This Is Not About Bikes…

… but hopefully interesting for those into lightweight design. Yes, you guessed it, it´s about planes again.

On a business trip to the beautiful Polish city of Cracow I managed to take time off to visit the Muzeum Lotnictva Polskiego, the Polish Aviation Museum. First thing to be said: Don´t try, like I had to, to make do with an afternoon – there´s enough exhibits for a week, I´d say. The museum is situated 7 km to the East of the city centre and can be reached with trams No. 52 or 10 inside 20 minutes from Wawel for PZN 7.20 per return journey, which is fantastic. On the way you also see a different Cracow – modern buildings, some reaching back to Socialist times. You get off at the Muzeum Lotnictva stop, and from there it´s an easy 5 min walk until you see this:

The futuristic main building of the museum. From above it looks slightly like a propeller.

So you pay your PZN 15 entry fee (about 4 EUR/$/£), and right away you´re greeted by a hall full of exquisite exhibits like:

a 1947 Yak 23, one of the earliest jet planes, and the Soviet Gloster Gladiator if you wish, or

a Blériot 11 on the ceiling, a late model, but never mind, or

a 1917 Albatross that was used in the Polish airforce until WWII, or

a Me 109 people dragged from some lake a few years ago, or lastly

a late model Spitfire in the colours of a Polish RAF Squadron. In recent years Poles have remembered about their countrymen who fought so valiantly and successfully in the UK even after fascist Germany conquered their country. One of the main bridges crossing the Wisla is called Monte Cassino bridge – check out on the the net why.

So the hall´s been a good start.

But then you leave the main building and stumble upon some very sad sights. Sorry to be so straightforward, but to the visitors´ view the MiG Alley, as it´s called, is little more than a collection of rotted out planes that might have been a great attraction if housed somewhere out of the reach of the inclement Eastern Polish weather:

The 21 U is a rarity in itself, and the incomplete 29 is an open invitation to anyone to help themselves to some magnificent titanium parts. A near complete collection of MiGs – from the earliest to a 29, out in the open – sorry, can´t do anything with that. No more snaps of that tragedy.

But the outside drama goes on. The AN 2 stored in the open is replaceable, I guess,

but a Belphegor, the only jet propelled biplane, is just a sad sight with cracking perspex and UV damaged seat upholstery.

Worse still: An Amiot AAC.1 Toucan, a Ju52/3m knockoff, made ca. 1946 in France, where the Germans had hoped to use French aircraft production facilities to make their less modern aircraft in greater numbers, thereby delivering to the French f/o/c all the tools and know how necessary to produce one of the more rugged cargo planes of aviation history. The poor beast is also sitting out in the open. Its completely unoriginal paintwork, an embarassment to say the least, is best bleached by the sun, but its substance also is suffering.

At some point a Junkers pair of rudders must have found its way onto the Toucan, as betrayed by this plate:

But on the other side of the plane its counterpart has already supposedly been nicked:

Luckily this French 1952 revision plate is still there.

A 1943 Li 2 is suffering still more.

Strangely enough, I was touched most by one of my childhood favourites´ fate. I have no idea why and when, but I started being fascinated by planes at a very young age, and one of the planes I always found fascinating is a SAAB 37 Viggen. Lo and behold, there´s a 1977 AJSF one at the Muzeum Lotnictva. But in what sad state of neglect.

I took some time to check the thing out in detail, hence the number of snaps. There´s always the possibility to just scroll down 🙂

This one is a recce version. The wonderful Matra cameras are still in place.

The rest of the Viggen photos can speak for themselves.

It´s such a great plane, oozing build quality and original design ideas. I wished I could have taken it home to some sort of shelter.

OK, on to some more stuff.

The Museum prides itself in a unique collection of Pioneer Aircraft. Thing is, most are unrestored, unlike this admittedly beautiful Sopwith camel with its Humber built engine:

Many old planes are left in as found condition (no comment here why that´s the case, you can find out about it on the net), but I hope I won´t be eaten alive by readers if I say that I prefer it this way: It´s not every day that you can see underneath the surface of pre-WWI planes.

So this Etrich Taube may look like it came straight from the bin,

But it is fascinating to see how it was designed. Also some details of planes can be observed well as there is no limit to where visitors are allowed to to go, short of climbing onto the exhibits (it really says so on boards).

A bungee cord suspension. Foolproof, lightweight – great.

Same is true for one of the other planes which ranks high in my most fascinating list, the Levavasseur with its Antoinette engine. The competitor of Blériot when attempting the first crossing of the English Channel by plane was, to my mind, the FAR nicer machine. I mean, look at that 50hp, liquid cooled Vee-eight engine. This one is incomplete and damaged (accident?), also it´s not the one with the light alloy cylinder heads, but it´s there to be looked at. What wouldn´t I give to hear it running…

And this is where it went: The bow, literally, of a German license built Levavasseur plane. The engine goes onto the gunwale like rounded rests.

