My Ghent Six Day 2016.  If this was the Wiggins finale then “thanks for the ride, Sir Bradley”


This gallery contains 5 photos.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Ghent Six Day cycle race with my Dad for my second immersion in this Flemish temple of cycling, cycle sport turned into pure entertainment. And once again I was captured by … Continue reading

Part 2 of my guest post for “New Year’s Revolutions: The Best of Belgian Cycling for 2015”

Part 2 of my guest post for Denzil Walton’s has been published today.

Last week it was all about places for you to ride.

This week its “Watching cycling with the Belgians – beer, frites and the most passionate fans in the world” 

I have suggested some of the best cycling to watch this year including the Six Days of Ghent, the great settings for cyclocross races and  of course the road classics.

An extra bonus for 2015 is the Tour de France which comes to Wallonia in July.

For links to my own accounts of visiting the various races mentioned click the tabs at the bottom of the page.

Thanks again Denzil for the opportunity to spread the word and for the great ideas on your blog.


A day at the Ghent 6 day cycle race – cycling as pure entertainment

Photo Kevin Mayne

I have completed my hat-trick of watching Flemish cycling. First the cobbled classic one day races. Then the muddy delights of winter cyclocross. Now I have completed a long held ambition to go to the Ghent 6 day cycle race, possibly the most celebrated track race in the world.

Modern 6 day racing is six hours of cycle racing per day on an indoor banked velodrome where teams of two riders compete to cover the most distance in a series of team races and other events. In between the elite races there is an undercard of promising under 23 riders and top women track riders, each with their own series. It is a spectacle that combines fast and furious bike racing with a touch of professional wrestling. Music, lights, colourful costumes, man to man combat, speed and risk. In short, cycle racing as a variety act, but with real speed and strength too. Not surprising that it is loved by the Flemish, cycling’s most passionate fans.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

British fans have been starved of a home 6 day cycle race since 1980 so a weekend in Ghent has become a favourite weekend break for many club riders over the last 30 years, although as Ghent has been the spiritual home of British and Irish riders breaking into the continental scene since the 1950s there has been a British cycling presence at the racing for many years longer.

Today this is a European spectacle that provides winter entertainment for cycling fans in traditional cycle racing countries but its origins are largely American. A few individual six day challenge races took place in the 1870s in Britain.  But the breakthrough was in 1891 when six day races were started in Madison Square Gardens in New York and became a big money spectacle that stayed popular right through to the Second World War. These also started as individual challenges with riders competing round the clock for six days, reducing them to shells by the final days. They would stop and sleep as little as they could to maximise distance, but apparently it wasn’t much of a spectacle towards the end. Organisers then realised that two man teams would enable the riders to be competitive for a whole week and the six day format was adopted to avoid racing in Sundays.

Within this format the unique spectacle of tag racing with both team members on the track at the same time was devised. While one races the second rests for a few moments, then when they catch each other the speeding rider transfers his momentum to his team-mate by means of the handsling, one of the most distinctive manoeuvres in cycling. It is made all the more amazing because the riders do it with up to 30 riders on the track, at 70kmph with riders going in all directions. It is difficult to describe in writing, trying to portray a manoeuvre like a bunch sprint in a road race, but just as half the field is going forwards at full speed the other half are slamming on the brakes – and they almost never crash.

Photo Kevin Mayne

This racing format has been known in English as the Madison ever since, or the American in French.

The format with racing round the clock continued until the seventies with riders getting up to all sorts of antics while the crowds were not watching. It is sure that this was also a hot-bed of drug assisted riding because the riders were expected to perform to demand no matter how they felt.

In the late sixties a rebellious organiser called Ron Webb started running the London Six Day race on a new format with just afternoon and evening racing in an entertaining format. The other organisers said it wasn’t a proper six day race but the formula was popular with riders and the public so it stuck and today the few remaining “sixes” all use the same format.

And that’s what I wanted to introduce my son to, just as my dad took me down to the London sixes in the 1970s. We decided to take in the final day of the six and the special atmosphere of the track centre where the racing swirls around a boisterous crowd who were hitting the bars with enthusiasm.

