Rodania, the sound of bike racing

How do you know a bike race is coming? Roadside fans often wait for the audible rumble of TV helicopters to indicate the race is approaching.

But in Belgium it’s different. Instead you know the race is coming thanks to the call of Rodania.

If it’s your first time to a bike race in Belgium you could be forgiven for thinking rodania is Flemish for “stand back” because ahead of almost every race a car horn blares out four notes and then you hear the yodel-like call of “Ro-dan-i-a”.

Rodania is a Swiss watch company from Lengnau, in the heart of the country’s watch making area – and minutes away from the BMC factory too. The Swiss company wanted to expand and in 1947 opened offices in Caracas, Montreal, New York, Brussels and London. For an unknown reason Brussels became the international base of the company in 1951 and the company’s association with cycling began in 1954 when it started sponsoring bike racing.

Merckx Rodania
It’s Eddy time

By the 1970s Eddy Merckx was a brand ambassador and the company was almost Belgian in brand, sponsoring cyclists, bike races and others in Belgium. But if the visible associations paid off, the brand struck gold with the audible jingle played by the lead car that drives ahead of every race. I challenge you to find anyone in Belgium who is not familiar with the four notes and “Rodania” call. Like the theme of The Simpsons or the tunes of an ice cream van, it is instantly recognisable… to Belgians at least.

Sporza did a great interview (in Dutch) with the man behind the jingle, Manfred Aebi. They use the term oorworm to describe the jingle, “ear worm” because of the way the notes bury themselves in your ear. Play the clip above and it is memorable… and annoying. Aebi, a Swiss immigrant and manager of the company’s offices in Brussels at the time explained that he was driving along one day and heard Beethoven on the radio and this is where he got the idea. The opening notes of the fifth symphony are very similar. Aebi just borrowed them and simplified them into the Rodania jingle.

The jingle is dead! Long live the jingle!
But little is sacred in the commercial world of pro cycling. Just as the Tour of Flanders can drop the Muur van Geraardsbergen from one year to the other, the Rodania theme is about to be laid to rest.

But the tradition is not finished. Instead a new jingle has been created and Rodania is holding a competition with Het Nieuwsblad to pick a new oorworm.

Take your pick and you can vote for the winner over at The competition closes on Monday 12 March and the new jingle will be aired for the first time at the Tour of Flanders on 1 April.

Thanks to Twitter’s Reno Van Dael for alerting me to the story.

39 thoughts on “Rodania, the sound of bike racing”

  1. Interesting piece, like any in here. Great blog.

    The old one has this yodely sound to the vocals, which links the brand to it’s homeland. I like that.
    They haven’t thrown the motif away on any of the new ones, so sense does preval in a way.
    Optie 2 for me. I’d rather have eurodisco synth than a crappy metal guitar or artificial trumpets. Optie 2 also has a funky twist at the very end.

  2. They are all pretty horrible, but I have voted for option 1. However I feel somewhat disenfranchised that keeping the original is not an optional vote, a bit like “we have carried out a full consultation and blah % have voted for blah. πŸ™‚

  3. There is no end to my expanding knowledge and increasing cultural awareness since I started reading this blog and the season has only just started. Never thought I’d be watching Belgian TV and listening to Belgian / Swizz jingles, I’m getting a bit worried about where this will end up taking me πŸ™‚ I’m shortly going to be writing a piece on my changing cultural landscape and INRNG is definitely going in there. Great stuff

  4. @Martijn I hope you’re right, those new jingles are terrible…

    This is just the sort of thing I love about following cycling: the little insights it provides (often via the wonderful INRNG) into local culture, history, quirks, and personalities. Even with the frequent negative stories – doping here, dodgy UCI behaviour there – cycling so frequently brightens my day in surprising ways. I definitely didn’t wake up this morning and think “today a Belgian advertising jingle is going to bring a smile to my face” and yet here I am grinning away.

    Have to agree with L_Islandais though, the poor driver of the lead car must go insane by the end of the day…

  5. Minor point: the insect is oorworm but the earworm-music is oorwurm where wurm is an old or regional variant of worm, funnily enough just like the man in the old jingle sounds old-fashioned in his diction compared to the chorus in the new proposals. (And yeah, the best jokes are played out even before April 1st.)

  6. Great little tidbit. Agree on the driver. Either they sound proof the car or the job application reads “hard of hearing highly desirable”…

  7. This is sooooo true ! I downloaded the jingle myself a couple of years ago and use it as notification ringtone on my phone. People hearing it would fall down with laughter and start singing along because the melody is in everyone’s mind (I’m from Belgium by the way).
    Thanks Mr Inrng for this great blog !!!

  8. My dad used to drive a car during the holiday season with a speaker on top of the roof playing Christmas carols. To this day he detests listening to Christmas music. I do feel for the lead car driver…

  9. Well, since this morning’s visit I have been out for a 100 km or so ride, and every now and then the curse of the incessant jingle has struck, RO-DAN-IA, RO-DAN-IA, thanks for that Chef. This has reminded me of the Breton Jeux GA announcers van of the mid 70s, always Breton bagpipes, it used to drive me mad. Then one day, Led Zeppelin, Cream and The Doors, it was great, riders pinging off up the road, not bothered, I was staying near the van, then when the break had over a minute the van moved up and so did I!

  10. It works like a Pavlovian reaction. Dogs drool, and cycling fans scramble for a place on the roadside. At least I did, and so did everyone else around me.

  11. Dammit! I read this, listened to the clips, laughed, walked away to get some cleaning done and realized I was whistling the stupid thing. Dammit!

  12. As I said on Twitter earlier, this is just GOLD! Made me feel Flanders right away.

    And if they are launching a new tune at the Ronde, it’ll make the extra trip to Gent Wevelgem all the sweeter πŸ™‚

    *sits back and takes long swig from Leffe glass*

  13. My girlfriend and I went to see the Tour of Flanders last year and she was more entertained by the Rooooooooodania car than the race itself. We saw the race go by 5 or 6 times and everytime, my excitement watch the cyclists when I saw the helicopter get closer was drowned by her yelling “ROOOODANIIIA!” I woke up to her ‘singing’ that for the rest of the Belgium/England trip. Wonderful. Thanks for nothing Rodania!

  14. If I call John Howard up now 39 years later and whistle the theme music playing everyday in the 1973 Tour of Ireland he goes, “fuck you bike guy” and hangs up!
    I did it once in a break with him and 6 others once and he actually was confused/stunned enough to let me get up the road before he came to his senses and dragged the group up.
    I have the music on DVD with the Film of that race. Time to call John again.

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