Belgium for some is just another Euro Zone – that is unless you are a fan of lace
making, beer, Flemish art, chocolates, waffles, battlefields or cycling.
A painting bears witness to the man
Cycling in Belgium has a cult-like pull for many of us cycling possessed fans
and few icons come bigger than Eddy Merckx. (Merckx, Pele, Ali and Elvis come
Eddy Merckx for many was the best cycle racer the planet has ever seen or will
see. Its the breadth of his wins and their quality that gives him my vote,
and since retirement and for the last 25 years Eddy Merckx has been producing
My first proper race bike was a Merckx Corsa Extra, built in Columbus SLX and
finished in 7/11 colours, the team copy of the ground breaking USA team that
raced in the 1990s. It is also the bike I did my first race on and as
thus I have always had a soft spot for Merckx bikes.
When I bought my Merckx so many years ago, it never crossed my mind that one
day I might visit the Merckx factory. This I did in early December.
The Merckx factory is situated in the Flemish village of Meise near Brussels
and like so many business in this region is an old farm house that has grown
over the years.
Carbon frames await fitting of drop outs and rear stays
The first thing that grabbed out attention on entering the hallowed ground was
a large painting of Merckx in action and a row of bikes. What surprised us was
that this was no shrine and felt like a working business with practical minds
at work. There were some trophies, shirts and posters that hinted at the past,
including a Lance Armstrong World Championship hung on the wal, but not much of
Eddy. This is no museum (which is a shame).
As we toured the factory, each worker (most having been there for many years)
was happy to look you in the eye, smile and say hello. This is a family style
business and you get the feeling that loyalty is cherished and on the day of
our visit all were going to stop early for beer as it was a Saints Day.
What really grabs your attention are the large number of frames
in various states of finish that line the walls or sit in boxes waiting to be
Merckx aluminium and carbon frames are built in Italy to Merckxs specifications.
If things do go wrong – if a supplier (rare as it is) fails to match the Merckx
quality threshhold it gets fixed, or Eddy could be knocking on their door. Sourcing
frames in Europe helps keep quality higher and there are no long haul flights
or phone calls at odd hours as when dealing with the Far East.
Merckx is proud of his bikes, as are his employees and having the ability to
keep an eye on things is important.
No museum for famous bikes, just a corner on the factory
The Merckx range features carbon, aluminium and steel.
The carbon frames arrive at the factory in pieces, requiring the triangle to have
the drop outs and one piece wishbone rear stays attached. The frames once made
whole are cleared of blemishes, before being polished and sent to the paint shop.
It was awesome to watch the skilled painters as they masked, painted, pinstriped
(I kid you not) and cut out logos – many years of experience having been put into
The aluminium frames arrive complete other than to be prepared for painting
On the factory floor, jigs show signs of use, small heaps of aluminium shavings
or carbon fibre bear witness to this. This gives a strong signal of Merckx and
his workers being the final arbiters of the bikes, and its their skill
that makes a Merckx bike ready to ride and race.
Merckx work and home
We are often told stories of how people have visited the factory to either have
the door opened by Eddy Merckx or to find him filling in at reception. Merckx
and his family live in a house separated from the factory building by a grassy
lawn. When we visited there were signs of children having played there recently,
the Merckx office has pictures of his own children and grand children, intermingled
with a picture of himself.
Stacked high on his desk are many books written about him, which for most of
us would turn us into ego-tripping monsters, but its the personal pictures
and lack of trophies that help reveal why so many find him charming and down
Sadly Eddy Merckx was in Quatar for our visit, but he apologised and we will
catch up with him at a later date.
Merckx in the UK
More about Merckx at www.multimit.com/fkm/eddymerckx/index.shtml