Monday 18 June 2012

The Old Bicycle Weekend

Day One: The Rommerskirchen Rain Romp

As a prelude to the annual “Deutsche Rennradbörse,” or German Racing Bicycle Exchange, held in Rommerskirchen-Nettesheim, Düsseldorf’s esteemed Klassikerausfahrtgruppe decided to establish the Rommerskirchen-Düsseldorf-Rommerskirchen one-day classic ride for old bikes and indefatigable cyclists.  So this past Saturday a group of us appeared at the Alte Schule (Old School) to ride our Old School Bicycles and socialize.

Registration was limited to 60, although Konrad told me that there had actually been 70 who were prepared to pay 5 Euros for the ride, a food stop and a barbeque afterwards.  The start time of 3 pm seemed a bit late in the day but as it was we missed the very heavy rain in the morning.  Well, not entirely.

The threatening weather was not enough to scare off most of those who planned to come and around 50 showed up and registered.  The rules were that your bike had to be pre-1990, use downtube shifters and cage-and-strap pedals.  In addition to the usual Klassikerausfahrt suspects, we had people who would be participating in Sunday’s old bike jumble and, due to my influence, my riding buddies Tom (on a fine Mondonico, with pedals borrowed from my Chesini), Rudiger (riding my l’Eroica veteran Peugeot PXN-10) and Nick on his glorious tricolore Faggin.  My plan was to take my purple Rickert Spezial on its maiden ride so in addition to the new white bar tape on the bike, I wore my new Timberland old-style cycling shoes and my classic wool l’Eroica jersey from Coq Sportif.  Look out for a posting on Herr Hugo Rickert of Dortmund and his much-treasured bicycles soon on this blog.

Nick and Faggin; Rudiger and Peugeot; me and Rickert; Tom and Mondonico
There were a lot of interesting bicycles, as expected, and after registering we wandered around and admired them.  There was another sea-green Peugeot, Gazelles in numerous colours, a Mercian with a typical English saddlebag, a beautiful black Pogliaghi, a Raleigh Record Ace with Sturmey-Archer 3 speed gearing, a fine blue Olmo, some Diamants from East Germany and a wonderful yellow 1928 Opel.  Yes, the car-making Opel was once the biggest manufacturer of bicycles in the world.

The group gradually organized itself into two groups: the fast “espresso” people and the more leisurely “cappuccino” types, although it was always intended that “fast” was a relative term.  Old bicycles do not always have very effective brakes and although we would be riding quiet backroads there would always be a need to be careful.  The four of us were all in the espresso group and Nick, who rides in the Bergische Land’s hills most of the time, was excited at being able to ride a flat course.

Rudiger and the PXN-10
The espressos rolled out precisely on time and everyone was in high spirits, although the first drops of rain were beginning.  Leaving Nettenheim we rolled north-west, turning at Dekoven and observing the big coal-fired powerplants to the left.  Now going north we rode through quiet farm roads, turning again at Neukirchen.

The rain grew heavier as we approached the Rhine and this was unfortunate.  The organizers had wanted to give us the real Eroica feeling and included segments of dirt road which had now become muddy and even those with the foresight to have fenders on their bikes were splashed with mud.  At least the rain was not cold and soon enough we were off the dirt and crossing the Rhine to enter Düsseldorf.  Our route continued south-east, alongside of the river and at around 39 kms it was time for our food stop near Urdenbach.

Everyone looked pretty messy and the bikes were no longer very shiny but the mood was very positive.  For the first time I recall at a food stop there were trays of olive oil and bread to soak it up.  There were bananas and melon and some great dips for the bread, as well as lots of water to refill our muddy bottles.

Time to roll again and this time we did not go across the bridge but instead headed to the ferry that brought us to Zons.  This is a town I had always wanted to visit but today there was no tarrying as we continued through the rain.  Well, actually there was some tarrying as soon after our group had the second of two flat tires but this was soon looked after and we passed through the larger town of Dormagen before rejoining the quiet roads through farm fields and forests and suddenly we were back in Rommerskirchen-Nettenheim and the Alte Schule.  Although it was supposed to have been 70 kms, the circuit was actually 64.9, with around 200 m of climbing.  Time for a beer!

