Posted by: andrewritchie | January 17, 2010

Andy Homan’s Bobby Walthour project

Walthour behind his pace-maker, Hoffman

Walthour behind pace in Germany

Andy Homan’s Walthour project

Andy Homan writes:

I first met Andrew Ritchie five years ago—well before I had properly organized the thousands of old cycling articles that I have been researching and collecting since 2002.  Dr. Ritchie graciously invited me to his home, without really knowing who I was or what I was doing. He did, however, recognize that I had a passion for competitive cycling history.

Even before this warm reception in El Cerrito, California, I had been welcomed into the home of Bob Walthour III, in Carmel, California. Bob’s father, Bobby Walthour Jr., and his son, Bobby Walthour IV, are both U.S. national cycling champions. As Bob shared stories with my wife and me, I couldn’t help asking myself two questions: “What other American family has crossed as many generations, with such a high level of sporting success?” and, “Why the hell doesn’t anyone know about this?”

With my very limited writing and research experience, I was determined to write a biography of the one cyclist whose name appeared in newspaper after newspaper, Bob’s grandfather, Bobby Walthour Sr. Not only did Walthour’s professional career span nearly three decades, from 1896 to 1923, but he was best known as a motor-pacer, a cycling sport as popular in its day as it was dangerous—a sort of bare knuckle boxing meets roller derby. Two dozen cyclists, among the fittest and best-paid athletes in the world, were killed competing in motor-paced racing Walthour’s fabulous career. In Atlanta, where Walthour grew up, parades were given in his honor. He captured headlines across the United States and was wildly popular in New York and Boston. In Paris he was known as the “Unbeatable Walthour” and in Berlin, he once had to escape out of a window to avoid the crush of Germans waiting to shake his hand.

The claim that Walthour was the best motor-pacer in the world is not an exaggerated one. He won American motor-paced titles in 1902 and 1903 and world motor-pacing titles in 1904 and 1905. Walthour was also a great endurance athlete, winning the great New York six-day race in 1901 and 1903. In 1904, Walthour had a season that Eddy Merckx and Lance Armstrong could be proud and envious of. He won about 95% percent of his races that year and cleared more than $60,000 in prize money and endorsements.

With inspiration and help from so many people, not the least from my mother Anne Homan, a retired English teacher, I have been fortunate enough to have articles about Walthour published in three magazines: Cycle Sport (December 2006), Velo News (July 2009) and Road Bike Action (Jan. 2010). Potomac Books ( has agreed to publish my twenty-four chapter biography, which is tentatively entitled Life in the Slipstream, the Legend of Bobby Walthour Sr. Potomac specializes in military and sports history. With any luck, the book will be out before this year’s Tour de France, but more likely it will be out later in the year. Thanks, Dr. Ritchie, for your help and guidance!

Please visit my website

Posted by: andrewritchie | January 16, 2010

Jane White’s kitchen – Berkeley, California

Jane's kitchen - 1

Jane’s kitchen

I earn much of my living working on people’s houses. I try, if possible, to restore or remodel older houses according to the original design aesthetic.

The kitchen illustrated here is in a house originally built in 1906, owned by my friend Jane White in Berkeley, California. No architect or professional designer was involved in this remodel, and it evolved as we went along, trying to rescue as much useable space as possible in what is still quite a small kitchen, but was originally functionally considerably smaller.

We refinished the old sub-floor; we tore out an awkward corner cabinet; we tucked the refrigerator deeper into the wall by stealing space from the closet on the other side of the wall [the biggest space saver]; we installed many small can-lights in the ceiling; we shopped carefully for some Ikea cabinets, and then customized them for the intricate range wall; a new stove and hood were installed.

Many of the features were decided on the basis of long discussion, which occasionally rose to heated debate. Now that the remodel is a couple of years old, the contrast between the old and the new is softened and the whole thing has a very nice, comfortable, well-used feel and patina to it.

Jane's kitchen - 2

Jane's kitchen - 3

Jane's kitchen - 4

Jane's kitchen - 5

Jane's kitchen - 6

Jane's kitchen - 7

Posted by: andrewritchie | January 16, 2010

The Wheelwoman – search for copies

The Wheelwoman, June 1896
The Wheelwoman, August 1896
The Wheelwoman, July 1897

Let me know if you have seen The Wheelwoman [from the 1890s] in a public library or in a private collection.

