Sunday, February 18, 2018

Eroica California, part 2.

Two years ago I rode the mid-distance route of the Eroica California. I had a really good experience and thought that the organizers of the event were very focused on creating the best experience possible for all the riders. I did not return last year as my plate was very full at the shop-when you are a one man show there's not much time for things like vintage bike rides.

I will be returning to the Eroica again in April.This time instead of going solo on the ride I am bringing a team of really great riders. I am setting them all up on older frames that have been hanging in my shop, some for decades. All of these frames have been re-conditoned for the ride and will be mechanically ready for the rigorous conditions of steep dirt climbs and varying road surfaces. I am breaking out my entire collection of older parts to outfit all of these bikes and all of the riders will have special jerseys for the day. This team will not directly be associated with my brand-this will literally be rolling performance-art.

The last time I wrote about the Eroica , my goal was to relate my experience to anyone thinking of riding the event and pointing out things I thought were important to address to make the ride as trouble-free and pleasurable as possible. One reader took great offense to what I wrote and urged me not to return to the Eroica as I did not understand the flavor of the event. Well, I am returning and I am bringing a group of riders that will no doubt make an impression. The Eroica might be a showcase of vintage bicycles and a way for folks to try to simulate the kind of riding done 40-50 years ago. As a person who got his first road bike in 1967 and raced in the '70's, I understand this past world better than most. I did more than one road race where sections of the course were not paved. I had wool gear and clipless pedals and the like were still years away from existing.

While I do appreciate older bikes and have read extensively about bicycles and racing from its earliest times, the world of bicycle collecting to me is not any different than any other collecting. There is the true appreciation of bicycles but there is also the neurotic need for aquisition and bragging rights about whatever bicycle you might have . While I may have about 37 bikes in my shop and of course some of them are classic old rides, my appreciation for them comes from living through the '60's and 70's when bikes like this were state of the art. I am not that nostalgic about 'the good old days' of friction shifting, lugged steel frames, toe clips, hair nets, wool shorts, etc. My position is that older bikes can be really beautiful and in their day they were the best. They are not the best now-I don't care what anyone anywhere says that the older bikes are better than the latest bikes on the market. I'm sure that one can have just as good of a time riding an older bike but if you consider the ease of shifting,improvements on brakes and wheels-no to mention that newer bikes are much lighter-there really is no comparison as to performance.

Classic bike fans will say that newer bikes are 'too easy to ride' and that the sport of cycling has been 'dumbed down' in terms of needed skills to ride a road bike. Yes , new bikes of all kinds are easier to shift, have more relaxed riding positions and in many cases more stable geometry. I don't feel that this is a bad thing-it is helping more people get into the sport and out of their cars. Take away all the technological advances in road bikes and the amount of riders would plummet. I remember riding to work in L.A. in 1976 on my way-too-big but nice looking Colnago and not seeing another cyclist for 1 1/2 years on my 12 mile route. Cycling was a fringe sport at best in America in those days.

So-now I am returning to the Eroica with a team of riders, some decent fitness and a doctor's note so that I can use clipless pedals. ( I checked in with the promoter and he said the note would be all I need-I have arthritic feet, ironically from decades of riding with toe clips and straps.) My goal is to have a splendid time, see some old friends and maybe some nice old bikes. Yes- I have gone on and on about how newer bikes are better but even I like to pedal on an old bike now and then. The difference with me is that the old bike I pedal is one that I made over 30 years ago-not something I scored on ebay or craigslist to satisfy some period-correct fetish.....not that I don't understand wanting a cool old bike. My contention is that one is not
a better person because you have a flawless collectable period-correct priceless aquisition of enviable status-you can still be a sanctimonious gassbag.


  1. Being that you have decades of experiences on so many levels, you make some really excellent observations and points on the world of vintage cycling, Paul. It’s funny, people can get caught up in anything and take it to the extreme. Somehow, I think it’s just human nature and the classic and vintage crowd is no different. However, being someone who is immersed in the vintage bicycle scene, I am happy to say that there are different levels of our fanaticism. Although I know many who you describe above (staunch “vintage only or death” fans, “older is better than newer” crowd, etc.), they really aren’t the majority. Many times, they are just the opposite but unfortunately, the most vocal. It sounds very much like current political flavors, don’t you think?!

    All in all, most vintage fans I chum around with appreciate the nuances of perpetual component, material and style development. We may still ride vintage bikes as our daily commuters but we likely have certain elements of them updated for safety and the times (IE: modern brake calipers, rubber, chains, chainrings, etc.) and understand where they excel and where they have their shortcomings. But really, I feel like we simply enjoy the purity of what vintage offers.

    You won’t find me badmouthing your reasoning for riding or for bringing an entourage. The more the merrier! Have a great time this year and thanks for sharing your well-written thoughts and experience, Paul.

    ~ Josh

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