Mixing business and pleasure – a product revival recce and an unforgettable sportive ride set within some of the nicest riding country in the US. Tom Cartmale tells us about his Eroica California ride.
The inaugural L’Eroica ride of the season, in San Luis Obispo County, California, appealed for a variety of reasons. The first was obviously the stunning location – rolling countryside and endless vineyards on the bike, and culturally rich downtown SLO (as the locals call it) and Paso Robles for coffee stops off it. Both boxes ticked – having moved to California two years ago with work, a 5-hour drive further south in Orange County, I vowed to make the most of every minute living here and explore as many places along the Californian coast as possible.
The second was the physical challenge – which I have to say I hugely underestimated. 129 miles is no joke. I really should have prepared better, trained harder and perhaps spent less time creating mood boards of my “L’Eroica Look”. Taking a moment to fully reflect on the English translation and meaning of L’Eroica prior to race day might have been wise as well. I love the almost poetic quote from Giancarlo Brocci, the founder of the L’Eroica movement, about how he wants people to “rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the taste of accomplishment” – well, I can say I love it now, after the pain of the 20% gradients and rocky hill climbs has finally subsided.
Another factor, cue the violins, was to share the experience with my wife. From finding and restoring the vintage bikes (thanks to the help of Evan & Nicole at The Bicycle Stand) to researching and comparing woolen cycling shorts and retro shoes online, it was all part of a shared adventure and creative endeavor. All well and good from the comfort of home and our laptops, but the real test of our marriage would come around mile 47, deep into “Killer Canyon” – when the novelty of a heavy knit cashmere jersey, rash-inducing shorts and wine-filled bidon, in 90-degree heat, had started to wear off – quite literally. That said, we pulled through and had a lot of fun along the way – the atmosphere and camaraderie carrying us over the finish line – a bit like the London Marathon but with less fanfare and a bottle of olive oil instead of a medal.
Eroica California also allowed me to mix “business” with pleasure. It became a valuable research and inspiration mission for my bottle revival project – Coloral. For those not familiar with Coloral, they were one of the first alloy water bottles used by road cyclists in the mid-late 1940s and were manufactured on home soil, in Birmingham, not far from the Brooks saddle factory. Coloral is a passion project I embarked on with a group of friends nearly two years ago, from production sourcing to branding, determined to restart local manufacture and breathe new life into what we saw as a design classic. It’s been a slow burn since we first started, with the day jobs and funding issues getting in the way (there is a reason why all stainless steel bottles are now made in China) but we have just begun the tooling process and are feeling optimistic about the year ahead, especially with all the goodwill that still surrounds the project.
The Concours d’Elegance, a showcase of beautiful road racing bikes dating back to the 1930s, was the perfect place to get nostalgic and go bottle hunting. I was excited to find several original Coloral bottles, front mounted and pride of place, as well as all sorts of other weird and wonderful creations. Some battle worn and held together with duct tape and string, others beautifully restored with custom graphics and colorful patterns. My favorite being the bottle with the Liberty-esque print living in harmony alongside an antique brass bell, on an old English Humber.
I left L’Eroica exhausted but hugely inspired. The place, the people, the bikes, and, of course, the bottles – all playing their part. I’ll definitely be back next year – but hopefully next time leading out Team Coloral, with more miles in my legs and less rust on my bottle, or should that be the other way around?