Vive L’Eroica

The Eroica Britannia may have allowed me to indulge the n+1 theory of bike ownership in the form of my much-loved Bob Jackson, but it’s not all about the bike and I enjoyed my ride immensely last year.

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At the end of the lovely Eroica Britannia

I was always going to take part again but wanted to change the tenor of this year’s trundle, to move away from the rather elitist 100-mile class and pursue a more sedate pace while immersing myself in the spirit of this very British incarnation of the Italian ‘heroic’ ride.

Consequently, having ridden the longest route previously, last weekend I rode the shortest. I ditched the retro merino ‘racing’ gear for what perhaps could be described as 1950s touring wear – white shirt, retro tank top, baggy tan shorts. It all seemed to suit the Bob and my biking philosophy.

I had a companion this year, too, who helped me explore this more relaxed approach. In a last-minute bike switch, Sophie rode my Brompton hastily equipped with a wicker basket and looked very dandy in the world’s largest sunhat. Although not particularly aerodynamique, the headgear made sense as the weather was glorious… furiously hot in fact.

We set off late, nearly the last riders to make the grand depart. Within half a mile along the lovely High Peak Trail, we stopped for breakfast. Riding just 25 miles immediately changes your mindset; there was always going to be plenty of time. And with that time came a deeper appreciation of the surroundings and the nature of the event. Riding my bike, great weather, lovely company… simple but sometimes-elusive pleasures.

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On the trail

The miles passed under our wheels easily and my companion didn’t appear too encumbered by the Brompton despite her initial skepticism. Leaving the gravel, our route dropped down into Monyash where the food station was bare. Still, there was beer, soft drinks and much-needed water to give us a lift. A brass band provided the only soundtrack needed for half an hour lying on the grass in the sunshine.

Now heading back to Eroica HQ, we both started to dawdle, neither of us wanting the ride to end. To soften the blow, we formulated frankly hair-brained plans for next year. This could involve a tandem and cross dressing,.. and I will seemingly endure the greater humiliation.

In the final miles, all routes converged and we encountered the hasty progress of riders on the longer tours, their riding philosophy somewhat removed from ours. They also sped by when we came across a venerable rider seemingly slumped on his weighty trike in the fierce heat. We were concerned for our fellow velo and plied him with water and sweets. We decided to ride back to Friden Grange with him as an unofficial support crew where he was greeted with heartfelt and deserved applause upon crossing the line. Chapeau my friend.

So, a glorious ride on a glorious day. You couldn’t really ask for more.

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Bob Jackson World Tour – Old skool packing for the road

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Stopping for coffee at Beningbrough Hall

A couple of readers have got in touch to ask about how I packed the Bob Jackson for the Way of the Roses trip. The decision to take the bike I built for Eroica was a bit last minute as a replacement frame for my trusty Surly Troll was held up for one reason or another. I now have a dedicated, heavyweight Rohloff-based tourer to replace the Troll that will accompany me to the Alps at the end of the month, although I’d be more than happy to take the Bob if needed as it handled touring duties with impressive ease.

Given this bike has to sit within the aesthetic guidelines of the Eroica events, I fitted some rather lovely replica French racks from Velo Orange before leaving for Morecambe Bay. More information can be found on the fitting process here.

They are not all-show-and-no-go either as both racks can handle reasonable weight, particularly the front Porteur rack of which I’ve become a huge fan. This design, or a more modern iteration thereof, is destined to find a home on other bikes in the fleet.

OK, so the packing list. I’ll detail the items taken by bag to give you an idea of weight distribution. Suffice to say, the bike handled beautifully with this light load and I’d be happy pedalling for weeks with this kit as long as I had opportunities to wash and dry gear on the way.

