EROICA CALLING ....
FROM NOT SO FAR AWAY?
Emanating from Tuscany, the Eroica mix of cycling, retro and entertainment has become part of the UK festival year. Eroica UK offers a fun, a lot of vintage preening, and, for Stephen Dyster, in 2017 it meant a hundred miler through some of the best scenery the Peak District has to offer. Thinking of it in 2018? Well, get started - thinking and doing - early.
As an Eroica newbie in 2017, I was pretty sure what to expect; vintage bikes, retro themed fun and, above all, a tough hundred mile ride with nigh on 9000 feet of ascent on an old bike. Pulling back into the finishing straight at Friden Grange - and the assembled throng really do cheer and applaud - was the the culmination of months of thought, preparation and insufficient training.
Get Some In
Training that is. Unless you are used to riding hilly hundred milers, enjoyment will be considerably enhanced if you have good lungs and strong legs. There are shorter rides, but even those will be a happier experience if rather than gasping in rhythm to every turn of the pedals, you can have a chat and admire the scenery. Advice on the Eroica site went from a distinct training programme to have a few beers the night before and don’t worry abut it.
General riding has always been my training, so apart from trying to get more miles in on the Eroica bike - more of that later - I did little. Do more, next time, I noted. In 2017 the major climbs were all in the second half of the ride. A short wall out of Millers Dale, Mam Nick from Edale an interminable drag from Whaley Bridge to Aldgate Nick, Axe Edge from the Goyt Valley (not so bad in itself, but after the other quite enough) and a surprisingly vicious ramp out of Crowdicote. These told, physically and mentally. I walked chinks of some. No shame, most did - and the idea is to get round. There is no winner, although Eroica suggest that this is really the last person back.
Best advice is to take full advantage of the catering at the feed stations: it is excellent. Nor is there good reason to rush. Breakfast, lunch and tea are on offer on the longest ride. Take time at each. Eat well and rest. Look forward to the range of street food at the end.
Mind you, half a pound of midget gems came in handy, too.
Of course, there are pubs and cafes along the way, so stopping for a pint and bag of scratchings or a coffee and cake is perfect. Personally, beer during the ride would have been a performance de-enhancer - it was a very hot day - and the feeding stations helped give the ride some rhythm.
Hydration of my choice was Adam’s Ale. Take on plenty of it. If you have a single bidon, add a second. Stuff a bottle in your pocket … ok, it was a hot day and I’d stick with a couple of bottles on a wet one. A propensity to eat and drink little on a ride gained me the nickname “The Camel”. The Eroica bashed any remaining Bactrian tendencies out of me.
Pints and coffee stops were for a different day. Don’t get the impression that a hundred-miler is unusual - I’d done longer in 2017 several times, but apart from the occasion and the excellence of the scenery, there’s the bike.
There are rules. Eroica is retro and vintage and the law of Eroica is specific on certain issues. They are on the website, and whilst there was no evidence of “secret police” on the day, there are standards, old chap, and the decent thing is to keep them up. Play with a straight bat.
For the hundred miler a pre-1987 road bike, with gear changers on the downtube and no SPDs! That seemed to be the bottom line. Getting started now gives you a chance to source a suitable mount and make any repairs or alterations you want.
Deep pockets may find fully preened, glittering machines easily enough. On a budget, I searched around for a while, tweeted an appeal for help and got a message back from Glory Days Bikes. Yep, they have beautiful bikes, but they had a Carlton Clubman in my size for a couple of hundred pounds.
I met them at Hassop Cafe on the Monsal Trail for a test ride. Perfect. OK, it would not win a prize for most beautiful Eroica road bike (mind, you, the rider would not enhance its chances, either); the Clubman may not be the most sought after model - it was always what it said rather than an exotic speedster. There’s a touch of the workaday er … Clubman … about it.
I loved it; comfortable, beautifully built, with what power I can offer channelled straight and strong. Reynolds 531, of course, but light and minimalist. Dual chainring, six speed on the back. I’d have been fifteen when this was built - wish I’d had one.
