|The Zombie at Eroica California 2019. I am the rider in the back, wearing the light blue Bianchi jersey, number 740. Photo by Steve Light.|
Last year I decided not to attend Eroica California after having set it as one of my main cycling goals for the year. This was a big disappointment, especially after my friends who did attend came home with glowing reports, but last year I really had no choice, I was ill with pneumonia. This year I also decided to skip but my reason was much less persuasive. For a variety of reasons, I had done nothing to prepare a bike or bikes for that event. However, thanks to friendly persuasion by my High School riding buddy Roger, I decided at the last minute to ignore my lack of preparation and just go.
What is Eroica California and what should I have done to prepare? Eroica California is a version of the original L’Eroica started in 1997 by Giancarlo Brocci to celebrate the values of the cycling of the past (the name L'Eroica comes from the italian version of the english work "heroic", one of the values to be celebrated) and to encourage the protection and preservation of the last gravel roads in Tuscany. Thus, Eroica involves riding old bicycles over hilly gravel roads. How old are we talking about? As old as possible, but the cutoff is that bicycles ridden in Eroica must be from 1987 or earlier, that being the year when racing bicycles started experiencing a dramatic transformation. Thus, the problem was not my fitness, I am about as fit as I can get these days and the ride I did at Eroica was not particularly difficult. The problem was having an acceptable bicycle. To explain why I did not have such a bicycle, I have to say a bit more about Eroica.
The 2019 California version of Eroica consisted of three main events:
- A new ride on Saturday for modern bikes, Nova Eroica.
- The traditional Eroica ride for old bicycles on Sunday.
- The Concours D'Elegance on Saturday in which old bicycles are displayed and judged.
There are four routes for the second event, the traditional, old bike ride on Sunday:
- PIEDRAS BLANCAS: 35 miles long with 1500 feet of climbing and 5 miles of gravel roads.
- SANTA LUCIA: 75 miles long with 5700 feet of climbing and 20 miles of gravel roads.
- LA VIA DELLO SCALATORE: 82 miles long with 6400 feet of climbing and 25 miles of gravel roads.
- HEROIC: 110 miles long with 8300 feet of climbing and 30 miles of gravel roads.
|1960 Bianchi Specialissima|
- It has sew-up rather than clincher tires. This means that if I get a flat, it is difficult to change on the road. This is not a problem for my sprint workout because that ride is close to home. If I get a flat, I can walk home. That is not a realistic option on the open road.
- The handlebars are too low. This is tolerable for a 45 minute sprint workout, but the longer the ride, the more uncomfortable this becomes.
- The lowest gear is too high. This is fine for my sprint workout, the course I selected for this ride avoids steep hills. But on a ride with serious climbs, the lack of a low gear would be a problem.
- I had put modern "clipless" pedals on this bike to make it more convenient to ride. To be legal, I would have to put the original pedals with toe clips back on. I did not originally see this as a problem but to my surprise, this turned out to be the biggest of the four problems.
I had known for a year that I wanted to attend this ride, how is it that I had not remedied these issues? One answer is that I had things to do that had to take precedence, and simply had not gotten to it, but there is more to it than that, and to explain what, I need to turn to the third and final event of Eroica, the Concours d'Elegance. Besides dressing up in vintage-looking cycling clothes and riding a vintage bike, I wanted to show my bike in the Concours to see what the other riders and the judges thought of it. To do that, I should leave it in its original condition which would preclude fixing the above problems. So, during the last year, I went back and forth. Should I make the Bianchi more rideable or should I leave it in its more or less original condition? I could never decide, so did nothing.
|"ratty old tennis shoes"|
|A cut in the sew-up tire on my Bianchi|
With the bike taken care of, I had to find something else to worry about, so I worried about my costume. Costume? Eroica has been described cosplay (think Halloween) for cyclists, so you are not only supposed to ride a period-correct bicycle, but dress in period-correct cycling gear of which I had none. A quick email to Roger confirmed that I could get away without a costume, I could just wear whatever clothes I had. "Besides" Roger said "there are lots of vendors there, maybe you can buy something on Saturday for the ride on Sunday." Nonetheless, I looked online to see if there was anything I could do beforehand, and found an "Eroica" jersey that, by paying a fortune to have rushed shipped, could get in time. I figured the jersey is a big impact item, so was worth the effort. I had planned to leave for the event Friday after lunch. As I was packing Friday morning, I remembered that I had a vintage TA water bottle,which I thought would be a nice touch, so went down to the basement to retrieve it. While down there, I stumbled across all my cycling clothes from the 1960s. Of course I am much too fat to wear most of them, but among these clothes were my old cycling shoes. I would have expected the leather to have been ruined by 30 years in a hot Houston attic, but they appeared to be in pretty good shape. Would they fit? They did! Not only did they look much better than the green tennis shoes, but they should also be much more functional. I applied saddle soap generously to try to preserve and soften them and threw them in my suitcase. But because of this last minute running around, I was going with gear I had not had time to test.