The fuselage was built like a boat, complete with name on the bow.  The rest of the woodwork also is really nice:

It´s so intricately designed, and the woodwork is fascinatingly well executed. Bad lighting conditions precluded me from taking more detailed pics.

This is the cockpit.

The handrails are wood, the spokes are cast light alloy.

There´s some fascinating original footage of Antoinettes being built on youtube.

What else? The main exposition hall contains rarities such as a Sea Vampire and some Soviet WWII planes, but also, if I got it right, Ernst Udet´s personal Curtiss Hawk II:

AFAIK, this is one of the first planes which used the Townend Ring. Again, cramped and badly lit conditions…

Then on to the engine collection. There´s one hangar literally choc a bloc with the choicest engines.

Starting with the earliest rotaries like this Clerget,

carrying on to radials,

from flimsy to brutal like the BMW 801 which could be changed as a complete unit,

not forgetting early in-lines like this airship Maybach,

passing onto early Vees (and even Ws), like a Liberty,

and of course a whole array of thirties engines, like a rare Kestrel,

some Jumos, and then the superbly looking 12 series Hispano Suiza:

I´m fully aware that all Jumo 2xx, Mercedes 60x, RR Merlins and later the Griffons, their Packard offsprings, the US Allisons, Soviet Vee 12s were engines for warplanes and that people being killed by planes equipped with them didn´t care at all what these engines looked like, but I can´t help thinking that of all the liquid cooled Vee 12s, the Hispano 12 series must be the best looking. Contrary to the block like Jumos especially I think there was someone at Hispano´s who cared about the looks of their products.

If you have ever been puzzled by a drawing of the internals of a Bristol Hercules and wondered how the hell it was working, who was crazy enough to be able to design it and if there can possibly be a more intricate engine, you´re in for a shock. This Jumo opposed piston Diesel engine is just the worst. I spent ten minutes of my precious time in front of this cutaway specimen and didn´t understand much of what it tried to tell me.

Why simple when it can be complicated.

Lastly, in a museum like the Cracow one, where visitors can come really close to exhibits, there´s always some surprise to be had, like this warranty certificate which expired nearly 100 years ago:

Rijwielbelastingplaatjes

Last year´s visit to Belgium left some traces – in my memory, on this blog and also in my glasscase. When visiting Ypres, I chanced upon an antiques store which sold a great number of old Belgian bicycle tax plates. That´s BTW what the word in the title of this post means. Couldn´t really call them discs, because they look like this, for instance:

This one was the oldest I bought, I think it says 1923. Given the fact that those plates were introduced in Belgium in the 1890s, successively by the Province Governments, it´s not very old, but compared to the scrap that was available in the box at the dealer´s, it´s definitively one of the nicer ones. Prices reflected the sad state of most of the plates, so I could afford a goodly selection.

Thing is, they are made from real enamel, and of course having been fixed on a bike for a year, and very probably having served as a plaything afterwards (nice and kleurig, colourful, and just the right size too), many were reduced to a very sad state indeed. Those I skipped, and I bought these:

Dating from the 1930s, these are already simpler in shape – but still, real enamel.

That stopped during the war. I got this 1943 one, too,

which seemed unused, and discovered only at home that it actually had a twin stuck underneath it:

As you can see, 090409 was on top all of those years, its colour having faded a bit, and 090544 is as good as new. So I owe the antiques dealer one.

Them being war production, they are also made from re-used sheet metal:

If you look closely, you can see that there´s a “V” next to the Hainault “H”, and if one turns the thing round it becomes obvious that in its first life the plate used to be a West Vlaanderen one from the year before.

The Belgian system of those plates was quite sophisticated. If you look round on the net you see plates that were for the unemployed, coming free, but also those for childrens´ bikes – a thought I can´t really warm to. The plates in the end were too expensive to make, some it is said even were more expensive than what they brought in tax, so they were discontinued in the eighties. These two which I was given by a cycle dealer who I stopped at en route to the first classic RVV must be among the last ones issued.

And here´s one I unbolted from a cheap brake caliper out of a grab box at this year´s Stalen Ros (later addition, 24-04-2017):

 

Also I imagine those sharp metal edges jutting from the bikes must have been considered a risk by the eighties.

Once we´re at it, here are some Dutch plates I bought years and years ago in Haarlem, also for a song like those in Belgium last year:

Although they´re much simpler made, I also think they´re nice to look at. On the 1940 one it says “RWB” which must be Rijwielbelasting – Tax on Bicycles.

