Old roads, old bikes, old clothing
Adding to the heroic theme of the ride, official L’Eroica Italy rules, which the USA event follows, require riding a pre-1987 (or facsimile) racing bicycle (“racing” is used loosely, as in a dropped-handlebar road bike). I chose my 1974 Peugeot PX-10 and my riding buddy John rode his custom 1980s Peter Mooney.
Because your riding gear needs to be as vintage as your bike, we had Santa Cruz Wheelmen wool jerseys made for us by Oregon Cyclewear. We opted for the medium ride, which covered 67 miles. There were 45 and 124 milers, too. It took our little gruppetto (see photo below) about 8 hours to finish, so it’s a good thing we didn’t try to do the long route!
Part of the slow pace came from riding in toe clips and straps, using friction shifters, relying on old brake designs and pedaling up steep, seemingly endless, dirt climbs like the one appropriately called Killer Canyon.
Plus, old bikes have way-too-difficult gearing. My lowest was a 45-tooth chainring and a 21-tooth largest cog, compared to the 39/28 I have now. This meant getting off and walking, which many of us had to do. Then, we’d have to take 10 minutes with a screwdriver to get the dirt out of our cleats before we could remount. (Not everybody used toe clips.)
That was okay, though, because we needed a rest after making it to the top. On one hilltop where we stopped, and there was Greg Davis of Cupertino Bike Shop, which is famous for being one of the first USA bicycle shops to bring in the best Italian bicycles, most notably Cinelli. He was perched on a nice flat rock in the shade, shoes off, with his 1983 Palo Alto leaned against a tree. Greg had carried the rest stop wine in his jersey pocket for 40 miles and was enjoying it as we rode up. Too funny.
Andy Hampsten was there!
As celebrity ride leader and 1988 Giro d’Italia winner, Andy Hampsten, told me (Andy owns Cinghiale cycle touring company in Italy), L’Eroica is about more than riding old bikes on dirt roads. He explained that these rides are designed, in part, to help preserve our classic backroads and hopefully prevent them from all being paved over and turned into highways. It’s not just about cycling. It’s about preserving and protecting something that would be a tragedy to lose.
I hope you appreciate that insight, because, while Andy started with our group in the morning, I only caught up with him because he was busy signing autographs at the first rest stop. I also got to ride alongside the Italian founder of the L’Eroica ride concept, Giancarlo Brocci. Unfortunately, I do not speak Italian but I managed a “grazie a mille,” which got a big smile out of him.
Getting to meet Andy and Giancarlo, and turning back the years by riding a bike from when I was in high school on magical dirt roads will make this Eroica live forever in my memory. I bet everyone who was there feels the same.
If you can make it next year, be sure to look for me and say Hi. If you have any questions about the ride, or need help finding and fixing up a vintage bike, I’m happy to help, too.