Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hoe Woester Het Stormde…

There´s a few bicycle racers I can´t help but admire, although in general I´m more on the side of the randonneurs. Most of the racers I like are Flemish, like Briek Schotte and Frans Bonduel. Why them? Let me explain.

Last weekend in the Neerkant swap meet I bought an A4-size, 80 page brochure published by the Municipal Museum Service in Dendermonde, Belgium, run of 500 copies, to act as a supporting publication for their 2007 Frans Bonduel exposition. It is well-made, with a nice, roomy layout, has many photos and a well-written text, good paper too, so I just couldn´t give it a miss for 5 Euros. Besides, it afforded one more chance to polish up my Flemish, a language which I like a lot for its more powerful sounding accent, contrasted to the light-footedness and elegance of Dutch, to which it is closely related. Flemish somehow seems to be the perfect language for people like ijzeren Briek, “iron” Briek Schotte.

Title

It´s called In de ban van Frans Bonduel (“Spellbound by Frans Bonduel”) and was written by Jean-Pierre van Cleempoel, who outs himself as a lifelong fan of Bonduel´s, and he makes his enthusiasm felt from the start. Van Cleempoel is a member of the “Scheldetrappers Wielertouristenclub” cycling club and heavily involved in cycling, as it seems, so he knows what he´s writing about. Also he hails from the same area as Frans Bonduel himself, and met him many times.

In the book one is very quickly acquainted with Bonduel, with his background (his father was a factory worker), and with the fact that he had to fight for what he wanted. He was one of those Flemish riders who saw cycling as a way out of economical misery, lifelong toil in the factory or the fields. Frans´ parents agreed to his becoming a racer when Frans was 15, in spite of his brother having had to stop cycleracing after a bad crash, which is telltale.

Frans then went on to win a great many races, to become economically successful and to make a name for himself. One more thing I like about him is that he stayed very much down-to-earth, and, while soon being materially rewarded for his cycling prowess, he stayed a pro for nearly 20 years. His rather unglamorous wife (to whom Bonduel would eventually be married for two thirds of a century) was able to open several businesses with his prize money, securing the couple´s financial future for the time after Frans´ racing career. This is one of them, a clothes shop which was situated in their home.

Winkel

During his time as a pro Bonduel won the Ronde van Vlaanderen (1930), took part in the Tour de France four times, and excelled at Paris-Brussels, which earned him the nickname of “M Paris-Bruxelles” and “the toughest of the tough” in the French cycling press. The 1939 issue of the course des deux capitales saw Bonduel break the 40-kph-barrier when he finished the close to 400 km race at an average of 40.08 kph.

Bonduel himself said that when the storm was worst, he was at his best, and he felt at his strongest when the rain bucketed down. The question of course is if rain alone made Bonduel go fast. Cleempoel describes an episode in Benduel´s racing carreer, the 1933 season, which makes one wonder. Returning from a Berlin track meet in the late summer of 1932, Bonduel takes a break in Cologne and downs a glass of ice cold beer to quench his thirst in the summer heat. This is later said by his doctor to have caused a liver condition which hampered his racing for most of the 1933 season. If drinking cold liquid in the summer caused liver problems, I guess there would be a gaping hole where my liver should be. Maybe there were other substances involved than just a glass of beer?

During Bonduel´s close to 20 year racing career he experienced a vast development in the tools of his trade. Look at this 1928 bicycle, sadly out of focus even in the original photo:

1928

It´s a double sided hub – eqipped bike with a rather tall frame, handlebars the same height as the saddle, oiler in the seat tube to ruin the chain in a matter of hours. Compared to what was possible at the time, the contraption looks pretty archaic – a machine for machos, just what the racing bosses wanted them to be.

ParisBrussel1938Next, in 1938, there is an already much smaller frame size because the handlebars are much lower in relation to the saddle. Also there is an Osgear, the braze on fitted pro version. Wheels also are much lighter, it seems.

Parijs-Brussel1939

The 1939 record breaking Paris-Brussels bike is much the same.

1946

And, lastly, in 1946 there is something which looks like a Simplex to me, but the quality of the photo doesn´t allow more than a guess.

Have I explained sufficiently why I like racers like Frans Bonduel? The non-glitzy type, riding machines that enable them to achieve quite unbelievable feats, but which still are about as low-tech as bottle openers? And of course they speak the right language.

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Happy Anniversary – Sort Of

Here are some snaps of a Masi seen at the Neerkant meet. Not much to write about – good, though uninspired frame, somewhat kitschy groupset, loads of time spent on polishing. According to the owner the bike has about 2,000 km on the clock since new. Although admittedly it´s special because of that, its not my sort of bike, but perhaps there are some readers who like it. Space was too cramped for a full shot.

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This bike is perfectly clean down to the slightest detail.

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I love the chome highlights, I must say. Great deal of skill in the paintwork.

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Yeah, well, eighties taste.

 

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The adjuster bolt has been cut and a slot has been filed into it so that you need a fine screwdriver to reach into the threaded hole in the dropout in order to adjust the wheel.

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Excepting the engraving on the seat stay tip, not much special attention here.

