Riding Gravel Before Gravel Bikes: L’Eroica Lands in Paso Robles, California

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.

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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.”

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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.

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Vintage Velo: 1941 Roadmaster

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Words and photos: Jeff Archer

By the end of 1941, the United States had entered World War II and the war had dramatically altered the bicycle industry. Recreational bike production mostly ceased since the bikes would have used much-needed wartime supplies, such as steel, chromium and rubber. Bikes that were produced during the war years were usually very bare-bone machines, and the parts were often finished with black paint instead of chrome plating.

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This 1941 Roadmaster was made earlier in the year when materials were still available for consumer goods. It has extras such as the horn tank, rear rack, truss rods and battery-powered lights on both ends along with chrome plating.

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Roadmaster bikes can be traced back to 1936 when they were produced by the Cleveland Welding Company in Ohio. AMF purchased the company in the 1950s and eventually moved bike production to Arkansas to avoid the demands of unionized labor. In 1962, the headquarters moved to Olney, Illinois, where bikes were produced until 1999.

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Pacific Cycle then purchased Roadmaster and moved production overseas since it was becoming difficult to profitably make an entry-evel bike in the USA. Pacific Cycle also had overseas experience with other brands it owned, such as Schwinn, GT, Iron Horse, Mongoose and Cannondale.

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The Roadmaster name can still be found on inexpensive big-box store bikes today. Roadmaster bikes were ridden in the Little 500 bike race in the 1979 movie “Breaking Away.” This bike saw some screen time in the DeFeet Socks video “The Adventures of the Graveled High Rouleur” which can be viewed at vimeo.com/defeet.

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This bike can be seen at the Museum of Mountain Bike Art & Technology, which is housed at First Flight Bicycles in historic downtown Statesville, North Carolina. If you can’t visit in person, check out the collection on the MOMBAT website.

 

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