Words by Jeffrey Stern, photos courtesy of Eroica California
Passing over rolling hill after rolling hill, surrounded by lush vineyards and old barns with signing birds, wispy clouds and blue skies you’d think you were in the famed Tuscan region of Italy. But no, you’re actually right here in the lower 48, the Central Coast of California to be exact.
Instead of riding a state of the art, carbon fiber aero road bike, you’re aboard the first real road bike you ever owned. A vintage steel road bicycle made by Raleigh, adorning the original head badge indicating the bike’s birthplace of Nottingham, England; not some far away, oversees factory.
In a typical sea of sameness, Erocia California stands out from the crowd. It oozes passion and fascination for technology of the past that still exhibits relevance today. Sometimes the simplest things are the most beautiful and being surrounded by a bicycles 30, 40 or even 50 years old creates an aura unreplicable at most gran fondos and gravel grinders around the country.
In the heart of Paso Robles, California, the third annual Eroica California drums to it’s own beat. It’s far from a race. Offerings include a ‘concours d’elegance’ of the vintage bicycle kind, a festival of passionate bike owners showcasing their steeds as well as four different route options from short (40 miles) to heroic (127 miles).
Rest stops aren’t the fill-your-bottles and stuff-your-pockets kind, but rather take a seat, crack open a cold one and kick your feet up to share some laughs with new and old friends alike.
The feelings Eroica California invokes resonate with all the participants for various reasons, but for former professional Andy Hampsten, they are truly special, “I can reason that the terrain and scrub growing out of the limestone hills reminds me of some of the best places I have visited. I am taken back to Tuscany and Southern France when I ride near Peachy Canyon, and I am reminded of it every time I drink wines from Villa Creek Winery that the Eroica loop passes. It’s a magical spot to ride in and eat from.”
It’s as much about the bikes, festival and food as it is about doing good for the surrounding communities. The event raises money for the Bike SLO County, helping create safe bike routes and spreading cycling passion and maintenance knowledge, as well as the Hospice of San Luis Obispo County offering counseling and support for those in need.
What’s more is that similar events take place all around the world throughout the year. From Italy to Japan, Spain, the Netherlands, Great Britain and even in Uruguay, the revival of vintage steel road bikes is strong. Riding dirt and gravel roads is nothing to the owners of these bikes, they’ve been doing it long before it was the cool thing to do. Now they have a platform to share in their passion with like minded cyclists who travel the globe to attend these one of kind bike festivals.
Eroica California takes place this weekend in Paso Robles, California and the next one is scheduled for April 30 in Buonconvento, Tuscany.
PRESS RELEASE — Eroica California will take place April 8-10, 2016, in Paso Robles and surrounding cities. This event, originating from Italy, will draw cycling enthusiasts from all over the world to San Luis Obispo County as they gather to celebrate the history of cycling. Due to the success off its inaugural year in 2015, the event will expand to a three-day festival celebrating cycling’s historic roots.
This three-day cycling event will feature a vintage bike show and contest (Concours d’Elegance) showcasing vintage road bikes from early 1900s through 1987. In addition, there will be a designated bike swap tent for cycling enthusiasts and collectors to share and sell vintage bike parts, vintage clothing and other cycling gear. Additional highlights include an expanded assortment of vendors (featuring handmade bike frame makers, bicycle art, and cycling clubs and shops), cycling celebrity guests, special event dinners and much more.
The grand finale of Eroica California is the vintage ride. On Sunday, April 10, an estimated 1,500 cyclists will don vintage cycling apparel and set off on vintage bicycles (made in 1987 or earlier) on one of four scenic routes over gravel and paved roads that mimic the heroic days of cycling’s past.
Four routes are offered: 120 miles (the Eroica or Heroic), 85 miles, 67 miles and 38 miles. Each route offers unique geography and challenges. Just as in the golden era of cycling, each route has rest stops complete with gourmet food and drink for participants to refuel while taking in the quintessential California scenery of vineyards, mountain vistas and the Pacific Coast.