Neerkant, I Love It – Or Do I?

Visiting a meeting like the Stalen Ros (“Steel Horse”) at Neerkant gives the attentive blogger some rather deep insights.

You meet lots of people, and as the popularity of our very special pastime is growing, there are some new faces too, very nice. There are loads of new meets, mostly rides, great. I can vividly remember that when I myself tried to get a lightweight run going about 15 years ago interest was limited. But in 2013 here we are with a whole plethora of folders announcing lightweight rides and swap meets:

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Also it seems people get more and more knowledgeable and interested in detail, still better. Two more things I can remember vividly from 10 years ago: There was the weird occurence that I was ridiculed on a German old bike internet forum because I dared ask which lugs a bike had, and the other one was that there actually were people who collected bikes like stamps, by the colour. Collecting colour variants is of course OK if technical progress is not what you focus on as a historian/collector, which is a decision everybody is free to make, but still.

What I definitively don´t like is that parts and bike prices are skyrocketing while the market seems to be swept clean of special parts. E.g., you find loads of Shimano and Campag mid-range items, but good early derailleurs are few and far between. I think there were only one or two thirties bike in the show, and none offered for sale AFAIK. For the first time I didn´t buy anything, save a rather tired 10 Euro 1950s B17 to be soaked, straightened and used up on a hack bike and an admittedly nice book, which I´m going to post on, for a fiver.

Erik Boelen, the organizer, says that there were fewer than the 50 pre-registered bikes in the show, this may have been due to the fact that Western Belgium and large parts of France, the UK and the Netherlands were snowed under in the most wintery March we´ve had for decades. It says in the newspaper that in our part of Germany, nature is a month behind in her spring activities. So this was all there was in the show this year,

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and this was a large part of the swap meet:

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Erik says that there were 54 stalls with 33 Dutch, 6 Belgian, 9 German, 3 French and 3 UK stallholders. Nearly 450 visitors came to Neerkant despite the wintery conditions many experienced on the way. Eric thinks that the weather had a negative influence on these figures, too.

Of course, some old stalwarts attended, like Heinz Fingerhut of Velo-classic.de:

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I´m not saying whose greedy hand it was that snatched a feeder bottle out of the box while an unsuspecting Heinz was grinning into the camera.

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Most other stalls were well stocked if small. And here´s another greedy hand, but no smiling face.

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Here´s a grinning face that shouldn´t be, and deservedly no greedy hand, at least not for the Jan Ullrich book. Actually the Ullrich book is an autographed copy, until the meet unbeknowns to the vendor, and when a potential buyer found out and was fair enough to mention it, the book vanished in the vendor´s collection on the spot. This is a good example of the relaxed and friendly atmosphere I like about the Neerkant meet.

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Very nice and orderly, no face, no hand, just good stuff.

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Not quite so orderly, but also typical in the way of the quality of goods offered.

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Even less orderly, but even nicer stuff.

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Again very orderly, and the snatching hand and grinning face were both mine as the only affordable non-sprung Brooks in the meet was the one I got.

Now some impressions of the frames and bikes offered. There were three bikes in the meet that I either found interesting myself (original 1940s Hugonnier-Routens, 1950s Gold-Rad paced bike) or that have grail quality for many readers (unused 50th anniversary groupset equipped Masi). I will soon describe these in their own posts. Good opportunity to become a follower of this blog in order to be informed by email when those posts are up.

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The problem for me in taking photos at the event was that it was just too dark on the premises to switch the flash off and just too bright for the flash to work properly. Perhaps I better explain: The main feature of my camera is its being pink. It is a 90 Euro Samsung sold to me for 45 because it seems people don´t want pink cameras as much as they should. I find it´s a great conversation starter, though, especially at control posts of testosteron soaked cycling events. Actually the deal didn´t save me any money at all, because my wife wanted the camera as soon as she´d set her eyes on it, so I had to get her a pink camera, too. By that time the shop had run out of cheap Samsungs, and I had to purchase a full price Nikon. Pink stinks.

Anyway, at Neerkant this is what happened more often than not:

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No, I didn´t stay until midnight, in fact I left before mid day, it´s the effect of the flash. You´ll have to excuse the fact that the snaps I took at Neerkant either seem to be 12 hours out of date or are shaky. As soon as this blog has a million followers and multinationals line up to pay me for advertising space I´ll get a better camera, promised.

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There was a nice, but indifferent track bike in the show which had lost all its identity. Its owner is looking for info, but I wonder what the Dollar signs are for. I wasn´t under the impression that the bike was for sale. Here´s a pic of the early style Nervex Pro lower headlug and the wonderful twin plate fork crown:

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Also there were some interesting cars visitors came in. The white snow caked ex-ambulance is Hilary Stone´s conveyance. I had a similar car, a Citroen CX Ambulance Normalisée, years and years ago, and can only say it was the nicest car I´ve ever had; fast, roomy, powerful, combined super comfy suspension with perfect roadholding. Even better, mine was a first series specimen with stainless bumpers and seventies spaceship style controls. The Rover is a 3.5 litre V8, and the Volvo sounds rather gnarly, too.

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Tot volgend jaar!