Wednesday, 14 November 2012

L'Eroica 2012

Someone once said my dad had been born in the wrong century and should have been around in a time where he would have gone galloping from castle to castle on horseback.

Occasionally I feel the same thing, just less about the horseback and castles; more Bentleys and Bugattis. Maybe it's just a reflection of our consumerism today and the proliferation of cheap far eastern products with their built-in obselescense that we no longer expect our products to last, to stand the tests of time. Or perhaps we're no longer willing to pay for it

I learnt to drive in a 1952 Series 1 Land Rover and what little auto mechanical knowledge I have is borne from that vehicle's constant need for TLC. I like old bikes, old cars, old stuff in general.  I like things which are designed and built now, like they were then, when things were built to last. I like to pick up old parts where you can see the marks of manufacture, created by a human hand...

This year I was lucky enough to be invited to to take part in L'Eroica in Tuscany, Italy.

By all accounts, you cannot buy vintage bike parts in Italy between June and October; safe in the knowledge that come L'Eroica, pedallers of old bits and bobs will be able to safely hike the prices of their wares to sell to those who have made the trip to Chiante hoping to find that one component to complete their look, or bike.

On the Saturday, Giaole in Chiante transforms into a sprawling vintage bike fest. There were vintage cars, motorbikes, and more bikes than I’ve ever seen in one place. The Saturday night in Giaole is a raucous affair. Guests of the ride itself are all shoehorned into a vast marquee and plied with huge amounts of Chiante and pork. This year, Francesco Moser was in attendance, as was his somewhat vocal fan club who added a 'musical' soundtrack to the evening.

Angel and I rode the 75km route. He on a 'curly' Hetchins and me on an original 50’s Paris Galibier with 1961 Simplex Jui 4spd. It turns out my smallest gear was a 51x20t which made the climbs harder and harder to get up as the day progressed. It turns out Tuscany is hardly flat either…

There were 4 feed stops on our route -one unofficial. Once you have broken the back of the first section of the ride, the stops come nice and frequently. Instead of being piled with cola and energy food, there was bread in olive oil, bread in red wine, grapes, water or chiante. We were lucky enough to arrive at one stop at the same time as the old-timer who wears No.1 who chatted to us briefly. His bike is from 1905, it’s a fixed wheel and has a front (tyre) brake only. He was 69 and worryingly for us, arrived at the next stop only about 5mins after we got there.

I wore Ray Ban Aviators, a cloth casquete, a woollen jersey and original woolen Condor Mackeson/Britanica shorts and leather Quoc Pham shoes. It was also my first time fully on board a Brooks saddle which was simply amazing. Quoc Pham hooked me up with a pair of the new Touring shoes which have a chunkier sole. I figured there'd be more than a bit of walking involved so I opted for something which could stand up to that level of abuse. By the time we got back to the finish, my box-fresh shoes were well and truly broken in and had taken on a lovely dusty, used appearance. 

Both our bikes were absolutely superb. We initially scoffed at our larger tyres when we were in London, but the moment they touched Tuscan soil it was as though they sensed they were in their spiritual home. Out of our group of 20 or so, we had a total of 3 punctures and 1 snapped chainring(!)

It turns out, the Italians will let you do the ride if your steed doesn’t meet the regulations –it was seemingly unpoliced. But when you come to get your card stamped at the end, if they don’t like what they see, you don’t get the stamp. This happened to two people I knew.

A few snaps from my time in Tuscany. My thanks obviously to Claude Kearley for the loan of the bikes, Quoc Pham for the shoes and Brooks for the hospitality. 

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