The 102nd Tour de France begins in a few days time, on the 4th of July, and it is, for cycling fans, one of the highlights of the year. Yet, while this year’s peloton will enjoy the bleeding edge of technology and the comfort that only significant corporate sponsorship can afford, it’s sobering to remember the onerous conditions racers had to endure even 30 years ago.
That is not to say today’s racers have it easy; 2,087 miles circumnavigating France and riding up and down hors catégorie climbs is no walk in the park. But even 30 years ago, when bikes were still made of steel and riders still used toe clips, it was a harder race. Go further back, even to the first Tour, and you’ll begin to appreciate the reason for this event called Eroica.
The 2015 Eroica Britannia was held just over a week ago in the United Kingdom’s Peak District. It brought together those cycling fans who respect the trials that the forefathers of our glorious sport had to endure, albeit in a much more enjoyable situation.
Cycle EXIF was honoured to participate in this year’s edition at the invitation of Brooks England, along with over thirty international members of the press and web, and dealers of the Brooks brand. We came from countries as diverse as Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Japan, Italy and the UK.
As well as a remembrance of endurance, Eroica — wherever it is held, and today that includes Spain, California, Italy and Japan — is a celebration of classic cycling. Eroica Britannia is special in that the entire Peak District is caught up in it, just like Yorkshire was in the 2014 Tour de France.
The Fuji Racer and GIOS Torino seen here were brought from Japan by the owner of a long-established bike shop. It would be rude to assume his age, and he is probably older than he would appear, but he floated up the hills, despite having calves that looked carved from rock.
Glory Days is a bike-hire and tour-guide operator located in the heart of the Peak District and, like last year’s inaugural Eroica Britannia, they supplied the bikes to Team Brooks. All of their bikes are Eroica-requisite pre-1987, and impeccably maintained.
Surely there is no other country in the world where there have been so many individual frame builders over the years who have built a brand and business out of their name and craft. Every bike seemed to have a story behind it. Keith Lambert and Barry Hoban are but two.
Each bike was comfortably shod in a Brooks saddle, and even a 55 mile ride (three routes were offered: a 30, 55 and 100 mile) — was a reminder why they are the choice of both long distance and style-conscious cyclists. The Chas Roberts below was owned by Pablo of Pelago Bicycles.
After landing at Heathrow on Thursday morning, the launch of pannier.cc that night, touring the Brooks Factory in Smethwick on Friday (full report imminent) and settling into the Haddon Farm cottages above Bakewell, Saturday was a whirlwind. Once our bikes arrived, we were keen to get moving.
We were immediately greeted with views like this. Coming from Sydney, it was a refreshing site. The Peak District is pure rural England, and has plenty of climbing for riders so inclined… After so many hours on the plane and coach, it was a welcome relief.
The Brooks Team found its way to the Hassop Station Café for lunch which, as the name implies, is located in the original railway station on the Derby to Manchester main line. It was one of three used by Chatsworth House, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire (more on that later).
Oh yes, the Bakewell pudding. This is Bakewell’s local specialty, along with their tarts, and both are amazing — this one especially. So was the Thornbridge L’Eroica Britannia beer. After a long trip and an exhilarating ride, it was as though angels had brewed the hops themselves.
After lunch, we embarked upon the Monsal Trail, a rail trail that was opened in 1981. It courses for about 8.5 miles, through well-maintained tunnels and over the omniously-named Headstone Viaduct, which itself was featured in one of Norman Wilkinson‘s iconic railway tourism posters.
Finally, we made it to the Bakewell show ground, just next to the town. For the classic cycling fan, it was a sight to behold. Literally thousands of bikes, the spine of the English custom frame building tradition. This Bates Volante was just one example, complete with Cantiflex tubing and Diadrant forks.
Seeing a TJ Cycles ‘Flying Gate’ in person for the first time is something else, even though this road bike frame had been converted into a fixed gear. Next to it, tied up to a pole, was an Ellis-Briggs, a Hetchins and a Holdsworth.
It was just as satisfying to see so many smiling faces as it was to pore over the myriad bikes and brands. The vintage cars were out in force too, like this Wolseley. Many dogs were present as well, and they looked just as bemused as their local owners.
The Land Rover fans didn’t go hungry either. This one was nearly a pin cushion for Good Life‘s custom painted arrows by Best Made Co. They certainly contrasted with the grey clouds, which everyone watched nervously.
London’s Pedal Pedlar, vintage cycling specialists, had a well-stocked tent, which was standing room only, as early birds searched for the worms. They had an eclectic collection of apparel and ephemera, but their range of bikes for sale was superb, like this Pinarello.
By now, they will have well and truly moved back into their London store. If you’re in town, it would be worth a visit. Try and snap that Basso ‘after race wear’ cap.
After a dinner on the grounds of baked snapper, we headed back to the cottages for a kip before what was going to a glorious day of riding and enjoying the atmosphere. On our way back we passed the Mercian tent. Mercian are still producing beautiful bikes in Derby, and have done so since 1946.
Stay tuned for 2015 Eroica Britannia – Sunday