Saturday 28 December 2013

All Hail De Ronde! The Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen

The Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta is the only palaeontological museum in the world where you can walk outside and actually dig up dinosaurs. Bicycle racing has its equivalent: in Oudenaarde, Belgium where the excellent Tour of Flanders Centre, housed in a modern building, stands near to the finish line of arguably the greatest One Day Classic: the Tour of Flanders. And you can go off and ride the Tour yourself from the front door. But you had better enjoy cobblestones.

My enjoyable interlude in Oudenaarde in May to participate in the excellent Retro Ronde offered so many activities it limited time available to see the Centrum so a return trip was in order. The plan this time was to bring a modern bicycle and ride some of the hellish Hellingen, the horrible short climbs, often on cobbles, that are to be found in the region and make up an integral part of the Tour of Flanders and then to check out the museum and then drink beer.

The Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen offers one-stop shopping: in addition to the museum and popular cafe it offers GPS-linked routes from the museum out into the Flemish countryside and in a fit of derring-do we decided to go for the Blue Route, the shortest but hilliest of the three suggestions.

Parking near the museum on a sunny Sunday morning in September and assembling the bicycle, it was amazing to see how many cyclists were already on the road, most in large groups. The Flemish are very well-organized when it comes to cycling clubs and you will see very sizable numbers of riders, often with an accompanying vehicle, enjoying the rolling countryside. Well, it actually isn't so much rolling as pretty flat except for a ridge that is an extension of the Ardennes and that you continually cross from different angles.

The Garmin directed me around the town a bit until we finally picked up a Blue Route sign and began the ride in earnest. It was a glorious day and the first stretch of riding took us along the banks of the Schelde, which had a bit of barge traffic, and it was a good opportunity for some leg-stretching before the challenges ahead. On the other side of the river stands Petegem-aan-de-Schelde, another reminder of a champion cyclist since the similarly-named Peter van Petegem is also from hereabouts. At Km 8.2 the course turned left and soon we were climbing the Oude Kwaremont, which was also featured on the Retro Ronde but had not gotten any easier four months later. Luckily there was no traffic except for a young man on his shopping bicycle who effortlessly passed me as I negotiated the cobbles.

Oude Kwaremont behind me, I found myself on a main N36 road with a huge group of club cyclists but left them on the broad climb when one of them flatted and everyone else waited. Another turn to the left and ahead was the Rampe but I was disappointed (well, relieved) that it was a gradual descent on good pavement rather than the hellish climb of the same name I had experience in May. But then a sharp turn to the right at Km 15 suddenly brought harsh reality: the Paterberg.

This is an awful climb and is now used multiple times during the Tour of Flanders, being more recently used by Fabian Cancellara as his springboard to win the 2013 Tour. It is only 380 m long but averages nearly 14 percent, with a maximum of 20 percent. In 2000 this was one of three climbs I was forced to walk up during the sportif version of the Tour and history repeated itself. I was passed by a number of the club riders but noticed more than a few were joining me on foot lower down the hill.

This humiliation behind, it was time to roll further onwards on the Blue Route. At Km 21 there was a sign for the Koppenberg but I had to wait for a while as a parade of ancient but impeccably maintained antique farm tractors rolled by. Then it was time to head up the Koppenberg. Well, after a while it was time to walk up the Koppenberg. This ridiculous piece of cobbled vertical road was introduced to the Ronde in 1976 but was dropped in 1987 as it was deemed to dangerous for cyclists. It is 620 m in length and the maximum grade is 22 percent. It is very tricky to pick your way through the cobbles with so little momentum and I was joined again by a number of club riders, all of whom seemed very experienced at pushing their bikes. At least there was a pleasant view of the plain below.

