This past weekend we rode the Velo Retro sportive out of Ulverston, in Cumbria in the Lake District. We came up on Friday for the Sunday ride and stayed in the Bay Horse Hotel—highly recommended for its beautiful view across Morecambe Bay. It was about two miles from the starting point of the ride in the centre of town, so an easy ride along a canal path. Lovely food at the Bay Horse including gooseberry jam, which I hadn’t had since I stayed at my grandmother’s home in Colorado.
Ulverston is a good town, a bit down at the heels, but the birthplace of Stan Laurel in 1890. There’s a Laurel and Hardy Museum and a fine bronze statue of the pair in front of the Town Hall. While we were at the starting point, we met a woman who was determined to be the first woman to successfully ride the Mighty Corinthian, a 300 km ride that started at 3:00 am on Saturday morning. She had a handsome Young’s bicycle, a 10-speed made in London years before. She was our hero.
We looked around the town on Friday, registered and got oriented to the starting point and other ride essentials. After a sleep-in on Saturday, we spent the large part of a rainy day on the Isle of Walney and in Barrow-in-Furness. We had an especially fine lunch at the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel in Barrow, which is not what we’d ordinarily expect from a grand hotel in a town even more faded than Ulverston. The rain had been worse overnight, and, as we walked slightly damp, we worried about the woman on the 300 km route.
Velo Retro is one of a group of rides dedicated to older bikes, generally steel, with downtube friction shifters. Eroica in Britannia is the gorilla of the bunch, but I’ve read of a few more one-day sportives where you’re encouraged to ride a pre-1987 bike, which is the date Eroica suggests. I got interested in retro bikes when I bought and reconditioned a Rourke. Brian Rourke Cycles in Stoke on Trent re-sprayed my bike. While we were there choosing the colour, I got to meet Brian Rourke who confirmed my bike as originally built there and dated it to about 1980. I’ve tweaked the bike some, including returning it to full Campagnolo gear. The original owner (probably) had changed the rear derailleur to a Shimano 600EX, and I returned it to Campy. I’ve ridden my Rourke not only at Eroica in Britannia (https://wordpress.com/post/2manybikesblog.wordpress.com/991) and Eroica in Gaiole (Chianti), but on regular sportives. It’s a strong, reliable ride. Last winter, we got a stunning Pinarello for Kyla, cherry red with Campagnolo gear that had been drilled out to lighten it. It dates from the early 1980’s. Kyla had ridden a Harry Hall (Manchester) last year, but this bike was so beautiful we couldn’t resist.
Velo Retro is a much smaller event than Eroica in Britannia. We saw rider numbers in the low 200’s, suggesting that was about the number who signed up. There are gains and losses in the smaller ride. Eroica is a heavily commercial event, out to squeeze every penny possible from participants. It’s also become less cycle-focused and more a summer festival, complete with “glamping” and music events. The move from Bakewell to the outskirts that occurred this year was accompanied by a sharp reduction in number of bike jumble sellers. Velo Retro is smaller and less well organised. It’s not trying to gouge participants, but, possibly as a result, it doesn’t attract as many people who are interested in older bikes. I’d ride it again in a flash, though.
We rode the short distance, Le Loafeur, which circled Coniston Water and totalled about 30 miles. It was a good ride on a gorgeous day, with enough hills to make us work. It had a fairly good feed station, though there wasn’t much for vegans. That’s something to be said for Eroica in Britannia: they had rest stop food for vegans as well as vegetarians. The route was surprisingly hilly—at least to me, who anticipated the sort of flat ride found around reservoirs and artificial lakes. The ride also was strikingly lovely, with views of green hills with scattered sheep and across the lake.
We arrived back in Ulverston to an almost empty finish line. The lack of organisation meant that there wasn’t much in the way of encouragement for a ride well ridden. We asked another rider to photograph us with the Laurel and Hardy statue (of course!). We found out from the race officials that the woman who we’d been rooting for hadn’t made it.