Look Pro: Going Belgian Style

Belgian Style isn't just for Belgians. Photo: Cycling Tips/Cor Vos
Belgian Style isn’t just for Belgians. Photo: Cycling Tips/Cor Vos

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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…
  5. 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.

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72 Replies to “Look Pro: Going Belgian Style”

  1. Happy coincidence perhaps but in lieu of a tt bike, this position is about as aerodynamic  as you can get on a road bike, provided you keep your back flat, head tucked and knees in etc.  Which of course is excellent if you are making a 150km solo break during a Monument or leading the team on a windy transition stage through Provence.

  2. @frank Thinking I will be happy to replace Cinelli Eubios 26.0 (Anatomic) bars with different deep round bends. Find myself resting on the drops and much more stable to one arm in the drops when drinking — esp. when up to speed. Going as far as to wrap the bars with same era 3ttt tape — gloss black! We’ll see ??

  3. This was interesting to me for a couple reasons. It provides some explanation as to why, with demonstrable history of nil athletic ability, I took to cycling like a horse takes to walking (that is, awkwardly at first, but quickly). I’ve known I’m 3rd gen. Belgian for most of my life (sure, it’s since been diffused with some other stuff), and I’ve known for a while that Belgium has a great cycling heritage, but I’d never connect those threads with myself.

    In regard to the position specifically, I’d never given it much thought, but I’ll be damned if I don’t find myself crouching lower towards the hoods long before reaching for the drops (on descents being the exception).

    While correlation obviously doesn’t equal causation, I’ve been sincerely puzzled as to why I’m relatively ‘good’ at cycling and performed abysmally at virtually every other athletic endeavor.

    Thanks for providing material for at least a pseudo-answer.

  4. @SamV I like your chain of logic, and tracing you lineage back to Belgium – thrice removed. That’s some dutch quality thinking there.

    Makes me think I should consider attributing my affinity for the bike to my sharing heritage with the flying scotsman.

  5. @DeKerr You can apply logic to virtually any situation if you really work at it. I also attribute my love of beer to the same set of circumstances, rather than saying I’m a drunk with a cycling problem. It falls apart when I say my father, the Belgian side, doesn’t drink and I can’t recall ever seeing him on a bike. So I conveniently leave that out of the equation and continue to grasp at straws for some explanation to a puzzle that doesn’t really need one.

  6. I absolutely love the classics (and classic) photos here and have savored them a bunch of times.  While I was tempted to quote all of them just to see them posted again in the thread I refrained.  But a few other thoughts from posts of fellow Vs:

    @Beers

    Oh and re: heart attacks – a close family friend of some repute in the 70’s advises most of his adversaries and friends from the peleton at that time have gone too soon. Someday someone should research the higher than average development of heart arrhythmias, as well as early life heart failure in cyclists, and whether it is the strain (Cortisol, immune reduction) or substance abuse…

    There is interesting medical research, still somewhat equivocal, about this topic.  From one cycling MD’s personal experience:  I worked with my MD and ended up with a cardiologist and a bunch of testing which gave me some reassurances, though no guarantees that I may need to moderate my activity in the future.

    @Nate

    @frank

    @EBruner

    I have always done 90% of my riding from some version of the hoods. I feel most control from hood positions. Drops on major descents or murderous head winds only for me.

    This to me is a very bad habit; the hoods are too easy to slip off from; the drops are much safer because you’re not just holding on by your thumbs.

    One of my most strictly-adhered to principles for descending is to do it in the drops; I get what you’re saying about getting sore but I’ll take sore over in the ditch or on the face.

    If you aren’t spending at least 25% of a hard ride on the drops, meditate on why, start doing some stretches or admit to yourself that you have slammed your stem entirely for aesthetic reasons.

    Yes.

    @Nate

    @Ron

    Well goddamn, am I relieved. I thought I was the only one constantly changing how many fingers I have in front/behind the hoods/lever. Phew!!

    Also, I have owned “A Sunday in Hell” for a good few years now. I have never been able to force myself to finish watching. Something about keeping it forever new and awesome. I’ve started it countless times, but I have yet to watch the finale. It’s okay, I know my logic is illogical.

    I have at least a half dozen different hand/finger placements I deploy on the hoods. 11 speed campagnolo offers so many comfortable options.

    and yes to this too.