Descending and then crossing the N60 I soon found myself on a gentle climb on a wide but wretchedly-cobbled road, the Mariaboorestraat. This led to a short climb, the Stationsberg, at Km 28. Things were going better now as I gingerly proceeded but as a began the gentle descent toward the railway crossing there was a loud “Ping!” as a rear spoke snapped, victim of the merciless pavé. My low-spoke-count wheels meant I now had an unrideable bicycle. I would have been better off with my c. 1978 Cicli Diamant with its thick seatstays and 36-spoke wheels.

Crossing the tracks and getting my bearings, I met a local at the recycling depot. He had a small SUV and I prevailed upon him to give me a ride back to Oudenaarde, which turned out to be only six kilometers away. My 78 km ride had turned into less than 30 km but these things happen. I put the bicycle in the car and walked over to the museum.

The museum is really one-stop shopping. Walking in with my cycling gear and my kit bag, I asked to use the showers and was directed down the hall. After a refreshing wash-up and change of clothes, I returned to the front desk to pay and handed my 2.50 Euros for the shower to none other than Freddy Maertens, two-time Road World Champion, Vuelta winner and the finest sprinter of his day. He was joined at the cash register by a very attractive blonde Belgian who has since gained Pezcyclingnews immortality as a Daily Distraction.

When I asked if I could have a picture with Mr. Maertens there was a horrified response from both of them. I may be the only person in the last few decades who has called him “Mr.” so “Freddy” it is. And he was very gracious about the photo. Freddy Maertens is very personable and speaks excellent English so we had a nice chat about current sprinters, discussing the styles of Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish. He had a very rough patch after his cycling career ended but now serves as the curator of the museum and three times a week offers tours. Although he never won the Ronde, with his best performance being a second place in 1973, he boasts a remarkable palmarès, including the aforementioned dual World Championship titles but also 16 stage wins at the Tour de France, where he won the Green Jersey three times, and the crazy 1977 Vuelta, where he sprinted to victory in 13 stages! He also took seven stages at the Giro that year.

Freddy Maertens on the Koppenberg, also pushing

The Centrum was renovated in 2012 and looking past the big picture window in the lobby you will see a replica of the Volvo team car used by Molteni in Eddy Merckx's glory days. Before entering the museum you will walk by a bicycle covered with Swaroski crystal and the more practical Ridley time trial bicycle ridden by Tour de France victor and World Champion Cadel Evans. 

Leaving Freddy to attend to his other duties, you will enter a museum which is dedicated solely to the Tour of Flanders. Freddy recommended the short introductory video with fancy split-screen effects, showing highlights of the race over the years. It was a quiet day; I made up half of the audience.

The Ronde van Vlaanderen began in 1913, the brainchild, like the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia, of a journalist. He was Karel Van Wijnendaele and in Belgium, dominated by French-speaking Wallonia, he felt that there should be an outlet for the aspirations of the Dutch-speaking Flemish. Incidentally, there are no English legends on any of the exhibits at the museum but it is pretty easy to understand what it is all about.

The exhibits trace the origins of the race and its many highlights. The 2013 race was the 93rd edition so there is a lot of ground to cover. French and Italian racers went to Milan-San Remo, which was scheduled on the same day as the Ronde in its early years, so between 1913 and 1948 only one non-Belgian (a Swiss) won. Belgians have won no less than 68 times (the Italians are next at 10) and of those wins only one was by a Walloon, Claude Criquielion in 1987.

The museum is certainly dedicated to Flemish pride (don't look for French-language labels either) and there are some wonderful exhibits, including one entitled “What is a Flandrian?” and is captioned: “They are carved from the same rock from which statues are sculpted.” Tough is good. Feminists will have a laugh about the exhibit explaining why Tom Boonen is much, much stronger than Emma Johannson. I did not notice any special exhibit dedicated to the Women's Tour of Flanders, which is a shortened version of the men's race and is held the same day.

