BikeVille innovation centre takes shape in Belgium

Flanders Bike Valley will have BikeVille as its centrepiece.
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Construction has finished on the external walls for BikeVille, a modernist building on an industrial estate in Paal, a town in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. When it opens in April 2016 the 2400m2 BikeVille will contain a wind tunnel, a concept store and a business “incubator” section with 25 cycling firms, including start-ups.

BikeVille is the centrepiece of the Flanders Bike Valley, a tech collective created with financial support from the government of Flanders and consisting of Belgian companies Ridley, Lazer and BioRacer. Originally conceived in 2013 as a performance centre modelled on Flanders Drive, a cluster of automotive companies, the non-profit Flanders Bike Valley has evolved to cater to other forms of cycling, including bike tourism and urban cycling. Fifty companies are now members of Flanders Bike Valley, with some of them based within one kilometre of BikeVille.

“The building is ready but it has to be outfitted,” said Flanders’ Bike Valley CEO Bert Celis from a booth at Eurobike. “At the start we had a large investment from Flanders Investment and Trade but with funding from our 50 members, and with funds generated from our wind tunnel, there will be less need for government support in the future.”

The centere will also include a restaurant (“with athletes’ food,” said Celis), Ghent University’s bicycle testing unit, and a bike-fit zone operated by BioRacer. BikeVille’s business-incubation section will be a mix of start-ups and companies seeking to rub shoulders with other bicycle businesses. Aerodynamic road bike maker Velocite of Taiwan is one of the companies which could open within BikeVille.

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“After Eurobike we are going to the Flanders Bike Valley,” said Velocite CEO Victor Major, at Eurobike with his wife, Jessica (above). “We are also meeting with the Flanders Investment and Trade about support for setting up an office. Taiwan is a fantastic place for manufacturing but many of our customers are in Europe so it makes sense to be closer to our customer base.”

Major added: “We’re R&D focussed so it will be attractive to use BikeVille’s technical facilities, especially the wind tunnel. The main wind tunnel in Taiwan was designed for testing the resilience of buildings in typhoons, it’s not so good for testing bicycles.”

The wind tunnel will be in high demand with members of the Flanders Bike Valley but there will also be public access for testing the aero effectiveness of bike fits.

“But BikeVille is not only about performance,” stressed Celis. “That may have been where the concept started but we very quickly realised that the cycle tourism and urban mobility markets are much bigger.”

BikeVille will also be the hub for companies and municipalities preparing and promoting the next generation of separated cycle paths. With one eye on the growth of speed pedelecs Flanders is investing millions of Euros in long-distance intra-urban cycleways.

BikeVille has its official opening on 1st April, two days before the Tour of Flanders which, in 2016, is celebrating its 100th annual edition.

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Flanders Bike Valley CEO, Bert Celis (left) and chairman Marc Hufkens 

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