The Emperor's bicycle

Bicycles and bicycle brands with a story. There are dozens of them in the rich history of Flemish cycling.

There was the legendary Flandria who kept its tradition by using its typical red and white colours. In the WieMu cycling museum in Roeselare they have a unique example of a bike that was used to win a unique trilogy. In 1962, Rik Van Looy achieved something that no one had ever done before: in a period of two weeks he won the Ghent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and – just across the border – the Paris-Roubaix race. On a Flandria bicycle!

Van Looy, nicknamed the Emperor of Herentals, became world champion twice (1960 and 1961) and is also the only cyclist to have won all of the great classics at least once. In the spring of 1962 he was in his best shape and won Ghent-Wevelgem for the third time. Van Looy took the lead on Mount Kemmel. Only three racers could keep up. On the cobblestone section in Bissegem, four kilometres from the finish, Van Looy broke away and triumphed convincingly. A week later, in the Tour of Flanders, almost the same scenario played out. In Kwaremont he broke away in a group of six, which included Tom Simpson and his teammate, Jef Planckaert. In the final he left his fellow escapees in his wake and – wearing the rainbow jersey – won his second Tour. The following Sunday he completed his hattrick with his third celebration in Roubaix.

The bicycle in the museum still bears the scratches that recall the impact of gravel and Van Looy’s falls on the Flemish cobblestone roads. The thick handlebar tape served to relieve pain on the hands. Van Looy was also one of the first to use a curved fork to be able to better absorb the shocks on cobblestones. The wheels have silk tubes. They provide a better grip and increase cycling comfort on bad roads. In contrast to contemporary trends the high frame and the low saddle is remarkable – it is obvious that in those days, little thought was given to an aerodynamic position. And yet, wind and cobblestones, dust and mud did not harm him. Rik Van Looy is a master of the Flemish classics. And the bicycle with which he won the “triple” Ghent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and the Paris-Roubaix, is a fine historical piece!

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