And lastly something I found in a fleamarket right in the middle of Germany:

Nothing to do with tax at all, this badge was worn by someone who took part in some editions of the Landelijke Fietsdag, nationwide bicycle day, organized as from 1973 by the ANWB, the largest club in the Netherlands with 4 million members and in charge, among other things, of all Dutch road signposting, and the VVV, the Dutch organization of all tourist information offices. No idea if the Fietsdag still exists, but I don´t think so. It´s a witness from a bygone era, too, when cycling events were organized by motorist organizations.

So it´s a good thing we don´t have to use any of the above.

1950s Bauer

This nice little bike apparently is nothing a serious collector would get excited about, but I like it. I´ll explain why in a moment.

xbdownttransfxbmodeltransfThe bike was built at Fahrrad- und Metallwerke L. Bauer & Co in Frankfurt. The works were founded in 1911, so the bikes you still see around with the headbadge alluding to the firm´s 50 years anniversary are all later than this one. Its rear hub bears the year stamp “56”, so it must be about that time.

It´s not one of the famous Bauer Weltmeister bikes, although the World Championship attained in 1952 on a Bauer is mentioned on the seat tube transfer:

xbseatttransfSadly, this is the only badly worn part – should have been the nicest.

But here the bike is in all its glory:
xbfullfront xbfull

The frame is not the greatest example of craftsmanship. For instance you get mid – to – late fifties stamped sheet metal dropout ends instead of the nicer drop forged ones that were still the norm a few years earlier:

xbreardoIn the front, the chrome´s a nice touch though.

xbfrontdoHere you can see how dirty and neglected the bike has become after about 30 years of disuse. Ah well. It was cheap.

The seat stay tops are OK, really, as are the lugs and other frame components all round:

xbseatclxbtopheadlxblowerheadlxbbbxbcarrier-eyes

xbforkcr

Also the Mod. 55 F&S three speed is equipment which one wouldn´t find on too many bikes at the time as it was quite dear still. The bike came with an ugly black later model plastic trigger, which of course couldn´t work correctly either, but I had a blue Mod. 55 trigger in just the right state of dilapidation in my Box:

xbthreespxbtriggerI haven´t seen one of those for ages – getting rarer and rarer it seems.

The chainset is above average too, I think it´s Bielefeld made. Plus I forgot to snap the alloy rims – another unusual and expensive touch at the time.

xbchainsetIt´s counterweighted by this unavoidable, horrible, useless and even dangerous anti-theft device which buggered German bikes for decades. The only chance it would stand against thieves was that they would laugh themselves silly when seeing it, forgetting what they had come for.

xblock

But now to the points I really like. It was of course the fashion up until the sixties to adorn bikes with as many branded components as possible, but this Bauer has a lot of them, most still present, and they are above average good looking too, like the extension or the mudguards which are alloy and nicely lined.

xbrearmudg

rear mudguard transfer

xbmudguardmascxbheadlxbheadbxbextension xbdynamoxbchaingxbbellSo, what do I make of this bike, then, after having been told by a major collector that it being a 26″ wheel size one it would only be good for breaking for parts?

That´s not going to happen at least until my tenure ends. I can´t stop wondering if the first owner wasn´t very proud of it – he (probably a he) spent a lot of money on it for sure, and received a bike which in 1956 or 57 was above average, frame wise, equipment wise and by the looks, too. The headlight, the deep bend mudguards, and the extension even add a French touch. Apart from the slightly wrong saddle, the lost tool pouch and the wrong handlebars, there´s nothing amiss with it. Looks a bit like a time capsule to me, it even seems.

I hope to find a few hours during the next vacation to polish the chrome up, use black wax on some of the rusty spots, to repack the bearings, renew the cotterpins and so on. If the bike´s back to a little more splendour, maybe it will make people see its real value.

Carpenter – Pre or Post WWII?

The last remarkable thing to be reported of last year´s Tubes & Coffee was this marvellous

xcaradownttransfI´m not sure if it´s pre or post WWII, as the rear hub shell is stamped 1947, but the rest of the bike shows a lot of 1930s features. It´s probably really 1947 firstly because it´s so very orignal that it makes sense to assume that the rear hub shell also is, and secondly because a great many bikes from the immediate post-WWII period look still very much 1930s.