L’Eroica founder, Giancarlo Brocci, defines Eroica events as a means to “spread the authentic roots of an extraordinary sport with great soul. We want people to rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the taste of accomplishment.”
Eroica California benefits Hospice SLO. A portion of all proceeds (rider registrations, special dinner engagements and auction) are donated to the Hospice of San Luis Obispo County.Tweet Print
By Adam Perry
Legendary 1988 Giro d’Italia winner and former Tour de France stalwart Andy Hampsten—joyfully holding court at a communal dinner table before the first-annual Eroica California in Paso Robles, Calif., last weekend—more than adequately summed up my own feelings about the event when he smiled and said, “I’m just super jazzed about this.”
Based on Italy’s L’Eroica, which since 1997 has encouraged cyclists to don vintage clothing and ride vintage bikes, the first-ever Eroica California aimed to “rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the taste of accomplishment.” Hearty cyclists who made their way to Paso Robles were required to conquer the gorgeous, hilly northern San Luis Obispo County countryside on either historical (1987 or earlier) bikes or new, vintage-style bikes by craft brands like Soma. From regulations on clothing (wool jerseys and shorts, leather shoes, etc.) and accessories (1987 models or earlier, or new leather saddles by Brooks, et al) to guidelines on wheels, brake cables, pedals, shifters, etc., Eroica California invited riders to pay $150 to participate in something as fun as it was challenging.
A few weeks ago, I bought an early ‘80s Torelli 12-speed on Craigslist for just $200 (above), and had Gary Gringas at Fatty Kitty Cycles in Boulder get it ready for Eroica California and four subsequent days of challenging rides up the coast. My legs were ready, but I had to wonder how long the Torelli would last on the Eroica ride, let alone Nacimiento Fergusson Road and Mt. Tamalpais the following days.
Arriving in the Paso Robles town square early in the evening before the ride–like nearly all the approximately 700 participants, I chose the 65-mile ride over the 123-mile route–I was pleased to see folks from Italy, England and all over America decked out in vintage or vintage-style gear, showing off bikes as many as 100 years old. “Route Master” Eric Benson, just ahead of me in line for the group dinner, expressed some nervousness about the inaugural Eroica California, which was organized in just three months. Last-minute mapping problems forced Benson to announce to dinner guests that the advertised 65-mile route (featuring 4,900 feet of climbing) was actually closer to 70 miles, with “just a little less” than 6,500 feet of climbing.
That difference wasn’t trivial, as most of the riders had either just recently set up an old bike, as I did, or rented one for the weekend from a local shop. But thankfully no one, it seemed, was scared away by the announcement.
The first 11 miles were easy enough, and ended at Cass Winery, where we were given water bottles full of yummy white wine. Some imbibed right away, but I packed my complimentary wine in the beautiful Banjo Brothers saddlebag attached my Torelli.
After a rest stop at Olea Farm, which produces olive oil and served riders French fries, grueling Kiler Canyon—known to locals as “Killer Canyon”—found many riders struggling to get old 10- or 12-speed road bikes, with skinny tires, up steady climbs that approached 20-percent grades on loose gravel and dirt. The second half of Eroica California found us, at one point, winding up a shorter—but just as steep, hot and rocky—series of switchbacks. The blazing midday heat was no help.
The final 25 miles or so, however, found participants rolling up and down pleasant little hills around Paso Robles before bombing back to the center of town.
Eroica California was a blast, and I’ll agree with Benson that “overall the weekend was successful.” The scenery and camaraderie were remarkable. I would’ve had a more comfortable time with thicker tires and more gears, but that was clearly part of the experience, one I hope to build upon this May in my next Eroica experience, which will be a similar vintage ride that’s been held in Grand Junction, Colo., since 2012.
Hampsten, whose rented ‘50s bike failed a test ride the day before Eroica California, zoomed past me at one point along Kiler Canyon on a more reliable set of wheels. He also completed the 70-mile route.
“I got the competitive edge out of my system in 12 years as a professional cyclist,” he told me, “But man, I’m going to get ready and do this next year, too. The long one.”