My friend Larry Finison is trying to establish the whereabouts of a complete run of an extremely scarce late 1890s American periodical entitled – The Wheelwoman. It is hard to find! So far we have only located a few copies in the Library of Congress, and a few more in private collections. We know that The Wheelwoman ran at least from February 1895 to December 1897, and perhaps longer.

It was edited [or, as she described it, “conducted”] by Mary Sargent Hopkins, who we are trying to find out more about. It was one of those “high society”- type cycling magazines which came out at the height of the explosion of interest in the bicycle in the great “boom” of the mid-1890s.

My feeling is that it was probably directed at the affluent, progressive [but still very respectable] ladies of New York, Boston and Chicago, the kind who wanted to ride a bicycle in public but wouldn’t have been seen dead wearing bloomers, or any other risque item of clothing. And The Wheelwomen has no interest in competitive sport: women just shouldn’t do sport on their bicycles!

I have 3 issues, from June and August 1896 and from July 1897, the covers of which are included here. There must be other copies out there somewhere.

Larry Finison writes:

Mary Sargent Hopkins didn’t start out as a society lady at all.  Her father (last name Neal) was a shoeworker who settled for a time in Lynn, MA, where she was born.  He later moved to Nyack, NY and from there enlisted in the Union army.  She was married there to a writer/photographer (John B. Reynolds), and divorced, moving to Brooklyn where she married Charles Hopkins. His father owned a furniture and bedding store in Boston, and upon his death they moved back to the Boston area (~1885), first to Boston, then Medford, then to Melrose.  Charles died sometime between 1906 and 1910, and she returned to Manhattan, where I believe she lived until the 1920s, before her death in 1924, at the home of a friend in Pembroke, MA.

She also wrote for several other publications, including the Christian Herald. She was associated with temperance, abolitionism, and women’s rights.

I would say she was attempting to “become” society, from fairly lowly beginnings, and never really made it. But this is interesting in its own right:  how cycling and cycling journalism was an avenue for the upwardly striving, and perhaps mobile.

I am trying to locate more information about her son (Ernest) and grandaughter (Constance) in the hope that this might lead me to a trove of material.

The Wheelwoman, conducted by Mary Sargent Hopkins. Volume 1, Number 10, from November, 1895, “devoted to the interests of women who ride the wheel and to the conversion of those who do not.”

– The time is ripe for a woman’s paper devoted to wheeling for women.
– A medium is needed for the dissemination of instructive and interesting articles on the subject upon which the existing cycling press is almost unanimously silent.
– The Wheelwoman gathers items of interest from all possible sources pertaining to the sport. Fashions in wheel-dress and accessories will be given special attention.
– The Wheelwoman is in the field, not as a competitor with other cycling papers, but to extend and broaden a work begun years ago; that of bringing women to realizing sea nse of the importance of outdoor exercise.
– The Wheelwoman advocates the highest standard of cycling from a healthful and artistic standpoint.
– The Wheelwoman is in no sense a trade journal.
– The Wheelwoman advertises and recommends nothing which cannot receive personal endorsement.
– Interesting articles by and about prominent women who advocate the wheel, appear each month in The Wheelwoman. Able writers contribute to its columns.
– The Wheelwoman is conducted by Mary Sargent Hopkins.

The magazine contains advertisements for:
Keating Wheel Co.,  Puritan Cycles by Faron & Co.,  Spalding Bicycles The Monarch,  King of Cycles Stylish Jackets,  Capes and Furs by Springer Bros.,  Stearns Combination Tandem at H.B. Shattuck & Son,  The Cleveland by H.A. Lozier & Co.  The Liberty Cycle Co.,  Quincy Cycle Company,  The New Mail by Wm. Read & Sons,  The Equipoise Waist at George Frost Company,  The McCune Cycle manufactured by Everett Cycle Co.

Contents include:
What the New Woman Owes to the Bicycle – Prominent Women Who Advocate the Wheel (A Series) by Marie Robinson Wright; Going Home Awheel by Adrienne Dairolles; How To Take It Easy; Cap’n Peleg and His Wheel – An Old Nantucket Whaler Learns to Navigate the Novel Craft;  Pen & Shears – The Tandem Bicycle; Stories; His Corner And More!

