What happens when you combine a vintage Italian bike ride with the rolling hills of the Peak District? You get a lot of tweed, flapjacks, and loads of vintage bike geekery. LEroica Britannia is a three day, family friendly cycling festival held in Bakewell in the heart of Derbyshire. L’Eroica is more a way of life than a cycle ride. The name means ‘heroic’ and it began life in Italy in 1997 when 92 riders came together to highlight a campaign to prevent the asphalting over of the famous Tuscan white gravel roads – the strade bianchi – and to celebrate the fortitude of the cycling heroes of yesteryear.
Since then, the annual event has been governed by strict rules: the bikes must be from 1987 or earlier – so no indexed gears, gear changers must be on the downtube, and no routed cables. Clothing must be of an appropriate era to the bike. It's a non-competitive event and has always been about more than cycling alone – a celebration of the environmental heritage, and the food and drink of the region, a fond remembrance of when cycling’s biggest drug controversy was a few too many swigs of red wine at the food stops.
From these beginnings, L’Eroica is now becoming a global phenomenon. There are events in Japan, California, and Spain, It's been running in the UK for three years now (we went to the first one - think there's a blog somewhere?)
Finish the ride in Italy and you get a bottle of Chianti and the local bread. Here, you get a Bakewell pudding and a pint of beer especially brewed for the event by Thornbridge! The vision for Eroica Britannia was always more ambitious though. “We dreamt of a festival that celebrated the best of British across a spectrum of vintage and lifestyle and obviously bikes.” says the organiser. Their aim is for Eroica Britannia to do for cycling what the Goodwood Revival has done for classic cars. The festival offers a 30 acre showground estate awash with family fun and frolics, including, rather bizarrely in a town that is renowned as an agricultural centre, a recreation of a Great British beach, complete with deck chairs and 30 tons of sand. Still, the kids loved it.
But the centrepiece of the festival is, of course, the bicycle. If your thing is old bikes and vintage clothing, you would have thought you had died and pedalled off to nerd heaven here. And you wouldn’t have been alone: the three day bash attracts over 50,000 visitors.
Stefano Del Sarto used to be a professional cyclist and now runs tours in Tuscany to ride the L’Eroica. “More business here,” he says in imperfect English as he gestures to the bustling stalls around him. “In Italy, all free.”
Welcome to England, Stefano.
Without doubt it‘s the best two-wheeled fancy dress party imaginable.
As you walk around the maze of stalls selling almost every component ever made for the bicycle and every garment ever worn, your senses turn to food as the aromas wafting around become irresistible. Finest prosciuttos, cheeses and salamis sit next to enormous pans of ragu and pasta with vino rosso being the absolutely obligatory accompaniment.
Yes - this is next year's target. Gary has already found his bike - a 1959 McLean - currently undergoing restoration. I've placed an order for an old Italian bike - I've dreamt of owning one since my early teens - and it has to have Campagnolo components! - watch this space for further details as the project develops - we've got almost a year to get things sorted and source old clothes/shoes/hats/goggles etc!