Again, breakfast was as usual—I ate and grabbed some bread, meat and cheese for later—but my appetite was low. Outside I was greeted by warm sunshine for the first time during this trip. The many neighborhood jackdaws a were chirping their lightsaber-ish chirps and the wood pigeons were cooing. It was a beautiful morning.
The 45-kilometer (27-mile) drive to David Verbeken’s house in Serskamp was uneventful, but took longer than I expected. It seems like everything in Belgium is close together, but because many of the roadways are dual-lane or smaller and most meander through the countryside and small villages, drive-times are longer than you expect. After driving up and down his street three times looking for place to park, I lucked out and a spot near David’s home opened up. He met me outside, invited me in, offered me a beverage and took me to his garage—more of a small barn—to see his bikes.
David owns one of my holy grails—one of Claude Criquielion’s 1987 Rossin bikes. That particular Rossin in that particular livery has been one of my favorite frames since I started riding road bikes. Claudy has been one of my favorite riders for almost as long. David had sent me dozens of photos of the bike, but I was super excited to see it in person. He was more excited to show me his Colnagos, his favorites. He told me a bit about his history as a “collector” and how he got into it. (See my interview with David for more on this.)
After the bike tour, we returned to his house where he showed me his small collection of Hitachi clothing, which includes a skinsuit and short and long-sleeve jerseys all made by Castelli. David said he is unsure of the history of the items, but the odd construction of the long-sleeve jersey—the sleeves were essentially made from black arm warmers with thumb loops sewn to a short-sleeve jersey. This and the fact that it’s unlikely that Castelli sold team replica skinsuits to the public (at least in markets outside Europe), lead me to think they may have been team-issue items. I was as excited to look at, study and photograph the clothing as I was to see the Criquielion bike.
In a bit of a hurry to get on the road, the visit was short. We hopped into David’s car and started the 69-kilimeter (47-mile) drive to Evenberg to visit Jan Goeman and look at his bike collection. Goeman, a bicycle retailer and former professional team mechanic, keeps a private collection in his attic, including some Splendor bikes, one of which was Criquielion’s. Along the way, David stopped at an ATM to pull out enough cash to buy a Coca-Cola water bottle Goeman said he had. David wanted the bottle for his Criquielion Hitachi bike. Along the way, we got talked freely and got to know each other.
Evenberg, like so many other Belgian towns, was quiet, even sleepy. Goeman Fietsen was closed, but we rang the bell there to find Jan. He came to the door, said hello and directed us to the door of the home connected to the shop. He was serious and businesslike and initially only spoke to David. We entered the house and went up a flight of stairs to the living quarters where Jan’s parents seemed to be finishing up breakfast. David chatted with them for a minute before Jan ushered us up a flight of stairs to the attic.
The two rooms were unfinished, but nearly overflowing with a generally well-organized collection of bikes. Set against a background of rustic brick walls and OSB flooring and under flat fluorescent lighting were some 100 or so road bikes. (I should have asked how many were there. Subsequent emails to Jan have all gone unanswered.) Most of the bikes were lined up close together on the floor in rolling rear-wheel bike stands. A few prized bikes were displayed at eye level in wheel trays that spanned the length of the two longest walls. Other bikes casually leaned against the walls, some stacked two or three deep.
I didn’t know where to look at first, but it was clear that all these bikes were legitimate high-end racing machines. All were complete and their spec thought out, if not original. Many also included vintage team water bottles in the cages. I saw Bianchis, Flandrias, Raleighs a Peugeot. Then a Splendor bike caught my eye.
Placed at the end of one row, the periwinkle blue bike with bright-yellow panels, stood out against a background made murky by the chaotic jumble of frame tubes and wheels and poor lighting. Like many of Jan’s bikes, it had a bottle in the cage. Hanging from the top tube was a vintage promotional postcard featuring the rider who use the bike when it was new—Rudy Matthijs of the 1984 Splendor-Mondial Moquette-Marc team. A quick check of his racing stats shows he placed second on GC in the Tour of Luxembourg and the Four Days of Dunkirk that year.