Andrew Ritchie’s comment:

I have seen the term “conducted” used before – it just means essentially “edited”. This magazine was pitched at quite a high grade of person socially, very much the upper crusty types, fashionable but progressive society lady types. The mag was “conducted” because it was seen as a kind of polite conversation between readers and Hopkins.] “Editing” a magazine wasn’t necessarily what a polite woman would want to be seen doing.

Larry Finison writes further:

John W. Hutchinson was an abolitionist and proponent of temperance and women’s rights. He was part of a quartet called the Hutchinson Family Singers that toured the northern states and England in the 1840s proclaiming abolitionism. Originally from Milford NH, the family migrated to High Rock, in Lynn MA. Frederick Douglass was a good friend of this family. The Hutchinson house apparently still stands at the High Rock location.

The author of the poem below, Mary Sargent Hopkins, knew John Hutchinson and joined him in various entertainments, including one near Dungeon Rock in the Lynn Forest, in 1885, and another at her house near Wellington Circle in Medford, in 1894, at which she hosted several literary and abolitionist figures. She was also from Lynn, so there may have been even earlier connections, as yet unverified.

Mary was the editor of The Wheelwoman at least from 1895 to 1897 and perhaps until 1902, and extolled the freedoms that bicycling brought to women, while at the same time attempting to advise then on “proper” bicycling attire.

Mary Sargent Hopkins –
Lines respectfully dedicated to John W. Hutchinson, on his Seventieth Birthday, January 4, 1891:

Down the long avenue you’re looking to-day,
The vista of seventy years;
While the lightning shadows lightly play
With memories of joys and tears.
Perchance on your list’ning ear there steals
Sweet voices of long ago,
Whose tones floated out on the summer air,
Making heaven of all below.

Down the long avenue when the years were young,
And life a page unread,
Did the spirit of Prophecy ever tell
Of the work of the years now fled?
When the band of brothers sang their songs
That echoed far and near,
“Emancipation” for the slave
Rang out in voices clear.

Down the long avenue stalked a fiend
With pestilence in his breath;
The blighted lives he drove to their doom,
Went down to hopeless death.
The Brothers put on their armor of Love,
And song-tipped arrows hurled;
“Prohibition” was their theme
And their cry reached round the world.

Down the long avenue in days now past,
A whisper was heard on the air;
The daughters of men were asking that they
The rights of their brothers might share.
The whisper was heard by the Sons of Song,
And their heavenly voices swelled
As they sang their hymns of liberty
And “Women’s Rights” upheld.

Down the long avenue came a day
When the sunlight seemed faint o’er the land,
And a requiem, such as angels might sing,
Stole from that death-broken band.
Down the long avenue they’re lying at rest,
The brothers you left by the way ;
Their life-work done, their voices mute,
While they wait for the dawning day.

Down the long avenue the western sun
With its crimson, slanting rays,
Foretells a morrow yet to come
And promises glorious days;
When the silent ones shall sing again
The wonderful songs of yore,
And in rapture list to harmonious strains
From those who ne’er sang before:

When the Right shall appear clothed in garments of Grace,
And the Wrong be buried from sight,
While Beauty and Love shall walk hand in hand,
And Sin be banished with Night.


Women and cycling in the 1890s

A Discussion [24 Jan. 2010]

Andrew Ritchie asks and suggests to Larry Finison:

I think you have to plumb the historical evidence for clues as to Hopkins’ class orientation, and her economic status. Also for her social intentions and/or pretentions.

Fine reading of the texts, and careful indepth research like you are doing, is definitely the way to go. This is what most people who have written about women and cycling in the 1890s have NOT done.

Of course, the situation in the US and UK was different, because in the UK you had the actual/real aristocracy as a point of reference, whereas in US you had only an economic aristocracy. Also, you have to define carefully what you mean by “sport”. For the middle-class and upper middle-class woman, it is better I feel to define it as a “recreation”, though recreation does also contain implications of “sport”. But it was considered ok to take part in “recreation”, whereas “sport” had a somewhat more risque connotation. It was when women went too hard into “sport” [certainly scorching or racing] that they would risk disapproval.

