Well it’s taken a while to get here, but got here I did. Firstly it was the challenge of the right bike. A bike – in my view – that needed to look, feel and be, right. Meeting Archie sorted that one. Then it was the shoulder. One month before the 2015 event I smashed myself up. Ces’t la vie, that’s cycling for you. Last year there was a clash. Anyway. It was well worth the wait.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the story behind Eroica is an enjoyable one. The whole thing started in 1997. 92 riders rode in the first event to highlight the loss of white gravel roads in Tuscany (Strade Bianchi). Giancarlo Brocci was the brains behind it and sought to ‘reconnect others to the heritage that inspired much Italian history, literature, culture, and music’. He called the first riders “hunters of feelings and emotions”. Which quite frankly, is a very decent way to put it. Eroica has since blossomed into a 7000+ rider event and the concept exported to 7 other countries. My first Eroica – as this most certainly won’t be my last – was ours; Eroica Britannia.
Eroica is essentially two components merged together to form a whole. Firstly there’s the festival. Music, food, beer, stalls offering vintage cycling components, new cycling stuff, festival orientated goodies and other items of loveliness. There’s giant deckchairs for the kids to jump on. A helter skelter. A Victorian merry-go-round. Bike trickery. Hay bales. Nostalgia. It’s all there in spades.
Then there’s the ride choices. A 25 mile option, perfect for getting into the spirit and sharing it with the family. A 55 mile option, which will give you a very decent day on the bike in the Derbyshire Dales. And finally the 100 mile ride. A beast of a thing that takes in peaks and climbs, peppering them liberally with lovely paths formed from the 60’s cull of Britain’s railways. I chose the latter.
The rules make it clear that this is a vintage bike ride and only pre-87 bikes need apply. My Carlton Corsa – loaded with the lovely extra weight of mudguards, dynamo system and pannier rack – passed with ease. After a very enjoyable Saturday (spent socialising and soaking up the heatwave to the sound of the festival bands) I started in the first wave of riders, keen to avoid the worst of the sun if at all possible (it wasn’t) and keen to enjoy the quieter roads. It was well worth it. The gravel path, redolent of Strade Bianchi, churned away beneath the vintage wheels. I chatted to Al (Alistair) a mountain biker from Bristol riding a 40’s Butcher’s bike with a dodgy 3 speed Sturmey Archer hub and dressed in tweeds. He too was riding the 100 and stoically resigned to a very long day out. I thought of him later as I climbed over Mam Nick; 2 miles with 15% sections in a blazing sun. The conditions and the profile of the ride were the defining feature of the day.
I chatted to an Italian rider, who proved to be my shadow for almost half of the event. I was bailed out by a rider 10 miles from home when my water bottle jettisoned itself on a steep descent. I enjoyed my lunch at Millers Dale, served in a box, with cheese and pickle roll, bakewell tart, sausage roll and jellybabies beautifully presented. When you’re used to your food emerging from your back pocket squished and slightly warm, this was a treat indeed.
It was these things that I’ll take from Eroica. The little details. The focus on a family friendly festival. The conscious and successful attempt to emulate a monster ride honest to its Italian roots. The convivial celebration of all things vintage bike. If I were to offer a criticism, I’d much prefer not to be hearing festival music at 12.30am when I’m camping on site and planning to get up at 5am. I’d also ensure that parking and camping dovetail together. But these are relatively minor points and in no way sullied the experience.
It took me an age to get to this event, but I’m most certainly glad I did. Perhaps its time to follow Eroica around the globe, improving the vintageness of my outlook and kit as we go. Subject to home approval of course.
All images taken at Eroica Britannia 2017. If you know Al, please doff your cap to him.