Enough quibbling: there is plenty of good stuff to see here. There are exhibits of many Holy Objects, such as the bicycle Johan Museeuw rode at the Ronde in 1998 and lots of jerseys and many old bicycles. In addition to Ridley, Flanders has had other notable bicycle brands, such as Groene Leowe (“Green Lion”) but clearly the most-loved was ill-fated Flandria, whose red bicycles were a symbol of Belgian dominance in pro racing. The company was founded in the 1950s and sponsored a pro team in the 1960s and 1970s which went on to win every significant race except the Tour de France (although Dutchman Joop Zootemelk came second twice on a Flandria there. The team roster was a Who's Who of cycling and the collapse of the company in 1981 when its moped business bankrupted Flandria came as a huge shock in the cycling world.

There is a special exhibition area dedicated to Walter Goodefroot, famous to a later generation as the directeur sportif of Team Telekom, but someone who had an impressive record as a pro racer himself. His wins included Liège-Bastogne-Liège three times, the Ronde twice and Paris-Roubaix in 1969. His three disqualifications for doping are not mentioned; in fact, doping does not exist in the happy world that is history in the Centrum van Vlaanderen. It is a Flemish celebration, after all, and there are better fora to discuss this problem.

The museum does celebrate its most recent edition with a display on the 2013 race and Fabian Cancellara, in spite of his sporting rivalry with Flemish demi-god Tom Boonen, was a popular winner and there is even a fan club for him in Belgium.

Exiting the museum brings you to a very good little shop where you can purchase retro-jerseys, books and DVDs, along with some excellent Lion of Flanders memorabilia. And after all this cobblestoned excitement, what better time than to walk over to the always-busy brasserie “de Flandrien” for some excellent Belgian beer brewed especially for the place, which also serves as the clubhouse for a local cycling club.

The Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen is a commendable effort that brings together local pride, sporting tradition and community activity in one very pro-cycling environment. Located 30 kms south of Ghent and 75 kms west of Brussels it should be on the itinerary of every cycling enthusiast. Just be sure to bring a strong wheelset.

Information about the Centrum van Vlaanderen can be found hereIt is open daily except Monday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, but is closed for most of January each year so check ahead. If you would like to ride in Flanders from the Centrum, three routes from 78 to 114 km are set out here.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Book Review: Racing Hard


An Englishman, James Moore, won the world's first bicycle road race (from Paris to Rouen) in 1869 but he had moved to France with his parents when he was four and spoke English with a heavy French accent. In the years afterwards the English-speaking world was not much of a factor and the sport was only covered by a few journalists outside of the European continent. But there has been a sea-change, with American, Australian and British Tour de France winners and World Champions on the road (in addition to track success). William Fotheringham of the UK's the Guardian newspaper has watched and recorded events for more than two decades and in his latest book, “Racing Hard,” looks back over an era.

William Fotheringham, known for his biographies of Tom Simpson, Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx and a racing cyclist himself, has been writing for the Guardian since 1994 as its cycling correspondent, having previously contributed to Cycling Weekly and remains an active journalist. He does not describe how he entered this particular field. One recalls Samuel Abt of the International Herald-Tribune in Paris become that paper's cycling writer along with being a senior editor since nobody knew anything else about the sport. However, Fotheringham is bemused that he has been asked to put together the collection. He mentions Sean Kelly's comment when, after a square in his Irish hometown was named for him, Kelly remarks that it is the kind of thing that normally only happens when someone is dead. “The brief, you are asked, is to select your best stuff. However, most journalists, I suspect, believe that their best piece is the next, or the one after that.”

And there is a lot of good stuff in this book (well, except for photos—nary a one). The author had to pick through no fewer than 2,500 pieces to make his selection and discovered constant themes emerging. These are not surprising to the casual fan, although the focus does tend more on the British rather than English-speaking component : Lance Armstrong, doping, the Tour de France, the Festina scandal, the emergence of British cyclists at the Tour, Britain and the Olympics.