The involvement of the real upper-class in both UK and US was a brief flirtation at the height of the bicycle boom [1896-97] and seems to have quickly faded. But this gave more respectability to cycling for the upper middle-classes, what you call the “strivers”. It was always the women who pushed the lid [bloomers, racing, smoking in public] who gave women and cycling a bad name. Of course, in Paris, they pushed the lid harder than elsewhere and got away with it, because since they were “artists” no one cared!!

What do you think, Nicholas?


Nicholas Oddy responds:

Gendering and female-specific bicycles: This is a matter of debate. Ivel seems to have had one in 1888 and slowly others followed, and by 1891 there were a number. Of course, Lawson was to claim that his open-frame machine of 1884 was female, but he never made such a claim at the time and I suspect that this was a very frustrated designer trying to get some retrospective credibility when open frame machines had become well established. Obviously there were earlier ones, starting with Johnson in 1819, but these led to nothing and are therefore exceptional.

Class position: I have no figures, but I think that one can be fairly certain that female cycling in the Boom period was dominated by the upper-middle (haute-bourgeois) class, rather than the upper class, just on the evidence of extent of production and relative proportions of population. However the activity was validated by a not insignificant number of genuine upper class riders ( ‘upper class’ refers only to those of aristocratic birth in 19th century UK). Female cycling was definitely not a ‘sport’ in the public mind, it was a recreation or social activity. And there is little evidence of it being practiced as a sport beyond, exceptionally, in circuses and spectacles, unless you consider the bicycle gymkhana as a sporting event.

As a threat to society: This is probably grossly exaggerated by the bulk of writers. There is certainly evidence that female cycling did challenge ideas of convention, particularly in conservative households, but I would be interested to know how many really were that conservative and exactly how strongly the challenges were resisted. My grandmother and her sisters started cycling in the boom and came from precisely the ‘right’ sort of family, very wealthy with links to aristocratic birth on one side, strongly church going and so on, yet they faced no parental opposition.

I tend to accept the hypothesis that much of the image of women in the 1890s that we have today is a somewhat later construct to exaggerate the awfulness of the Victorian era. We have to be VERY careful of published sources of the period. By default their writers were exceptional and had axes to grind, none can be taken as representative of the ‘average’ female cyclist, whatever or whoever that was, any more than current day writers for Elle or Cosmopolitan can be taken to represent what is actually going on in the minds of contemporary readers.

Activity itself: I reckon that in c. 1894, about 5% of cycling activity was female, based on The Anchor books [a visitor’s book signed by visitors in The anchor public house, on the Ripley Road, on the edge of London – AR] and other sources. The high point of visible female cycling was in the Boom, 1894-7, but by 1898 it was unexceptional and largely beyond comment; sales of female machines peaked after the boom in c1898-99.

The visibility and extent of the activity are in direct proportion to ubiquity; the more ubiquitous, the less visible. Something to remember, I think. Therefore, by far the most comment and discussion is in the early to middle stages of the boom, when the novelty and unusualness of the activity caused it to be noticed and to receive particular attention, although the actual number of practitioners was quite small.

I hope this helps,


Posted by: andrewritchie | January 12, 2010

Quest for Speed/Abstract/Table of Contents

Quest for Speed

“For serious readers who are hungry for a good dose of early

cycling history and 19th century cycling technology!”

QUEST FOR SPEED – A History of Early Bicycle Racing, 1868 – 1903,

by Andrew Ritchie


Throughout its early history, the heavily technology-based sport of bicycle racing was engaged in a discourse, in words and actions, with bicycle manufacturers. The debate, and the industrial and social activity,in the last quarter of the 19th century, documents an intense search  about how the bicycle could best harness the physical capabilities of the human body and achieve speed, endurance, comfort and utility.

In this period, bicycle racing demonstrated a continually evolving symbiotic relationship between the sport and its specialized tool – the bicycle itself – a theme which is one of the central concerns of this book. During its early evolution, the changing functional design of the bicycle was heavily influenced by considerations of sport and speed, as well as those of comfort and practicality.

This book provides a chronological account of the emergence of bicycle racing and bicycle technology between 1867 and 1903, focusing to a large extent on Britain, but also investigating France and the United States as the two other major players.

As a social and cultural history, Quest for Speed gives an outline of the social and institutional organization of cycling and the wider cultural, economic and technological context of the sport. In doing so, it tackles themes of class, nationality, industry and commerce, the press, speed, and the physical capacities of the human body.

