Tuesday 28 May 2013

A Herd of Tin Donkeys: A Cicli Diamant, My Flahute Bike

My collection of interesting vintage bicycles continues to have some gaps in it. I now have steel bicycles made in the following countries: Canada, Germany, England, France and Italy, with the Italians currently leading by a good margin. But the other hotbed of cycling, the Lowlands, had contributed nothing to my geographical diversity. I have attempted a few times to land an Eddy Merckx Super Corsa, preferably in 7-Eleven colours, but to no avail. Considering how well-known are the major brands in Italy—DeRosa, Colnago, Pinarello, Basso. Ciocc, Chesini and so forth—it is strange that no brand cult has arisen in Belgium or the Netherlands.

The famous marques tend to be large faceless corporations like Gazelle or Batavus, which continue to produce utilitarian bikes that are noteworthy for their strength and high weight. There are less famous brands that are regional or local, like RIH, which was connected to an Amsterdam bike shop and used the city's triple-x logo on headtubes. Jan Legrand, the Dutch framebuilder who was involved in constructing the Raleigh pro team bikes in the seventies, had his own line of frames named Presto and there were surely many others. Lowlands bikes tend to be solid and competent but a bit workmanlike in comparison to their more flashy Italian competitors. Also many framebuilders built for other manufacturers.

 My newest bike is one of those. It is labelled as a “Cicli Diamant,” and was sold by the big Diamant (“diamond” in Flemish) concern which sold those utilitarian kind of bikes referred to previously. This is not to be confused with the East German Diamant brand, now owned by Trek and building utilitarian bikes or the Diamant company that builds Cippolini bikes in Italy. The “Cicli,” which is obviously Italian, stems from the seventies when Dutch builders thought it would be good policy to pretend that they were sort-of Italian. The bike was actually constructed in the workshop of Eddy Martens, who built for a huge number of brands including Coppi, Jan Jansen, Concorde and another Belgian-Italo brand, Scanini. Eddy Martens was not immune himself to the lure of the south and produced his own brands under the Martelli or Martelly name. He continues to produce frames under the Martelly (or Martens) name here. He built bikes for pro teams in Belgian and there was a successful Sigma Paints-Cicli Diamant team. Its most noted rider was Etienne de Wilde. Unfortunately, the team jerseys, which come up on E-Bay, are hideous.

A current Martens/Martelli: a new frame with retro parts
The bicycle I now have has no model name or serial number. The complete frameset is built of Reynolds 531 steel tubing with Campagnolo dropouts and the bicycle has Shimano 600 EX Arabesque components, with drilled Dura Ace chainrings. The Reynolds sticker and the parts suggest a build date between 1978 and 1984. In addition it boasts a Cinelli 1A stem and 40 cm Cinelli Campione del Mundo handlebars, along with Mavic rims. It is currently shod with inexpensive but tough Continental Ultra Sport tires and has cotton bar tape, just like in the old days. And just like in the old days the gearing is brutal: 52/46 up front and 14-19 in the back. I replaced the worn Concor saddle with a new Selle San Marco Regal, honey-coloured with copper rivets.

Having ridden the bike for around 100 m to adjust the saddle height, I thought that this would be the ideal bike to take to the Retro Ronde in Oudenaarde, Belgium this past weekend. I installed the new saddle on Saturday and took some photos and on Sunday we did the 100 km course with 1000 m of climbing, including several of the painful cobbled climbs the Tour of Flanders is so famous for. I managed to get up the majority of them, including the Oude Kwaremont, but ran out of gears and gas on a few and had to walk. The bike is extremely comfortable and the Shimano components work well. I was impressed that my bad idea of taking an unknown bike on a long ride actually had worked out.

Enjoying some Belgian bruyn at the conclusion of the Retro Ronde

The Belgians were impressed as well; when we signed in at the start the commentator knew right away what it was and was happy to hear that I had brought a Flandrian bike to ride in Flanders. My friend Nick said that several people had looked at it with interest when parked at the control points.  I did not see another one on the ride.
What is a Flahute? This is the French expression for the hard cyclists of the north, the ones who train in snow and rain and on cobbles. Maybe not so smart but very very strong and impervious to pain. Here is a discussion of the term but I also like this definition from the Pedalling Squares blog:

"Flahute" is a French term for the hard as granite, dumb as rocks Flemish farm boys that would race in any weather, over all roads. When more delicate French and Italian racers would sit in the cafe or climb into the team car, these big Belgies would be grinding away for hours in poor weather over poorer roads. The southern racers assume that it was because the Flemish boys were too stupid to know when to quit.

In truth, I believe their tenacity is from something different. A flahute keeps racing out of combination of pride and opportunity. The pride is simple to understand, if you are a bike racer, you finish races. Only the weak or worn out quit a race in Belgium. Only the soft refuse to train when it is cold, or wet, or the pavement is bad. If you do not train today, you will not be prepared to race when its cold tomorrow.

After our successful Retro Ronde, a shower and a parting beer, we loaded the car and drove back to Germany. A most memorable weekend!

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