Photo Kevin Mayne

It is an intimate scene, the crowd and the bars are pressed right up against the riders and support staff. The elite riders get tiny cabins to hide in, but the staff, women and under 23s are forced to do everything in public.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Photo Kevin Mayne

Photo Kevin Mayne

As Brits we were especially spoiled because not only were we there to take in the atmosphere this year we had some British talent to support. Early in the evening we saw young riders Matthew Gibson and Christopher Lawless won the Under 23 continuing a tradition that includes a certain Bradley Wiggins.

Photo Kevin Mayne

But the star turn for me was Mark Cavendish. He is super popular in Belgium, not just because he rides for Belgian team Omega Pharma Quickstep but also because he respects the traditions of the sport and rides in a way the Flandrians can respect. Photo Kevin MayneHaving an elite road rider of his reputation riding their six day was a huge coup for the organisers, a throwback to the sixties when riders like Eddie Merckx mixed it with the track specialists. Cav was paired with his Flemish team-mate Iljo Keisse, hugely popular himself with the Ghent crowd for his five previous wins in the event.

Great news for us was that as we came into the final day four teams were still in contention including Cavendish and Keisse, but they were up against wily local experts Kenny de Ketele and Jasper de Buyst. De Ketele and De Buyst had a strong lead in the points competition, scores picked up throughout the week in the supporting competitions. That meant Cavendish and Keisse could only win overall if they finished a lap ahead of their rivals, a result that could only be achieved by lapping the whole field more times than their opponents during the Madison races.

Photo Kevin Mayne

So the scene was set, and the racing was brilliant. All four leading teams went at it hammer and tongs in the two madisons of the evening, reducing the other seven teams to supporting roles. We stood in the middle as they swirled around us in dizzying flashes of lycra and chrome, trying to keep track on move and counter move.

When they were not doing the madisons they were battling it out in the other staples of six day racing, formats designed to entertain. Sprint races were accompanied by rock music countdowns that saw the teams race off against the clock for the fastest times. Only six teams at a time were allowed up on the track for the legendary denys, racing behind motorcycles, a scene that needed no musical accompaniment because the motors roar to a crescendo when the final laps hit full speed.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

My personal track favourite has always been the elimination race. But who gave it the boring name? When I started going to grass track races as a kid it was always the “Devil”, or officially “Devil take the hindmost”. Who couldn’t love a race with such a great name, each lap the last rider across the line is eliminated until just two are left rolling. It was always a crowd pleaser, especially if at last one of the riders decides to play the crowd pleasing role of hanging around the back and sneaking up on the rest just as they cross the line.

In the end Cavendish and Keisse battled almost to a standstill taking lap after lap but at the very end they were marked out by De Ketele and De Buyst who sneaked away for the win by the narrowest of margins.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

What a great day’s entertainment, we thoroughly enjoyed it from start to end. Flemish cycling delivered once again, there really cannot be a better a better place to be a bike fan.

The “Utrecht scale” – a new standard for cycle parking

Utrecht cycling

I have a new proposal for how to measure quantities of bikes. It is called the “Utrecht scale” and it is based on the “ocean of bicycles” I described several weeks ago.

I had some hopes of my own. I suggested then that we needed a new measurement for cycle parking. The “Mayne scale” would be based on how long it took to walk the length of the bike park. In the case of Utrecht, it would be top of the scale with over 8 minutes from end to end. When cyclists rule the world we will need a new vocabulary, just like eskimos were supposed to have 40 words for snow and maybe my scale could have become as established as Richter, Geiger or Beaufort. But the Mayne scale is not to be.

No. For for the international comparison of bicycle numbers only the “Utrecht scale” will do now. A scale based on oceans, seas, lakes and puddles will tell us all we need to know about numbers of parked bikes.

It was a simple phrase that started it. I wrote “In Utrecht I saw a sea of bikes. In fact no I didn’t, I saw an ocean of bikes.” And then I linked it to this picture and sent it off on social media.

sea of bikes Utrecht

The rest, as they say, is history.BmiEOFeIEAAqnyw

By the following weekend it had made two local papers and the traffic on this blog had reached heights I could hardly have imagined even a week earlier.