Let´s have a look at a few snaps.

xcarfullHere it is in all its beauty. Great frame, superbly equipped. It must have been someone´s pride and joy, possibly as some sort of splash of luxury afforded in the years of extreme austerity and even danger.

xcarbsapedals xcarchainsA Chater chainset, BSA pedals – wonderful stuff, and among the best you could get.

xcarfthubxcarquadrThe Sturmey quadrant was already outmoded by the late 30s; the handlebar positioned trigger had been around since about 1938. Much as I like quirky and oldfashioned equipment, the idea of having to get off a bike equipped with a quadrant in a hurry doesn´t seem very attractive to me. I think I would have been an early adopter of the trigger.

xcarlauterwbarsThe handebars (they´re Lauterwasser bend, aren´t they?) are great, however, and I wish they were available today. I have a pair on my Evans Super Continental, and I like them a lot.

xcarrearresilion xcarresilionlevers xcarresilionlampbrThese I don´t like a lot – Resilion Cantilever brakes were effective, yes, but beasts to fit and / or set up. Again I have first hand experience, and I´d rather have centrepulls anytime, thanks.

xcarrimThese I think don´t fit into the picture. Could they have been 1947? They must have been later additions, possibly because the old ones (Constrictors perhaps?) were worn out.

xcarheadbBack to the frame. Have a look at this wonderful Art Déco headbadge. I love it. Why don´t they make bikes with so beautiful badges anymore?

Tell you what, I´ve always tried to ride bikes with headbadges, real ones, and I´ve nearly always found that they are superbe: Gazelle, old Raleighs, and so on. There´s one exception, though: My fascinating Ellis Briggs which only has a head transfer. But, me being me, I talked the good people at EB out of an old 1950s badge years and years ago, when they still were at the old premises, and if my frame should ever need a respray, or, god beware, a repair, on would go the headbadge.

headbebBut back to the regularly scheduled programme.

xcarforkcrlowerheadlugxcarheadcliptopThese headclip headbearings ooze 1930s, don´t they? And look at the marvellous lower headlug, how it varies its thickness. Cast, I assume.

xcarreyntransfThe whole thing is of course made from R531, what else.

xcarseatclLastly the seatcluster. Button seat stay tops also are 30s fashion, and again there is a member of the wonderful cast lug set. I wonder if it´s perhaps BSA or Chater. Also the braze ons for the Resilion brake cables are worth mentioning.

But that´s all the photos I could take, and some of them are out of focus because of the light at Marten´s workshop. It´s a bike shop after all, not a photo studio.

BTW, today was the day this blog welcomed its 75.000th reader of a post, and next month I´ll have been on line for five years. Thanks to all of you, and while there have not been many posts recently (I´m suffering from acute work overload), I have not lost the motivation to carry on. I hope to become more active again next (yes, 2018) year.

Tubes & Coffee 2016

It was great as usual, thanks Marten.

Not much changes in Tubes and Coffee, but why change a successful format? This year there was a brazing demo again, and there were some bikes on exposition in the workshop, but the wonderful groentesoep (vegetable soup) and the apple crumble luckily were still there.

Also you meet new people every year, which is great. This year I talked to someone who had been to Japan recently, and that was quite interesting. I took dozens of pics, so I guess I´ll base this post on them, although many are not too good as the workshop wasn´t very well lighted. It´s not a photo studio after all.

xapplecrxcatxgroentesoepxworkshopLet´s start with what we all came for, food, the cat and the company.

Or did we? May be this…

xwhitefull

The bike was suspended from a work stand which made it hard to photograph fully. Anyway, wheel size is 650B.

xwhitebb xwhitesscoupl xwhitereardo xwhiterearbrake xwhiteheadtransf xwhitehbars xwhiteforkcr xwhitedownt xwhitecarrier xwhitebrakebr xwhitebbshell xwhitebbraw… was also an attraction. One of Marten´s customers´ bikes, a wonderful tourer. The bottom bracket shell is of the excentric type in order to avoid all the complicated and unsightly arrangements needed at the OEM dropouts for the Rohloff hub. The shell is seen in situ and, last pic, half finished for another bike. Marten makes them himself in the best constructeur tradition.

Or this beauty? A genuine RIH, as proven by the frame number on the lower headlug, but somewhat dilapidated.

xrihroest xrihroestfront xrihroestfrokcrOne of its brothers was already undergoing some rather thorough treatment after having shed the disguise of being a Giant. It was laid out on the aligning table also as a demo.

xrihrest xrihrestname xrihrestdeuk xrihrestaligntableOne other demo was grouped around the lathe. There was this medium quality Gazelle frame which obviously had had some problems with stuck stems. Yes, I know, the leftover alloy bit is of an extension, but it makes things clearer, doesn´t it?

xlathe xlatheresultAnd one more demo – Marten brazing. The freshly brazed frame and fork were not made that day, but serve as a … well, you know.

xbrazdemo1 xbrazdemo3 xbrazdemo2xbrazresultbrazresult2Now the last demo – of how to assemble an Airnimal, for which Marten is a representative. Quite fascinating, only hard to photograph because of insufficient lighting. Now one might think that the suitcase is a special – far from it, it was bought in the HEMA, a Dutch cheap department store.

