Frank Berto: We will miss you!

Word has just reached us that Frank Berto passed away last Sunday, aged 90. Berto was one of the most inquisitive technical minds in the cycling world and a long-time contributor first to Bicycling magazine and then to Bicycle Quarterly.

An avid cyclist since his childhood in the 1940s, Frank obtained a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1958. He worked in the oil industry as an instrumentation and oil measurement consultant. On the side, he authored more than 100 technical articles. His book The Dancing Chain traces the history of derailleurs in all its twists and turns.

Frank was one of the first to (re)discover that derailleurs shifted well if the chain gap (distance between cassette cog and upper derailleur pulley) was constant in all gears. He also measured the tire drop of dozens of tires and summarized the results in his famous tire pressure chart that remains the best guidance for inflating your tires to this day. Frank had little time for hero worship, but he appreciated companies like SunTour and the mid-century French derailleur makers who made innovative derailleurs that shifted well.

When I started Bicycle Quarterly 17 years ago, Frank sent his check for a subscription with a note. With typical frankness, he wrote: “I give you two years max. I’ve seen them all come and go, On the Wheel, the Bicycle Trader… In the mean time, I’ll help you as much as I can.” That help included xeroxing articles from his extensive library and reviewing the technical articles we wrote. He was excited when we built on his research and took it to the next step. When BQ published Aldo Ross’ article on the fiendishly complicated Campagnolo Paris-Roubaix derailleur, Frank, the expert on derailleurs, called me and exclaimed: “Finally, I understand how that thing works!”

During our frequent phone conversations, Frank was gruff, yet warm and charming. He was not just a fount of knowledge, but also fun. We owe him a lot! Our condolences go out to Frank’s wife Connie and his family.

13 Responses to Frank Berto: We will miss you!

  1. Patrick December 13, 2019 at 6:01 pm #

    Rest in peace. Thank you

  2. Noel Hoffmann December 13, 2019 at 8:22 pm #

    Frank Berto was such an integral part of cycling that I didnt really even realize it until he was gone. Between the loss of Sheldon and the loss of Frank I despair of ever fully understanding “half step plus”…

  3. Brian roth December 13, 2019 at 8:52 pm #

    I remember his articles in Bicycling explaining all the gearing options: Half Step, Alpine, Crossover….

  4. Chris Connick December 14, 2019 at 1:24 am #

    Frank Berto.
    Gone but not forgotten.
    What a legacy. ‘The Dancing Chain’!

  5. Michael Wolfe December 14, 2019 at 1:41 am #

    The Dancing Chain was an eye opener on a grand scale for me. I read it to my stepson when he was very young, just a half chapter at a time. His questions helped me further understand the technology revealed there that I might have skimmed over.

    My enthusiasm sold many copies to eager customers.

    Berto’s columns in earlier magazine publications were instrumental in my initiation to early bicycle mechanic knowledge.

    Rest In Peace!

  6. Ron Thompson December 14, 2019 at 5:27 am #

    Typical Berto caustic comment…. giving Bicycle Quarterly two year lifespan… but supportring you nevertheless. . Always outspoken in his opinions [if I am wrong ,prove it!] yet just as ready to put his money where his mouth was, Though the first edition of Dancing Chain [ also printed by Rob van der Plas ] was a limited shott- run issue and not given much chance of succeeding, it was reprinted at least three times financed by Frank. There is a story to be told about the origins of the book, the ICHC input, and the early contributors and my small role in getting the wheels turning and the gears shifting on its production….It may not be surprising to those who have done their homework on the subject to know of the earlier Japanese books on Derailleurs… As I say there is a story there…You ,like Frank, having a passion for a particular aspect of cycle History, have done much to further the Rescue, Research, Restoration and Riding of old steel bicycles. RIP frank it was fun and informative knowing you.

  7. Marco December 14, 2019 at 7:47 am #

    I have his chart on my smartphone, to use everytime I have to inflate a bike tire. Rest in peace.

    • Paul Brown December 14, 2019 at 10:41 am #

      I had the great pleasure of building up and working on many of Frank’s bikes. I met him in 1976. He lived close by the shop I worked in, Sunshine Bikes in Fairfax and was almost a daily fixture. When I opened my own shop, Cycle Dynamics, in 1980 he spent a lot of time there as well. We designed and had John Murphy build up a custom Columbine frame that I assembled and later cut in half and installed S&S couplings in. Great friend…I’m sure Frank is peppering Alex Singer and Rene Herse with questions, let alone all the other bike enthusiasts and contributors through time… Gears to you, Frank!

  8. R. December 14, 2019 at 8:59 am #

    Thank you Mr. Berto.

    You helped us to know better an activity we loved and the bicycles we use.

    Rest in Peace.

  9. Andrew December 14, 2019 at 11:58 pm #

    The Dancing Chain is such a great book! Rest in peace Mr. Berto and thanks for sharing your knonwledge and enthusiasm with us.

  10. The Coasting Frenchman December 15, 2019 at 12:28 pm #

    The tire pressure chart was the document that took me from Sheldon Brown’s website to this blog, and then to becoming a BQ subscriber. Thinking about people like Mr Berto makes me think that, no, we are not all born and created equal; the ability to guide others and many such talents are not equally shared among us. I get this sort of reminder every day, and as a very ordinary mortal, I can only thank people like him for what they do and have done for the rest of us. Thank you, and long live your memory.

    • Daniel B. Weatherly December 15, 2019 at 5:13 pm #

      The Coasting Frenchman –

      I couldn’t agree more, well stated. Thank you sir !


  11. Julian Cole December 16, 2019 at 11:51 am #

    When I was a young guy in my early twenties, I decided that cycling was what I wanted to do more than anything else. I went to work in the bike industry…and at 60, I’m still in it. Bicycling magazine became my monthly read, and it was Frank’s articles that showed me that there was more to a bicycle than what appeared on the surface. Thanks, Frank, for throwing me head first into this crazy industry.