Friday, April 6, 2012

The Ride, 4.3.12

Tuesday was probably the most anticipated day of the week, perhaps even more so than watching Flanders with the locals!?  This was the day that we met and rode with the "Lion of Flanders," himself, Johan Museeuw!  Hard to believe, but yes, I now have photos to prove it.  

We started the day as usual, the pastries, eggs, Nutella, granola, etc.  I guess I don't have to remind you, but I mostly do it for myself, namely to remind myself of tomorrow's breakfast, which will be the same.  We all jumped into the cars and headed for Roeselaer, Belgium, where the National Bicycle Museum resides.  It's actually in an old firehouse that was converted to display the bikes and memorobila.  Our tour was to begin at about 10am, but we got there a little early enough to catch a bit of the city's farmer market - I particularly loved this cuz it gave us a very good picture of the locals.  And, by the way, the people-watching has been through the roof!

The farmer's market was exceptional - no messing around with the folks from Roeselaer!  Even many of the stands were refrigerated trailers with some serious meats and cheeses, as well as the typical fruits and veggies.  I enjoyed watching everyone - and to see so many folks out on bikes, buzzing through the city center was special.  We got to the museum before they opened, so there was a bit of loitering going on before they unlocked the doors.  Timing was essential as we didn't want to be late when meeting up with Museeuw.  Again, if you're not exactly sure who Museeuw is, check back on the blog and chose "The Lion" post.  

We met up with our guide, AnneMarie, a sweet, middle-aged lady who seemed to be more or less retired and in love with the museum.  She led us through the key sections, describing each display in pretty good English.  The museum has a number of excellent pieces - very critical pieces when we're taking about the history of the bicycle. They actually begin with the invention of the wheel, which, yes, is an essential part of every bicycle.  They have some of the earliest bicycles - before they were even called bicycles.  They even have an original "boneshaker" - bonshaker being an early 19th century bicycle with wooden wheels and cast-iron tires.  You can see it in the photos below - it has this interesting way to brake that involved twisting the handlebar which then pulled on a string that pressed a brake-type contraption against the wheel, much like brake pads against a rim sidewall.  

I was also quite enamored with the building, by the way.  The ceilings were red/white mosaic tiles in five different patterns through out the ol'fire house.  I was hoping that she'd talk a bit about the original building layout and such, but nope - she had more than enough to share with their hundreds and hundreds of artifacts.  The tour continued to take us along the lineage of the bicycle, explaining a lot of why the modern bicycle that we know of today is the way it is.  This would've been more than enough for me - I was quite satisfied with learning the history behind these old things.  Bicycles as we know it today, pretty much have been the same since the early 19th century, and were actually called "Safety Bicycles" because the new design was so much safer than the high-wheels bikes that often ejected their riders or caused other horrible mishaps.  AnnMarie was very kind and was very happy to answer all of our questions.

After the old bikes, the museum had staged a typical shop from the early 20th century as well.  It was fascinating to see what the mechanics used to do nearly the same things we do today.  Very cool.  They had a great collection of headtube badges and even a side-by-side tandem - even more romantic that way, I think.  No?  From that point, the museum became a huge homage to the Belgian cycling heros from as far back as late 1800's, early 1900's.  This early love of cycling explains why today, Belgian has one of the highest number of pro cyclists in the world - and why there are so many old, old races in and around this country - races, like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders.  To show up for a race and see thousands of people all pressed up against the barriers, leaning over to watch the cyclists battle it out is almost surreal - and I'm not just talking of people of my age - it's the full spectrum of ages, from the animated children to the patient elderly.  I love it.  

So, the museum is a winner, next time you're in Roeselaer, Belgie.

Once we nabbed a bunch of caps and postcards, we piled back in the cars and raced back to the cottage to get suited up to meet Museeuw.  He was there when we arrived and ready to hit the road.  First impressions of Museeuw - very down-to-earth, yet still quite confident.  He seemed nearly as interested in us as we were in him.  We enjoyed a couple stories over lunch as he answered various questions.  We of course asked what he thought of the Flanders results as well as Roubaix.  He did call it with Boonen as the winner.  You'd think someone with as much success and experience as he would be pretty close to the "mark."  

We essentially hit the route we took the day before - up the Kemmelberg and up past Mont des Cats.  He was very patient and stuck up conversations with each one of us as we cruised along in the group.  He seemed a little shy in the beginning, but with each passing mile, he started to open up a bit more, as he told various stories and even a joke here or there.  Needless to say, we were all still a bit stunned that yes, we were actually cruising the Belgian countryside with the one and only "Lion of Flanders!"  He's really taken to William and Alex and their Pave Cycling Classics concept - which will do wonders for business.  William and Alex, both engineers, do this strictly for the fun of it, really.  They don't make any money and just want to share what they've enjoyed nearly all of their life with us blokes, most of whom have not been here either in a long while or at all.  I'm pretty impressed - they've taken the experience far, far beyond simply riding in front of a bunch of tourists, occasionally pointing out a bunker here or an old monastery there.  This is well-beyond a typical bike tour.  I feel like I'm hanging with the locals, doing what they'd want to do. That, to me, is worth 2x's what I'm paying.  Please don't tell them...

Museeuw seemed to ride a quiet ride - there was only once or twice when he up'd the horsepower and pretty much left us behind.  He looks great on the bike - just like all the photos and videos we've all enjoyed over the years.   We ended up riding up another long, cobbled climb to this little, hidden village called Cassel, where there's an old mill - there was also, at one point, a castle there as well dating back to the Romans. There's actually a crapload of history in this little town on a hill overlooking Flanders. The Romans exercised their talented civil engineering skills with Cassel - Flandrian rulers constantly fought over it and even the Brits and Germans endured a horrible battle in 1940 that destroyed most of the town.  A lot of history on this hill.  After the climb, we paused in the Grande Place in front of this little cafe called, appropriately enough, "Lion des Flandres."   Nice.  We also ran into Wade Wallace from Cycling Tips - he was leading a group of Aussies through Flanders as well.  

We logged in about 60 km - about 3 hours - and headed back to the cottage for a meal.  The day was good.  Very good.  A nice, little precursor to tomorrow...we're slated to see Scheldeprijs near Antwerp as well as ride the Eddy Merckx Velodrome.  Yes, I know.  Crazy.

Thank you for reading - appreciate it!  Questions?