We even made a news story about cyBnAowqGCIAEJ7b7cle parking making the news on the ECF web site.

But it was not only Utrecht. Since then people keep sending me their cycle parking pictures from around the world and using the phrase “sea of bicycles” whenever they meet a big quantity of bikes.

The first phase of the huge new underground cycle park in Utrecht opened this week, taking the first 2000 bikes off the streets. So as a legacy of those amazing displays of bikes that may soon be no more, and for the proud people of Utrecht who love their cycle parking here is my first attempt at the “Utrecht scale” for cycle parking.

Ocean of bicycles

Bikes as far as the eye can see. Over 20,000 bikes. Take some emergency rations before you go and look for your bike, this may take some time. Example? Utrecht!

Utrechts bicycle parks

Sea of bicycles

A concentrated mass of bikes. More than 5000 in one place. You may need a guide and some time to get in and out of here. Example? It seems to be almost any Dutch station, but increasingly Flanders including Bruges and Ghent.

Cycle Parking Ghent Station


Cycle parking Bruges station


Now the minimum standard for any decent cycling town is to have 1000 bikes at main hubs like universities and railway stations. An honourable mention now to Bologna, Italy which has the biggest lake of rusty old student bikes round their railway station that I have ever seen.

Bologna Station Bike Park



Every village should have a pond. Ducks on the water, somewhere for children to paddle and for animals to drink. So every small area of shops, every park, every street corner should have at least a pond of bike parking to cater for local needs. Examples? Hopefully everywhere, but Copenhagen is a perfect example of putting the parking on every corner, including cargo bikes.

Copenhagen corner street parking


A level especially created for Amsterdam. Or any other city where the bikes are not parked together in a massive body but instead flow through the streets like the waterways that run through the city.

canal of bicycles Amsterdam


Well you couldn’t get very wet in that could you? Just one or two bikes? Berlin – could do better!

Cycle Parking Berlin 1

Muddy puddle

As above, but with mountain bikes! From Whistler, where else!

Whistler Bike park, cycle parking

Frozen puddle – Memmingen, Germany, at minus 14 degrees centigrade.

Bike covered in snow in Memmingen

To complement the Utrecht scale I did think of some other useful phrases with a watery flavour

Tsunami of bicycles – what happens when everybody in Utrecht tries to get on their bikes at the same time.

Utrecht cyclists

Desert – Trying to find any evidence of bicycle life here is pretty hard.

pavement parking central Kiev Ukraine

Splash – several bikes thrown together informally, the basis for much of the cycle parking in Salzberg, Austria.

Linzergasse Salzburg Austria

Dried up river bed – speaks for itself.

desert of bicycles

Reservoir – 700 Bixi bikes waiting for Velo-city 2012 delegates to arrive – Vancouver.

Velo-city 2012 Bike Fleet

So now then readers – does this work for you? And what would your watery terms for cycling be?

To finish – my favourite watery cycling photo. I look forward to your comments!

Coronian Lagoon, Lithuania

A tale of two more cities – worlds apart

About a year ago I wrote my Tale of Two Italian Cities post about how two cities just 50km apart could be so different were in attitude and approach to cycling.

I had a similar experience last weekend.

On Friday I got on a train from Brussels and travelled 40 minutes North.

On Monday I got left from the same station and travelled 40 minutes South.

In both cases I didn’t really have an opportunity to travel into the city centre so I had to draw my conclusions about cycling from the immediate vicinity of the station. You might do so too.

Go North

Cycle Parking Ghent Station Cycle parking Ghent station 4 Cycle parking Ghent station 3 Cycle parking Ghent station 2 Segregated cycle path Ghent Cyclists Crossing near Ghent station Cycling Infrastructure Ghent

Go South

Cycle Parking Gare Lille EuropeCycling Infrastructure Lille Lille cycling infrastructureMaybe it is time to regain a little friendship from my colleagues in Flanders, for the apparent cycle friendly mecca is indeed Ghent.

The struggling cycling metropolis to our South is Lille, in France.

