impractical and stupid here. I live in an apartment so I wanted something light that I could carry up and down easily. I've already experienced MTBs, and I already have a modern road bike, so the only real available option was a vintage.

The more I looked at vintage road bikes, the more I fell in love. That shape with the completely horizontal top tube felt so right to me, so beautiful. These things look like the definition of a cycle, the shape anybody would use on a road sign.

To keep things spicy, I did no real research, just dove head first into the available vintage bikes near me. As with buying anything second hand the process is painful and annoying, you gotta be quick, you gotta negotiate, and you gotta be alert against scams. It was hard work filtering options for hours everyday, hounding people in my terrible German, and watching the bikes I liked being sold away.

But one fine day this Bertin showed up on my timeline, it was the right size and it looked gorgeous. It was priced rather modestly at 170 Euros, it looked in great condition, and it was walking distance away from me. I had never heard of the Bertin brand before, but the classic shape was what I wanted, and that's all I cared for.

As with all other things, there's a whole overpriced market for vintage bicycles made by fancy Italian companies. There's Bianchi, Colnago, Cinelli, and anything from them cost well over 500 Euros, thousands in some cases. I didn't want to buy any of these, not just because of the initial cost but the cost of parts if anything went wrong. Italian stuff in general looks great, but I wanted to ride the damn thing too.

So I offered 140 to the guy, he said 160, and I bought it for 150. Did I overpay? Almost certainly. I really liked the bike so I didn't negotiate too hard, but for a complete noob like me it's very hard to judge the cost of a vintage bike. I looked at some of the parts on it, and if I stripped the bike and sold them separately they'll go for maybe 200 Euros total, so I don't understand how the complete bike sold for less, but I'm not complaining.

I walked over and picked it up the next morning, the guy was nice and didn't mind my terrible German. Back home I put it up on the stand and inspected it, not too shabby overall! The tires were in bad shape, the rear wheel bearings made a clicking noise, but the frame was straight as an arrow and it came with this exquisite Shimano 105 Golden Arrow groupset, with this beautiful gold pattern on all the components, front/rear mech and brakes. Even the seat looks fantastic, someone took real good care of this thing, and because I had no background story to the bike at all, the mystery added to the charm.

The friction hilarity

Even though the tires had a visible gash in them, I couldn't stop myself from taking it for a spin. I was immediately surprised at how light it felt compared to my 650 Euro RC500, and so much more comfortable. The Bertin weights about 9 kgs, a kilo less than my modern road bike. I had heard that steel frames were more compliant than aluminum, but I hadn't expected the difference to be this much, especially with its lower weight.

And then there are the friction shifters, I had heard of their existence but of course had never used them before. All bikes come with indexed shifters nowadays, just like your car with a gear knob that has 1 through 5 on it, and each gear has a specific spot that you slot into. Friction shifters are this absolutely hilarious "technology" where there's no indexing, you shift by feel.

Think of it like if your car had a wooden pole in place of the gear knob and no clutch, and this pole can be moved forward to get to a higher gear, and back for lower. When you want to change gears, you move the pole and listen for the horrible crunching noises as the engine and the transmission mesh together, when the noises are at their minimum, you are in the right gear. But because it's all by feel, you're never really in the perfect position, and it's always noisy.

Friction shifters change the entire dynamic of riding a bike. First off they're mounted on the downtube between your legs, so you have to take a hand off from the bars to change gears. Second, it takes a while to slot into a gear, it's not like the click of a normal bike, so you have to plan your gear changes well in advance.

What this translates to is a very intense riding experience, you have to focus a lot more on what you're going to do, and you dare not go too fast, which is kinda good because it gives you time to smile back at people who look at your old steel and grin at you.

The tubular hilarity

Most normal people know that two types of tires exist, tubeless and those with tubes. I was also normal before I bought this thing, now I know that tubular tires exist. Tubular tires are this ancient thing where the tubes are attached directly into the tire, they are one single unit. This means that the wheels that accept tubular tires can be extremely simple, basically just a round strip of metal with a tiny depression in the middle. Unlike modern wheels there's no bend on the side to hook onto the bead of the tire.

But of course this simplicity comes at a cost, you need to attach the tubular tire to the wheel, as in with glue and stuff. If you don't, the tire can just slip off the wheel during sharp turns etc. That's something I noticed when I came back from my first ride on the Bertin, the rear tire was not centered anymore on the wheel. Turns out the bike had some very old tires on it, and all the glue holding it to the wheel had degraded. With the gashes and the lack of glue it was rather dangerous to ride this thing, I didn't want another brush with the German healthcare system.

The satisfying fixes

Ordered a whole bunch of tools and parts, stole my wife's kitchen apron, and started fixing the few things that were wrong with this bike. First up were the rear wheel bearings, and fixing them was the first time in my life that I had a satisfying mechanical experience. Some of you may have read my nightmare trying to "restore (How NOT to restore your old motorcycle)" my Pulsar 150, this was the complete opposite of that. I have always believed that I have no mechanical feel at all and must have been a stripper in a previous life, but this experience made me feel better about my tinkering abilities.

Continue reading BHPian RiderZone's review for more insights and information.

 
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