Viva Eroica!

Posted on Categories Vulpine Features

Thanks Eroica Britannia for an inspired sportive ride challenge, gin cocktails, warm welcome and great atmosphere. Now, Jon Knight asks himself, shave off the moustache or keep it forever?

“So, still got the ‘tache then?” my wife looks at me with a smile. “Yep!” I say. The question, we both know, should be answered with a “Not for much longer” response. But I seem unable to say it. It’s Monday night and after a weary drive back from the Peak District, having a shave should one of the first basic steps to re-entering civilized (and clean) society. But I’m reluctant to take a razor to my face. I slowly realize my moustache represents some sort of strange hairy top lip memento of one of the best cycling events I’ve ever attended!

Rewind to the Friday morning before. Colleague Robin and I are standing in a striped tent at the end of a long row of show exhibitors. I’m dressed in Vulpine Summer Trousers (turn-ups in place to show a bare ankle and loafers), Merino Polo, blue paisley cravat and snap brim trilby. My moustache has been carefully waxed and combed. An ostentatious “Flash Harry” display designed to attract customers into our tent (and drive sales) I hear you say? No – this is entirely normal for this particular event. This is Eroica Britannia – where many visitors have come dressed to impress.  And the efforts that some show goers have gone to is quite staggering!

Here’s a 1940’s policeman with his immaculate pressed wool jacket and trousers, boots, trad policeman’s hat, wheeling a black all-steel roadster also from the era. He passes a group of laughing women with bright headscarves, unwashed denim jeans and plain white blouses. Their lipstick and period handbags complete a wartime munitions worker look perfectly. From the other direction, making their way slowly down the row comes a couple and their child. She wears an early fifties dress, mackintosh, nylons and matching shoes. Her hair has been styled and set and complements her partners baggy suit, trilby and pencil moustache. The smiling child with them wears three quarter length corduroy shorts, long woolen socks and a cable knit jersey. There are other bygone eras being lovingly recreated here too. Carefully weaving his bike through the crowd comes a man sporting bushy sideburns and a red and white Raleigh cap. An immaculate Ti Raleigh team jersey and matching (woolen…) shorts are complemented by the beautiful bike he’s pushing – the instantly recognizable, iconic, red and black Raleigh Professional, period correct and in mint condition. He looks like he could have stepped straight from the pages of Raleigh’s 1980 catalogue.  It becomes apparent not everyone is here to cycle at Eroica Britannia. Only in its second year the event has clearly created a unique cache. Vintage dress up fun! For every lovingly restored period bicycle proudly on show (adhering to the Eroica pre-1987 rules) with wool jerseys, parts and accessories doggedly sourced on EBay; there seems just as many visitors here to soak up the unique atmosphere.

And there’s so much to see and do. There’s a circus going on alongside a big stage used by bands in the evening. There’s a huge kids area and entertainment area to bolster the event’s family friendly feel. Some big sponsors are on board and have tents here. There are many tiny tents to dip into too, housing an array of delights – bike companies and shops, clothing (including some dapper dandy tweed on sale right next to us) and an amazing variety of food. There’s a huge beer tent where the “Handsome” beer specially brewed for the event is on sale.

Also Hendricks Gin are here. And once our stand is closed on Saturday night, Polly, Jools, Robin and myself sit back with Hendrick’s “Peloton” martinis to watch the sunset. If you did come and see us at the festival – thank you.  A lot of people shared my soppy sentimental enthusiasm for my special Eroica ’81 Raleigh Competition. However I was politely informed by one visitor that the tied and soldered spokes on the bike weren’t technically correct as they were generally reserved for track wheels from that era. Another man, who told us he rode for Holdsworth in the early 70’s, said our mate Jan’s Holdsworth Professional (also on display) should have had a Brooks saddle with big brass rivets and not the Cinelli model fitted to be truly authentic. Also three Campag top tube cable guides were generally the norm and not two like he has. Also a couple from Worksop came by and told me more about the Carlton factory where my bike was made.  Fascinating cycling folklore – if you’re in to that sort of thing! We introduced many of our visitors to our pure merinoAlpine Jersey and on the qualities that help to make it perfect for the Eroica ride.

Lastly apologies to those of you who showed up at our tent on Sunday and found we were closed. Luckily M.D Nick had given us all the ok to ride the EB sportive ride. And so after pie and mash, and a nerve-settling pint of Jaipur IPA, preceding an early (ish…) turn in on Saturday night, we arose at 6am on Sunday morning to ride. After porridge we found our way round to the quant, narrow, bunting festooned streets of Bakewell. There a man dressed in John Bull style red tailcoat, britches and top hat, waved his flag and we were off!

