Friday 29 March 2013

Stalen Ros 2013 and Touring the Lower Rhine

Stalen Ros show and market, Neerkant, Netherlands on March 24, 2013
Cold weather continues to ruin training in the Rhineland so it was time to get a rental car and do some touring.  Last Sunday it was time to visit the Lower Rhine region and my main goal was the Stalen Ros bike show and market in the tiny village of Neerkant in the Netherlands, just over the border from Germany.

I picked up my brand new (393 kms!) Opel Adam at the Düsseldorf Airport, hooked up the TomTom GPS and headed north for the border.  On the way I took a short break in the village of Wachtendonk, which offered an historic centre in addition to freezing temperatures and a brutal ice-cold wind.  I was impressed with the ruins of the medieval castle but  also with the Pulverturm, where powder was kept and which is now an attractive restaurant.  It was built in 1605/06.

The Pulverturm, Wachtendonk

Returning to the car and testing the effectiveness of the heater as quickly as possible, I continued my drive and soon was in the Netherlands.  Leaving the highway, the GPS lead me down incredibly narrow country roads into Neerkant and I quickly found the community centre where Stalen Ros was being held.  Lots of cars were parked on the surrounding streets, many with bike racks.

Paying my 2 Euros to enter, I walked into the busy central hall and saw two line-ups of classic racing bicycles on display.  Some of them had signs with a bit of information on them but for most of them you had to know what you were looking at but luckily I have been to enough shows that many were in fact familiar to me.

1970 Raleigh Professional track bike

The first bike in the first line was a beautiful Raleigh track bike, constructed in the former Carleton shop under the supervision of Gerald O'Donovan, who was subsequently in charge of the Raleigh Special Bicycle Development Unit in Ilkeston where my own Raleigh Team Pro was constructed a dozen years later.

Stayer track bike
There were a lot of track bikes present, including an interesting example of a stayer, used in races behind big motorcycles on the track.  They are characterized by a small front wheel and a reversed fork, allowing the rider to get close to the roller behind the motorcycles.  They also have gigantic chainwheels that allow for very high-speed riding.

The next bike that caught my interest was a Chesini which might not have been all that remarkable in and of itself but featured an amazing paint scheme: blue on the left and red on the right!  At first I had thought there was a pair of matching bikes as I walked up and down the row... The two-tone scheme extended to the stem and tape.

Eddy Merckx Corsa SLX c. 1988/89

Next to the Chesini was a mouth-watering Merckx Corsa, with Dura-Ace 7402 components, and painted in the classic Team 7-Eleven colours.  For North American collectors, this is one of the Holy Grail bicycles as it reflects the era of the dominant team in US racing and the first US team to see success in European racing.

1985 Masi Prestige    

There were two Masi Prestige bicycles at the show and the one of particular interest featured the Campagnolo 50th Anniversary Super Record groupset.  Both bicycle and components appeared to have never been outside or used in any way.  Nice.

Walking through the remainder of the halls, I saw many frames, parts and accessories for sale although it was certainly not on the scale of the market at l'Eroica or, perhaps, even Rommerskirchen.  The fiercely cold weather may have reduced the number of people present and in the end the 500 Euros burning a hole in my pocket remained there.

There was a good turnout at the show and I ran into many of the fellows from the Klassikerausfahrt group from Düsseldorf.  Leaving Neerkant, I crossed back into Germany and drove across the country's longest suspension bridge (which will not be much competition to the Golden Gate) and passing through Kleve I returned to the Netherlands where I visited the country's largest water castle, Huis Bergh.  Once in the possession of the Counts of Berg, it was derelict by 1912 when a Dutch businessman purchased it and gradually restored it.  In addition to housing his collection of medieval art, the castle offers possibilities for event hosting and is really quite impressive.  I would like to return when it is warmer and enjoy the castle and the neighbouring village of 's-Heerenbergen at leisure.

Huis Bergh
Returning through Kleve, I turned Adam north and we drove onwards through Kalkar, passing Schloss Moyland, another impressive castle, before stopping for dinner in Xanten.  It had been a bitterly cold day but I enjoyed my sight-seeing holiday--even if no bikes were added to the Tin Donkey herd!

