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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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.

 

Voila! Il est Bob

In March’s post about my post-apocalyptic snow ride across the Pennines, I pointed to difficulties in ‘real life’. I’m afraid more ‘life events’ have monopolised my time and energy of late. To say things have been difficult would be an understatement. Nevertheless, life must roll on and, with a deep breath, I can now quickly post about the Bob Jackson I started to build last year.

After many a false start and component challenge, the bike I will ride at this year’s Eroica Britannia looks a bit like this…

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I’ve had to make one or two compromises along the way but I’m pretty happy with the final result. I say ‘final’ but the pedals need to change to meet l’eroica specifications (clips and straps) and it needs some bottle cages. You get the idea though.

And before the purists start squealing, I know this is not really kosher… it’s not a road bike, but sourcing a pre-1987 bike in the right size (ginormous) was nigh on impossible. It apes the old French randonneur and touring bikes and is very much in that spirit, but with (hopefully) more reliable modern replica components. And besides, it’s a fair old stretch for those downtube shifters on a frame of this size. I guess they make it heroic if nothing else!

The chainset is now a triple – a simple Stronglight Impact – after supply problems from Middleburn and Velo Orange. This was not my original plan as I hoped to fit a ‘super-compact’ double. The Stronglight works well though and is aesthetically right.

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The brake levers are positioned a bit high too, I will adjust them ahead of the ride if I get the time.

The build is as follows:

Frame: Bob Jackson World Tour 26.5 inch, Reynolds 631 (yes, it’s a monster)
Bars: Velo Orange ‘Rando’ 46 cm
Levers: Dia Compe Gran Cru drilled
Bar tape: Brooks tan
Stem: 3ttt Status quill 130mm
Headset: Chris King threaded
Mudguards: Velo Orange 45mm hammered finish
Tyres: Panaracer Pasela Tourguard 32mm
Hubs: Dia Compe Gran Compe ENE, 36-hole
Rims: H Plus Son TB 14, Polished
Brakes: Velo Orange Zeste Cantilevers with anti squeal blocks, Dia Compe roller hangers.
Shifters: Dia Compe downtube micro-ratchet shifters
Front mech: Campagnolo Veloce
Chainset: Stronglight Comp triple 175mm, 50,40,30t
Bottom bracket: Stronglight JP 400, alloy
Rear mech: Campagnolo Comp triple
Cassette: Sram 8 spd, 11-28t
Seat post: Velo Orange Gran Cru (layback)
Saddle: Brooks Imperial
Saddlebag: Caradice zip roll

I’m riding the 100-miler on Sunday. It’s a lovely route on roads and paths I know well. I can’t wait!