Information about Kessels

In 1973, I went back to the Old Country, Belgium. My uncle promised to hook me up with his friend, mr. Kessels, who happened to be an old army buddy. The shop in Ostend was where the offices were, but also where bikes were assembled; the frames were built at another

location, in a small village in the countryside (Gistel?). Kessels was the company name, but they had bought the rights to the names of several defunct racing marques, Alcyon and Main D'Or most notably, and sold their bikes under those names. They had been making bikes for Merckx since 1971, when he started having his first doubts about Colnago's quality control, and they had recently secured the contract for Belgium and Holland, to sell bikes under the Eddy Merckx name. As was common in those days, the shop had no bikes for sale, just some

floor models; you ordered the actual bike and it was made for you in a couple of weeks. My uncle took me to see his friend, who I believe was the younger brother of the founder. As a joke, I had brought a Schwinn catalog to show him. He was a bit puzzled by the Varsity, but his

verdict on the Paramount was quick: "looks nice, but a bit old-fashioned, don't you think?" He showed me two frames: the basic semi-pro model, which had Reynolds 531 main tubes and Suntour dropouts, with solid but basic workmanship, and the top-of-the-line model, full Reynolds with Campy dropouts, cutout bottom bracket and very nice finish work, including a beautifully done semi-wrapover seat cluster. He was obviously very proud of it. He explained that his builder was inspired by the simple lines and tight geometry of the new Italian

bikes, Masi, Colnago, Poghliaghi etc..

I explained to him that my budget was limited to $350. He said "No problem, I will put together something nice, a top frame with parts that are OK but that you can upgrade later. Come back in two weeks." In those two weeks another uncle managed to get me into the team car of a minor professional team for a "kermesse" race in the countryside, the coach was an army buddy as well (that's one of the benefits of universal, compulsory military service, you make a lot of connections) that was eye-opening. I decided that racing was not for me. Also, I visited another builder/retailer, in Ghent. Plum Vainqueur was the name, they sponsored one of the teams I had seen. They offered me a nice full-Reynolds all-Zeus equipped bike for $350. It was impressive,

but very old-fashioned compared to the Kessels bikes, with fancy chromed lugs and Cinelli-style fork crown. At the end of two weeks, I went back to Kessels to take a look. My bike was in the back of a van; it had just come back from the test ride. Turns out that every racing

bike they build gets a spin on the local track.

The Kessels company was fairly large for Belgium, not as large as

Flandria but not a small boutique either. They sold the full range of

bikes, from single-speed town bikes to racing, all made to order for

the local market, although they obviously mass-produced stuff for

export and especially for re-branding. In those days it was still the

custom for bike shops to sell bikes under their name, a hold-over from

the days not so long ago when they actually built them. In fact, the

traditional name for bike shop in Flanders was "Velo-Maaker", bicycle

builder. I remember seeing a stack of primed, unpainted frames in

Kessels' truck, probably destined for the house brand market.

When I finally got a look at it, the frame was slightly different from

either of the ones he had shown me. It had the great worksmanship of

the top model, but the sticker said Reynolds main tubes (and fork)

only. The Campy dropouts were chromed, with eyelets. The fork had

reinforcing tangs on the inside (wheel side) of the blades, like the

semi-pro model, but chromed Campy tips without eyelets. The frame had

two large circular cutouts in he bottom bracket, and no braze-ons

except for the rear derailleur cable stop. The inside of the right rear

chainstay was chromed.

Per my request, he had used only European components. Kessels was quite

a fan of Japanese components even back then, he thought the

price/quality ratio was excellent. This made sense, because in Europe

at the time it was not considered neccesary for every beginner racer to

have a full-Campagnolo Colnago, unlike in the US at the time. Kids

started racing on quite modest bikes, and concentrated on the craft and

the training, not on the latest equipment. But this attitude towards

the Japanese leads me to believe that he may have been using Tange

tubing on at least some of the semi-pro frames. Anyway, my bike had TA

Professional cranks, Huret Jubilee derailleurs, Weinmann 500 sidepulls,

Nisi rims and Tipo low flange hubs. Over the years I ended up replacing

everything, but I noticed that the items that I never needed to replace

(except by choice) were the ones where the bike came in contact with my

body: Cinelli bars and stem, Cinelli saddle, Maillard pedals. It was a

very comfortable bike from the beginning, even though it was also

stiffer than anything else I'd ever ridden.

Kessels explained that he had given me the best frame possible, and

judiciously economized on the components so as to meet my budget. I

could always upgrade later. It was a beautiful bicycle, very elegant

and modern-looking for its time. I still have it, much modified towards

the touring side. The only thing that was disappointing was the paint

job; it flaked and chipped very quickly, and I ended up having it

repainted by a local frame-builder who also added braze-ons for levers

and racks. I was tired of the Molteni orange, and chose blue, but got

original decals from Belgium to finish it off.

A year later, at the 1974 New York bike show, Falcon displayed a bike

that had been ridden by Merckx in the 1973 Giro (he skipped the Tour

that year). It looked authentic, being the right frame size and pretty

beat up. The frame was identical to my Kessels in nearly every detail;

the exceptions were these: no chrome or eyelets on the dropouts, and

three circular holes in the bottom bracket instead of two. It was

obviously a Kessels bike. The next year the bike they displayed was the

World Championship bike, and I believe it was a De Rosa.

Recently I asked my uncle what had happened to Kessels. Turns out his friend died a while ago, and the family closed up shop about 10-15 years ago. His son, Koen Kessels, is a succesful classical musician in Belgium.

En historia om Kessels som jag hittade på ett forum.
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