I was fortunate to get an invite from Ridley Bikes to see its new headquarters in the Flanders region of Belgium last week as well as sample a bit of the local culture. I swiftly took the opportunity to immerse myself in all things bike, beer and Belgian grub. From my jarring journey pedaling pavé for the first time to watching the pros slog through the muddy cyclocross courses in Hasselt and Gavere, the experience did not disappoint.
The crowds at both races were impressive but more subdued than I would've thought. No clanging of cowbells or raucous cheering, instead fans show genuine support for their favorite racers. Many top riders have a solid group of supporters who travel to all the races to cheer them on, as music fans would do for their rock band of choice. Here in Gavere, the fans numbered more than 10,000.
Rob Jones and Tracy Harkness, owners of Canadian Cyclist, channel their inner Belgian with a tight hold on their frites and beer.
A Belgian bathroom!
I couldn't resist snapping a photo of this little boy perfectly happy playing with his plastic bicycles in the muck in Gavere.
These kids waited to take home one of the winners' "checks" after the podium in Hasselt and were all too happy to pose for a picture with their prize.
Eric Wallace, Ridley's marketing manager, shows another Belgian tradition—a pot of steaming mussels with a side of frites.
Riding cobbles in Hasselt.
Beer! A bar in Hasselt makes sure potential patrons know its selection of local brews.
Ridley's new headquarters in Paal. The company renovated the 20-year-old builidng and moved in earlier this year. The home office also includes a custom paint facility and the warehouse for all frames and complete bikes sold in Europe, as well as space for a wind tunnel planned for next year. Workers are in the process of installing an array of solar panels on the roof.