Fotheringham makes the point that before he began there were stories to be had about pro riders of interest to the British public but by the 1990s the feats of Kelly, Millar, Roche and, yes, LeMond did not carry the same weight after their retirements. Instead the press began to view the Tour de France as an event in itself, with the Festina scandal and the rise and dominance of Armstrong in the years after being irresistible stories. The author thinks one of the difficulties of the sport is its lack of coherence in its structure and that it is difficult to explain to a non-specialist audience. “The rise of the British, of Wiggins, Cavendish, Sir Chris Hoy et al., has been a delightful exception to that rule: a coherent narrative with heroes who, by and large, stuck around over the years, didn't disappear for entire seasons, didn't test positive and lie through their back teeth.”

The first six chapters deal with the Tour de France and the reader is in the fortunate position that the stories are not merely reprints but include comments by Fotheringham looking back from today's vantage point. It is clear that some of the stories had to be rushed to meet a deadline. But there is enormous charm in the opening where describes watching the tour on July 13, 2001—the day before Bastille Day-- in an obscure hamlet named Mattexey in France, where the locals had set up trestle tables to sell refreshments to visitors, an opportunity for villagers to meet each other and enjoy a day when the world was focused, however briefly, for a moment of this corner of la France profonde.

Finding the special angle is always a challenge and Fotheringham is creative in his approach. His account of the ill-fated Linda McCartney Foods team is about the difficulties the staff faced in maintaining a vegetarian diet for the athletes, although as time showed that was to be the least of the team's worries. It was disbanded at the start of 2001 leaving its entire line-up of racers (including young Bradley Wiggins) stranded.

The book recounts the stories, well-known to many of us, of those Tours from then until 2012, ending the section not with the triumph of Wiggins that July but with the television interview in January 2013 in which Lance Armstrong admitted his doping past to Oprah Winfrey. Doping is a recurrent theme in the book, sometimes directly as in the events surrounding the Festina team in 1998 or on reflection as Fotheringham looks back. Defenders of pro cycling have a difficult task as once it became apparent just how widespread doping was in the sport the excuses that only minor riders doped or that only star riders did it exceptionally were thin. The argument that “everyone did it” is pretty true but no excuse. The author is matter-of-fact in his reporting and does not see everything in black-and-white. The first journalist to interview David Millar in-depth after his doping admission, Fotheringham has sympathy but does not offer suggestions as to the sport's future course.

Much happier is the second half of the book where Mr. Fotheringham's patriotic heart is all a-glow as the British, whose road racing history in continental Europe had seemed to something out of Monty Python with the exception of a few talented and determined individuals, are in the ascendant on the track and have two Tour de France victories (although the book does not include Froome's win, having been published in June this year) in the bag. New actors appear, including the British Cycling organization, the brilliant Chris Hoy and a raft of super women as well. The Olympics are the playing field here and the writing betrays Fotheringham's great pleasure at being present.

A thoughtful tone permeates the final section of the book, “In Memorium,” and the author notes: “It cannot be said that writing obituaries is a pleasure, but for a specialist writer on a daily newspaper the exercise is satisfying to say the least, offering as it does the chance to present to the readers some of the individuals who simply don't get into the pages...Beryl Burton was a classic example of a sports star of immense talent who never received the national acclaim she deserved. This at least was a step towards redressing the balance.”

Those he wrote about included not only Burton, an incredible amateur time-triallist but also the colourful Percy Stallard, who brought British road racing into the modern world as founder of a breakaway racing organization (from which he was subsequently expelled!) which eventually saw racing on public roads made legal in 1960. The pathetic end of Marco Pantani is recounted. Fotheringham comment today: “The Italian's death was a horrendous event. He had been exposed as a drugs cheat, and was in massive denial, but it was impossible to forget the charismatic cyclist and the engaging, eccentric character that he was. It was also impossible to avoid the feeling that collectively the entire sport bore a measure of responsibility for his death. “We all killed him,” were my first words on hearing of his death; this is how I still feel today.”

