We are not sure if any Local Bike Shop deserves more respect or accolades than any other, but if so, we would put the Plum Bike Shop in Ghent at the top of our list. Getting to visit this shop – and the basement museum therein – must surely sustain more than a few Belgian youths, whose dreams are made up of Sunday races and standing on the podium throughout the spring. The beautiful display of vintage racing machines and shop-produced Plume Vainqueurs reminded we Heroes (who first enjoyed this hallowed place in the spring of 2011) of the essential role many a LBS has had in keeping the history and news of our beloved sport alive. In particular, we think of the shops that do their best to celebrate the victory of the local champion. Here in Chicago, for instance, it’s not uncommon to see a Christian Vande Velde jersey in the window, especially after his breakthrough Tour in 2008.
And the Heroes have always been dedicated to their LBS. When we were young it was Orion Bicycles in Lake Orion, Michigan; The Bike Shop in Redding California; Bucky’s Bikes and Lawn in Caldwell, Idaho; and George’s Lightweight Cycles in Boise, Idaho. Some of these shops do not exist anymore, some do. For every Hero in every town it was where you got to hang out with local pros and a few salty dog mechanics that changed your flat and took hammers to bike parts that should have never seen a hammer. At the bigger shops, the Heroes fondly remember bike mechanics who smelled of Humboldt bud, cheap beer, and Tri-Flow. Beyond being our tutors in all things cycling, the biggest attraction was of course the gear: Super Record festooned Ciöcc’s, and by the mid-80’s, an occasional Team 7-11 Eddy Merckx with modern Dura Ace… which had us thinking of layaways and how to convince our parents to combine every birthday present for the next decade so we could get something Belgian.
Venturing forth from our hometowns, a few Heroes moved to Boulder, CO, during the Mountain Bike craze in the late ‘80’s. Compared to our rural beginnings it was there where we came closest to our cycling Heroes. Bike shops abounded, and bikes we had only seen in magazines were now real, standing right there in front of us. We did not have professional ambitions, but riding up to Nederland our hopes were to catch Andy Hampsten climbing out of the saddle, or his supposed one-leg-at-a-time climb up Flagstaff Road. In 1988 a few of us worked at Alfalfas Grocery Store bagging groceries for vegan widows, New Age therapists, and of course half the 7-11 team. Mr. Hampsten does not remember us specifically, but he surely would recall some skinny shaved-legged mountain bikers, staring at him, bagging his groceries, and complementing him on his recent Giro win every time he came in the store (about twenty or thirty times I would guess).
We were in such awe of his grand Tour win… but the funny thing was, back then there was essentially no way to experience the race other than through word of mouth. No twitter…no blogs…no Cheeky Online Journal… in those days you got your news and in-depth race coverage after the fact, in the Boulder Daily Camera, or Velo News. Of course, the most profound evidence of his victory was his signed jersey hanging in the windows of a few local bike shops after he made his triumphal return. Information traded like this is akin to smoke signals, or the W banner that waves above Wrigley Field in Chicago after a home win.
If this story has a point, it is this: the Plum Bike Shop in Ghent, Belgium, has many and more banners and winning machines. Ask the owner Pierre for a tour. You will not regret it.