Two themes have been crucial in motivating the organization of the book. Firstly, the ambivalent nature of the bicycle, both as a tool of sport and recreation and also as a method of practical utility transportation; and, secondly, the inextricable relationship between bicycle sport as both competition and recreation and the emerging bicycle industry and wider patterns of commerce and consumption.

The 19th century cycling ‘industrial complex’ presents a well-developed, early historical example of a ‘modern’ sport used to market constantly changing products to consumers. Designers, manufacturers, advertizing and marketing personnel and the cycling press were engaged in a new style of commercial activity dedicated to ‘the sport and pastime’ of cycling.


Quest for Speed – A History of Early Bicycle

Racing, 1868 – 1903



Table of Contents


–   Sport, speed, technology and modernity

1. The origins of bicycle racing in England: technology, entertainment, sponsorship and publicity

–   The earliest bicycle racing

–   The beginning of commercial bicycle production, 1865-69

–   Velocipede developments in France and the United States, 1867-69: their influence on the British sport

–   Charles Spencer’s London gymnasium

–   Bicycle competition as athletic novelty and public spectacle

–   Links between manufacture and sport

–   Varieties of competitive activity

–   An elite emerges: match racing and championships                                                                                                                                                                                         

2. Expansion of bicycling in Britain: professionalism, amateurism and social class in the 1870s

–         A cutting edge, modern technological sport
–        Technological innovation at the birth of cycle sport
–        Amateurism and professionalism in the 1870s
–        Cycling at Oxford and Cambridge universities and associated class preconceptions
–        ‘Muscular Christianity’: the cycling career of Ion Keith-Falconer
–        ‘Gentlemen, not players’: the establishment of the Bicycle Union, 1877-78
–        The Bicycle Touring Club, 1878
–        Public recognition of bicycling

3. Bicycle racing in the United States in the late 1870s  

–        Overview: American cycling in the late 1870s
–        The foundations of American cycling
–        Harry Etherington: bicycling entrepreneur and promoter of endurance spectacles
–        Etherington’s 1879 ‘Anglo-French’ tour of America and its repercussions
–        The founding of the League of American Wheelmen

4. Expansion of the high-wheel sport in the late 1870s and 1880s

–        Overview: the new sport expands and matures

–        Bicycle racing infrastructure: roads conditions and track construction
–        Competition in Britain: amateurism and professionalism in the late 1870s and 1880s
–        Competition in France
–        British ‘Meets’, the Springfield Tournaments and the growth of international competition
–        New departures: tricycle racing and recreational tricycling
 5. Speed and safety: ‘geared up ordinaries’, the ‘safety’ bicycle and the pneumatic revolution, 1885 – 1892
–        Overview: intense development within the bicycle industry and the sport
–        Alternative designs: the ‘Facile’ and the ‘Kangaroo’
–        The rear-driven ‘Rover safety’ and the first ‘safety’ races
–        The rise of road racing
–        Competition and the revolutionary pneumatic tire

6. The foundations of modern road racing in Britain, France and the United States: sport as business, and contested public space, in the 1890s

–        Overview: road competition in Britain and France
–        Sport as business and athletic celebration: the foundations of modern road racing in France
–        Opposition to organized road racing in Britain
–        Lacy Hillier: amateurism versus the ‘New Professionalism’
–        Road racing in the United States
 7. International competition, world championships and the foundation of the International Cyclists’ Association in 1892
 –        Overview: bicycle racing as a global sport
–        National championships, international competition and early ‘World Championships’
–        The International Cyclists’ Association
–        World Champion: the international career of Arthur Zimmerman
–        Amateurism, professionalism and licensing schemes
–        The 1896 Olympic Games

8. Bicycle racing and modernity: the obsession with speed, distance and record-breaking at the turn of the century

–     Overview: the transformation of bicycle racing in the 1890s
–     Long-distance races on the road
–     Stage-races on the road and the origins of the Tour de France
–     ‘Stayer’ (paced) races
–     Six Day races
–     Professionalization and commercialization
–     ‘Gigantism’ and the pursuit of records as a social phenomenon
–     Sensationalism and ‘Gigantomania’
–     Conclusion: the emergence of a modern, professional sports struct
–     Bicycle racing, speed, technology and social change

