Back in March, you’ll remember that we went Bimblin’ Round Belgium in our campervan for a few weeks. After visiting the French-speaking south of the country, we ventured on up to the Flemish-speaking north to check out the Tour of Flanders – and, of course, a trip to the national cycling museum in Roeselare was a must.
The Wielermuseum‘s displays opened with the evolution of the bike, so we started off feeling as though we were walking through time, seeing the amazing changes in cycle innovations which have come & gone – and all within the short space of only about a century. Most of the information was displayed in English as well as French & Flemish (in essence, Dutch) and everything was set out in a professional yet delightfully-simple way.
The first bicycle, the Loopfiets (aka ‘hobby horse’ or ‘running machine’) had rock solid wheels, as did all the earlier bikes. These might not have been quite as hard as the kind you’d find on The Flintstones, but I’m sure riders must have breathed a sigh of relief when the rubber and pneumatic tyres finally came in.
The Macmillan had a treadle-type setup to power you along. Whilst it looked good, the design wasn’t the best, since your pedalling feet were likely to get caught in the front wheel when it was turned. To me, the highlights were the four-seater ‘tandem’, the bike with a shaft-drive, and a two-seater contraption where riders sat side by side. Try keeping your balance on that!
Still, you can’t beat actually experiencing what it must have been like riding one of these old bikes, so hopping onto the museum’s fixed Penny Farthing (no safety harness provided!) was a treat. Press a button and your photo is taken as you pedal, then it’s posted online for you to view later (click here to see mine if you want a laugh).
At the back of the building was an impressive bicycle workshop, the contents of which were donated to the museum by the Hallaert family, famous for Belgian frame- and saddle-building.
Moving along, there were many inspiring exhibits of past Belgian cycling champions – including, of course, Eddy Merckx. There was old footage of famous rides, cycling magazines, trophies; and many champions had also donated their winners’ jerseys and old bikes (probably would’ve ended up in landfill otherwise anyway).
Jean-Pierre Monséré (affectionately nicknamed Jempi), the famous Belgian rider who died in a head-on collision with a car, had a whole section dedicated to his life, and bits of his shattered bike were even on display.
The finale of the tour was a jukebox with music linked to cycling (eg Tour de France by Kraftwerk). We discovered that several of the past Belgian cyclists have clubbed together to release their own brand of cycling songs. And as we went to have lunch back at the camper, parked only a stone’s throw from the museum, we were regaled with more Flemish cycling tunes booming from a speaker at the museum. They reminded us a bit of bloky British football songs. I’m sure they were meant to be inspiring, but if you ask me, I reckon the guys would be better off sticking to their cycling – ‘cos they sure ain’t gonna win any medals at singing!
WHEELY GOOD VALUE
My trusty Cycling Widow, Alannah, accompanied me around the exhibits and was surprised that the three hours we spent there had gone so quickly. She hadn’t got bored once (at least that’s what she told me) – so it just goes to prove you don’t have to be a complete cycling nut to appreciate what’s on offer. The staff at the Wielermuseum were most helpful (and spoke better English than we did Dutch) and, at a mere five euros, we thought the entrance fee was excellent value.
The following day was the Tour of Flanders race, and you can look forward to my next blog where I tell you all about our escapades there… So tune in next time, or sign up to the blog to receive it automatically via email.
And there’s more…
If you’ve been following Steve’s Cycle Shorts for a while, you’ll probably already know that Alannah has written a book called Cycling Widows, but did you know she’s now released her Campervan Capers book? It’s a light-hearted yet practical travel tale about our first year in the campervan.
Why not check them out, along with the other books on her website?