Saturday 16 March 2013

The Pedaling History Bicycle Museum: Fading into Memory

The museum had a marvellous collection of cycling ephemera, including a vast range of cycling-themed beer steins.  This one sold of US$525 at auction. (Photo: Copake Auction Inc.)

I have posted here about my wonderful visit to the Pedaling History Bicycle Museum in Orchard Park, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, in December 2008.  One of the reasons I went there through a blinding snowstorm was the planned closure of the museum and I wanted to see it before the doors were shut.  The founder, Mr. Carl Burgwardt, had endeavoured to get a new home for the museum on the Buffalo waterfront but this did not materialize.  He then found a European buyer for the collection but in the end that also did not happen.  The museum closed in November 2009 and Mr. Burgwardt passed away last May after a losing battle with cancer.

I had not realized that the transaction to sell this remarkable collection had not gone through.  Instead, the contents of the museum are being auctioned off in three separate sales.  The first took place on December 1, 2012 and the results of the auction can be seen here.  The next sale will be on April 19, 2013, followed by a final one on October 19.

Looking at the realized prices, it is interesting to note that in most cases the estimated price was far surpassed.  As a very modest collector of steel racing bicycles from the '70s and '80s (and much more the latter), I am impressed by what people are willing to pay for much earlier examples of bicycles and related memorabilia.  The high point of the auction must have been the sale of an 1892 Telegram High Wheel Safety Bicycle, the only one known to exist.  The estimated price of $5500-6500 was unambitious as the bicycle went in the end for $23,000, to which a 15% buyer's fee needs to be added.

1892 Telegram High Wheel Safety Bicycle (Photo: Copake Auction Inc.)
While on the one hand I am glad that the sale is bringing in so much money for Mr. Burgwardt's family, I find it very sad that such a marvellous collection is being dispersed.  When we had our long conversation on that snowy afternoon, he explained that much of the collection was focused on the importance of the bicycle in the booming manufacturing sector of Upstate New York.  The collection was not only an illustration of technological development but also the success it brought to Buffalo and other once-prosperous and bustling cities.  Some companies, such as Pierce-Arrow, went on to become celebrated automobile makers.  The growth of bicycle manufacturing marked an important period in industrialization in the United States.  It not only called for advanced technologies (ball bearings, gear systems, assembly line production and so forth) but also begat consumer marketing and organized lobbying.

Having visited the Smithsonian Institution often during my posting in Washington, I was disappointed by the lack of attention paid to this once-important artifact of American innovation and industry.  It is unfortunate that no effort was made by New York State or federal authorities to use some imagination and take over the collection.  Given the popularity of cycling and the fondness that people have for the machines a properly organized and promoted museum would have been a hit.  With the prices being realized at the auction, it is unlikely that a collection as comprehensive as the one in Orchard Park could be assembled again.

The second-highest price paid at the auction in December was for a wood-framed lady's safety bicycle.  I recall seeing this bicycle on my visit and finding it charming and clearly the bidder did as well since the estimated price was $2300-2600 and it went for $12,500!  Hickory actually has benefits as a frame material and wood is seeing something of a niche revival, with frames from bamboo being prominent but also from hardwood.

c. 1898 Old Hickory wood-framed lady's safety bicycle with pneumatic tires (Photo: Copake Auction Inc.)
The second sale will still have lots of great stuff so perhaps my dream of getting a German beer stein with a cycling motif might yet come to pass!

Thursday 14 March 2013

A Visit to Velorama in Nijmegen, Netherlands

To escape the madness of Carnival in Düsseldorf on Rosenmontag, I arranged an escape to the Netherlands with my friend Nick, who brought the team car and a new GPS.  Our destination on this bitterly cold Monday was just across the Dutch border in Nijmegen: Velorama, the National Fietsmuseum.  “Fiets” is, of course,  Dutch for “bicycle” and where better to look at two-wheelers than in the country famous for using them?

27% of all trips made in the Netherlands are by bicycle and 59% of all urban trips, so bicycles represent a key element of the national transportation system.  To celebrate this love affair, the Dutch have put together one of the finest bicycle museums in the world, an astonishing collection that emphasizes the technology of this seemingly-simple device.  This is Velorama, housed over three storeys in an attractive (and blindingly clean) warehouse building overlooking the Waal, and showcasing bicycles in all conceivable, and even a few incredible, variations from 1817 to 1960.

