Respecting a tradition that goes back to at least the 1750s, members of Luxembourg’s secretive cycling community are gathering this weekend in a private location to sacrifice last year’s bicycles in hopes of ensuring a good riding season.
“The Vëlobrennen is one of our most sacred rituals, one that admittedly must look strange to outsiders,” explains Charlie Joost, an 11th-generation cyclist who holds the title of Wearer of the Sacred Lycra. “But trust me, joggers have really weird rituals too.”
“This is our way of saying goodbye to the snow-rain that blankets the roads in the winter,” he continued. “I really can’t tell you enough how unpleasant it is having little beads of ice get stuck in your teeth while you’re cruising down a country road at 40 kilometres per hour.”
During the Vëlobrennen, riders from all around the country stack as many as 1000 bicycles before setting them ablaze. While the fire is roaring, they walk around, compliment each other on their gear, and pass around an ancient bidon which has been filled with sports drink blessed by a title-holding rider.
Cyclist Sonia Mendes, who is the community’s eldest Spokes-Person and has been cycling for nearly 30 years, says that the one season she didn’t participate in the Vëlobrennen, she was plagued by rusty gears, flat tires, and drivers constantly honking at her.
“My partner says we do this just to have an excuse to get new bicycles, but that’s because he has no respect for tradition and ritual,” she said. “He fails to understand the mystery of the Vëlobrennen.”
First published by RTL Today on March 7, 2019