Velo Orange front Porteur Rack, in a 25 litre Exped dry bag

Thermarest Prolite seat (inflated, to prevent items rattling on the rack bed)

Go Lite Shangrila flysheet

Oookworks custom inner for the Go Lite

Mountain Co-operative Merlin Sleeping bag (XL)

Exped inflatable pillow

Thermarest Neo Air full length Xlite mattress

Alpkit Possum frame bag

Pole for Go Lite Shangrila

Thermarest chair kit

Tent pegs

Snacks

Keys

Petzl headtorch

Caradice Zipped Roll saddlebag

Abus cable lock

Rapha rain jacket

‘Tools’ – Park multi tool, tyre levers, micro leatherman, lighter.

Two spare tubes

Wallet

Caradice Universal panniers on the rear Constructeur Rack

Pocket Rocket stove and MSR titanium pot and lid

Alpkit MytiMug and MSR mugmate

1 pair of sandals

Montane wind top

Rapha merino base layer

Rapha winter gloves

North Face down jacket

Rapha classic jersey

Sherpa woollen hat (much loved!)

T-shirt

1 pair of Endura Mesh padded undershorts

Endura waterproof over shorts (worn as a last resort only!)

Spare socks

Alpkit dry bag (attached to the top of the rear rack)

Toiletries – deodorant, shower gel, toothbrush, toothpaste, Sudocrem

Fjalraven Nils trousers

Towel (when not drying on the front rack)

Spare food – when carried

Clothes worn

Rapha riding gilet

Rapha merino base layer

Brooks Eroica B1866 jersey

Buff (x2)

Walz cycling cap

Nike leggings

Rapha Randonneur shorts

Giro Terraduro shoes (ready to fall apart)

Merino socks

Castelli Mitts

Endura mesh padded undershorts

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The Way of the Roses

There’s something very agreeable about a coast-to-coast route. Crossing a country and seeing two seas lends the trip a grander geographical context, even if the route itself is relatively short, the country crossed relatively small.

The Way of the Roses is by no means long – just 170 miles – but it ably meets these criteria. While it may not boast the wilds of Northumberland or Hadrian’s Wall found in more northerly crossings, it more than compensates in other ways. The route is superb and a credit to the engineers who sewed it together. There’s probably one bland section, the remainder on quite, traffic-free lanes and tracks. Maybe it was because we made our crossing early in the season, but you can achieve that wonderful sense of detachment riding this route – that the world is churning along somewhere but you’re managing to avoid it.

The route starts in either Morecambe or Bridlington. Starting in the west may give you the benefit of prevailing winds while an eastern push off saves the climbing for later in the itinerary. And be under no illusion about the climbing in the Yorkshire Dales and Forest of Bowland, those hills kick.

I rode the route with my good friend Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane. Both of us hadn’t toured in a while and felt the route was a solid objective; definitely a challenge, but one that would satisfy our somewhat voracious appetite for cake, Yorkshire Tapas (read: high-quality meat products) and ale.

We covered it in four days and rode 181 miles in total. This is a leisurely pace but we were touring not racing. Our progress was punctuated by photo stops and we spent a great deal of time riding side-by-side laughing our asses off about an encounter en route or an anecdote from one of our previous trips. It’s the way to roll on a journey like this… leave your Strava fixation at home.

Accommodation is straightforward en route. We lugged camping gear but only had cause to use it one night. That said, we were travelling off peak. The Way of the Roses is a justifiably popular and you’ll need to book ahead in the summer months.

Navigation is no chore either, particularly if armed with the excellent Sustrans route map. Still, we did manage one navigational boo-boo so keep your wits about you when looking for the waymarking signs. This part of the country is justifiably criss-crossed with numerous cycle routes and it’s possible to start following, say, the Yorkshire Wolds Cycleway, when you shouldn’t be.

Posts:

The Way of the Roses days one and two: Morecambe to Ripon

The Way of the Roses day three and four: Ripon to Bridlington

Bob Jackson World Tour – Old skool packing for the road

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Velo Orange Porteur and Constructeur Racks

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When I built my Bob Jackson World Tour last year, I had a plan to fit racks at some point. I’d considered a number of options, but given the overall aesthetic of this bike – think French Randonneur – replica parts seemed the order of the day rather than fitting more purposeful Tubus or Surly load luggers.

