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City Report: Antwerp, Belgium

By Jeff Lockwood

Photos by Brad Quartuccio and Jeff Lockwood

City: Antwerp, Belgium

Nickname: Koekenstad

Claim to Fame: Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium behind Brussels. Eighty percent of the world’s diamonds come through Antwerp, where they are bought and sold between dealers from around the world. According to some, the fashion industry in Antwerp ranks with those of Milan and Paris.

History in 100 Words (or less): Local lore holds that Antigoon was an unfriendly giant who lived near the Schelde river. His job was to collect a fee from people who wanted to cross. You can’t pay the fee? Antigoon would cut off your hand and throw it in the river. Brabo was a brave young soul who found this act unacceptable. He gave Antigoon some of his own medicine before killing him. Brabo lopped off the hand of the mean giant and threw it into the river. From it grew the current city of Antwerp. The name, “Antwerpen” is actually a Dutch phrase that translates to “hand throwing.”

Random Fact: There are two tunnels under the Schelde river specifically for bicycles and pedestrians. When you head west under the river away from the center part of the city, towards the “Linkeroever” (translated as “left bank”), the farm roads of East Flanders welcome you for some amazing cycling routes.

City’s Terrain: Flat. Very flat. Yet the roads outside the city are dotted with brutal cobble stone sections and farm mud.

Weather Forecast: Belgian weather has a reputation for being nasty, which, in turn, has produced some of the toughest and most successful cyclists of the world. Cloudy skies definitely prevail, and it’s often damp or raining softly. But the sun does shine enough to keep people happy. Fortunately it generally doesn’t get too hot, nor does it get too cold.

Top Shop(s): While there is one dedicated fixed-gear shop in town, Fixerati, you’re not going to see many fixies darting across the city. Instead, most people ride true city bikes: Dutch-style townies, or other rather non-descript aluminum or steel bikes where the rider sits more upright. These bikes almost always feature baskets, boxes or bags. As such, almost all shops cater to this market. De Fietsenfikser on Amerikalei is a great specimen, as is Fietsen De Geus several blocks away. Looking for a high-end road shop? You only need to visit Velodome. It’s one of the most high-end shops in the country, and it’s plenty capable of soothing your Rapha cravings. As an added bonus, the shop is associated with the De Koninck brewery across the street, and you can walk past the service area of the shop, right into a very nice brassiere and bar.

Best Watering Hole(s): If you’re reading this magazine, you need to visit Cafe ZeeZicht. Situated on the wonderful Dageraadplaats, this unique bar welcomes a very diverse range of customers to engage in lively conversations while sipping the best beers in the world. About one kilometer away, in the Borgerhout section of the city, sits Cafe Mombassa. You like bikes? You’ll like this bar. Enjoy choosing from an amazing beer selection while watching all the major and minor bike races on a large, retractable screen. A very diverse and interesting clientele will surprise you with how much they know about pro cycling.