xairnimalfull xairnimreardo xairnimcompl xairnimassy2 xairnimassy1Here´s a few more impressions of Marten´s workshop.

xtools2 xtoolsxlugsforkcrownsetc xlightdemoxtubes

If you´d like a good look at all of his machines in a workshop devoid of visitors, go here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3pb7ipC-BU

Soon it was time again to return home. We entrusted ourselves to – a different Volvo, yes, not the trusty 745 of yore, but a 945 Turbo, which zoomed along the Dutch roads. Well, sort of, given the 80 or 100kph speed limit.

xfarmvolv

Although the Volvo was parked right next to a Merc, it did not pick up any diseases. At least none showed up until our return home.

xreturnroadSee you next year.

Silverlight Marvel

Seen at Marten Gerritsen´s Tubes and Coffee, of which more later: The most interesting TS there is I guess.

xthandownttransf

Not much comment necessary – for those who have not been exposed to Silverlights yet: Please refer to Hilary Stone´s booklet on them, still the best publication on the marque, even after 30 years. Ease with Elegance is available on the author´s website and will be among the best cycling books you´ll ever buy.

Here´s some pics:

xthanfull

xthanderailauterwThis is the most phantastic part, to my mind: A Lauterwasser conversion based an a 1950 FM, giving 12 (three chain, four hub) gears in theory.

xthanderleverAll these braze ons show that the frame must have been equipped like that from new.

xthanbb

Can´t make out the frame # – not even when standing in front of the bike

xthandynbracket

Is this a bracket for a bottle type dynamo?

xthanforkcrheadlug

Sheer beauty – the “T” in the fork crown, the “S” in the headlugs

xthanhelenicstst

Happen to all of us, I guess – SA pulley should be metal

xthanlauterwconv

The original wing nuts are hard to find

xthan50fm xthanbbcradle xthanbilamseatcl xthanchainstay  xthanderfull   xthandunltransf xthanext xthanextfront xthanfronthub xthanftbrake xthanftforkhole  xthanheadb xthanpedal xthanrearmudg xthansaddlecurvedpin xthanseatstaytops xthansuperhlever xthantopheadl xthantyresize xthanwingnutIt´s Christmas soon… Wishful thinking.

Flemish Impressions

It´s about a month since we (wife, son, me) returned from Belgium where we had a great week, all told. We were lucky to be able to rent a small holiday chalet near Bruges, so that´s where we went first, of course. Our abode being about 17 km away from the City, we cycled.

xbiketrekI myself took the 100 Euro Trek again which had given me good service in France already. I must say it´s a quick bike.

Here are some pics from Brugge, as the Flemish call it:

xbrug79estafette xbrugtache xbrugpauper xbrugmarkt xbruggate xbrugezel xbrugcanal

xbru%cc%88gfleam xbru%cc%88gschatten xbru%cc%88gresto

There´s so much to see and do in this most fascinating of Europe´s cities – unbelievable. The combination of waterways and solid, huge buildings never fails to amaze me.

xcobbledroad xcobbledslechtAnd we really used a genuine, Belgian cobble stone road. The road sign says “Road surface in bad state”. Who´d have thunk.

The windmill we cycled past is in a very good state, though.

xmolenwhite

Entering Brugge from the North, you come across yet one more bridge, Scheepsdalebrug, that can be lifted for passing ships. This one, however, is very different in that it has a cantilevering system. I didn´t see it work, but it must be fascinating to watch when the large arms roll down as the road surface lifts up to an estimated 45 deg angle. It was opened only in 2011, its predecessor, having survived WWII, having been scrapped despite a public outcry. It´s a bridge with its own Wikipedia article.

This is what you see first. When the bridge opens, the ends of the arms decend until…

xscheepbar

… the bolt at the end of the arm…

xscheepanchor

… engages in the huge hook on the quayside, securing the whole construction. Simple, but very place consuming.

 

Some photos from the town we stayed at.

xdehcoqstation xdehstation xdehprom xdehhouse xdehcyclistA place called de Haan was where we stayed. It´s about the only place left on the Flemish North Sea coast which has not been completely concreted over and built up with high rise flats. De Haan really is a nice place and can only be recommended. The station building belongs to the Kusttram, a tramway which goes all the way from the Dutch to the French borders, a staggering 67km.

Cycling still is the sports in Flanders – you meet many road cyclists, and also you see a number of street furniture items to remind you that you´re in the heartland of cycleracing. Flemish TV will not shy away from showing cyclocross amateur races live all Sunday. And all the drivers I encountered actually treated me, the cyclist, like a genuine participant in road traffic. On small roads drivers of huge tractors actually stopped, drivers slowed down.