The frame was much less workman-like than I had expected based on descriptions of Splendor frames that I had heard before. Jan said the bike was all original. The frame, not built by Splendor, has nicely filed, long-point lugs with diamond cutouts, chrome fork and chain stays, Campagnolo dropouts, two sets of bottle cages bosses, a brazed-on chain hanger and a Columbus SL turning sticker. The gruppo is Campagnolo Super Record with Cinelli bar and stem and a Selle San Marco Rolls saddle. Unfortunately, I blew it when it came to ID’ing the rims. From the only photo I have that even remotely shows a rim sticker, they appear to be Mavic, red-label, GP4s.
While I dawdled at Matthijs’ bike, David and Jan began walking through the collection. By the time I joined them, making my way through the bikes they had already looked at, they were looking at a Freddy Maertens-labled Flandria bike. Speaking perfect English, Jan explained that the factory-made Flandria frames, like the factory-made Splendors, were not very high quality, so many pros had theirs custom made in Italy or by one of Belgium’s better builders, like Plum, Kessles, Martens or a couple of others I’d never heard of.
The next bikes we spent time with were two late-1970s Renault Team Gitanes, one of them ridden by Bernard Hinault. Because Hinault and I are about the same height, I was particularity interested in his bike and how he had it set up. Regrettably, I forgot to bring my tape measure with me. I carried it all the way from Southern California, in large part to take measurements from Jan’s bikes, only to leave it at the Air BnB on the very day I needed it most. My camera and the photos I was able to take would have to do for future reference. Sadly, the poor lighting in the attic museum and my occasional lack of attention (I’ll blame the flu I was battling.) meant many of my photo leave much to be desired.
The frames of the two Gitanes are similar—the same paint color and graphics—but they have different lugs, seatstay caps and braze-ons. The Hinault frame also lacks the Reynolds 531 stickers of the other bike. (The photo I took is too blurry to read the name of the rider who used it.) Perhaps most interesting on the frame, the water bottle bosses are repurposed down tube shifter bosses. Making this even more interesting, there are no shifter bosses. Instead, the shifters are the clamp-on type. I also was intrigued by the French-made Atax stem and Guion Phillipe Tour de France handlebars, both of which I had never heard of. I admit that other than Mavic, I know little about the French component makers. Both were quite nice.
The next bikes to catch my eye were a 1980 Colnago Roger De Vlaeminck signed on the top tube by Alfons De Wolf and a beautiful Kessels-made Eddy Merckx from the C&A Team ridden by Lucien Van Impe in 1978. As David owns a Kessles Merckx and is interested in the brand, he peppered Jan with questions. From time to time, one of them would explain to me in English what they were discussing. The Van Impe bike is hung with a variety of nicely pantographed components while the frame and fork feature the pantographed lugs and fork crown Kessels is known for. Prior to this bike and David’s earlier in the day, I had never seen a Kessels. I have become a fan and hope to own one someday.
Not far from the Van Impe bike was the Claude Criquielion bike I had come to see. It’s a 1986 Hitachi-Splendor Team bike—the year the Splendor design team came up with the ugliest livery of the team’s history. Unfortunately for me, the Splendor bike was buried deep in a row if bikes and was difficult to see, much less photograph.
Equipped with a mix first-generation Campagnolo C-Record and Super Record components, the bike is a time capsule of what was happening in component technology at the time. It was in 1986 when C-Record made its debut in the peloton alongside Look clipless pedals and carbon fiber frames. Criquielion was one of the handful of riders open to trying those new technologies. At the Tour de France that year, he rode both steel and carbon frames and switched between clipless pedals and those with toe clips. Jan’s bike has Campagnolo Super Record pedals and a single bootle cage, which may indicate it was used earlier in the season. The original Hitachi-badged Campagnolo Record rims were nice to see.
On our way to the second room, a red Dreher bike caught my eye. I hoped it would be one of the Gilardi-built frames the team used in 1972, before the team became Brooklyn. If it was, it would be the only one of those frame is know of in its original livery. It wasn’t. More likely, with its chunky fork crown, clamp-on components, lack of braze-ons and eyelets on the dropouts, the bike was one of those used by the team in 1970 or 1971. The photo I took of the rear derailleur is unclear, but looks like it may be stamped Patent-1970. Jan knew relatively little about the bike, so we moved on.
