Cycling legacy from a basement in Ghent
I don’t even know if I should tell you this secret. In a dark and cold basement in Ghent, Belgium, sleeps one of the most impressive collections: a whole range of forgotten and rusty bicycles, some carrying as much as 135 years of history on their shoulders.
As I turned on the light to have a better look at them I was somehow afraid they will dissappear, just as any fragile thing would do when not approached with the due reverence.
Apparently few know about the existence of this ‘museum’ in Ghent. I was there for two days last weekend, strolling the streets from bicyle shop to bicyle shop, just the kind of wandering what I would do every time I’m in a new city. I love this kind of glimpsing not only at cyclists and bicycles in the street, but also in the small local shops. Here in Flanders especially, I was looking for some Eddy Merckx paraphernalia, a cap, a t-shirt, a souvenir of any kind. This is ultimately the country of the cycling hero, so of course I would do anyting to get a piece of the ‘Canibal’.
Instead, one of the owners of the bicycle shops I stopped at directed me to an even more interesting kind of experience. ‘Go to Plum Gent, they have a bicycle museum, maybe you can find there some of Eddy Merckx’s flavor’. They keep some nice old bikes in their basement’.
Plum Gent is nothing different from a big, big bicycle shop. They sell all kinds of bicycles, are official distributors for Trek in Ghent, in a word, they seem like a thriving business in a city where everyone cycles (I shall not describe cycling in Ghent here, I did some writing a while ago on the subject; you should simply close your eyes and kind of imagine Amsterdam at a smaller scale).
Downstairs, on the underground, a whole new (well, in fact, very old) world is burried. If you were just a regular customer of this shop, not curious any further than how much does that new inner tube cost, certainly you wouldn’t ever find such a gem. A small door opens an equally small room, trully a basement where you’d expect to find really. The lights are turned off, everything’s written in Flemish, so you couldn’t tell if this is indeed the entrance to the museum. But it is! I turned the light on and entered the cold bicycle grave. The rest is history: baffled, I took some poorly lit photos of them. Peugeots, BSA, Ajax, Vinqueur, a pile of a couple of dozens rusted bicycles.
Most of them are over 100 years old, they could tour the world at fancy exhibitions at the biggest museums in the world, who wouldn’t want to admire such beautiful objects?
Pierre, the owner, was happy to receive my compliments for his wonderful collection. He told me the history of Plum Vainqueur, how the company first produced, in 1910, cars under the name Plume (that is ‘feather’ in French), but decided to rename the brand ‘Plum’ when they started producing bicycles, ‘so they could sell not only to French, but to Flemish customers as well’.
Pierre is not a heir of Pol Desnerck, the founder of the company and the proud owner of the collection, but he’s aware of its value even though he tells me it’s difficult to make it more appealing to a broader audience: ‘Nobody pays to display these bicycles, they are happy to show them to a bigger public as soon as I am paying for the whole burden of transportation and the like’. He seems more proud of his Lance Armstrong bicycle that he hanged in the main shop. I tell him the others in the basement are far more valuable.
I took his business card and am now waiting to win the jeckpot at lottery and buy the invaluable pile of rusted frames. Wouldn’t you do the same? Just have a look at them.
And, finally, the Eddy Merckx I was after! Empty, I am afraid.