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20,000 + 1 Riding Friends….

The kasseien (cobbles) await each rider.

Our European GrassMoots warrior Dan Seaton, takes in the Ronde for the rest of us….he writes about traffic jams on bikes and saddle sores….

“Last weekend my friend David and I and 20,000 of our closest friends all saddled up and headed out for a ride on the Ronde van Vlaanderen — that’s the Tour of Flanders for the English speaking — course.  We chose the 150km ride, which, while shorter than the whole 260 km loop the pros do, didn’t require a crack-of-dawn trip to Brugge, which neither of us wanted to do. More to the point, 150 km of hard riding, much of it on kasseien — cobbles– and many steep, cobbled climbs seemed like more than enough pain to satisfy us.

I’ve been in Belgium for three years, but between the weather and schedule constrains, I never tackled this ride, so I really had no idea what to expect.  I decided to ride my Psychlo-X, swapping my out knobby ‘cross tubulars for some road tires that seemed up to the task of almost 100 miles of very rough roads, and was not disappointed.  The bike’s ultra stable geometry combined with the slightly higher handlebar position and lower gearing I use for ‘cross meant I felt comfortable on the roughest sections and could keep pedaling up steep hills that everybody else had to walk.

Mountain bikes, road bikes and cross bikes used to tackle Flanders…

I’ve been in Belgium for three years, but between the weather and schedule constrains, I never tackled this ride, so I really had no idea what to expect.  I decided to ride my Psychlo-X, swapping my out knobby ‘cross tubulars for some road tires that seemed up to the task of almost 100 miles of very rough roads, and was not disappointed.  The bike’s ultra stable geometry combined with the slightly higher handlebar position and lower gearing I use for ‘cross meant I felt comfortable on the roughest sections and could keep pedaling up steep hills that everybody else had to walk.

A quick aside: if I could only have one Moots to use for everything, this bike would be it.  It’s such a pleasure to ride and is equally great in hub deep muddy fields and twisty mountain roads.  It’s such a great all-around bike, I really love it.


Dan was all smiles at this point……

Anyway, the weather was spectacular, the spring Flemish countryside that the route wound through was gorgeous, and the huge numbers of people out on course kept us inspired and entertained.  It was awesome to test my legs on the same storied climbs as the pros: the infamously steep, slippery, and narrow Koppenberg; the Muur, where Fabian Cancellara unleashed a blistering attack to shed Tom Boonen in the 2010 edition of the race.  And it was equally fun to power through the long flat cobbled sections: the secret is to keep the speed up and the gear as high as possible.  The faster you can go, the more the bike floats over the cobbles and the less you get bounced around uncomfortably.

The one drawback to riding on incredibly narrow roads in such a huge group is that traffic can be a problem.  We waited in line for probably 20 minutes to have our chance at the Koppenberg climb, and on several other climbs careless bike handlers could quickly find themselves on the ground when someone up the road bobbled. While many people were struggling just to keep moving forward, I felt great and climbed easily, passing huge numbers of people on most of the hills thanks to the more sensible gearing on my ‘cross bike.

Traffic jam leading into the Koppenberg….nice time to chat…

If you ever decide to try this ride for yourself, a compact crank is definitely worthwhile.  In dry conditions the empty Koppenberg is no problem with standard road gearing, but if it’s wet, or if someone stalls in front of you and you have to put a foot down, getting going again without a compact is all but impossible.

Out on the road, the Moots was a hit. Tons of people pulled alongside to ask about the bike or just say, “Go Moots!”  The encouragement was really welcome, and it was cool to chat with so many people from so many places who had come to tackle this famous course.

In the end, our relatively mellow pace brought us across the line in Ninove in about six hours, wrapping up one of the most fun days on the bike I’ve had in a long time.  But the fun wasn’t over, as Sunday we headed back out to Oudenaarde to see the real Ronde van Vlaanderen with our American friends Jonathan and Cori and their kids.

The PROS take on the Koppenberg…..

The winding loop meant that we were able to see it a couple of times, once in town, once on the Koppenberg, before heading back to town to watch the finish at the Ronde van Vlaanderen museum.  We cheered for Ted King of Liquigas, who I used to race occasionally when we lived in New Hampshire, and took in the scene, which is like one, huge, 260 km long party for Flanders.  And it didn’t hurt that it was one of the most exciting finishes in years.

Hunt leads a small group…..

The cobbled fun didn’t end there, though. This being Belgium, it’s been impossible to escape from the cobblestones, and I managed to find myself pedaling at least one long section of them on every one of my rides this week.  It’s a good thing my Moots is so damn comfortable, otherwise I think my, um, saddle region might have given up the ghost by now!


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