Look Pro: Going Belgian Style
To keep chickens is to walk a path towards introspection. From the songs they sing after laying an egg (which I assume is “chicken” for “I’m Every Woman“) to the sheer glee they show when they find a worm in the mud, chickens provide a perfect example of living life in and for the moment. The most interesting aspect of their social interaction is whenever a new chicken is introduced into the flock: all of them freeze in place and stretch their necks out as high as they can, the winner presumably being the one whose head boasts the highest elevation.
As a Dutchman, I am born with the genuine belief that I can stretch my head higher than anyone in Belgium can. Where Americans make Polish jokes, the Dutch make Belgian jokes; we unrightly view them as a sloppy, dim-witted lot. Jokes of indoor airstrips, helicopters with ejection seats, and windshield wipers perplexingly installed inside the car windshield filled my youth and caused endless side-aches from laughter. This is all to say that I carry a healthy sense of superiority over our neighbors to the south with two notable exceptions: riding bikes and making beer.
Especially when it comes to riding bikes, Belgians have the market cornered on Rules #5 and #9, not to mention the entire lexicon pertaining to being Casually Deliberate and every Look Pro article not having to do with climbing, if you can ignore Lucien van Impe. But mostly, they own the art of riding Belgian Style.
Riding with hands on the hoods is a critical element of finding both power and comfort on our machines; it blends aerodynamics with leverage and casual cool like no other position does. The key to keeping from getting sore (or even numb) on a long ride is to constantly change positions; beyond the tops and drops the Belgians have explored the vast world of possibilities of riding on the hoods like no other group has. Learning from their lessons, we can distill the usual V points of reference:
- Riding elbows locked is strictly for relaxation or intimidation. If you’re laying down The V, keep your elbows low to the tops like Roger de Vlaeminck. (Pronounce it Correctly: The Flemish pronounce “Roger” like the French, “r oh ‘sz ai “. There is no Dutch/Flemish version of “Roger” as in “Roger Rabbit” – the closest name would be “Rutger” as in “Rutger Hauer” who is not as cool as Roger De Vlaeminck.)
- Keep your wrists rolled in and elbows tucked towards the top tube. This applies to the drops as well, but its still a good time to bring up the point. We’re riding bikes, not wrestling elephants.
- Experiment with how many fingers go in front of the brake levers and how many go behind; whether or not to also wrap the bar itself with your pinky and/or ring fingers. Mix it up to keep your shoulders loose on long rides. If you get out of the saddle, make sure you grab a handful of hood like grabbing the horns on a buckin’ bull; don’t stay choked up on the bars as you’ll lose leverage and steering control.
- Always keep a loose grip on the hoods. You’re riding a bike, not trying to milk a cow; keep enough tension in your hands to maintain control of the bike but not so much that you’re suffocating the poor thing. And speaking of grip…
- Belgian Style riding is best employed in smooth or moderately technical terrain. If shit be gettin’ bumpy, best to grab the tops or drops. Thumb holds and rocky bumps don’t mix and you don’t want to do a Jens when a blind bump comes knocking.