The first part of the ride followed the path of a discussed railway track at the bottom of a deep cutting. A pale clay dust rises up from the gravel track. Not unlike the one that must coat the bikes of those riding the original L’Eroica ride in Italy. Authenticity that links the Chianti vineyards and the Derbyshire dales I think. Any state of relaxed mobile contentment is quickly ruined by an unwelcome sound. Psssssssst…! It seems the puncture I acquired, training on the roads of Surrey and spoiling my stunning vintage Vittoria tubular tyres is back to haunt me. Sealant inserted in the tyre looked to have fixed it. I now know complacency regarding old tyres is never wise. Worse still it was at this point that we realized every one of us had left our mini-pumps in the tent. Arghhh! Sheepishly we flagged down two steel roadster riders who thankfully yanked on their rod brakes to stop and help. After pumping in more air we persuaded the sealant to have another go (the sound of leaking air stopped anyway) and we were on our way again. A little further down the track a coffee selling Citreon H Van, parked beside one of the old stations, provided a much needed caffeine jolt. Onwards and off the track we were back on to tarmac and approaching the first climb. I hadn’t ridden the type of large gearing (42 x 21 is the lowest climbing gear) as fitted to my Raleigh since my teens. Having swatted up on vintage You Tube footage of Bernard Hinault climbing in the 1981 Tour de France I realized how things were once done. To get over these Peak District climbs I knew I would need a certain style of out-the-saddle riding, dramatically rocking the bike from side to side. Half way up this first climb I was reminded of riding the hills around Friston Forest as I did in my teens. Pushing past riders spinning higher gearing I must have looked like I was trying to look the hero. Actually I couldn’t go any slower as I would have ground to a halt! Once again that sound ruined any heroic congratulation I gave myself at the summit. Pssssssstt…  This time, knowing a rutted section of semi off-road was coming, we changed the tyre. My Raleigh actually felt beautifully assured moving either side of the rutted track to avoid the holes. The bike has more relaxed angles than a modern bike and a more pronounced rake on the fork which suited the terrain perfectly. Rejoining the tarmac we started to descend a steep walled narrow valley road towards the first checkpoint at Hartingdon.

Plenty of smiling volunteers guided us in and local cub scouts dished out water to fill empty bidons. On the other side of the village pond a huge food tent served rolls filled with egg or coronation chicken. Better still beer was available to wash it all down.  Vulpine retailer Edinburgh Bike Co-op were on hand for repairs and patiently changed one riders knackered tubs, as I waited to use their track pump.

Once we were on our way again, a steep climb up brought us up on to the high road which was hugged either side by miles of heather. Huge views out over the dales around us were stunningly beautiful. More off road sections and then sharp turn to the right pitched us down a steep slope. It was here, as I passed many riders with anchors pulled right on, I realized how superior the Nuovo Record brakes on my Raleigh are. They may be thirty years old but they’re just as effective (perfect modulation and great stopping power) as the modern equivalent. One women was not so lucky. A loud bang echoed around the trees just as she pulled in to checkpoint two. Brake use meant her steel wheel overheated causing her tyre to explode! More lovely food and refreshments at checkpoint two (five kinds of cake!) were laid out. No one need worry about getting hungry riding Eroica Britannia.

Sunny now and with a gentle wind in our faces we followed the route through more dales, ducking down finally to ride through a big wooden gate, and into the noble landscaped grounds of Chatsworth. More food (this time potted meat sandwiches) and a glass of fizz (thanks Rapha!) would prepare us for the final climb back in to Bakewell. The camaraderie between riders on the road was wonderful. Everyone was so friendly. As I waggled up the final climb (out-of-the- saddle-vintage-climbing-stance now down pat), I talked to a guy dressed completely in Claudio Chiapucci’s legendary denim effect Carrera kit.

As Bakewell came into view we could hear the finish line. And we rode back into the festival site to applause from spectators lining the road. Even better as you turned the last corner an announcer read out your name and welcomed you home. Nice touch! I realized this was the kind of warm welcome (in one way or another…) we had been receiving all weekend.

So finally back to my dapper dandy Eroica Britannia moustache. I’m writing this on the Wednesday after the event and I’m finding it hard to consider removing it, or banishing the big smile also still stuck firmly on my face.

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