In the second room were several Brooklyn Team-era, Gios Torino bikes, including those Jan said belonged to Eric and Roger De Vlaeminck and Ronald De Witte, as well as several very cool Flandria Team bikes, on of them, Maertens’.
Earlier, I wondered aloud if some of the components on the bikes were replacements. I noticed the stems on some bikes looked particularly short. Many of the bikes had late-model Christophe toe clips and toe straps and vintage-looking modern bottom cages, as well as incorrect bars and “off-brand” saddles. When I asked Jan about one specific bike, he kind of shrugged and gave a sort of non-answer. Looking at the Roger De Vlaeminck bike, I began to think my earlier questioning of the originality of all the parts on some bike was spot-on.
I’m no expert on Brooklyn Gios Torino bikes, but I have spent many an hour looking at a lot of photos of team bikes, in particular, De Valeminck’s. Jan’s RDV Gios Tornio is no doubt built around an original frame, although one that is unique—it’s the first that I’ve seen with chrome stays—but I believe the parts were collected from other sources and added to the frame.
For example, the GIOS Tornino-pantographed, Cinelli, 1R stem is too short for Roger (He used a 125, I was told.) and the all-caps Gios logo didn’t come until after the Brooklyn Team shut down in 1977. The Selle Royal Superleggero saddle is not Roger’s usual Cinelli Unicanitor. The pantographed chainrings and crank spider are painted more than was done by Gios for the team. Roger usually rode with a pantographed seatpost. This bike has a plain Nuovo Record post. The Nisi Laser rims are all wrong—Roger almost exclusively used Mavic rims on the road and the hard-anodized Lasers are too new for a Brooklyn bike. The curved-lever quick release levers also are too new.
I’m not being picky, nor am I criticizing Jan’s collection or his build method. If I had as many bikes as he does, I’d do my best to build them 100 percent so they were ridable, even if some of the parts weren’t original or even accurate, then update them as I could. I’m simply pointing out that one needs to be careful about using his bikes (or any collection’s or museum’s bikes) as references, which was one of my goals. As when I visited the Flanders and Koers Museums, I hoped to see 100 percent accurate race bikes. Although I would hardly say I was disappointed by any of the collections I had seen, I was well aware that few of the bikes were perfect examples for future reference. Still, many of Jan’s bikes did appear to be mostly-to-all original, other than minor details like toe clips, bottle cages, chains and the like.
Among the many other bikes in Jan’s collection that got me excited were André Dierickx’s 1976, Maes-Rokado Groene Leeuw and 1974, Flandria-Merlin-Plage bike; David Wilfried’s 1973, Carpenter-Flandria-Shimano bike; a Watneys Groene Leeuw and a Watneys-Maes Pils Groene Leeuw; Christian Callens’ 1972 Double Bubble Novy; a 1974, Team SCIC Colnago Super; Ronald De Witte’s 1978, Team Sanson, Benotto; Patrick Sercu’s Fiat Team Kessels Merckx; an Eric De Vlaeminck cyclocross bike and a Freddy Maertens Flandria. Some of Jan’s collection can be found on line. http://goemanfietsen.be/index.php/retro
After we toured his collection, Jan took us into his closed shop and made us coffee served in a Peugeot cup for David and a Brooklyn cup for me. We sat at his counter and talked about Jan’s collection, his life as a bike mechanic and shop owner and a recent family tragedy. It was during this time that he mentioned that he also has a collection of hundreds of vintage jerseys. If I’d only known…
He told that one of his neighbors when he was a young kid was aunt to Roger and Eric De Vlaeminck. As a kid he met the brothers many times and collected a stack of their jerseys and other memorabilia, all of which he threw away years ago, before he started collecting such things.
When David reminded Jan that he wanted to buy a Coca-Cola water bottle, he asked Jan if he might have a bottle that would match my Hitachi Merckx bike. Jan said he thought he did and left to fetch the bottles. When he returned, he had a Coke bottle for David and a Hitachi bottle for me. It was missing the nipple, but I paid him 20 euros for it anyway. I have seen them on eBay before but always for about $25 and in France, where shipping one to the US costs about $30. Hopefully, I’ll find a suitable cap from which to scavenge a new nipple.