9. Non-competitive cycling in the 1890s


–     A period of intensive technological change and sport development

–     Reviewing the dynamics of social and technological change

       A. Agents of change within the sport and industry    

       B. The spectacular growth of the bicycle industry and the class menetration of cycling

       C. Global expansion

       D. Speed and modernity

–     Sport as moral/physical crusade and sport as business

Chapter Notes



Posted by: andrewritchie | January 9, 2010

A Belgian cycling adventure on my Brompton

A Belgian cycling adventure on my Brompton, and two bicycle museums

Andrew Ritchie

Badly needing what I called ‘a little adventure’, I set out on a cold, windy Sunday morning in February from Faversham, Kent for a 2-day ride to Belgium on my folding Brompton. My purpose was not only to have the ‘little adventure’, but to visit Gent to call on my friend Jan Boesman, who was working on a book about Major Taylor’s visits to Europe in 1901, 1902 and 1903. [It’s now finished and published, if you read Dutch!]

Hitting the road from Faversham with nephew, Dan

As the prologue to my adventure, the road from Faversham to Dover was a mixed blessing. Looking for an alternative to the A2, but not wanting to increase my mileage too much, I rode successively on dangerous, boring stretches of main road when I had to, and then breathed a sigh of relief to discover quiet, hilly Kentish lanes with pretty views to the north across open countryside. But the wind was ferocious! On one uphill stretch of the A2, I gave up trying to make pedaled forward progress, and more comfortably pushed the bike on foot to the crest of the hill. The steep descent into Dover on a back road was such a relief!

Not having crossed the Channel on a car ferry for quite a few years now, I was surprised at the degree of comfort and cleanness upstairs in the passenger areas compared with the old days, but NOT surprised to find I was the only cyclist on board, both going and returning. For that reason, I felt appropriately smug and superior!

Interior vehicle bay of cross-Channel ferry

On the return trip, having locked the Brompton to a large vertical pipe downstairs in the truck zone, I found myself totally trapped in place against the ferry wall by huge vehicles with trailers, drenched in clouds of noxious diesel fumes, until the nearest row had exited the front of the boat, allowing me to move out on foot. But on the outward journey I was triumphantly the first ‘vehicle’ ashore, waved on by an agreeable steward, while truckers waited their turn. They have to be very careful with cyclists, because the going can be wet and slippery, and they don’t want any lawsuits.

Heading east along the coast of France, past Dunkerque, towards the Belgian frontier [is it even really a frontier any more? there’s just a little hut with nobody even inside] on gravelly, nasty roads in gathering dusky conditions, against a headwind, I lit up, put on my yellow windproof jacket against the cold, swallowed a couple of Mars bars to keep my strength up, and at about 8 o’clock began to look for real food and think about a bed for the night.

After a short search, chips and a sausage [this was Sunday night and open restaurants were hard to find – how slow this French ‘fast food’ was!], I discovered a hateful little empty hotel in Bray-Dunes, a seaside resort totally and dismally closed down for the winter. The toilet in my room barely worked, expectorating loudly but with hardly any water involved, consequently leaving most of what I had produced still sitting there at the bottom all night. Nasty! The bad reputation of French plumbing arrangements didn’t improve there. Early the next morning, I felt like riding off without paying.

Heading south-east from the Belgian border into Flanders the next morning, I began my long grind through to Gent on busy minor roads, through Veurne, Dijksmuide, Tielt, Deinze, for a distance of about 70 miles, the longest single day’s ride I’ve ever done on the Brompton, part of the ‘test’ of my ‘little adventure’.

The Brompton isn’t, I admit, either the fastest or the most comfortable touring bike for a long distance, and it’s definitively NOT a good climber. But if any landscape is do-able on my friend Andrew Ritchie’s brilliant invention [the owner of the Brompton company is, of course, the “other” Andrew Ritchie!], it’s the flat roads of West Flanders. With its Sachs 3-speed and the additional 2-speed derailleur mechanism giving me adjustability against varying winds, I was able to maintain a pretty comfortable 12-15 mph, with frequent short breaks, and my only mechanical problem was a saddle that tended to inch down with the vibration from the infrequent pavé.

