Last weekend, April 8, 9 and 10, the second Eroica California took place in Paso Robles, and I was there again because it was one of my favorite events last year. Eroica was founded in Italy to celebrate old-time road riding when many roads were unpaved and automobiles were scarce.
Or put more eloquently, and quoting from their literature, “L’Eroica started in Italy in 1997 because of one man, Giancarlo Brocci, who admired the values of past cycling so much that he wanted to reconnect others to the heritage that inspired much Italian history, literature, culture, and music.”
L’Eroica was also begun as a foundation for the protection and preservation of the last gravel roads in Tuscany. These romantic concepts led to the idea of L’Eroica, which initially saw 92 “hunters of feelings and emotions,” as Brocci defines them. Visit the Italian Eroica site for awesome photos and more details: http://www.eroicagaiole.com/.
Eroica California and Britannia
So far, the California event is the only USA-based Eroica http://www.eroicacalifornia.com/. The organization also holds an event in Great Britain, Eroica Britannia http://eroicabritannia.co.uk/. In order to host a ride, the event must meet the requirements of Giancarlo and the Italian Eroica organization.
And Giancarlo has attended and helped at both of the Eroica Californias. In fact, along with Wesley Hatakeyama, the bicycle aficionado who runs Eroica, USA, Giancarlo was there throughout the event making sure everything was running smoothly – even at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday when he and Wes started the first riders.
One of the great aspects of Eroica California is that part of the proceeds from the event are donated to Hospice of San Luis Obispo County, a local charity. And they are heavily involved in organizing and running the event. They supply a small army of the hardest working and nicest volunteers I’ve ever run into at a bike event.
Day One: ‘Breaking Away’ showing
This year the first day’s most exciting event took place in nearby San Luis Obispo, home of the lovely art deco Fremont Theater. That’s where we got to watch arguably the best cycling movie ever – the Oscar-winning “Breaking Away” (1979) – on the big screen. Even better, actors Dennis Christopher, who plays the lead role of Dave Stoller, and Eddy Van Guyse, the Italian who thrusts his pump into Dave’s wheel in one of the key scenes, were there to hobnob with us before and after.
Another star at the showing was the Masi bicycle ridden in the movie, which Christopher has kept all these years, and that still looks the same after being restored some years ago. I was interested to learn that Christopher has had parts in over 40 movies now and actually lived in Italy and spoke some Italian before doing the film.
He amazed everyone when he told us that he never raced or even rode seriously and just mimicked racers he watched to “become” a roadie for the film. Maybe more impressive, Van Guyse – who is a dyed-in-the wool racer from Chicago – told us that it only took Christopher two takes to successfully pick up the notebook from the road while riding in the scene when Katherine drops it from her scooter and he chases her down to give it back.
Day Two: Concours
Like last year, day two was for the Concours d’Elegance, with about 150 beautiful original or restored bicycles from the pre-war years up until 1987 (the cutoff for Eroica bicycles). They were displayed under a giant white tent since it was raining that day. I entered my 1975 Rene Herse http://jimlangley.net/ride/ReneHerseBicycle.html and made a new friend, Winston Hubbell from Southern California, who brought his two gorgeous 1972 Herses. My favorite bike was Greg LeMond’s actual team-issue Gitane in as-raced original condition (photo, below) entered by Greg Davis of Cupertino Bike Shop.
The day went to classic Masis and Bianchis, mostly. As it’s an Italian event, and Masi and Bianchi are sponsors, that may have been expected. It’s also the 90th year Masi has been in business, which the company was celebrating at the event. The bikes that won were spectacular, and there were only a few prizes, so the judges had a tough task with so many worthy classic bikes.
Day Three: The rides
The movie and concours were great fun, but it’s the riding that truly sets Eroica apart. Paso Robles has fantastic road riding and Eroica makes it even more spectacular by getting many local wineries involved, which is also where the rest stops are (when was the last time you got a water bottle full of wine at a rest stop?!). These vineyards open their private roads, which are mostly dirt, and by linking them together with the best local pavement, the riding becomes incredible. There were ride choices for all riders, with four routes from 38 to 127 miles (with 10,000 feet of climbing).
To give you an idea of how unique Eroica is, I left at 6 a.m. and was on the road for 4-1/2 hours and I was only passed by six cars (and four of them were support vehicles). Amazing, and what a pleasure to be able to safely ride right down the middle of the road. Or walk it, when the dirt roads were too loose or too steep; and in total solitude, with only the breezes and birds to listen to.
Remember, you have to be on a 1987 or earlier bicycle (or a facsimile of one) so that means using toe clips and straps and tougher gears than we have today. So, it’s harder to get up gravel climbs. But that’s a big part of the fun and satisfaction of doing Eroica.
Tip: People read about Eroica and assume you have to ride a classic, collectible – and expensive bicycle. But that’s not true. Any bicycle that has the features of a 1987 road bike works fine.As long as it has down-tube or handlebar-end shifters, brakes with cables and toe clips and straps, or half clips or even flat pedals, you’re good. You’ll want to put together some vintage-look clothing, too. Bikes and clothing like this are easy to find, and cheap. I’m happy to explain more if you need help.
The Eroica experience
Another wonderful thing is meeting the other riders who come from across the U.S. and around the globe to ride. Like the petite Peugeot owner who was struggling to get going again after shifting off her large chainring.
Usually when you ask if someone needs help, they say they’re okay. But she said, “Maybe.” So, I circled back, and sure enough, the chain was seriously jammed between the steel large chainring and the chainguard – not such an easy thing to fix. Together, we managed to extract it and get her back riding. (She avoided needing the vintage SAG moto, see photo, below.)
As we spun along, I told her that she was riding a Peugeot just like the one I got as a high-school graduation present in 1971, and she laughed and told me that hers was a present from her parents on her 14th birthday.
Meaningful bicycles and connections like that are a big part of the enchantment of riding Eroica. The routes are phenomenal, yet it’s made even more special by riding beloved bikes that turn back the clock and make you feel like you’re a kid again, and rediscovering the joys of cycling all over again. And, of course, sharing your stories with others.
It’s this magical experience that brings people back to Eroica again and again. If you haven’t been, I think you should put it on your bucket list.
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.