Saturday, June 6, 2015

L'Eroica California

I had the good fortune to get an invite to L'Eroica ride in Paso Robles, Calif. about two months ago. For those of you who don't know what the Eroica is, essentially it is like a Civil War re-enactment but on bicycles and not at war. A bunch of folks-mostly vintage bike enthusiasts-get together and dust off their old vintage bicycles for a ride. This is no ordinary ride, however. Much of the route is ridden on the 'White roads' which are gravel or dirt. On these roads there are some really steep climbs , the kind that challenge even the most fit cyclist. The people who put on the event make it known to the participants that the route is indeed challenging and offer three lengths so that people can choose the appropriate distance.
                Picture about 600 riders, most of them older and not in particularly good shape. Add to that some old collectable bikes from the " Golden era' of bicycle racing.......pre 1988 that is-and you have a recipe for some serious issues during the ride. Most of the bikes I saw had gearing that would have been appropriate for a professional racer in the prime of his/her life , early to mid 20's give or take. Most of the Eroica riders were about my age, somewhere near 60 years old. Another thing I noticed was that no matter how polished and pristine these collectable bikes were, not many of them seemed properly tuned for such a ride.
                 As for me, I was working in bike shops back in the '70's and I know how to get those old bike parts to function well. I made sure that my bike was in top shape and I did several lengthy test rides with some dirt sections just to make sure that both I and my bike would be good for the Eroica. I really didn't want to have to walk up any hill or have to stand in line for a mechanic at the rest stops.I was fortunate to have the help of First Flight bicycles in finding some larger cogs for my freewheel so that I would not have to use the same gears I used in 1982 when I built the bike. Also I didn't go vintage on the tires-I put on the largest modern( 700x28) treads I could fit on the bike so that I would be fine on the many dirt sections.

               The ride started pretty normally, lots of people talking Colnago, Masi and all the highly desirable vintage names-it was a real 'Concours' -a parade of vintage bicycle obsession. It didn't take long however for the sound of jamming gears and slipping chains to take peoples attention away from  the scenery. Right after the first rest stop there was a short but pretty steep hill through a vineyard. One by one people dismounted their prized bikes and had to walk up the loose dirt . I even saw a couple of folks fall, unable to get their feet out of the toe clips ( toe clips were a requirement on bikes for the ride-along with exposed brake cables and box section rims.......)
                It was not long after this that I got the impression that many of the participants on the ride had no idea what they were getting into. The romantic notion of riding a bike from the '60's or '70's on idyllic country roads is seductive to the folks who treasure these bicycles. They long to go out with like minded folks with the same obsession with the older classic bikes. The trouble is that there's no way an out of shape 60-something person is going to be able to handle riding terrain like on the Eroica on an old bike with toe clips and limited gearing, not to mention brakes that have little stopping power due to older pads, older design and lack of maintenance . I only saw one person on a really old bike floating up the dirt climbs gracefully. This was Andy Hampsten-in case you don't know the name, he won the Giro D'Italia in 1988 and was a professional until about 1993.
                I don't want to criticize the event or the people who created it-I applaud them for the unique concept and really stunning route that they chose. The spirit of the Eroica cannot be is a beautiful idea. I had a great time and I will probably go back next year if they have it in Paso Robles again. I would just caution folks with that old classic bike in the garage they have wanted to bust out for a ride: 1.Bring your best legs to this event. 2. Make sure your bike is in the best possible mechanical shape. 3. put the lowest gears you can on the bike -otherwise bring some good walking shoes. 4. Consult your doctor to see if you are heathy enough to not croak on the roads of central California.
                Lastly, I would like to thank Bruce Gordon, Jake Hess, Giro, Jeff Archer and all the people who helped me get to this ride. I would also like to thank Andy Hampsten for the pleasure of riding a few miles with someone who knows how to ride a bike-any bike-anywhere.


  1. Yeah, I was one of those "out of shape" old guys who didn't know what he was getting into who rode the long route. I finished my ride in around 12 hours. I don't know where you were but I saw quite a few older bikes. Mine was a 1962 Legnano Gran Premio which is period correct.

    It sounds like you rode the middle distance route which would explain some things. Most of the "real riders" on the classic bikes did the long route. Andy H. was there as a celebrity to draw more riders which was great. No one will dispute his cycling skills or needs his resume explained to them.

    Your blog post is very condescending and does little to inform a reader about this great event. You didn't seem to "get" what the event is about or even particularly enjoy it. Whatever! I wouldn't recommend that you return next year. It's just a bunch of old guys on old bikes celebrating the "heroic" era of cycling and having a great day in the beautiful countryside. You wouldn't get it!

    1. O.k, o.k. ....this comment really did get to me. To imply that I, or anyone who did not ride the 120 mile Eroica is not a 'real rider' is insulting and ignorant. My take on what a 'real rider' is probably different-it has nothing to do with 'period correct' parts on a vintage bike or completing a 120 mile version of a pleasure ride, albeit a very challenging one. You don't know what any of these people have done or been through with their bikes. As for me, I completed Paris-Brest-Paris in 1995 along with the two brevet series to qualify for the event. I have completed 12 Davis double centuries. All of these events are longer than the 120 mile Eroica and many were much more difficult. So I'm not a real rider ? You need to know who I and all the other people are before you say stuff like that. I don't believe you really understand the "over opinionated frame builder" at all.

  2. Interesting write-up. Paul. Did you do the medium length route?
    I intend to be there next year, and am taking your suggestions seriously. (plus, I'll only be 50.)

  3. I did the medium route-it was really beautiful. Put on some low gears and you'll be happier. My suggestions are to help people-maybe the 'oldairhead' doesn't think so. You can't please everybody .

  4. Explain the dual downtube shifters, both on the right side of the downtube? Curious. Imagine it's an adaptation of some kind, left hand injury or?

  5. I saw that feature on a bike in 1974. When I started building frames a few years later I thought that the idea made sense and that I would try it. I rode with that shifter combination for the next 15 years. It works really well-you can hit both shifters at the same time.