Immediately upon entering Belgium, cyclists are recognized and protected by well-defined bicycle lanes, and at road junctions, roundabouts and where a road with a bike lane crosses a motorway, for example, the cyclist’s right of way is well defined by a red-painted bike lane surface where right-turning motor vehicles must cede to you. On roundabouts, the cyclist has his own lane marked on the perimeter of the motor vehicle lanes, and dedicated cyclist traffic lights tell him when it is safe to cross exiting spur roads. The realization that, yes, a road engineer has specifically planned for your presence and thought about your safety as a cyclist is reassuring. Even though larger vehicles are there, you feel that you are legitimately recognized and have your space on the road. The only conclusion that you can come to after a day’s riding on Belgian roads is that we, in England and the United States, are [with several notable exceptions – Davis, California, for example, Portland, or a few parts of London] seriously retarded when it comes to the provision of facilities for cyclists!

At Dijksmuide, I had my breakfast – coffee and chocolate croissants – at a delightfully civilized café on a corner of the old market square [like coming in from the cold], and later, at Deinze, an equally delicious plate of hot vegetable soup and a large plate of spaghetti bolognese reinforced me for the afternoon’s work. The rain threatened, but held off until I was about 20 kms outside Ghent, where, taking a wrong turn, I found myself in Gavere [the hilly edge of Tour of Flanders territory] where I was rewarded with a vicious but fortunately brief hail storm, sleat pouring down the road. A well-situated bus shelter provided me with a convenient roosting place while the storm blew itself out. Without a good bicycle map – which I regretted not having – I was confined to a boring stretch of the N60 for the final push to Jan’s house in the centre of Gent. He later told me that I could have ridden the canal towpath all the way in!

Arriving at Jan’s house in Gent

But to the purpose of writing this story…..which is not supposed only to be about my Brompton trip, but about the two cycling museums, one in Oudenarde and the other in nearby Roeselare. The Oudenarde one is the museum of the Tour of Flanders [an early-season cycling classic held since 1913] and essentially a celebration of the history of the most famous Belgian single-day race and its place in Belgian cycling history and culture. It is well worth the small entrance fee, especially for those interested in racing rather than bicycle technology per se. On the top floor, photographs of early stars, jerseys, race paraphernalia and one of Eddy Merckx’s actual race bikes can be enjoyed [and the bike even handled – there are no annoying ‘Do not touch’ notices here!].

With one of Eddy Merckx's bikes in Oudenarde

While, downstairs, you can ride a stationary bike which tests you against Tom Boonen or Peter van Petegem, see a map of all the cobbled hills which define the Ronde van Vlanderen, or have a mock-up photo taken of yourself reported in the newspaper as the winner of the Tour of Flanders. A fantastic shop with many books and jerseys will probably leave your credit card a couple of hundred Euros poorer, and you even get to shake hands with a living exhibit, the ex-world road champion Freddy Maertens [world road champion twice, 1976 and 1981], who helps to run the place. Altogether a lively, informative and entertaining experience, a must for cyclists touring in Belgium.

The Roeselare Museum, in contrast, was frankly disappointing, especially when Velorama, Nijmegen is so close. Arranged along conventional chronological development-of-bicycle-technology lines, it has little to recommend it except [Jan and I agreed] a wonderful advertising poster of Edmond Jacquelin [Major Taylor’s arch-opponent during his first, 1901, tour of Europe], and one or two interesting paper items concerning the early days of the Belgian Cyclists’ League. Neither an unexplained Macmillan replica, nor a panel explaining the Leonardo ‘bicycle’ will particularly appeal to the well-informed bicycle historian. The traveller needing a good dose of bicycle technology will be better off jumping on his Brompton or the train and hitting the road for Nijmegen, Holland, where Gertjan Moed’s Velorama will keep him utterly entranced for at least a whole day.

And so…..back to Gent, where Jan and I buried ourselves in his new research on Major Taylor in Europe, and I tried to catch up on a bewildering array of new Belgian cycling history books, mostly written in Dutch, which I don’t, of course, understand. Thus, Belgium didn’t disappoint as a repository of cycling culture and history. The landscape of west Flanders is a gentle mix of old farmhouses, strung out villages, canals and lines of trees. The food is good and most people speak at least basic English. The cities of Gent and Bruges are, of course, fabulous from an architectural and historical viewpoint.

Bicycles parked at the Gent main station

Superior bicycle parking facilities in Gent

A note of warning to bicycle tourists.