The excellence should have come as no surprise. When Raleigh took-over Carlton, many of the Carlton artisans went on to work at Raleigh’s Ilkeston based Special Bike Development Unit - the cutting edge of 1970s road bike design. This bike was, in part, the product of some of the best bike brains, and hands, of the era - a bike with a history, if not a pedigree.
So, start seeking your bike out, if you do not have one.
A moral question; to modify or not to modify? I’d decided that I’d add mudguards. I regard these as a courtesy when on a mass ride that is not a race. They were not necessary - the weather was very hot and dry - and, of course, were not the norm on road bikes. Mudguards were a personal preference.
They caused comment. “We do love rattly mudguards, don’t we?” said one chap to his buddy as I went past their glittering bikes of beauty. The same gentleman then went on to comment that my favourite saddle look like it belonged on a horse. The mudguards did not actually rattle, but his point was taken. Perhaps I should up the style count next time; paint job for the Clubman, pain-inducing narrow saddle, mirror polish the metal. I wanted to reply that, at least my rattly mudguards were going the whole way round, rather than taking the medium route. I refrained; would not have been sporting.
Days after the ride, feeling less guilty for walking some of the hills - seems most people did - I inspected the chainring. It was a 53/39. Used to a granny gear on a tourer that twiddles up almost anything, it explained some of my reluctance to keep going. Should I change this to say a 48/36 or such like? Knowing the ride, could I face it if I didn’t? Would I be destroying the bikes identity? Actually, in the foothills of the Staffordshire Moorlands and the rolling lanes toward Shrewsbury, where I cycle day to day, I’d not change a thing about the Carlton.
Splendidly rigged-out paragons may be seen strutting their stuff at Eroica. A wonderland for the Harris Tweed seller, though linen was more comfortable on this summer weekend. So, off-bike linen suit, Prince of Wales check shirt and Paisley cravat, with brown brogues, was my dress uniform. Easily assembled form my small but, I say, stylish, wardrobe.
On the bike is different. Why did I ever throw away those leather touring shoe I cycled in back in the day? Wool shorts and jersey? Socks? Cap?
Shoes were ordered from Lennon’s. There are lots on the market, depending on how deep your pockets are. Order early as many are made to order.
Eroica branded gear is the choice on many participants, but there are plenty of people manufacturing suitable cycling attire. Seeking out shorts and jersey in plenty of time kept costs down. Get searching soon, would be my advice. The Eroica Britannia sale ended on the last day of August, anyway, but the on-line shop will soon restock.
Ain’t it itchy? Woollen cycling clothing? Yep, but modern merino or merino mix fabrics are fine next to the skin. Take care when doing the laundry and warn others in stern terms that shrinkage of your lovely cycling jersey will result in dire consequences.
Wool is a bit saggier than modern fabrics. Stuffing half a pound of midget gems, basic tools, route card, wallet, phone and the gubbins may seem like a good idea - it did to me. Thanks are due to Gordon, from the Isle of Man, who returned the bits I dropped. A small saddle pack would do nicely.
Cap or helmet? Scrum-cap like traditional padded head-wear can be bought - at a cost. I wore a helmet for the first part of the ride? Why? Most participants were doing the mid-length ride which coincided with the long ride from near Brassington to Miller’s Dale. Lots of riders can equate to more risk form small lapses of concentration and road discipline. Having said that, Eroica Britannia does not insist on helmet-wearing, but a disclaimer is made when registering.
Cap took over for much of the latter part of the ride when, except for those hardy folk who churned magnificently up the sections of hills where I employed the twenty-four inch gear, there were few others about.
Facial hair. Once upon a time a German lady, who had been born in 1900, told me that she had not seen such splendid whiskers as mine since the Uhlans marched through Nuremberg in 1914. These perished at the hands of Children in Need. Desire for domestic harmony prevailed over a desire not to appear whisker-less at Eroica. Concerns such as these will not bother much of the population. There are some magnificent hirsute displays, but it is by no means compulsory - even for the men.
So, if the Eroica is calling you, commence your campaign soon …. and all the jolly best of British to you!