Although it may never have been my intention to carry camping kit on this bike, my hand has been forced by next week’s Way of the Roses ride. Frames to replace my trusty but just–too–darn-small Surly Troll are either in transit or can’t be collected until May. I’d be pedalling coast to coast on the Bob Jackson then, and I needed racks to suit.

The hunt for the right replica parts normally means Velo Orange and I’ve been chewing over options from their range for a while. I eventually settled on a minimalist but rather elegant Constructuer rear rack and the more substantial Porteur front, which provides a sizeable platform for a large bag that I hope to acquire some time in the future. (There are some rather nice options from this cottage manufacturer in the Netherlands.)

The two VO racks arrived last month and I was immediately struck but how burly the Porteur is. By contrast, the Constructeur feels somewhat under gunned with its svelte lines and thin tubing. Both are made from stainless steel and rather nicely finished, though. Reading the VO specs they should be adequate to carry my slimmed down camping kit with control.

Fitting the racks was a bit of a faff… but isn’t it always? Both allow for the option to drill mudguards (if you have ‘proper’ alloy or steel mudguards that is) and it’s worth measuring, praying and drilling for the additional stability this provides – both for the racks and the guards.

You’ll note from the pictures I’m running the Constructeur rather tight to the mudguard while the Porteur is a little higher (and there’s a stack of M5 washers helping to keep the ‘guard put). In both cases I have to cut the tabs which attach to the drop out mounts – make sure you have a quality hacksaw for this job as the metal is reassuringly hardy.

This is a huge frame and having the Porteur rack a little higher gives me the perfect distance between its platform and handlebars for the aforementioned large ‘porteur’ bag. I’ve angled the rack back slightly too so the bag will be inline with the angle of the head tube. A personal quirk that may or may not work when the bag is ultimately in place.

Initial shake down rides now done and I am a big fan of the Porteur. I’ve carried reasonable weight up front with little discernable effect on the handling. If anything, the rack has made the Bob more settled if that’s possible for this most predictable of bikes. The rack will carry a drybag next week containing tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat along with lighter clothes and food.

The Constructuer, while looking dandy, is not so practical. It will just ferry a pair of small Caradice Super C panniers with some adjustment of the hooks. The platform will take a small drybag of some description too.

I’m hoping this three-bag solution will take care of my gear. I have the option to add an Alpkit framebag to spread the load a wee bit further. The Porteur will take front panniers too if needed but I’m trying to avoid the additional weight.

I’ll report back after next week’s trundle.

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Mad dogs and Englishmen (and women)…

… go out for a day-long pedal into the Peak District without checking the forecast.

Sometimes the plan is just set. I was always going out for a ride on Easter Day this year. I wanted a long, but sedate, day on the bike, more for endurance ahead of the Eroica and my coast-to-coast next week. The miles also would pay dividends when I sheepishly get off the plane in Nice in a few weeks helping me believe I can pedal over some real mountains.

The day started well. I puffed over Chunal Moor to Chapel-en-le-Frith and picked up Eroica routes past and headed to Whaley Bridge and that sublime pull out of the Goyt Valley to Derbyshire Bridge – for my money some of the best climbing inches in this lovely district. If you haven’t bowed your head to this route on a bike yet, you simply must.

A very chilly drop down from the Axe Edge Moor led through through Earl Sterrdale before picking up NCN Route 68 and the High Peak Trail. Rail-bed paths followed – the Peak’s very own Strade Bianche.

At Hartington I diverted briefly before picking up the lovely Cardlemere Lane (NCN Route 548) for more excellent traffic-free gravel before picking up the High Peak Trail/Midshires Way again through Gotham (no, not that one) and Friden – scene of this year’s Eroica Festival.

Back at Parsley Hay, I hit the road through Youlgreave and ultimately Bakewell where the Monsal Trail pointed me in the direction of home.