L'ville bike sharing LilleTo its credit, it does have L’ville, an extremely good Bike Sharing system at the station, operated and supported by Decathlon cycling subsidiary B’Twin which is based in the city.

Personally I enjoyed my ride in the sunshine despite being limited to the industrial outskirts of the city but it is perhaps symptomatic of the limited progress by France as a transport cycling nation that the provision was very disjointed and there was such a woefully low expectation about cycle parking at this major transport hub.

Front page news – white stripes, wheeled terrorists, the Tour de France and the Prime Minister. Only in Flanders?

Last Friday I was taken to the front line of a full on cycling row that has erupted in Flanders, finally forcing the Prime Minister who was on a foreign trip on to the front pages of De Standaard to insist that he “would be looking in to it”

I have to share this storm in the tiniest of teacups because I don’t think we would see anything like this anywhere else except in the cycle sports mad world that exists around Ghent. And the story also has the dumbest punchline.

The background to the story is common enough. The community in Gavere, about 10km south of Ghent have complained that the “wheeled terrorists” have taken over their riverside and that they are constantly afraid. We have heard that before in many countries, most recently in the UK where there is a simmering row about the numbers of cyclists on canal towpaths or around the Olympic Road Race circuit at Box Hill.

However the difference here is the scale and the political fallout as the “terrorists” hit back.

Scheldt River path Gavere Flanders

The battleground is a long wide and perfectly smooth traffic free path that follows the Scheldt south from Ghent for miles making a perfect environment for cycling and walking.

But its strengths are its weakness.

The smooth asphalt is a beautiful temptation for roadies to fly along at speed and the width means that the sort of club groups that are common in Belgium can travel down it in big echelons, especially at the weekend. And we are talking big, I see groups of 30-50 riders where I live and round Ghent I guess numbers are huge.

And speeds are high, as we rode the three of us were doing close to 20mph at times and we were passed by faster groups.

So out of the blue a series of white “rumble strips” – the now notorious ribbelstroken have appeared across the path.ribbelstroken

The first row was apparently whether they were initiated by the municipality or by Waterwegen en Zeekanaal (waterway and sea canals) who manage the navigation. Had the mayor of Gavere exceeded his authority? Or does the fact that they are spread over a wider area implicate the navigation managers?

But regardless of the origins of the work the sports cyclists were soon up in arms that anybody would mess with their training route. With their influence it soon hit the pages of De Standard and ribbelstroken became a new hot topic. While we were out for a ride there was another newspaper photographer out for the evening getting background shots and pictures of the offending strips. His presence prompted a stop for a lively debate by the roadside.

By Monday it had got to the Prime Minister of Flanders Kris Peeters, far away in France on a visit to Le Tour. Another distinctly Flemish twist, when was the last time your Prime Minister nipped off to see the Tour in another country? Well it was all above board, he was there as a guest of DCM, the Flemish company that co-sponsors the Vacansoleil pro bike team in the tour, not a jolly of course.

He probably thought he was away from domestic concerns but in France he had the misfortune to be ambushed by Vancansoleil pro Thomas De Gendt who it turns out likes to use the offending route for his speed training.

I have to say that the prospect of one of the world’s top riders doing 50kmph down a riverside path probably confirms every local citizen’s worst prejudices about wheeled terrorists, but he certainly got the Prime Minister on the spot. So by Monday the ribbelstroken were right up there on the front page news of De Standaard right beside the pictures of Chris Froome and within the day the Mobility Minister was out there riding her bike up and down the towpath with the local cycling groups.

The punchline?

Well it looks like the Mobility Minister was discrete in her words when she said “It was not as dramatic as I had heard.”

Not dramatic? It was pathetic!

This is a country with some of the finest cobblestones on the planet. Cyclists go out of their way to race over the rumbly stuff. It is the world centre of cyclocross. And frankly Belgian road surfaces can at times be almost third world. Anybody who remotely considers himself to be a serious cyclist around Ghent should be laughing at the pathetic little ripples on the path.

In line skaters – yes, big disruption. Wheelchair users – definitely an issue. So yes the strips will be cut back to allow movement round the ends.

Ribbelstroken GevereBut the self-promoting hardest bike riders in Europe? Come on chaps, give us a break! Even the senior citizens ride didn’t bat an eyelid.