On this bitter and blustery weekday we were amongst the first of a handful of visitors to arrive and were met by Mr. Labrie, a curator who enthusiastically showed us around the truly amazing collection.  

The museum has its beginnings in the collection of Mr. Gerdjan Moed, who was given an antique bicycle as a child and apparently has never looked back.  When people were clearing out barns or attics and came across then-valueless old bicycles, he was the person happy to accept their donations and gradually the numbers of objects grew and grew.  In 1981 the museum was opened, and extensively renovated in 1998 but even still only can display one-third of the collection.
The exhibition begins truly at the beginning with a replica of the famous “Laufmaschine” of Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn.  Baron Dreis is credited as inventor of the first steerable bicycle, generally called a “draisine.”  Mr. Labrie sadly remarked that the museum did not own one of the Baron’s original bicycles as these are extremely rare and staggeringly expensive.  With the exception of the draisine replica, all machines in the museum are originals.

The Baron apparently took out patents for everywhere except Britain (a bad business decision) and soon enough copies of his machine began to appear throughout Europe.  We walked by a row of marvellous machines from this period.  They were clumsy, heavy and rather crude and really only suitable for riding on smooth park lanes rather than cobbled streets but were often whimsical in design.  There simple backbone frames took on fanciful forms, including racehorses or dragons.  Most of the examples we saw were produced in countries other than the Netherlands, which, surprisingly, came rather slowly to bicycle design and innovation.  But the so-called “hobbyhorse” or “dandy-horse” era was fairly short-lived as the wooden machines were impractical and unwieldy and they quickly faded away.

In addition to bicycles with two wheels there was a range of weird configurations and these three and four wheel “pedomotive” or “manomotive” are well-represented in the exhibition.  Mr. Labrie explained that they were used to test components that would eventually be used in steam engines of various kinds including locomotives.  This was a period that saw advances in metalworking skills and applications and these vehicles, as strange as they appear to us, would have been cutting-edge technology for the time.

Mr. Labrie and some early early early bikes
It would be several decades before the next important development in bicycle technology came about: the installation of pedals on the front axle of a two-wheeler.  It has always struck me as strange that an idea so simple and obvious took forty years to happen.  We now moved into the part of the collection that reflected the 1860s.   Wood has now been replaced with iron and then steel and the workmanship of the bicycles improved dramatically.

The so-called “Boneshaker” era saw the introduction of freewheels and ball bearings and the first completely metal bicycles were fabricated in France.  The front wheel sized began to increase in pursuit of greater efficiency and people began to utilize the bicycle, previously only really an entertainment device, to actually go places.  And the first bicycle races occurred as well.

Circling past the museum’s  Velocitas Café, we climbed the narrow steps to the next floor and turning to our left we came into the wonderful High Wheel Lounge, which offered a spectacular collection of the evocative bicycles that were variously known as “Ordinaries,” “Penny Farthings,” or “Highwheelers.”  By enlarging the front wheel of the boneshaker it was now possible to reach impressive speeds, limited only by the rider’s inseam and, well, courage.  Many very famous brands of bicycle were on display, including Star, Columbia and Rover.  They were predominantly British or American, countries that had taken the lead from France in production and innovation, and the companies that built them had experience constructing precision machinery, such as sewing machines.  The crude era of the draisine banged out by blacksmiths was long gone.

Riding in comfort, with your chauffeur behind and invisible

 In addition to bicycles with two wheels there was a range of configurations for people, particularly the elderly or women, who were unable to ride the highwheeler, which was used primarily by athletic, well-off young men.  In addition, there were tricycles and quadricycles and all manner of experimental things.  The multi-wheelers offered stability and, given their higher cost, status.  And they required technological advances as well: this is where the differential, allowing the opposing wheels to turn at different speeds when cornering and an important component of automobile drive systems, was developed.

The drawbacks of the highwheeler were obvious and inventive British minds soon enough came up with the idea of the “safety bicycle,” employing wheels of equal size and a chain drive to the back wheel.  The first safety came to market in 1885 and only a few years later the introduction of the pneumatic tire brought us to essentially the modern configuration of a bicycle.  It marked the death knell of the graceful highwheeler, although there were attempts to keep it going using smaller front wheels  with geared chain drives but this was a last gasp.