|Cosplay, Zombie Style|
I noticed everyone had racks for holding their bikes upright. It turns out I was supposed to have brought a rack. Fortunately, one of the other participants noticed my dilemma and had a spare rack which he offered to loan me, an offer I eagerly accepted. So I got my Specialissima set up on the borrowed rack and waited for something to happen. As the hours wore on, I visited the vendors. I found a Bianchi cap to match my Bianchi jersey. I found period correct gloves and period correct wool cycling shorts. I had gone from no costume at all to perhaps the best costume I have ever had for any event of my life. Meanwhile, folks were looking over the bicycles. Mine was far from the most popular, even I could see I was outclassed by some of the other entries, but it did get some attention. The decorative head badge on the front was the subject of a number of photographs. Eventually, the judges got to my bicycle. "It's filthy." they sniffed. "Your padded handlebar tape is not period correct. The saddle is clearly a replacement." So no prize for my prized Bianchi, but I learned a lot that will help me to do better if I participate again next year. Now it was time to rush back to the hotel to get the bike ready to ride for the next day.
Steve, who saved my bacon
by loaning me a rack.
As I dressed for my ride the next morning, everything fit and looked even better than I had hoped. All except the shoes. They hadn't seemed quite so tight the day before. I biked from my motel to the start of the ride and deliberately positioned myself near the back of the group so I would not be in the way of faster riders. The police escorted us through town to the turnoff onto Highway 1, one of the most beautiful roads in the state of California. It runs along the Pacific coast and features stunning views of the ocean. The weather was flawless and I found I was feeling really strong. I spent the first part of the ride passing people, always a fun experience. But oh did my feet hurt! Our one rest stop was at the historic Piedras Blancas lighthouse which is where the short gravel section of the ride was located. Despite the gravel, the instant I got there I pulled off my shoes. The other riders, seeing me hobble over gravel in my bare feet while using the restroom and getting my progress card stamped commented "that must hurt!" "Not as much as the shoes" I answered.
|My Bianchi being judged.|
An important function of supported bike ride rest stops is nutrition, it is a place where riders fuel up so they can keep going. Although I was far from the last person to arrive at the rest stop, they were already out of food. I was going to have to make it back on the ample supply of calories around my waist. The route was not quite an "out and back", the return ride featured some detours down along the shore and went past where we entered Highway 1 to add both miles and climbing. I noticed that a lot of riders were missing these detours and wondered if there should have been signs help riders stay on course. It turns out that was the plan, but the organizers were so far behind schedule the ride was over before the signs went up.
There was a free, astonishingly delicious pasta lunch at the end of the ride, I purchased an exceptional local beer to wash it down, I took off my ill-fitting shoes, and was in heaven. After a shower back at the motel I got another message from Roger and Janet and David and Sarah inviting me to dinner at their house. Next morning, I packed everything up and came home.
So in balance, how was it? My legs were strong, the weather was perfect, and I was riding through some of California's most beautiful scenery. Spending time with my friends Robert and Janet and David and Sarah was wonderful. It was fun getting into costume and pretending to be a bicycle racer from the 1960s. Despite the lack of preparation, my Bianchi was a joy to ride and I felt like I was exercising some of its capabilities for the first time in quite a while. Granted, I rode the easy route, but that said, the lack of low gears was simply not an issue.
|Cruel Shoes, ca. 1967|
|Left to right, Sarah, David, Roger, and Janet|
If I do go again, what would I do differently? First, I don't think I should use my Specialissima as both a display bike and a riding bike. I think it could be made very comfortable, but doing so would take it very far from its origins, leaving it good enough to meet the rules for participating in the ride but hopeless for the Concours. So, either I have to find another bike for the ride, or give up on the Concours. Whatever bike I chose for the ride, and whatever clothing I select, should be ready weeks in advance so that I have plenty of time to test them and I don't run into problems like I had with the shoes this year. I was lucky with my sew-ups, they survived for 35 miles despite being in rather rough shape, but I would not want to count on that again, certainly not if I opted for a longer ride. So whatever bike I ride should have clincher tires so I can easily fix any flats along the way. Finally, despite the fact that the gears on the Bianchi worked fine for the short ride I did, I definitely would want lower gears before attempting a more challenging ride. One argument in favor of purchasing the PX10 at this year's event was that it had suffered repairs and upgrades over the years that rendered it problematic as a display bike but left it with lots of potential as a comfortable but Eroica-legal riding bike and I am still wondering if I should have grabbed it for that reason alone. But, "A man's got to know his limitations" . Frankly, I have way too many irons in the fire these days, I don't need another project bike. And who knows? Maybe one of those other irons will pan out. Stay tuned.