We looked a sight with our muddy bicycles, filthy shoes and wool jerseys that had stretched alarmingly in the rain.  After fifteen minutes the cappuccino group pulled in and the barbeque was soon started up.  We were a bit wet and cold and it was time to go home, so Rudiger brought Nick to the train station and Tom drove me back to Düsseldorf, three dirty bikes on the roof rack.


Day Two: The Rennradbörse and Zons

On Sunday I got up early and rode to the S-Bahn station to take the train to Dormagen.  There was nobody on the 07:34 train and my Basso (which, unlike yesterday's bicycles, enjoyed the luxury of clipless pedals) had lots of space to stretch out.  The trip took 35 minutes but then I had a short ride of 12 kms ahead to reach the Alte Schule.  Reaching the train station in Rommerskirchen proper would have taken twice as long as it required going south to Cologne and then transferring, so I plotted a course on my Garmin GPS and soon found myself riding in bright sunshine, passing signs promising fresh asparagus or strawberries.

A short way out of Dormagen, I turned off the road to stop at the old monastery of Knechtseden, established in the 12th Century.  The impressive basilica was constructed in two stages between 1138 and 1181 but was damaged in series of local wars, most destructive being one in the 15th Century.  But the monastery had money and was rebuilt and expanded in various architectural styles.  It was an entire community and there was a printing shop, among other small industries, agriculture and schools.  The monastery is still used by an order of monks (numbering 25) but it is also home to a school for opticians and a small hotel. 

Church services were just coming to an end as Signore Basso and I rolled through.  After taking some photos, including one of the Rare Fruit Walk (yes!), it was back out on the fine bikepath along the main road.  Near Anstel I turned away from my mapped route to follow the bikepath through some fields, away from traffic.  It quickly brought me back on course and I found myself quickly in Rommerskirchen-Nettenheim and my goal: the Deutsche Rennradbörse.

Compared to the empty school under cold wet grey skies we had been in the day before, the scene was transformed in the June sunshine.  Stands had been set up in the parking lot and everywhere there were bikes and framesets and parts of every description.  It was great to see but I had taken care to a) ride my bicycle, meaning I could not buy another one and b) only brought 60 Euros, meaning I could not buy much of anything else.  Of course, I quickly found a very nice Peugeot-branded stem for my Peugeot, which currently suffers the indignity of having a black Bianchi stem.  The new stem is quite beautiful but knowing my experience with bicycle parts will probably not fit.

After looking at jerseys and heat tube badges (I almost went for the Bismarck one) and some very nice celeste-green Bianchi frames, and catching up with Ricci-Sports Richard and his son, who was visiting from Scotland, I went into the Old School.  More irresistible objects to be resisted but of particular interest to me was the room off to the side with display bicycles.  My friend Hartmut from Münster had brought three bikes: two Ric-Sports, as Hugo Rickert once named his bikes, from c. 1961/62 and a very interesting stayer racing bicycle built in Berlin in the 1960s.  One of the Rickets had an Altenburger rear derailleur, which moved to the side when shifted.

Other bicycles included a fine pair of Dürkopps, some 1950s Diamants, with Peace Race memorabilia, and a remarkably fine Gold Rad which had been used by German Olympian Toni Merkens, who enjoyed a successful racing career in Britain as well as Germany.  He was born in Cologne and was World Champion in the sprint in 1935 and after his gold medal sprint win at the 1936 Olympics (under somewhat questionable circumstances) he turned professional and won a number of German titles before his death at the age of 32 after being wounded in World War 2.  This coming Thursday will mark the 100th Anniversary of his birth.

Taking my leave of the happy bargain hunters, I rode out of Rommerskirchen, passing Dormagen and returning to the Rhine and Zons.  This time I had the chance to look around at the small walled town with its towers, gates and impressive windmill. The wall runs around 300 m per side and there is place for only about 125 houses inside.  It was formally called Feste Zons, or Fortress Zons and although its history goes back to the 7th Century, the town was most important as the Rhine customs centre and was fortified in the 14the Century.  Along with the charming buildings and impressive walls, there is an herb garden in the centre of the town and a lot of elderly day visitors.

It was time to head to the Dormagen railway station, arriving there with a total of 34 leisurely kilometers for the day.  Soon I was on the S-Bahn headed for a late lunch in Düsseldorf, and two hours spent cleaning the Peugeot and Rickert of the layers of mud accumulated the day before on my sunny balcony.  And so ended my Old Bicycle Weekend.

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