People planning and maintaining cycle paths, or indeed road signs, seem to have different ideas, though – cycle paths are there to cause you flats, excepting where tourists are expected to use them, and road signs are non existant. I got lost one day until I felt quite irretrievable and I thought I´d never make it home. It was a very good thing that my Dutch enabled me to ask for the way, and the usual overpowering friendliness of the locals had me heading in the right direction just before nighfall. (A good map and/or SatNav system are perfectly irreplacable if you don´t speak either Dutch or English.) That´s one more thing I really value highly about Flanders: Even in the hottest touristy hotspots people are invariably friendly, helpful and relaxed. One saleswoman right in the middle of Bruges actually allowed me to take my bike inside the store while choosing a T-Shirt.

Here are the two neighbouring towns to the East of De Haan, Wenduine and Blankenberge (the big buildings).

xwendaps xwenplage xwendchurchTo the other side of De Haan there´s Ostende, a modern looking town, with a more usual bridge construction.

xoostbru%cc%88cke

xoostprom

Maybe you are going to dislike this, but I must say I find the modern fifties and sixties buildings in Ostende rather attractive.

xoosttrackinner

The former public cycle race track, now converted to a skater track. Ugh.

xoosttrackfull

xoosttrackskater

xoostpromother-end xoostkursaal

But Flanders also is the country of some of history´s most horrible battles, and in the Westhoek around Dixmuiden there are literally hundreds of cemetaries, monuments and other places to remind the tourist of the First World War.

xdixbhofwar

This is what the Begijnhof below looked like in 1918. It´s the exact angle of view.

xdisbhofrest xdixytoren xdixshell xdixroute xdixcouncilh xdixcanal Dixmuiden was completely destroyed in WWI and has been rebuilt to look quite exactly what it was like in 1914. The huge Ijzertoren of course is a structure that was erected in the early fifties, and its Flemish nationalist and hardcore catholic background make it a a little suspect to my mind.

Ieper / Ypers is another example of a town that was completely flattened and rebuilt.

xypmarketDon´t really know what the huge ferris wheel is doing in the market, but somebody will.

xypmpfullThe Menin Gate is a monument to the missing British soldiers of WWI. There are tens of thousands of names inscribed in every available nook and cranny of the impressively large structure.

xypmpnames xypmpnamesiiIts ceiling strongly reminds me of the one that adorns the recently finished monument to WWII Bomber Command crews in London. I wonder if it´s intentional.

xypmpceiling

Ypres

sam_7438

London

In spite of the size of Menin Gate, not all names of those missing in action in the battles around Ypers could be accomodated there. There is a huge annex to Menin Gate in Tyne Cot cemetary just outside the town.

xtynecentr xtynecmonum xtynecfullMore WWI – of course one site must be visited if you`ve got the time. It´s the place where John McCrae invented the Poppy.

xypmccraeclass

Not only is this a place drenched in history, but because of that you´re likely to meet British school children on excursions.

In Flanders Fields

But of course you can´t miss the monuments – they´re everywhere. You cycle along a road, see a sign…

xyptalcemfull

… follow it across a field on a superbly kept path…

xyptalcempart

… and there you are on yet another site of a forward medical post, a military hospital or just a battle site where so many soldiers were killed quite sense- and uselessly.

xypstrudw

This is the grave many British students on excursion leave a cross at. Look at the age of the soldier – he was the youngest Britain killed on active service in WWI.

xyptalcembennlwr

Very unusual to find a history of an officer´s educational carreer on his headstone. He was a student at the same public school as Robert Graves, btw. Also his family would have paid a handsome sum for the inscription – contrary to the stone itself and the standard data personal inscriptions at the base of the stone were not free and billed by the letter.

But you also find the smaller historical sites, like this field which once was a German airfield. It´s amazing how present WWI still is in the minds of the people.

xflandhoriz xflandhoutaveflugpl

On a less sombre note, Flanders also is Volvo Country. The Volvo works in Ghent must have a part in this, although I just saw one 760, and no other 7/9 series cars. I can´t imagine what happened to them all, you see them everywhere else in Europe on a daily basis. In Flanders it´s the modern, flashy Volvos that dominate the roads. But then again, there´s the odd exception.

xvolv144whiterust

That´s what happens if you leave a 140 series out in the open, close to the sea, for 20 odd years.

xvolv144greendixfull

Cycled past this one. Aren´t the rims ugly as hell?

xvolv940rear

My trusty 940 Turbo near Ypres canal harbour…

xvolv940front

… and someplace else.

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All the chrome, lamps and other brightwork is still good – a real treasure trove

xvolvpolrear xvolvpolfront Not only Volvos to catch attention, though.

xvomehari

A Citroen Méhari in really good nick

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Hi Nikki! Is this the one?