Racing Hard” is about, well, racing hard but also has much that is thoughtful and empathetic. A journalist must keep distance and so William Fotheringham has but at the same time the reader senses his affection for those he writes about, his love of the sport and his pride in the accomplishments of British riders. A commendable collection and a fine read, even given the inescapable presence of doping.

Racing Hard”
by William Fotheringham
358 pp., paperback, 2013, Faber & Faber Books, London
ISBN 978-0-571-30362-5

Suggested retail price: 12.99 GBP, available through on-line retailers as well.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Book Review: The Elite Bicycle

The Oxford Dictionary defines “elite” in noun form as “a select group that is superior in terms of quality and abilities to the rest of a group or society.” While being a member of the elite is seen somehow as a detriment in American political circles, a new book from VeloPress by British photographer Gerard Brown and author Graeme Fife shows that being part an elite is a Good Thing with respect to the world of bicycles. As in the case of the famous Lake Woebegon where “all the children are above average, “The Elite Bicycle” showcases a whole group of enterprises that are truly superior in quality and abilities.

The title of the book is a bit misleading, not because the “great marques, makers and designers” are not elite but because bicycles actually do not feature much in it. But calling the book “Elite Makers of Spokes, Chainrings, Saddles, Headsets, Double Butted Tubing and Mainly Steel Framesets” would lack a solid marketing ring. There are no photos of cyclists out on some picturesque road in Tuscany or Switzerland or anywhere. In fact, in this gorgeous 224 page book with 29 chapters there are only five complete bicycles shown, along with a shot of the Alex Singer shop, crowded with finished products. The fact that the bikes we see carry the names Dinucci, Seven, Paris, Brian Rourke and Faggin is indicative of the broad scope of the book, representing brands in the USA, Britain and Italy. This polyglot coverage includes Belgium, France, Germany and, yes, even Canada.

Bicycles at the Alex Singer shop
The authors try valiantly to identify what “elite” means to them. It “identifies the very best, and the following series of profiles is a snapshot of the top end of the bicycle production industry...the selection is not comprehensive. It is, rather, a portrait of a small cadre of exceptional makers and enterprises which combine traditional craftsmanship and new technology in the manufacture of the essential component parts of a bicycle.” They take delight in the fact that “steel, once the darling of the bicycle industry but long since overtaken by aluminium, carbon and titanium, is being used again, with superior modern production methods, and thus introduced to a new generation.”

Chamfering a Brooks saddle
Arranged in an order not immediately apparent, the profiles begin with a pair of saddle makers who are both very old but very different. Brooks, which dates to 1882, must be the oldest producer of a bicycle component still in business. Production methods and the product itself do not seem to have changed a great deal but with the popularity of retro the circle has come around. Selle Italia, an Italian competitor established in 1897, seems very modern in comparison with its production of 9,600 saddles daily yet surprisingly those saddles are for the most part produced by small family operations offsite.

The next two profiles again match British and Italian rivals, this time in the steel tubing business. Reynolds (the Patent Butted Tube Co. until 1924, when the current name was adopted) and Columbus developed steel tubing for a variety of products, including furniture and airplanes, but are most noted today for their bicycle applications and tubing continues to be developed. The book places the emphasis on steel here, perhaps because of its artisan qualities, but does not mention all the effort Columbus has put into carbon framesets. The explanation of how butted tubing is made is very interesting and is just one of many explanations author Graeme Fife offers to accompany the truly superb pictures of industrial environments and components of Gerard Brown.

Mr. Fife, known for his Rapha guide books on the mountain passes of the Alps and the Pyrenees among other literary efforts, likes to explain things in his markedly eccentric style. The profile on Cinelli begins with a paragraph about the Temple of Janus in Rome and spins off to a reference to Antonio Colombo's art gallery and a catalogue that lists the controversial Spinaci aerobars along with a quote from Virgil: “Here, in the inner, light-filled cave of thinking, in what many must call a sanctuary of classic Italian design and technical excellence, as elite as you can get, a poignant ache of the modern day expressed in the Latin of one of Italy's finest poets twenty-one centuries before.” And along with the origins of the words for rubber we also learn in the book that “swage” not only is a term used in metal-working but also means otter excrement.