Very early solid-tired safety bicycle
When visiting the Pedaling History Museum (no longer extant, alas) in Buffalo, New York in 2008, I discovered the extraordinary Otto Dicycle, which has two high wheels beside each other and the rider sits between them, using the handlebars to balance.  A massive and complicated device, I was enchanted by it and its ridiculous appearance.  I learned that it was particularly rare and valuable.  Expensive when built, only 953 were constructed and the safety bicycle’s appearance shortly afterwards made it obsolete.  It takes up a lot of space, weighs 40 kg and is pretty vulnerable to damage so only a half dozen or so still exist.  Remarkably, Velorama had three of them on display!

Another remarkable artifact is the rail bicycle used by employees to get to the Star Bicycle Company factory in Smithville, New Jersey across a swamp.  1.8 miles in length and using an elevated monorail, it opened in 1892 and was subsequently exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago.
Suspension via rim-mounted springs!
The safety bicycle brought with it a renewed push for innovation and the museum illustrates this brilliantly with a remarkable number of period pieces.   Everything that we think of new was tried at some point in the period from 1890 to 1910: bicycle suspensions, puncture-proof tires, lightweight frames in odd materials (bamboo, hickory), mudguards and lighting systems.

After admiring this evidence of industrial evolution, with some ideas that admittedly went into a dead-end, we proceeded up the next flight of stairs to the top floor of the museum.  This is the "modern times” section, covering the 20th Century, or at least the first six decades or so.  In addition to the kind of bikes that would not be out of place on our streets today, there are some novelties including some early recumbents and a very fine selection of the peculiar Dursely-Pedersens, with their complicated small-tubing frames and hammock-style seats.  Built from 1897-c. 1912, they were very light for the time and have actually gone back into production as they have a dedicated cult following still.
A late production Dursley-Pedersen
The modern bicycles on display included some novel American bicycles from the 1950s, such as a Schwinn Black Phantom and some Columbia roadsters, as well as the goofy world-of-tomorrow Bowden Spacelander from 1960.  The latter is back in production too, apparently!  All of this is nicely displayed and includes not only the bicycles themselves but displays devoted to components and it is possible to try out different kinds of shifting systems that have been developed over the years.  Bicycle racing, which is not extensively covered in what is on display, is represented with a fine exhibit devoted to Wim van Est’s famous excursion over the side of the side of the mountain after descending the Col d’Aubique in the 1951 Tour de France.  The day before he had become the first Dutch rider to earn the Yellow Jersey.  His team rescued him using tiet-together tubular tires and the incident became part of Tour legend.  Wim died in 2003 aged 80 but his original and very battered bike from that race is part of the display at Velorama.

The final area of interest is devoted to Dutch bicycles and includes the kind of sit-up-and-beg indestructible bicycles for which the nation is noted.  Famous brands, including Gazelle and Batavus, are represented and pride of place goes to a Fongers tandem used by then-Princess (subsequently Queen) Juliana and Prince Bernhard before their marriage.  There are some fine posters and the display, designed to look like a Dutch street scene, is attractive and representative of the high quality of the displays.

We enjoyed a coffee in the café before taking our leave of Mr. Labrie and the museum.  In addition to the café in the museum, there is an adjoining three star hotel in the same style, the Hotel Courage, which opened in 2004.  A visit to Velorama is highly recommended; this is almost certainly the best collection of antique bicycles in existence.   I hope that someday space will be available so that the rest of the bicycles can be displayed.

Information about the museum and details for planning a visit can be found here.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Tour de Basement Revisited: Epic Blue Ridge DVD

In the past I have done reviews of training DVDs under the rubric “Tour de Basement” because, well, I was doing my riding on the trainer in the basement.  That was some time ago and not only have I relocated to a different country (Germany) but I have come out of the basement and up several floors.  The Tour de Basement has become the Tour du Grenier or,  more accurately, Das Rundfahrt auf dem Dachboden—the Tour of the Attic.

Unlike my previous basement, I have a window which overlooks a park.  Generally, and today is no exception, it also a view of continuously drizzling rain or, as wags here refer to it, liquid Dutch sunshine.   Nobody comes to the Rhineland for the weather.   Well, except for Fox News experts who believe that Germany is sunnier than the United States, which explains why all those people from Texas, California and Florida enjoy the German Riviera so much.