Our family were quite unanimous in that it won´t be long until we return to Flanders.

Belgian Beauties

During my recent short holidays in Flanders I saw two very nice bikes, both in Bruges. One is a Champion – no idea if this is a repaint decal or the original brand. It is a very nice hand made frame, though, and would certainly merit saving and not being used up as a hack bike as it seems to be at the moment.

xbikechampfull

Classic Belgian bikes have brazed on carrier racks – advantages and shortcomings of this method are obvious. So the third tube brazed on the rear dropout is a rack stay. Very neat brazing throughout. Also it´s a sports frame with a single top tube and not a Mixte, as usual.

xbikereardo

This must be the most astonishing feature of the frame: A strut distributing the forces from the top tube to both down and seat tubes, thereby greatly reducing the rist of deforming or breaking the seat tube, as frquently seen in lady´s bikes. The clamp is by no means meant for a brake; it really seems to be off a Sturmey variable speed hub periphery.

xbikechampstrutsturmey xbikechampseatcl xbikechampheadtr xbikechampheadt xbikechamphbarxbikechampfrontdo xbikechampforkbr xbikechampfcrownrear xbikechampcrank xbikechampchaing xbikechampcarrier xbikechampbbside

 

The original, high quality crank – the Solida on the r/h side is a later addition. The Solida is not too well fitted (cotter) either…xbikechampbbAgain, very clean lugless construction.

 

The other bike is an AS-Thor – strange name, but a great bike.

xbikeasthorfullxbikeasthordttransfIt shows typical Belgian features, like the brazed on rack and the slightly bent French type top tubes.

xbikeasthorheadlxbikeasthorracktopxbikeasthorheadb xbikeasthorhbarxbikeasthorchainguardAlso the chain guard is rather Belgian.

When the Belgian Forces left the Cologne area in the early nineties I happened upon one of those bikes in the bulky refuse. It was seriously beautiful with some special constructional details in the frame and a wonderful paint scheme. Would you believe it – I sold it some years later. It´s now in a renowned private collection. Ah well.

London…

… is full of bikes now, really.

blogtouristsTourists borrow them,

blograiling bloglockall sorts of railings are adorned with them,

blogcanarywthey´re tucked away in the most impossible places even in Canary Wharf.

Fixie riders zoom past that quickly that you´ve hardly got a chance to snap one. Balconies are also used to store them in an age old attempt to secure them.

Also the Powers That Be have taken note:

blogdismount

French Ramblings

France – again and again a wonderful destination for holidays and sightseeing. Last year it was Paris in the rain, or so it seemed. This year we wanted to visit our friends in Normandy again. We were looking forward to short quiet holidays, but the first thing was that I fell ill the day before we wanted to set out. Nothing serious, but there was no way I could travel.

My family then decided to give me the opportunity to try out our recently acquired Volvo 940 Turbo, and left for France in our old 740 which we still had. After I had recovered, I raced after them to save as much French time as possible.

This is what I raced after them in:

X940rear X940fullIf you want more info and visual impressions, watch this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEB0ppM_PZ8

Funny thing to say on a bike blog, but this car is fun with a capital F. It cuts hours off the traveling time from here to Normandy, and with its LPG installation, fuel cost per 100 km is about 6 Euros at the moment.

Anyway, not feeling completely healthy again, and what with the time saved by using the 940, I was able to have another good look round the Nécropole Nationale de Notre Dame de Lorette. Having been several times, but only fleetingly, I took the chance and combined a long lunch break with a stroll round the newly (2014) built Anneau de la Mémoire which is a ring with a perimetre of 345 m, containing the names of all those soldiers of WWI who died in the area:

XNdlRingExplThe ring is hugely impressive and, to my mind, very much worth a visit.

XNdlViewdown

Looking down at Ablain-St-Nazaire

XNdlRingSlitView XNDLRinginner XNDLRingfullIt is situated right next to the Chapelle and the Tour-lanterne which, together with about 45.000 crosses, make the Nécropole Nationale.

XNdlBasilXNDLLighthfullThese buildings also are extremely impressive and were erected during the 1920s. Contrary to the many British cemetaries in the area, which have a distinct military feel about them, the Nécropole Nationale reminds visitors again and again how horrible and wasteful WWI had been. It says for instance that the Chapelle was built on “the tears of the French women”, and this plaque, taken from the interior of the Chapelle and now on exposition in the museum part of the Tour-lanterne, speaks by itself:

XNdlPlaque

We offered up our lives for the peace of the world, but we died for the cannon dealers

XNDLpoppywreathMany people, especially from the UK, still keep the memory of WWI alive – contrary to the Germans, who by now have all but forgotten it.

