The Inaugural Eroica California
Riding Vintage Steel through California Wine Country
One of my riding partners, Hans, blew a flat almost as soon as we hit the first dirt and gravel road, no more than five miles into the 70-mile course. We’d all managed to forget a pump that morning, but that wasn’t the only problem: removing a well-glued tubular tire is a pain in the ass. We passed the wheel around, each tearing off sections until we pried it free, then unfolded one of the spares he’d tied under the saddle. On the underside in red marker it read “May 1, 1995”. At Eroica cyclists use vintage gear — and tires are no exception.
The first annual Eroica California took place on April 12, 2015, in Paso Robles, California. It’s one of six bike rides that grew out of L’Eroica (which means “heroic” in Italian), a bike ride on the strade bianche, or white gravel roads, of Tuscany. There are now two Eroica rides in Italy and one each in the US, Japan, Spain and Britain. The ride series celebrates the heritage of cycling by requiring participants to use vintage gear: bikes made before 1987 with friction shifters on the downtube, pedals with toe clips or straps and low-profile rims with at least 32 spokes, among other things. Novel? Yes, but not for novelty’s sake. These bikes are heavier, shifting is much more temperamental (cross-chaining will ruin your derailleur) and older cranksets offer fewer easy gears. If you want to experience what it was like for the pre-aluminum, pre-carbon greats like Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx or Greg Lemond, riding an old bike in Eroica is as close as you’ll get.
While a passerby inflated Hans’s tire I prayed silently to the racing gods that my borrowed Gianni Motta, a bike about as old as me, would serve me well for the next 65 miles. It did, though I can’t say the same for my legs, which buckled under the pressure of the 17 percent grade of the dirt and gravel road up Killer Canyon. Like the wine, pommes frites and baguettes with olive oil at aid stations along the way, the rewards for pedaling onward were outsized: the final miles of the ride were winding downhills on beautiful backcountry roads where, tucked down in the drops, I reaped the rewards of the difficult ascent.
STAY: The Paso Robles Inn is located on Spring Street, directly across from the race start/finish and the expo the day before. Rooms start at around $150. If you’re traveling with a group, use Airbnb to get a rental just outside of the downtown. pasoroblesinn.com
EAT: Eat dinner at Fish Gaucho, a Baja California-style Mexican restaurant a short walk from the Paso Robles Inn. We can vouch for the generous portions of chicken poblano enchiladas. fishgaucho.com
TUNE UP: If you need a bike or need help tuning up your bike for the ride, Wally’s Bicycle Works in nearby San Luis Obispo (where the closest airport is) is a well-respected shop. wallysbikes.com