Entrepreneur, road cycling, apartments, Barcelona & Poblenou
Steven is a Belgian currently living in the barrio of Poblenou in Barcelona, with his wife Txell and their two sons Eddy and Jacques. A huge fan of road cycling and real estate he runs companies in both of these fields and feels BCN is the best city in the world for road cycling.
Can you give us a brief summary of your cycling background in Barcelona?
I moved to Barcelona 15 years ago after university to gain some international experience. My plan was to stay 6 months but things turned out differently. In 2003 I started, possibly the first bike messenger company in Spain, using imported Canadian messenger bags and riding fixed gears. At this point there was no real bike scene in Barcelona and I think historically speaking, our group of messengers has a big hand in building that community. Cyclists in Barcelona knew each other at least by the face, and we saluted each other. Sounds so retro now!
The courier service grew into a distribution company for e-commerce for large companies such as Nespresso, Fnac and later merged into ‘Emakers’, one of the bigger eCommerce cargo bike delivery companies in Europe.
In 2012 I left Emakers and started a rental business in the neighborhood of Poblenou. Tourism was growing and we started to offer guided road bike tours in and around Barcelona. We teamed up with Pavé – the most beautiful bike shop in the world – to boost the road bike rental and guided tours. This was again a big step forward for us, Pavé is so truly passionate about road bikes and we immediately found common ground in that. Nowadays we still work very closely together. It’s an honour for us be their service provider in Barcelona.
What role does road cycling play in your personal life?
A huge role. For me cycling is the perfect tool for reaching happiness. The moment I get on my road bike I feel pure joy and contentment. I cycle because I love every single part of it and it gives my life balance. Being in shape also makes a huge contribution to my personal and professional life. That’s why I try to ride at least 3 times a week, preferably every other day. Hopefully I’ll do that for the rest of my life!
Some of my best friends are road cycling enthusiasts too. It’s like speaking a common language and sharing a common culture, even though we are all from different parts of the world – it’s so beautiful and so powerful.
Describe your favourite ride around Barcelona
My favourite ride is a single ride, leaving home just before sunrise and going north. I need 20 minutes to get to the beach of Badalona. I want to get there for when the sun rises. That moment is just pure magic and makes my day.
In summer that means that I leave home at 6am. I love the moment when I hit the road so early, with almost nobody around. I go down all the way Diagonal and then turn left. I am fascinated with the area in Sant Adriá, next to the old power plant and enjoy seeing the three chimneys in the morning. Then I ride through the yacht harbour of Badalona just before reaching the beach cycling path of Badalona. The Badalona beach is special because the bicycle can get you closer to the seaside than any other vehicle. When I ride there I feel privileged to experience this; just you and your bike and the sunrise.
I then follow the road north and turn left in the direction of Tiana. The road almost immediately starts to go up and the climb is 6 km, with an average of 5%. This is where your pulse goes up. I prefer an undulating and little challenging terrain over flat rides and that’s what this ride is all about.
First of all you ride through the village of Tiana. It is a quiet village without much traffic. Every now and than you see a mountain biker or a road cyclist. When I feel strong I do this part on the big plate although I have to admit that I am more a ‘Diesel’ rider and get better after some km’s. There are a few slightly more flat parts in the climb and I love it to maintain the same pulse and gear up when it gets less steep. After the village you reach el Parc de la Serralada de Marina and the road continues all the way up to the peak, la Conreria.
Once you leave Tiana and reach the park, the views are stunning. You have some smaller vineyards at your right hand side and you can see the ocean when you look over your shoulder. Think about it, we have only been riding for 45 minutes so far and look at all the breath-taking scenery and amazing things we have experienced already. Now the climbing part for the ride is over as you go over the hill. The downhill from La Conreria is not very technical but you want to watch out for possible moisture on some parts of the road. In winter there’s also a huge difference in temperature at both sides of the hill. It gets immediately colder at the west side of the hill but in summer this is not an issue. Anyway, the downhill is about 5km and leads you to the village of Sant Fost. It is an ideal downhill to recover from a fast climb too.
From there you turn left and have a 20km to do on false flat roads but slightly downhill. For me this road back to Barcelona means hands down in the ‘guidon’ and keeping a good pace. It’s a classic route for road cyclists and the traffic is OK. I believe cars do seem to respect cyclists in Spain and so I feel totally safe here too. I usually take the bike path that follows the river Besós at Montcada i Reixach. Early in the day there is almost nobody there and often I can’t help myself from doing a little time trail for the last 5km down at the river. The last 300 meter I sprint it all out, it feels natural to do it there and I think many cyclist do the same at that spot. I love to put tempo variation in my rides, which automatically empties my mind. After the bike path next to the River, I take the same way back to the bottom of Diagonal in Barcelona and back home.
Any places for coffee you recommend.
Yes, Bardalona! This place is incredible, it looks like you have walked right into an American movie from the fifties. The place has actually been a location for many movies.
What does your typical day look like after that?
The days I go for a ride, I tend to be back home around 8am. By than, everybody is awake and with a toddler and baby at home, it’s its own kind of rock and roll. I take a quick shower and take our oldest son to school with our Bullitt cargo bike.
After that I check in on Pedal and meet with Luis who is the manager of Pedal. As a matter of fact he is also the designer etc., such a talented, great guy. I enjoy staring the day at Pedal and meet other cyclists from all around the world who visit us and I love giving them advice on the best rides in Barcelona. After that I head over to my office to dedicate some time to my other projects. In reality this means I spend time on the cycling blog and I’m developing and my real estate business and spend a lot of time on this. My office is in a really inspiring converted huge warehouse space that I share with some website designers.
On route there I always pick up a coffee at Skye coffee. It’s a hidden gem and serves some of the best coffee in the neighbourhood.
Besides I spend a lot of time outdoors as well. Practically every day I visit a property for sale or check the progress of the works on one the flats we are renovating.
What is your neighborhood Poblenou, that you live and work in like? Is it good for cycling?
Poble Nou is former industrial neighborhood with a rich history. It’s a small Mediterranean coast community, you can say a refreshing break from the noisy and crowded center of the city. Poblenou is known for having a genuine village spirit. The ‘heart’ of Poblenou is the Rambla de Poblenou. There’s a lot happening here in the neighborhood. Recently, a lot of good shops and bars or restaurants have opened, like Catacroquet, Noak Room or Balius Bar. On top of that it is a beach district and it has some great parks. It is a wonderful place to live with kids. It’s also known for its high concentration of Start-ups, communication and IT businesses; the so called 22@ project.
From a real estate point of view, I am completely in love with the neighborhood too. When I walk around here I look at these nice buildings and see so many opportunities to develop new projects.
It’s the best possible district to ride a bike in Barcelona too. It’s quiet, not too much traffic, roads a wider than in the city centre, plus you have the amazing bike path next to the sea. The only thing I don’t like in Poblenou, bike-wise, are the traffic lights. They just doesn’t make sense, you have red at every corner.
And a final question, who would like to ride with and interview if you had the choice?
That’s easy. Norman Foster. In the first place because my wife and I went to see a documentary ‘How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster’ and the rest is history. We see it a bit like the beginning of being together. Mr. Foster is a road cyclist himself and it seems he has a huge passion for it. We both are married to a Spanish woman and then there is the world of architecture. We could even ride together up to Tibidabo where he built the Torre de Collserola, one of my favourite parks to ride to here in Barcelona. So much to talk about!!