Returning by train from Gent to Ostende, I was really annoyed to be informed that foot passengers and cyclists are simply not allowed on board the car ferry. Actually, I was flabbergasted!!! It was a daily occurrence, the lady politely informed me, that she had to turn cyclists away, especially in the summer. My only alternative now, given my time constraints, was a 3½-hour train journey to Dunkerque, via Bruges and Lille, a real waste of time and money, plus a ride of 20 kms to get from the downtown Dunkerque railway station to the ferry port well to the west. The CTC will get an enquiring letter from me about this, and I’m sure I won’t be the first cyclist to complain.

Musings on my ‘little adventure’…..for such a short trip, it’s hard to beat the Brompton. With it, you have a wonderful combination of athletic exercise, practical tourism and versatile mobility. Arriving in a town like Gent, you can be a cyclist with your friends, and for exploring a town like Bruges, you can take in twice the number of sites and delights as you would be able to on foot, without becoming exhausted. Even when you actually are a genuine gawping tourist, you are, on your Brompton, protected from the worst excesses of horrible touristhood, and merge happily and inconspicuously with the native population. Some ‘real’ tourists even wanted to ask ME a question. You can pretend convincingly that you belong!

Oh, and I proved that to travel for 5 days with just the integral front Brompton bag and a small elongated bag on the rear rack, plus my usual small shoulder bag, gave me more than enough room for a change of clothes, tools, my cameras and a bit of food. What more do you need? The only trouble was finding space for those Belgian cycling history books from the Museum in Oudenarde…..and the shit sitting in the toilet bowl in the hotel at Bray-Dunes!

Andrew Ritchie

Feb., 2008

Thanks to Jan and his wonderful parents for housing me!

Museums visited:

– Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen, Oudenarde, Belgium,

– Wielermuseum, Roeselare, Belgium,

And, not visited on this occasion, but very much recommended:

– Nationaale Fietsmuseum, Velorama, Nijmegen,

Posted by: andrewritchie | January 4, 2010

Publications currently available

The following books on the history of cycling by Andrew Ritchie are currently in print [except for King of the Road] and available from the publishers listed below:

Major Taylor – The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer [1996, paperback edition, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. 303 pages, price $15.95]. It  can be ordered from Johns Hopkins University Press.

Major Taylor – The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World [2010, new hardback edition published by Cycle Publishing/Van der Plas Publications. 208 pages, price $39.95.] This is an updated edition, with many new illustrations, in a larger format. It can be ordered from Cycle Publishing. The link to their website is:

New statue to Major Taylor outside Worcester Public Library

The first integrated team in international cycling - Boston, 1897

Flying Yankee – The International Cycling Career of Arthur Augustus Zimmerman [2009, small format, paperback edition, published by the John Pinkerton Memorial Publishing Fund in the U. K. 144 pages, price $15.00.] Available from me personally, or from Bibi Bugg, Veteran Cycle Club Sales Officer, 71, Rectory Lane, Breadsall, Derby, DE21 5LL, U.K.

Zimmerman in his world championship year - 1893

The Origins of the Bicycle – Kirkpatrick Macmillan, Gavin Dalzell, Alexandre Lefebvre. Documentation, memory, craft tradition and modern technology [2009, large format, paperback edition, published by the John Pinkerton Memorial Publishing Fund in the U.K. 124 pages, price  £11.] Available from Bibi Bugg, Veteran Cycle Club Sales Officer, 71, Rectory Lane, Breadsall, Derby, DE21 5LL, U.K.

Dalzell/Macmillan-style machine still in the Glasgow Museum

The Origins of Bicycle Racing in England – Technology, Entertainment, Sponsorship and Publicity [2007, small format, paperback edition, published by the John Pinkerton Memorial Publishing Fund in the U.K. 96 pages, price  £8.] Available from Bibi Bugg, Veteran Cycle Club Sales Officer, 71, Rectory Lane, Breadsall, Derby, DE21 5LL, U.K.

King of the Road – An Illustrated History Cycling [1975, large format, paperback edition, published by Wildwood House, London and Ten Speed Press, Berkeley.] My first cycling history book – is long since out of print, but it is usually easy to find a copy on eBay, or on the ABEBooks website, for about $20.

« Newer Posts