Cinelli Supercorse frame before and after finishing
The book moves on to the familiar area of frames and even includes two noted makers of carbon frames, Guru in Canada and Cyfac in France (Time shows up right at the end of the book) but steel takes pride of place, with some titanium (first discovered in Cornwall, we learn) sprinkled in. There are excellent photos of workshops humming away, sometimes with a sole artisan, as is the case of American grand master Richard Sachs and several of his countrymen but also the larger operations of Seven, Independent Fabrication and Ben Serotta, no longer with his eponymous company.

Framebuilding in custom carbon at Guru
Careful finishing at Cyfac
You need to wait seven years if you want a frame from Richard Sachs
The chapter on Condor/Paris is an outlier as the company has its bikes made in Italy by contractors but the Paris track bicycle that graces the cover and is made with spectacular bilaminate lugs (no fears: an explanation of this procedure is also to be found!) excuses all.

There is an impressive amount of handwork that goes into framemaking at this level and the photographs show the whole process at various points. Filing, brazing, is a great pleasure to look at the pictures and see the whole range of operations so clearly illustrated.

Frames are recognizable to most cyclists by name but then there are components that serve us equally well but more anonymously. “Elite Bicycles” continues its profiles looking at chainring and crankarm manufacturing at Spécialités TA (the “TA” coming from “Traction Avant,” a failed attempt at a front-wheel drive bicycle), Antwerp-based SAPIM which produces 600,000 spokes (daily? annually?) in two factories and Chris King of headset fame. In his enthusiasm for the lovely TA chainrings, Graeme Fife makes the odd claim that Shimano chainrings are difficult to get. This might be the case in Britain, where the authors are based, but has never been my experience.

The book concludes with the rubber meeting the road as we tour Mavic (which stands for Manufacture d'Articles Vélocipédiques Idoux et Chanel), maker of rims and wheelsets (although no mention is made of drivetrain components or electronic shifters which didn't work out so well), German tire giant Continental which has been making pneumatic bike tires since 1892 and French tire dwarf FMB, where pro racers have been getting their handmade tubulars since 2005 and where the workforce appears to consist of three related people with excellent sewing skills.

An eccentric and entertaining book, beautifully produced with top-quality photos and amusing but informative text and a foreword by cycling-made British fashion designer Sir Paul Smith, “The Elite Bicycle” deserves to find a place on many a cyclist's bookshelf this holiday season. Even ones unfamiliar with Virgil.

“The Elite Bicycle: Portraits of Great Marques, Makers and Designers”
by Gerard Brown and Graeme Fife
224 pp., ill., hardcover, VeloPress 2013
ISBN 978-1-937715-0803
Suggested retail: US$ 39.95

Friday 29 November 2013

A Visit to the Rhenish Hesse Bicycle Museum

Museum opening on April 21, 2002
Germans adore engineering and the country is filled with technical museums covering every possible theme (cars, airplanes, grain threshers, wire, x-ray machines, wallpaper, corkscrews, etc.) and in the wine district of the Rhineland-Palatinate, not very far from Frankfurt and not very far from where Baron Drais invented the bicycle (or at least its forerunner) in 1817, a small band of enthusiastic individuals have established a charming museum dedicated to our beloved two-wheelers in an old Schloss.  Welcome to the Rhine Hesse Bicycle Museum in Gau-Algesheim!