    And @keepers, why am I showing as not logged in after I log in and come back to this thread to post????  Posting as a guest feels second class……

  7. @teleguy57 I’ve noticed similar behaviour. After logging in, I still see the “log in” option at the top of the front page. if I then hit reload, everything seems to sort itself out.

  8. @LeoTea

    @teleguy57 I’ve noticed similar behaviour. After logging in, I still see the “log in” option at the top of the front page. if I then hit reload, everything seems to sort itself out.

    And now I am logged in — and it appears that my prev post as a guest did show up as under my account.  Strange things — but I’m glad to know it’s not only me.  I had tried the reload without apparent success, but I’ll keep experimenting to “play” here.

  9. @LeoTea

    @teleguy57 I’ve noticed similar behaviour. After logging in, I still see the “log in” option at the top of the front page. if I then hit reload, everything seems to sort itself out.

    This is usually your browser caching and not the site.  Hence a refresh clears it.

  10. To balance out the posts, I present to you these beauties. The Belgian’s have this beer brewing thing figured out (the Monks at least). This is a nice way to celebrate after laying down the V, Belgian style.

    Yes, that is a Westvleteren XII on the left. Yes, it is as awesome as they say. No I will not tell you where I live (it’s my last one).

  11. Somehow I forgot about this pic. Cameron Meyer riding on the “hoods” on the track.

  12. @Nate

    @frank

    @EBruner

    I have always done 90% of my riding from some version of the hoods. I feel most control from hood positions. Drops on major descents or murderous head winds only for me.

    This to me is a very bad habit; the hoods are too easy to slip off from; the drops are much safer because you’re not just holding on by your thumbs.

    One of my most strictly-adhered to principles for descending is to do it in the drops; I get what you’re saying about getting sore but I’ll take sore over in the ditch or on the face.

    If you aren’t spending at least 25% of a hard ride on the drops, meditate on why, start doing some stretches or admit to yourself that you have slammed your stem entirely for aesthetic reasons.

    Ya, that’s me. I used to ride in the drops a lot more- on flat and windy rides, but now I ride with little wind and more frequent climbs and its just more comfortable on the hoods. But really I just need to HTFU.

  13. @The Grande Fondue

    Somehow I forgot about this pic. Cameron Meyer riding on the “hoods” on the track.

    I am not sure @frank will agree these bars count as Belgian style, since the confound him so…he is always giving me crap about my using them. I absolutely love them though. Sure wish I had Cam Meyers turn of speed though…

  14. @therealpeel

    @Nate

    @frank

    @EBruner

    I have always done 90% of my riding from some version of the hoods. I feel most control from hood positions. Drops on major descents or murderous head winds only for me.

    This to me is a very bad habit; the hoods are too easy to slip off from; the drops are much safer because you’re not just holding on by your thumbs.

    One of my most strictly-adhered to principles for descending is to do it in the drops; I get what you’re saying about getting sore but I’ll take sore over in the ditch or on the face.

    If you aren’t spending at least 25% of a hard ride on the drops, meditate on why, start doing some stretches or admit to yourself that you have slammed your stem entirely for aesthetic reasons.

    Ya, that’s me. I used to ride in the drops a lot more- on flat and windy rides, but now I ride with little wind and more frequent climbs and its just more comfortable on the hoods. But really I just need to HTFU.

    If you have climbs then you must have descents and you are in the drops then, yes?

  15. Nate – I have Campa on three road bikes. Yep, love the different hand positions. (But, I also like riding my Red equipped bike and my 105 9-speed commuter too. Variety is nice!)

    It might change as I get older and my body changes, but for now, I like having my bikes be a bit different.

    Oh yeah, and age is just in your mind, so says the NY Times article I read earlier today. So, at least it’s a good thing I’m still refusing to grow up.

  16. The worst is getting in the drops if you’ve been gluttonous over the winter. Argh, that fat fucking gut reminds you that you’ve been a lazy fuck.

  17. @Ron

    Nate – I have Campa on three road bikes. Yep, love the different hand positions. (But, I also like riding my Red equipped bike and my 105 9-speed commuter too. Variety is nice!)

    It might change as I get older and my body changes, but for now, I like having my bikes be a bit different.

    Oh yeah, and age is just in your mind, so says the NY Times article I read earlier today. So, at least it’s a good thing I’m still refusing to grow up.

    You can’t help getting old but you can stay immature for ever.  Works for me.

  18. The hood and lever shape of the current Super Record is flawless. The shape is brilliant.

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