Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A car journey through Normandy

On my recent visit to France I had occasion to travel by train from Gare St Lazare to Rouen and meet up with my contact at the railway station there. The journey to his home was fascinating, as we discussed our passion for cycling. Franck had a long association with the French cycle trade and knew Daniel Rebour (a family friend) very well and a lot of the constructeurs personally. He also remarked that he knew the late Jacques Anquetil, who had a penchant for women and drink. 'Maitre Jacques' had retired to the village of La Neuville-Chant-d'Oisel and was often to be seen, in his lifetime there, driving about the roads on his tractor.

We took a detour past Chateaux Anquetil on the Rue des Andelys (D126) and past the memorial to Jacques at the edge of Neuville-Chant-d'Oisel. The memorial stands in black stone on an open green between the Rue des Andelys and the Rue des Jardins. There is a large 'maillot jeune' situated in the grass in front of the memorial. Unfortunately I was not able to photograph it from the car. We continued our journey along the Rue des Andelys to it's junction with the Rue de la Libération, Romilly-sur-Andelle. The T junction is marked by a large racing bike in tribute to 'Maitre Jacques'. Turning left onto the D321 we travelled to Pont Saint Pierre

 After crossing the Andelle river we turned right onto the Rue des Hautes Rives (D19) to see the Tron et Berthet factory where Ideale saddles were made. The former factory was located in an old mill that was originally water powered and only much later being converted to electricity. The former home of Marcel Berthet is located near the mill and the iron fence atop the garden wall was made from stamped out plates produced in the factory. 

Franck also was able to show me the De Dion Bouton car which was owned by Jean Francois Tron. Monsieur Tron had a badge made (like a bicycle head badge) with his name on it and fixed it to the grill of the car. 
This vehicle is belt driven via a narrow leather belt via a flywheel on the engine to a pulley wheel on the rear axle in the fashion of powering factory machinery from a line shaft. The vehicle had 4 spoked wheels, a basic carburetor and two speed gearbox.
Top speed was around 40km/hr. The car also shared space with a chrome Alex Singer Randonneur, and a Barra loop frame aluminium lady's bike. Franck explained that he had previously owned bicycles by Daudon and Sabliere

Franck is related to Marcel Berthet and told me that Tron and Berthet started in 1910 and the company had originally produced bicycle forks. Marcel had also been involved in the manufacture of gear boxes for early motor cars. Ideal saddles came later.  Franck then showed me a family photograph album from Marcel Berthet born in 1888. In it were photographs of Marcel riding semi-faired track bicycles used before 1914 to attack the hour track record. Marcel was an amateur rider but had ridden in the 6 day track races before the First World War and had won the Berlin 6 day race in 1910. Marcel had won the hour record three times, initially in 1907 in Paris with a distance of 41.520 Km. His friend and rival Oscar Egg had then broken his record in Paris in 1912 with a distance of 42.122 Km. This started a series of record attempts between 1912 and 1914, whereby Marcel would break Oscar's record, only for Oscar to take it back again. Final honours fell to Oscar with a distance of 44.247 Km before World War I intervened. Marcel had also raced against an Italian rider at the Vigorelli track in which the Italian was expected to win. Against the expectation of the crowd, Marcel won the race and received a stoney faced silence for his audacity. The hostility of the crowd was visible in the photograph.  

The UCI had ruled in 1914 against faired bicycles being used in record attempts and competition.  I was shown a programme from a track meet at the Vel D'Hiv track, Paris, in 1927 which Marcel took part in.   In September 1933 at the Parc des Princes, Marcel, aged 47, was to use a fully faired bicycle 'the Velodyne', to break the hour record again. The early HPV was to attain a distance of 48.600 Km. A second attempt, using the same machine, was made on the record by Marcel two months later. The record was broken, increasing the distance travelled in one hour to 49.922 Km. 

Marcel's early record attempts before WW1 had been made on a Labor bicycle using a JOG handlebar, which was recorded in a postcard of the time. The Velodyne was a collaboration between Tron et Berthet and the French aircraft manufacturer Caudron. The records captured using the Velodyne were not recognised by the UCI, but it is an interesting early use of a fully faired Human Powered Vehicle (HPV). Marcel also developed a pedal in collaboration with Pierre Lyotard for use in the Velodyne. This was manufactured by Lyotard and was much favoured by touring cyclists. Marcel Berthet died in 1953 at the relatively young age of 65.

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