Since the late 1990's one of the most popular cycling events in Europe is the L'Eroica ride for vintage bikes. A description of it is below from their website:
L'Eroica was born from the love of that cycling which formed a good part of the history and literature of Italy. The idea was to seek out the authentic roots of this fantastic sport, with its great, popular heart, and rediscover the joy in fatigue and the thrill of the challenge. L'Eroica is also a Foundation, the purpose of which is to safeguard the heritage of the white gravel roads of Tuscany. From these romantically modern notions came the idea of the cycling event which started in 1997.
At the starting line that first year were 82 "thrill-seekers"; today L'Eroica stands out as a champion of our environmental heritage, sustainable lifestyle and clean cycling which, looking to the past, points the way for the future: the numbers now participating are testimony to the success due to the passion of the organisers and founders.
The coolest thing is this year there are 5,000 registered riders.
Now flashback to 2011 when fellow cyclist Matt Pendergast from North Bend forwarded me information about the Cino Heroica ride in northwestern Montana. I read his write up on Bike Forums with intense interest and decided it was definitely a ride worthy of my time. The idea of experiencing the back roads of northwest Montana on a 40 year old road bike was just too enticing. Due to missing the cutoff for 2012 I waited somewhat patiently, actually anxiously, for registration to open this year. The ride is limited to 150 riders - 90 new and 60 returning. Fortunately, I was successful in getting in. The first of many restless nights started in March as I contemplated the bike I was going to use and the components for the bike. Of special importance was the gearing as I went round and round in my head on what would be appropriate.
This was the seventh Cino Heroica. The ride is a salute to L'Eroica and early Italian road racing. The organizers describe it this way:
This ride is a celebration of the cycling days of old when road racing in Europe meant racing on unpaved dirt roads over mountain passes, in sometimes horrific conditions. The racers rode steel framed bikes that were built as much for toughness as for speed. They drank wine and smoked Gitanes to quell their suffering. “Nutrition” was real food, like cheese, salami, and a baguette. Suffering was an art form taken to a new level by these riders, as they collapsed into the arms of their handlers at race’s end, their faces reflecting something that non-riders will never understand. But at the end of the day, it was all about style, the horrors of the struggle erased by the pasta with truffles, crystal goblets of Chianti and polite conversation.
I finally got around to starting on the bike in April. It is an early 1970's (although some Cino riders thought maybe a late-1960's) Peugeot PX10. At the time this was the top of the line offering for Peugeot in the U.S. This example came to me in the form of a frame from a fellow Bike Forums member who was also newly registered for Cino Heroica 2013.
The build, for the most, part went quite well with only a few hiccups. The original Simplex drive side drop out had been tapped to accept derailleurs other than Simplex but it wasn't done correctly. Two different rear derailleurs - Campagnolo Super Record and a Suntour VX GT long cage - were tried and they wouldn't pivot back to allow the rear wheel to come out of the frame. In the end I went with a Simplex SX630 that was originally from my 1984 Gitane Sprint. The wheelset I had for the bike was from a 1981 Trek 510 I bought at a pawn shop. Unfortunately they were too wide for the frame so I ended up with 1984 Mavic Module E with a Normandy Helicomatic rear hub from my dad's old 1984 Peugeot PSV10. The rest of the bike came together quite nicely and the white cables, bar tape and saddle blended well with the rarer blue frame. Gearing ended up with a 52-42 crankset and a 13-28 6 speed in the rear.
A trial run was done on the gravel and dirt roads of Whitman County in August and the bike handled fantastic with 28c Panaracer Pasela Tourguard tires. It was "sure footed" and tracked well in the gravel. I was definitely encouraged.
September 7th, 2013
Check in at the Kila school was uneventful and, at the same time, fantastic because of all the vintage bikes. All new riders had to be on a "heroic" bike - steel frame, 1981 or older, friction shifters (preferrably down tube), tubular tires (if you had guts to do that), pedals with toe straps. Campagnolo components were in abundance. The day was cool with threatening, menacing clouds. We were all too excited to get underway to really worry about it. Even though I was cold I figured I would easily warm up once we hit the gravel and the riding got a little more intense.
What can you really say about Cino Heroica other than that it's so "cino". That's the most common phrase for the weekend - if you got a flat it was "cino", hit a cow pie (or maybe even a cow - I missed one by 18 inches or so) it was cino, coming into the lunch stop with only two chainring bolts was definitely "cino", draining the beer keg at the overnight stop was positively "cino", wait for a cattle drive and then dodge the cow pies on the road - most assuredly "cino" and on and on.
Lunch is an Italian feast next to a creek on Saturday and in a cow pasture on Sunday with food provided by the riders. Tables are adorned with table cloths and you feast on olives, meats, cheeses, breads and pasta while drinking beer and wine. Rest stops usually had at least two cooler - one with small cans of Coca Cola or Dr. Pepper and the other with beer. That's so "cino".
Mechanical issues abound on a ride like this - heck, we're riding old, if not ancient, bikes. They don't necessarily like deep ruts, potholes, large, thick loose gravel and big downhills with washboard corners. I often didn't know if it was the bike rattling or my body. I suffered one flat at the end of the second day. On Saturday I lost the spring tension on the rear derailleur to it wouldn't pick up slack very well. Hanging the bike from a tree branch in Hot Springs allowed us space to fix that problem. Sunday morning I noticed a really stiff front brake lever. Turns out I was stupid and forgot the ferrules for the cable and the inner lining of the housing had pulled through. Emergency repairs 30 minutes before leaving were undertaken as I swapped the housing around and fished the cable through. The brake was functional but I didn't use it.
Other's had problems too. One person broke a seat post binder bolt, one lost the entire seat and half the clamp assembly to hold it onto the post, another had six flats on Saturday. One of the few single speed riders lost three chainring bolts in the first 30 miles of the ride on Saturday. And, there were the expected broken spokes. It takes a hero to ride 50 miles on a bike with a rear wheel out of true (1/4" wobble or so) and climbing a nasty, steep mountain road in the process.
This is by far one of the most challenging rides I've ever done and also one of the most rewarding. I'll be back for sure. I can't let the mechanical issues and muddy roads at the end of the ride deter me. This was an epic ride with 149 other people who wanted to remember the old days of cycling on dirt and mountain roads and enjoy good company, food and drink. Not much is better than that.
The "Soviet" contingent
Waiting for the pre-race "sermon"
Bike Forums Classic & Vintage members + Phillip
And we're off
You can ride a lot of miles by yourself
Saturday's lunch set up
My favorite climb of the two days - so very scenic
Day 2 lunch in a cow pasture
The goal was the top of the ridge in the background
One of the coolest bikes - yes, those are wood rims
The famous John Howard's Cinelli