I had planned to visit poet Isaac Rosenberg´s grave at St Laurent Blangy, which is just around the corner, so I also looked up his name on the Anneau:

XNdlRodenbergSo, after one last look over the huge Nécropole I left and made for Rosenberg´s grave, fully expecting to find a lost headstone somewhere on one of the hundreds of British cemetaries on the Somme. But this is what I really discovered:

XRosenberggraveFlowers, though whithered, his portrait, many small stones on the headstone in the Jewish tradition. Amazing.

I had planned to carry on straight to Normandy from there, but the road between Bapaume and Albert had been blocked and I had to go on a detour. It was July 23, and the big Australian memorial service for which safety precautions had been taken was under way, this year of course being the 100th since the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. The detour led me to Ulster Tower. I was glad I had a pretext to go because the octagenarian gentleman and his family, who tend to the tower during summertime, always are great to talk to – he is one of the few people who have owned a classic 1950s Ellis-Briggs bike since new, or nearly. I was eager to find out about the bike´s restauration progress, but the usually so forsaken Ulster Tower was in the middle of… Well, see for yourself, or you probably won´t believe it:

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Something was afoot – coaches from Scotland – ?

XUlstparade

Covering the short distance between the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing and Ulster Tower, c/w pipe band and all

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Everyone in recreated historic uniforms, even the VAD nurses

XUlstafterparade XUlstparadeBand XUlstfull

After the parade, a picnic was held on the lawn, and I was able to talk to participants about a part of British folklore I until then had been completely unaware of.

Having also found Roland Leighton´s name on the Anneau at Notre Dame de Lorette,

XNdlLeighton

I decided to re-visit his grave too. It is found in Louvencourt, only a short distance from my route.

XGraveLeighton XGraveLeicrossesAgain, this year with its anniversary seemd to have made a difference, and even more flowers and crosses than usual could be found, even a large bunch of violets.

Leighton was Vera Brittain´s fiancé – “VMB” and “RAL” on the centre poppy are their initials. Brittain, one of the most ardent British pacifists of the inter-war years and author of many touching poems as well as “Testament of Youth” and many other books, had been sent a poem on violets by Leighton from the trenches. It´s called “Villanelle” (although, strictly speaking, it isn´t one), and starts with the verses

“Violets from Plug Street Wood,
Sweet, I send you oversea.”

It continues describing how the speaker finds the violets next to a dead soldier “Where his mangled body lay” and that he thinks it strange that the flowers were “Blue, when his soaked blood was red”. (Plug Street Wood was a nickname British soldiers had given to a part of the front.)

After Leighton´s death in December 1915, the day he was due for home leave, Brittain, having earlier joined the VAD, became a nurse in frontline hospitals in France, nursing, among others, German prisoners with the most horrible wounds. Utterly exhausted, burnt out as we would say, at the end of the war, she returned to Oxford and started a distinguished journalistic carreer. Her “Testament of Youth”, in which she depicts her early life, is quite incomparable. She writes, among other issues, about losing her brother, her fiancé, and two close friends. A first edition of “Testament” and a tiny brochure dating from 1920 containing first impressions of some of her poems are among my most cherished possessions.

But on to some more cheerful topics.

One more railway track turned cycle path, for instance. This one goes from Gisors to Giverny, and is most delightful:

XVoieferHomDam XVoieferrÜberg XVoieferrSchild XVoieferrBoiteLire

And one more little detail. About six weeks ago an acquaintance who does house clearances sold me this bike

trekfullview

Trek 2300, fitted with Ultegra 6500 3 x 9 and pretty new Bontrager wheels

rather cheaply. There was a lot of work as the former owner had had rather strange ideas of what one needs on a road bike, and he also must have been quite hamfisted, but never having ridden an alloy /carbon fibre frame / fork combo before, I thought I´d give it a try. It came in very handy when I didn´t have much energy for packing my car before leaving for France – wheels out, and bingo.

Once in France, I used it on several occasions and was impressed by its quickness. I zoomed along some backroads to destinations my wife had left for by car, coming across two or three really interesting spots in the area south west of Beauvais.

Here´s a really nice village which seems to be untouched by modern times.

XFlFbikepanneauXFlFfullI love those age-old signs.

In a neighbouring village, the old roadsign erected by Michelin in the late thirties had been lovingly transplanted on the lawn next to the Mairie.

XBezMich XBezfull XBezdateThis sign, in a town in the vicinity, consisting of glazed earthenware, must have been in situ for more than 60 years:

XZweitesSchildDate XZweitesSchfullLastly a wonderful view, bought with surprisingly little climbing:

XBeauvoirviewHopefully I´ll be back in Normandy in the not too distant future.