But the hard men of Ghent have spoken, apparently the experiment will not be continued.


Friday night Flanders ride

Kattenberg climb Flanders

Vlaamse Ardennen Route

Cycling out into Flanders

As a result of an invitation from Vincent Meershaert of Traject Mobility Management in Ghent I spent last Friday evening on a scenic ride out from Ghent into the Flemish Ardennes and some bits of the Tour of Flanders race route.

Only my second time there on a bike after my visit in spring to watch the Tour itself so I was very much looking forward to new discoveries, especially with hosts who were rightly proud of their cycling heritage. I got an invitation because like Vincent I am one of the “odd guys”, people who work in the field of cycling for transport and mobility but who also have a love for sports cycling. That may not seem too strange to an English speaking audience but in Europe it is actually quite rare, they are usually two different worlds. 

What a great way to start the weekend with a beautiful 80km route put together by Vincent’s colleague Kristof. And to see first-hand how big the Wielrenner (sports cyclist) culture is around Ghent, even though it was Friday after work there were lycra-clad riders all over the place, clearly enjoying a warm, if overcast evening.

However we were not the only ones out, we found this great group of “seniors” out by the Scheldt too.

Friday night in Flanders

The ride managed to throw in a whole mix of riding that seemed to capture the area extremely well. As we were returning from the ride Vincent and I were musing again on the fact that Belgium is so little known for cycle touring, a combination of lack of marketing and the competition from the surrounding countries I am sure.

The only people I know of who would consciously head for this area to ride bikes would all be like me, drawn by the legendary black and white images of mud covered racers battling across cobbles in the spring classics. (See earlier post about the Ronde Van Vlaanderen Museum on Oudenarde)

Flanders Cycle route signsWhat we actually got was almost car free country lanes, excellent cycle paths, a 4 metre wide car free route along the river Scheldt and outstanding signposting and route choice. The tidy flower-filled villages and towns reflected the fact that this is a more prosperous area of Belgium and that civic pride is alive and well. Above all else the Belgians I ride with and talk to in both Flanders and FlandersWallonia are genuinely surprised when I tell them the very best thing about being here is just how deserted the minor roads and lanes feel to a visitor and tonight was no exception.  OK, we crossed some major roads but away from them it was peaceful cycling with almost no need to ride single file at all. Our group were sports cyclists, so our route took us well into the Flemish Ardennes by design, but flat earth riders could easily have stuck to the valleys for a very leisurely and attractive tour.

None of the climbs we did was a monster, the low lying countryside allows only about 100 metres of ascent each time and the climbs we did were mostly

Flanders flower

well surfaced and no more than 5-8% grade with occasional steep corners. Not to downplay it, 100km of these coming back-to-back with some of the steeper cobbled beast climbs thrown in would be a really tough ride, anyone completing the Tour of Flanders sportive deserves respect.

Friday night bike ride Flanders

But that wasn’t why we were here, we were enjoying fun climbing to get lovely views over the countryside with its patchwork of fields, trees and church spires in every direction.  It was great to dip and roll with the landscape, both climbs and swooping descents. Some pave, but only one section was the full on experience of riding on a pneumatic drill for about a kilometre.

By the time we got back my legs knew they had been in a ride, but I was glowing with pleasure.

So once again I can issue the call to fellow cycling travellers. Come here. Get out of Brussels and Bruges, avoid the main industrial cities and try real rural Belgium, it is a great place to be a cyclist. More challenging perhaps to get the tourist authorities to market the area effectively to the outside world but I suspect that is part of a wider malaise in Belgium, it certainly seems to pride itself on “under-stated”!

The RouteThat way - map reading in Flanders

Kristof put our route up on line so you can follow the route and the profile which at this scale does look a bit like shark’s teeth, but it wasn’t quite so fierce, honest.

The main Tour of Flanders climbs we did were:

Slijpstraat – Kortendries (Length 2200m, %max: 9, %average: 3);

Rekelberg  (Length 580m, %max: 10, %average: 5);

Kattenberg (cobbled, length 800m, %max: 12, %average: 6)