I have very conflicted feelings about eroica in Britannia. On one hand, I like old bicycles and I like the people who love them, rebuild them and ride them. On the other hand, I often feel that the people who organise the event have almost no feeling for cycling and cyclists, but are very keen to make as much money as possible out us.
Anyway, with Kyla, I rode eroica in Britannia for the fourth time this year. That’s every time they’ve held this retro ride in Britain (in 2014, I rode the original in Italy). My first outing was a day trip—a long day trip from Coventry—but when we saw the event, we decided that the next time, that is, three years ago, we’d go for the whole schmeer, and that’s what we’ve done ever since.
The “rules” for the ride are clear, if un-enforced: you’re supposed to ride a bike built before 1987 that uses down-tube shifters and has not been upgraded, for instance with clipless pedals. There are minor stated exceptions for “classic” bikes like the Brompton folders, but basically, you’re supposed to ride a bike from the “heroic” era of cycling, a bike that hasn’t been “improved” with modern gewgaws like indexed brake-shifters. Many people haul old bikes out of the shed, and seem barely to have tested them, though other people have done careful, sensitive rebuilds that restore their bikes to their original beauty (or sometimes, better than new). There are also odd bikes: post and delivery bikes, ordinaries (penny-farthings) and pre-war bikes. Lots of weird bikes, lots of bike lovers.
I’ve been riding the Rourke that I rebuilt and had repainted at Brian Rourke Cycles in Stoke on Trent. I’ve tried to refine the bike, moving it fully back to its Campagnolo fittings and fixing up or up-grading decorative bits ever since. Probably the original owner replaced the Campagnolo derailleur with a Shimano 600; I returned to an appropriate Record derailleur. The biggest crisis and my full introduction to the companionship of other people who like old bikes came in my second eroica, where my bottom bracket failed. We went from stall to stall looking for someone who had a bottom bracket that fit, and then someone who could install it. I got several offers of loaner bikes before we found Road2Trail Cycle Clinic who replaced the bottom bracket and got me back on the road.
Last year, Kyla rode eroica for the first time, on a Harry Hall bike built in Manchester. This year, though, she rode a beautiful early 80’s Pinarello that had every bit lightened: the chain rings, the Campagnolo Record rear derailleur, all had been drilled through to make the lightest possible bike for its time. The Pinarello was already advanced for its time, with cables routed through the frame to reduce resistance, and the drilling out made it even better for racing. It’s a gorgeous bike! However, we discovered that the bottom bracket (what is it with bottom brackets?) had come loose. Again, we went to Road2Trail, and again they fixed us up, quickly and helpfully.
This year, the eroica organisers had moved the venue from the edge of Bakewell to Friden Grange, about 7 miles south west of Bakewell. Most people that we talked to felt the new site was not as nice as previous years. You couldn’t walk into Bakewell—you were contained on the site. In addition, there were fewer bike jumble sellers, and even some faithful regular vendors, like Pedal Pedlar, were not there. There were lots of up-market stalls, like Masarati, but even Brooks saddles had a smaller booth this year.
One of the pleasures of the festival was the music. On Saturday night, we listened to ABC with Martin Fry. ABC were part of Kyla’s youth, but, growing up in the US, it wasn’t a group I was familiar with. They put on a good show, though.
The ride itself was good. We rode the short distance, which largely followed disused railroad tracks so there was little climbing. There were, however, lots of gravel roads: I was strongly reminded of eroica in Gaiole, the original ride which was invented in 1997 to agitate for the preservation of the gravel roads of Chianti, the strade bianche (“white roads”). Much of this ride was on similar dusty limestone strewn roads; we walked occasionally, when the gravel got too rough and the potholes too deep, though other riders bashed on through. Occasionally the countryside seemed to mimic Tuscany.