FEELING HEROIC? HERE COMES EROICA BRITANNIA
Well, there’s nothing not to look forward to, is there? Retro-style, cycling in the Peak District, music, theatre, entertainment, craft beer, gourmet food. Steve Dyster's personal view.
Lets us be clear, when I refer to bearded hipsters pedalling past me on the way to Mam Nick, I do not mean to exclude bearded fogeys, people without beards, or anyone else, regardless of gender, sexual preference or religious belief or none or anything else. I also do not wish to exclude those passing me going down from Mam Nick, or on any other ascent or descent.
Taking the opportunity to get a place a few months ago, alacrity and enthusiasm combined to lead me to declare to my friends that I would take on the 100 miler (with, it has been revealed, over 8000 feet of ascent). Hundred-milers in hilly country are not unfamiliar, but to enjoy the occasion one would prefer to cross the finish line at a leisurely pace, raise a pint of best bitter and take the plaudits available to someone likely to turn up well into the second half. The Eroica is not a race, not a sportive, it is a ride; a retro-ride requiring pre-1987 bicycle - though many will ride even older or replica, tribute machines in the shorter rides. Red-faced old buffers in tweed have a prominent place in our British folklore - I just don’t want to be one when I cross the line, finish, not starting, line that is.
Preparing the Bicycle
This was easy, thanks to Glory Days Cycles, who contacted me after a few tweeted bleats about seeking a bike. They were not the only option, but the Carlton Clubman they sold me for a very modest price is as good a ride as I have ever had. Twelve speeds do not provide the range I’d like on a tourer, but this is a speedy little machine and only needs a rapid rider to take it purring along the road. Instead it has to put up with me. Even so, its Reynolds 531 tubing provides sufficient stiffness to allow even a sluggardly knave such as I to accelerate away in style; and is light-weight enough for me to keep that going for, what I regard, as a good-while.
Mudguards - not required, but, in my opinion, a courtesy in a mass ride which is not a race - new toe-clips to fit my hooves and a couple of other additions. All done on a budget. There’ll be no rosette for best in show for Carlton or me; advance apologies may be due for less-than-perfect preening, though I opine, humbly, that riding always takes precedence over spit and polish, even if cleanliness is next to Godliness in the creed of bicycling.
I did have other bikes lined up. Many years ago I got a Peugeot of unknown model from my elder brother when he emigrated to the USA. Having ridden it a good many miles, I bought a second-hand Dawes, swapped the Peugeot, for a microwave oven, with a teaching colleague and thought no more of it. By chance, we are still in touch and, bless him, he still has it in his care, though sadly dilapidated. Strip, paint job, repairs to forks and replacement components threatened to break the bank. Sentiment gave way to dirty lucre.
Since then, I have been offered a 1948 racing frame which has stood in another friends garage. Built in Norwich for the gentleman’s father - a club racer in those post-war years - possibly built by George Kerrison, it has sparked a desire. Combined with the Eroica I intend to see both the Peugeot and, what my wife calls, “another bike,” restored to the glory of yesteryear.
I mention that my wife thinks of a 1948 racer as just another bit of clutter in the shed, because there are those who may regard the next section of my prep as craven. “Another bike,” coming into the fold shortly after the Carlton and just before a brand new one, in the face of cynicism, may temper that - not entirely unjustified - judgement.
Preparing the Body
Clearly, a century round the Peak District on a machine with limited gearing, if any, requires a bit of prep for all but the most frequent distance cyclist. It is not a gentle jaunt; it is a tough course. Plans were immediately made to “get some miles in.” Reality and lack of dedication to training, as opposed to going on jaunts of various lengths to cafes, pubs, and other flesh-pots, have crept in.
Here we are, a week to go and mileage is lacking in the old legs. There is a school of thought which advises against going into long rides with little training. On the other hand, some may say, though I have yet to hear it widely voiced, that the more unprepared the rider, the more heroic the ride. At its most extreme, this theory - voiced by one Eroica regular, very much in a minority - is distilled to “don’t worry about it and have a few pints the night before,” to paraphrase. Unscientific this might be, out of line with much modern thinking on marginal gains, but it does have strong appeal and, I suspect, has more disciples than the club coach might approve of; but do not underestimate the ride.
Still vaguely heroic, I now have to bite the bullet and admit to as disgraceful and display of cowardice on the part of an English gentleman since the Marquis of Granby refused to advance the cavalry onto the plain of Minden to aid the embattled squares of infantry. Just bear in mind the unprecedented influx on bicycles.
Once my face was adorned with - even better, shielded from view by - a set of whiskers that would have had the entire Light and Heavy Brigades at Balaclava hiding in shame. I have been clean shaven since a misguided whim to help Children in Need saw the plumage snipped away to naught, much to the delight of the spectators. Mrs. D. of “another bike!” fame, has a prejudice against male facial hair. This may be part of her genetic make up or could have been sparked by portraits of Victorian military heroes which were, I am sure, plastered all over the college walls during her time at Sandhurst. Hence, clean shaven I have remained.
If her views on making hirsute improvements to my phizzog were Victorian it would be helpful, even if they were Edwardian a neat moustache would be possible. They are not. They are not even modern. They are thoroughly unenlightened,
Not that I crave a long hipsterish beard. These are hardly aerodynamic. Whilst I fully expect to plodding up to Mam Nick in twenty-four inch gear as these bearded-chaps pedal merrily by - if they have not done so earlier - a shaven jaw will cause less wind resistance and compensate for the gravitational challenge of my belly.
So, with a week to go, a survey of the route has caused that level of panic that needs to be fought with stiff, bare, upper lip. There’s still time for a few miles, isn’t there?
This should be the easy bit. Depending on the era one’s bicycle comes from, retro-gear is readily available. Bought during a clearance sale, I will look decent enough without troubling the judges for a second look. Wool jerseys and shorts have come a long way and are a lot less itchy than the “real thing.” Merino works wonders. With a return to toe-clips and a pair of leather touring shoes made in Northamptonshire, the rig was quite easily completed.
The good news was that I could have gone back even further into the days of plus-fours without too much trouble. My wardrobe is neither extensive nor trendy. On the basis that “style never goes out of fashion” I have been able to avoid shopping for clothes for many years. In this happy state, I should be able to put something together that will fit the bill for day wear. Don’t think it is black-tie in the evening?
Now, where is that boater? What do you mean the mice nested in it? Threw it away? What about the Harris Tweed hacking jacket? It was comfortable, not tatty! I know I can’t wear a boater with tweeds, so where are the flannel trousers? Yes, the ones missing the buttons? Well, my Dear, I was wondering ….
If only cycling wasn’t about more than riding a bike.