Gau-Algesheim, found between Bingen and Mainz and situated 3 kms from the west bank of the Rhine, is a town of nearly 7,000 inhabitants.  First mentioned in chronicles in 755 it was raised to the status of a town in 1355 and is surrounded by vineyards.  A charming town it does not actually have much to distinguish it from the others in the region except for the impressive Schloss Ardeck, a castle that has been much reconstructed since it was first built in 1112, becoming property of the town in 1925.  But, as is often the case in Germany where there are a lot of impressive old castles in addition to all those technical museums, it is not always easy to find a use for them and Schloss Ardeck was used for numerous local purposes over eight decades.

Enter Prof. Heinz-Egon Rösch, a retired academic who taught sports subjects at the Universities of Mainz and Düsseldorf. A singularly energetic man, he has had 15 cycle touring books published in addition to his academic work and at 82 years of age still rides 4,000 kms annually. With his contacts in the bicycling community he realized that there were some excellent examples of cycling history available that people were willing to donate. With the assistance of the local cycling club and some financial backing by the State of Rhineland-Platinate the Rhine Hesse Bicycle Museum (das Rheinhessische Fahrradmuseum) opened its doors to the public in 2002, occupying the ground floor of Schloss Ardeck. Staffed by volunteers, including the irrepressible Prof. Rösch, the museum is open on Sundays and holidays from Easter to the second Sunday in October from 2 to 6 pm or you can give them a call too. The museum is featured in the book "111 Places You Must See in Rhineland-Palatinate."
Prof. Heinz-Egon Rösch and a high-wheeler

Museum floorplan
Entering the museum (admission is free but donations are welcome) one first enters a nice exhibition area devoted to the origins of the bicycle which economically shows the changes from the draisine to the bone-shaker to the high-wheeler and ultimately to the safety bicycle.

Turning to the left, one next enters the exhibition area covering bicycles used in daily life. Here there are solid Dutch roadsters, an impressive shaft-drive Dürkopp, a Diamant with a carbide lamp and a knee-wreckingly massive chainring and other ancient but honourable machines.  
Shaft-drive Dürkopp

Another left turn takes us into the room devoted to bicycle sports. In addition to a number of classic road racing machines (Gios, Bauer, Pinarello) there are some excellent time trial bikes, including a spectacular yellow Giant used by Laurent Jalabert of the ONCE team.

There are the usual items to be found in bicycle museums along with the bicycles themselves: waterbottles, posters, accessories, flags and trophies. This being Germany there is also a display exhibiting cans and bottles of Radler, the beer and soft drink combination known as a shandy or panaché in other countries.

Something very unusual is an example of the bicycle used for Radball, the UCI-recognized sport of, well, bicycle ball (what is this actually called). Imagine bike polo with no mallets but instead you move the ball with your front wheel. Even stranger is Kunstrad, where cyclists, sometimes two on one bike, perform stunts more often seen in a Chinese circus before a panel of serious UCI-qualified judges.

Crossing to the other side of this compact but nicely arranged museum where everything is lovingly labelled there is a display of children’s bikes and an area where children’s educational events are held.
The final area is devoted to changing exhibits and during our visit featured a display about bicycles and art. In addtiion to posters and some original paintings and three dimensional pieces there was a couch with wheels and handlebars. Every cyclist should have one of these in his or her living room!

Prof. Rösch has found a successor (a more recently retired person) and his band of six will continue to manage the little museum. Cycling events take place from its front door and the local tourism office has prepared maps and brochures for suggested riding routes in the area. Educational programs for the local children have been successful and the Rhineland-Palatinate probably does not need to worry about where the next generation of cyclists will come from. Modes but charming and surprisingly effective in telling the story of the bicycle, the Rhenisch Hesse Bicycle Museum is well worth a visit. And you can be sure that Prof. Rösch can tell you where to go for a most excellent glass of Rhine wine afterwards!

The Rhine Hesse Bicycle Museum
Schloss Ardeck
Schlossgasse 12
55435 Gau-Algesheim
Tel. +49-6725-992143
The town of Gau-Algesheim has its website (with bits in English!) here.