Here, the day delivered the sting in its tail. Rain swept in and I reluctantly left the relative protection of the trail for lonely windswept roads through Wormhill, Peak Dale, and Dove Holes before picking up Route 68 again near Chinley for some knee-grinding climbs back to Glossop. I met a group of women road cyclists also enjoying the conditions. We could only exchange feeble smiles.

I pressed on and the rain intensified. The air had the tang of smoke from woodburners and I gazed – somewhat pathetically – through the windows of cosy cottages  as folk sat down to a family dinner.

Home, at last, and my sodden cycling clothes sagged… my shoes were frigid foot spas. Never has a shower and pizza been quite so sweet.

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Hear the Lion, erm, ding

Regular readers will know I’m partial to the odd ride along a mixed-use trail. Normally, these mini-adventures are undertaken with that fine fellow Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane and, more often than not, are an excuse to indulge his baffling affinity for the Trans Pennine Trail.

Riding these routes has its problems though – largely confined to other trail users. We always try to be considerate on these Troll-fests, normally favouring a polite ‘on your right’ when overtaking walkers. Horse riders are given a respectful wide berth too.

However, increasingly I hear grumbles from walkers as I trundle by along the lines of ‘Where’s your bell?!’ Both Tim and I feel the bell can be more offensive than a verbal warning but, in the interests of ‘scientific’ enquiry, I decided to equip the Bob Jackson with one ahead of this year’s Eroica.

As this was the Bob I was looking for something suitably retro. I’d found a fine example for a tenner amid Eroica’s tempting stalls but then came across Lion Bellworks. Their rather splendid brass bell was another fiver. Maybe it was the quantity of gin I’d consumed or the fact that Lion bells are assembled in Manchester that prompted me to cough up the extra dough. Actually no, the Lion emitted such a becoming ‘ding’ I was immediately hooked.

Lion bellworks brass cycle bellAware of the importance of the sound, Lion have posted an audio file on their web homepage. It’s easily described though. Flicking the elegant hammer against the brass body produces a sound that would summon Andrew Sachs as Manuel in Fawlty Towers.

The Lion is beautifully made and fits securely to a quill stem, a strip of cork on the bracket ensuring the bell remains put and is free from rattles in use.

So, how did folks on the Peak District trails respond? Mostly with a smile, exactly the response I was after. It was a bit much for one daydreaming pedestrian though who spun round with a start and blurted ‘Jesus f@cking Christ!!!’

Hmmm, can’t please everyone I guess.

This is a lovely product and is highly recommended. The only downside is the bell will tarnish so requires regular polishing.

An Eroica thank you

I think it’s fair to say that I’m basking in a warm glow after riding this year’s Eroica Britannia. I’ve tasted the event before  as a day visitor so was familiar with the vintage vibe on site. The ride underpinned my affection for it though.

hero-badgeThe route was similar to last year – no bad thing – save for a lengthy and agreeable diversion into Staffordshire.

It was challenging, too, particularly the section heading to beautiful Ilam and another wonderful food stop. I think this was more to do with poor nutrition on my part during the ride rather than the terrain. My depleted state was soon remedied with – ahem – four cups of soup, numerous sandwiches and, naturally, cake.

There were some wonderful bikes on show again making me want to redouble my efforts to find a genuine vintage ride that fits my ungainly frame. I think I may struggle, but a Hetchins with gorgeous ‘curvy’ stays would be a lovely addition to the fleet!

eroica-finishMy ‘mongrel’ Bob Jackson performed effortlessly as you might expect from a modern/retro bike. It’s pretty clear why the cycling community have largely steered away from toe clips and straps though!

Some folk in the 100-mile class take it very seriously and I doff my cycling cap to them. My approach is perhaps too haphazard and riding a tourer with a triple (wash your mouth out!) a little disrespectful of those grinding their knees to dust on old groupsets with unhelpful ratios.

Perhaps the 55-mile route would make more sense for this trundler?

I hope I’ll be in a position to ride it again next year and encourage one or two other cycling friends to take the heroic plunge. It’s a fitting showcase of the Peak District and its fabulous riding.