David and I planned to grab a late lunch on the way back to his house, but we had stayed so long at Jan’s that David was in danger of getting to work late. He works evenings for a security company in Brussels, which we would pass on the way to his house.
Before we said goodbye, David urged me to take a final look and even a short spin on his Criquielion bike. My ride was no more than a 20-foot circle in his driveway, but it was quite satisfying and I was sure the 54 x 56 bike would fit me just fine as my daily rider.
My illness had worsened to the point where all I wanted to do was get back to Aarsele, eat something light and climb into bed and watch some TV until I fell asleep. I parked at the AirBnB then walked to the nearby grocery store and bought some simple food—yoghurt, orange juice, sandwich fixings and cookies.
When I got back to my room, I heard the sounds of a radio station coming from some nearby room. When I checked in, Charlotte told me I’d be the only guest there. She also pointed out several of their private rooms, which I noted at the time, but forgot about soon afterward. It sounded like the music was coming from a room I believed to be the private bathroom of the owners. Oddly, it was quite loud and I didn’t hear anyone moving about in the room. The music was annoying, but I assumed, and hoped, whomever was listening to it would follow the house rules and keep the volume low once they realized I was home.
I had been popping throat lozenges all day and wished I had something more to calm my worsening symptoms—sore throat, runny nose, congestion, body aches and an increasingly intense cough. In my room and I checked my stash of medicines. I didn’t have much, and nothing for a cough. Then it occurred to me to go see if the pharmacy had something better. It was 6:50 p.m. and I wasn’t sure the pharmacy was still open.
I sprinted the four blocks to the pharmacy. and lucky for me, it was open for 5 more minutes. I described my symptoms to the pharmacist and he sold me bottle of cough syrup that he said they made on the premises.
Back at the AirBnB, the music was still coming out of the bathroom. I turned on the TV to drown it out and fixed myself some “dinner.” I ate a sandwich, a couple cups of yoghurt, drank a half bottle of orange juice and had some cookies with tea for dessert before taking a hot bath.
Although I was quite sick and took some medicine that would usually put me to sleep, I wasn’t feeling sleepy. This was my last night in Belgium. In the morning I planned to drive to Zepperen to meet Luc Blocken and visit Leo’s Bicycle Collection before heading to the Netherlands where I was going to ride (if I wasn’t too sick) the Amstel Gold Xperience. It was going to be big day and I was sick and getting sicker and needed to sleep. But I couldn’t.
I watched television until around 10 when decided I should try to get some sleep. With the television off, I could hear the radio was still blasting in the other room. I poked my head outside my door and made some noise hoping someone would hear me and realize I was home and it was late and time to shut off the loud music. It didn’t work.
I retuned to my room and started a new movie on television. I envisioned Steven, the friendly owner and host, passed out drunk in the room with the radio blasting. His wife and daughter were out of town, so I thought maybe to went on a little solo bender.
Around midnight, I turned off the TV, put on my headphones with the noice-cancelling function tuned on and tried to get to sleep. The headphones were uncomfortable and every time I moved, their plastic casing would creak and groan, making it impossible for me to fall asleep.
Nearly at my whit’s end, I remembered that Charlotte told me they had Sonos throughout the entire house. I had never used it before, but I did have the app on my phone. I opened the app, not at all confident I could figure out how to use it. Much to my surprise, however, I found the private bathroom listed on the app, selected it, and, before I turned it off, checked to see if I could adjust the volume. I could. I turned it down at first then hit “off.” Finally, I had silence.
I tossed and turned most of the night, but did get some sleep. I had packed before going to sleep, so I was ready to leave for Zepperen when I woke up. But because Luc and I had not set a meeting time, only that we’d meet in the afternoon, I slept in. I tried, but as usual, I had trouble sleeping past 8:30.
It was clear I was really sick now. I got up, dressed and went down to breakfast. I had no appetite, but Steven had promised to make me a special breakfast for my last morning there. I had to at least try to eat something.