Words Matt Lamy | Photos Andrew Sydenham
Let me introduce Bertie, from Cambridge-based vintage-style bike brand Beg. Even by cycling’s standards — where unique two-wheeled wonders never cease to amaze — this is a pretty novel piece of equipment. For example, apart from anything else, it’s the only commercially produced bicycle I know of that has two top tubes.
Beg says Bertie is “the ultimate porter’s Dutch bicycle”, and he looks it. At his heart is a steel frame, hand-made in Belgium by a company that’s been welding bikes since 1946. Bertie is not short on classic style that’s for sure, with swept-back handlebars clad in leather grips, and a plush Brooks B66 saddle cushioning one’s posterior.
Little practical details are taken care of too. Gear selection comes courtesy of a very efficient three-speed Shimano Nexus hub gear with twist grip. A high-quality Busch and Müller chromed headlight runs off the dynamo hub (the rear light is powered from this too.) A Hebie Bi-pod central stand keeps everything upright when you’re off the saddle. Shimano coaster brakes bring you to a halt. A little spring attached to the front fork automatically re-centres the steering. And an integrated Axa Defender lock clamps through the rear wheel, ensuring old Bertie won’t be swiped.
No takeaway option
Talking of which, my wife always asks the same old question when it comes to frame locks: “Why wouldn’t a thief just pick the bike up and carry it away if they wanted to steal it?” But there’s a fundamental reason thieves won’t pick up Bertie — they probably can’t. You see this big old boy is officially the heaviest bike I have ever tested, weighing in at 22.7kg, or a round 50lb in old money. As well as that reinforced steel construction and the fulsome spec sheet, the cause of Bertie’s abundance is an H-bomb-proof front rack — an incredible bit of utilitarian bike design, but which does have some effect on ride experience.
First of all, this isn’t a bike to be scaling steep hills on. Not only do you have that bike weight to manage, but climbing out of the saddle while gripping those old school bars is something of an art. You do get used to it, and it’s really quite fun, but the high centre of gravity over the front wheel, with that serious rackage, causes the front to be prone to the occasional wobble.
And the three-speed Shimano Nexus hub (an eight-speed Nexus hub gear is a £150 option) doesn’t quite go low enough to master serious slopes. Like the little lad in the Hovis advert, pedalling is likely to turn to pushing every now and then.
In fact, the ride experience is not like a modern bicycle at all, but you quickly realise that’s part of Bertie’s charm. Sitting back in the saddle, with your head held high in the air and the front wheel dancing about in front, you encounter sensations that simply don’t manifest themselves on most bikes. There is something subtly majestic about it. Smoothly rolling along on big volume Schwalbe tyres means it is also supremely comfy, too.
Who would it suit? Certainly the habitual tweed-wearer, or anybody who enjoys a relatively flat and traffic-free commute. But there’s also great scope for Bertie to be a quirky yet practical promotional tool for businesses too. If I was buying one personally I think I’d opt for Bertie’s slimmer rack-free brother, the Billy, but that front carrying capacity is ripe for some creative thinking.
A few months ago I tested the B’Twin Riverside7 which shared many of the same qualities of the Bertie, although in a thoroughly 21st century manner. It had a comprehensive selection of equipment and a practical purpose, yet at 17kg I thought it was just a bit too heavy for typical British commutes. I can’t deny that much of the same criticism can be levelled at Bertie, but there is significant area of mitigation: style. For all his practical qualities, Bertie is something to marvel at in his own right. As with many of our friends, he may not be entirely perfect, but I can’t help thinking cycling life is a little richer for him being here.
Beg Bertie £745
Frameset Steel, lugged
Gears Shimano Nexus three-speed
Chainset KMC RB
Brakes Shimano roller brakes
Wheels Rigida STS rims, Sapim spokes
Tyres Schwalbe Delta Cruiser
Saddle Brooks B66s
Size range 53, 57, 61, 65cm
Workcycles Fr8 from €1,264 (£1,060)
If you’re looking purely for front carrying capacity, the Fr8 is one of the few bikes that comes close to the Bertie. Although a more modern design than our Beg, the Fr8 also features a chromoly frame with rust protection, Shimano roller brakes, dynamo and hub gears, and there are endless options available. Apparently that front rack will handle up to 150kg of load. Rather you than me.