My season up until this point was, admittedly, not so great. I had gotten some knee pains and had to take three days of rest already, and I wasn’t progressing as I’d hoped. It was still only April, but I felt time-crunched to achieve something.
Justin, Dan and I all decided to race in a city about 50km outside of Oudenaarde. Since the race was a tad too far to ride to, we decided to pony up some petrol money and borrow a van to get us over there. The communal Opel van we had at the house was in use that day, so Dan managed to swing and get our team’s loaner van, an old, faded red Fiat emblazoned in ASFRA Flanders, and Browaeys decals for the team and sponsors. The van was affectionately known as “The Fun Bus”.
The week before, our team owner regaled me with a story of how Dan had driven 20km to Ronse with the hand brake partially on in a Flanders team car. He pulled over and smoke was pouring out of the car. Everyone in the car all grabbed their stuff and ran, expecting the car to explode; it was that bad. Luc elaborated no further on the matter and changed the subject.
As Justin and I were waiting for our ride to show up at the house, we heard a moped with a broken muffler in the distance, and a pathetic beep followed. It was at that moment I was properly introduced to the Fun Bus. When stopped, the bus sounded like a sewing machine. Dan parked it up against a curb to it wouldn’t roll. He didn’t want to turn it off because it was hard to start, and he didn’t want to pull the parking brake because it was sticky. We got into the van after loading up and took off, which is a relative term, because the thing moved like a snail on a Rush Limbaugh-esque Oxycontin binge.
The fuel gauge was broken. The odometer was broken. The speedometer was broken. I actually have to correct that part; the speedo wasn’t broken, it was “gravity operated” If we were driving up a 2% grade hill, we were doing 20 km/h, a 3% at 30 km/h and so on. On the flats we were doing a mind-numbing 0 km/h. Impressive. Every time somebody used the van they had to estimate how much fuel they used and put that much in, and it was a game to see who could drive the furthest without running out. Serious. In Belgium, they make this a game; seeing how far you can drive on an unknown amount of fuel. It was like Russian roulette with a car. Luckily the two Brits I was with were not Belgian. The odometer actually showed somewhere around 600,000 km’s (~372,000 miles) and had been broken for a year.
When we got to the race, we parked up and signed in. It started and ended on a hill, with two climbs and descents in between. The race itself was uneventful, I was out after a few laps with my phantom knee pain, and Justin followed. Dan did pretty well and got some prize money. Just when we thought that we got through the hard part of the day, our stomachs dropped when Dan said that the parking brake was sticking again. It dawned on me that this was the same car that had the problem.
“Luc said he fixed it!”
As Dan tried to figure out the trick that Luc used to unlock the brake, I told him to drive a bit and see if it released. The grinding noise and smell that came from the van drew all the pub-dwellers to heckle us as we drove by, we didn’t know what they were saying, but we got their message and stopped a safe distance away from the pub and problem solved. Dan called Luc and had him on speaker just for the amusement.
“Luc, we’re at the race and….”
“Yah, yah, yah! How did you go Daniel?”
“I got (whatever place), but the reason I’m calling is the Fun Bus’ parking brake is stuck agian.”
“No, no, no! No Manneke! No! It’s good, it’s good, it’s good!”
“Well, it’s not working, what do we do?”
“You push the lever down, manneke!”
“We’re going to work on this, I’ll call you in a bit”
It was at this time that the Flemish jackals started coming. Everybody with a greasy Euro-trash mullet and a beer in-hand came to watch us figure the thing out. After 10 minutes of trying every way imaginable to release the brake lever, I came around, opened up the driver’s door, pulled the lever towards me and released it. We were safe. Dan called Luc back up and informed him of the good news. On the way back, we tried stopping for gas, but we made the mistake of either going between the hours of noon and 2pm, after 6pm or on a Sunday and they were closed. It was only 10km back home, and we decided to risk it and drive it back to the bike shop where it lives and fill it up the next day.
We made it home safe and in one piece. Weeks later, for shiggles I decided to pop the hood and take a look at the sewing machine that must be occupying the engine bay. What I saw shocked me enough that I decided to ride home; I have never seen bread ties used to keep vital equipment together, and I have never seen so many. The thing was literally held together by bread ties, chewing gum and duct tape.
A couple of weeks after that, the rack that held front wheels onto the roof broke off and Dan’s $700 carbon fiber front wheel was lost forever. Shortly after that, the van was finally retired and replaced, but not before Luc tried pawning the wretched thing off to everybody who he though would buy it. Nobody did.