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.


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.


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:


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.


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


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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