18 November 2012

L'Eroica 2012

L'Eroica 2012

Juliane and I cannot remember when or why we decided to ride the L'Eroica. It was about a year ago and, I think, inspired by some of the articles I read when I bought my first vintage bike. So the first question must be, "why buy a vintage bike?" I'm afraid, the answer is far from simple. Something to do with the blend of science, craftsmanship and art that produced wonderfully responsive hand-built frames in the 50's, 60's and 70's, many from small workshops at the back of the shop. Frames, for example, built by unique characters like the irascible Major Nichols - who would throw potential customers out of his shop if he didn't like 'the cut of their jib', Claude Butler, who built some of the best frames in the country before his slide into alcoholism, and the Major Brothers, who were building frames for off-road 'rough stuff' many decades before anyone thought of a mountain bike. All of this a million miles from modern factory produced carbon and alloy frames all available on e-bay for a couple of hundred quid if you spot something that others miss.

As our bike and frame collection grew it was inevitable that we would have to go to the premier vintage bike event in the World. L'Eroica started 15 years ago with a handful of riders campaigning against the ever advancing tarmac that was gobbling up apace the 'strade bianche' - unmade gravel and dust roads so typical of the Tuscan countryside. And the roads that many of Italy's most famous riders learnt their trade on - honing bike handling skills on the unstable surfaces and building stamina on the undulating terrain.

Impetuously, flights and hotels were booked and on-line entries made for the 205 km long course before really doing too much research into what was involved. It soon was evident that we had taken on a significant challenge. The long course has close to 4000m of climbing and about 100 km on gravelled 'strade bianche'. Much of the climbing (and descending) is off road, 10%, 15% even some 20% up and down. We noticed that vintage bikes have vintage brakes!

Originally we had planned to ride two e-bay purchases - a beautiful 1952 Holdsworth Cyclone (cost 150 pounds) and a Carlton clubman from the 60's (100 pounds). The Holdsworth is a joy to ride, the Carlton isn't. The 'cyclone' was a top of the range frame - lightweight, responsive - weighing in as a built up bike at around 11kg. The Carlton seems to built of scaffolding poles and recycled u-boat parts with the frame alone close to 11kg... Luckily though, we received a very timely wedding present in the shape of the 1970's Claude Butler 'majestic' that has been hanging up in Dad's garage for years. The majestic was a touring bike rather than a lightweight racer. However touring gears and generally good condition made it a clear favourite over the Carlton.

Thursday 5th October was departure day. Bikes packed in travel boxes and carrying a couple of backpacks, we took the train to Gatwick for our flight to Pisa. After an overnight stay in Pisa we unpacked the bikes and took the train to Sienna for lunch in the famous town square before riding to our hotel close to the event HQ in Gaiole. On the train we met, Oscar from Tijuana, the first ever Mexican to ride the event. He had a beautiful Swiss, all chrome framed, bike that he had bought out of a skip for 10 pounds from a house clearance. It wasn't difficult to spot cyclists making their way to the event - down tube gear shifters are a give away! I cannot describe the event any better than this account from a fellow rider: http://www.cyclingtips.com.au/2012/10/leroica/. This is the official website and here is a bit of data:

For us the day itself was both the hardest we have had on a bike and the best. The combination of old bikes and equipment on surfaces that can be truly awful and very steep coupled with the terrain make the long course a true test of resolve and fitness. We were very pleased to finish in twelve and a half hours. The good humour and genuine friendliness of all the other riders made the whole day a joy. Compared to other big events we have ridden like the week long Transalp race, L'Eroica doesn't have a high concentration of the obsessed racers trying to grind each other into the road. L'Eroica is about the bikes and the people who appreciate them and have the heart to ride them.

We saw riders labouring on fixed wheel bikes from the 1920's, we saw French, Italian and Spanish bikes. We rode with Italians singing 'Felicita'. We rode with Englishmen singing 'ten green bottles'. At the feed stops we ate local delicacies, salami, ham, cheese, local bread and cakes. We drank local red wine poured by volunteers in period costume. At the last stop we even had sweet 'vin santo' served with cantuccini biscuits!

We talked with Bob from Bristol on his Hetchins, Tim from Birmingham on his Major Nichols, Gene from New York on his Gios Torino, and many, many others. We stopped to see if Oscar from Mexico needed a hand when we saw him stopped by the side of the road. Everyone was friendly and helpful.
Luckily you don't have to torture yourself over 200 km. Three shorter rides are also offered, so no excuses not to give it a go.

We'll be back - David Jacob

1 comment:

David L. said...

Thanks for the report and links.

I was skeptical at first (never been interested in Civil War re-enactment, so why would I want to do a vintage ride?) ... but it sounds and looks like a lot of fun, and I hope I can join a P.E. future team.

"Best day on the bike." I have heard that several times from several people about rides they did this year ... and I think the great thing about cycling is that we can have many "best days on the bike" over our lives. It could be this kind of event, ... or plenty of others.

Hardest? I suspect that the wine and ham added to the difficulty scale, though I do not underestimate the challenge of climbing 3800 meters on gravel roads!