But if it rains and you can’t play outside, there is no reason you can’t play inside when you have DVDs as good as the Epic Rides series.  I have enjoyed using the Epic Acadia DVD and the latest in the series,  Epic Blue Ridge, continues to meet the high standards of the previous release.   This is one of the longer DVDs in the series (and also available as a download) at 75 minutes and is rated as “very hard” on the website. 

This is a fair comment.  One of the things I like about Epic Rides is they don’t  go to especially exotic destinations but to places in the United States that offer beautiful  and challenging riding.  In 2009  I did an excellent spring trainingcamp with four friends in North Carolina, based at a ski resort north of Asheville.   So it was with some wistfulness that I relived one of the best rides I have done in the US here in the Dachboden: the ride along the wonderful Blue Ridge Parkway to the top of Mt. Mitchell, the highest point in the Eastern United States.

We did the ride from Little Switzerland, on the Parkway itself, but the group of three riders featured in the DVD began in the opposite direction, departing Hendersonville.  They claim the climb is one of the finest rides in the area and is 2.5 hours of effort and without further ado we have a five-minute warm-up before switching into no less than 50 minutes of climbing intervals.  When you get to the end of that, the road turns and you are on the final summit climb, an additional 20 minutes that brings you to the top of Mt. Mitchell.

Appalachian Spring: the view from Mt. Mitchell
Riding the Blue Ridge is really special.  There is very little traffic most of the time and the quality of the pavement has to be about the best in North America as there is no commercial or winter traffic.  You can see this on the DVD quite clearly.  Gradients are reasonable; in the video the warm-up is at 2%; the intervals at 4% and the final summit climb 5%.  There are superb vistas as you look down into the mountain valleys and the whole area is parkland so it is green and lush.  The downside is that since the Parkway was built during the Depression as a make-work project and does not leave the Ridge and go down into any towns, there is really nothing along the ride where you can enjoy an Eiskaffee or Apfeltasche, as is the case every 5 kms or so in Germany.  But it really is beautiful and I never get tired of the view and you can see this much of the time on the video.

Pretty much my only negative comment on the video is that the ride takes you up to Mt. Mitchell but that portion is in fog, which shrouds the view and is a bit disappointing although the three cyclists reach the altitude sign in the parking lot.

The day we rode up there was no fog!
The positives are similar to the Epic Acadia ride (and, I think, the rest of the series).  There is an excellent dashboard feature at the bottom of the screen that provides really useful information for training.  It shows you the ride profile, where you are on the route, what your heart rate zone should be, the grade and elapsed time on the segment, as well as time elapsing on a climbing section.  The video footage is crystal clear and the accompanying music, which is of course a personal taste, I found to be really tuned to the course.  Epic Rides is unusual in that the DVDs not only have a music soundtrack but an alternate soundtrack can be downloaded and played in sync if you get tired of the first one.  There is no hectic action on the video but you know it is an all-climbing all the time project and it is good training for setting a climbing rhythm.   EpicPlanet uses an instructor who has race experience but also teaches indoor cycling to advise on the training format.

Also on the Epic Ride website you will find a Training Guide for each of the DVDs.  For example, the Blue Ridge Training Guide breaks down the course and offers three variations (Beginner, Intermediate, Race) which seem to vary primarily by cadence.  Another feature is that you can choose to do the complete ride or shorter 45 or 60 minute versions.  This would seem to be ideally suited to spinning classes or other groups.  

A non-cycling friend asked me how training DVDs work when you have a bike set up on a trainer.  She seemed surprised when I explained that as the road gets more difficult you shift into a harder gear on the bike.  I also said that it is important to watch your heart rate to get the proper workout.  This all sounds rather simple, I suppose, but I can honestly say that 75 minutes of climbing the Parkway while watching Epic Blue Ridge will leave you soaked in perspiration and the sweat is not virtual.  Anyway, it is pleasanter than riding outside in the cold rain and the dark!  Recommended, and if you have never ridden up to Mt. Mitchell this should whet your appetite.  Epic Rides’ website even has a downloadable route map for when you get on the road!

Epic Blue Ridge
Produced by EpicPlanet
75 minutes, in 16:9 widescreen format, 2013
DVD is US$29.95 and download is US$19.95, available at