In 1997, in the village of Gaiole in Chianti, 92 cycling fanatics decided to create a bike ride through ‘the stade bianchi’ – the white roads – that criss-cross the Tuscan countryside. The entry rules were strict. The only bikes permitted had to be steel framed road bikes, built before 1987. Gear shifters had to be on the down tube and all pedals had to have toe clips and straps. In addition, riders dressed in vintage or era specific clothing. They called it “L’Eroica”
In 2015, the ride in Gaiole had over 6 000 riders and has reached its maximum limit. It is always oversubscribed. Now there are 9 Eroica events all over the world – including the UK. They all follow the same strict rules of the original Gaiole event. It’s a true Global cycling ‘brand’, with a consistent look and feel. It attracts some of the world’s biggest cycle manufacturers and suppliers as co-sponsors. There’s no doubt it will spread to other parts of the world.
So why has it become so incredibly popular?
1 It’s a Celebration of Italian Cycling Culture
Italy has always been in love with road cycling. They worship their heroes such as Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. The Giro d’Italia is one of the oldest and most challenging bike rides in the world, second only to the Tour de France. They have wonderful bicycle brands such as Bianchi, Colnago and Campagnola that create machines of true beauty. Taking part in the Eroica allows you to experience the style and passion of Italian cycling.
2 It’s an Opportunity to Re-discover the Joy of Riding a ‘Vintage’ Bike
Today’s modern bikes are lightweight, made of hi-tech materials and are aerodynamic, but lack the purity and the elegance of the classic steel bikes. Riding an old racing bike feels very different and in some ways more enjoyable that the modern bike. A bit like driving a vintage car rather than a new one. For cycling aficionados, acquiring and renovating a classic bike is a real pleasure. A well known or rare vintage bike brand in good condition is a true collector’s item. I have a vintage Francesco Moser bike and I love it!
3 It’s an Excuse to Revel in Nostalgia
At it’s most basic, it’s a chance to dress up in old cycling gear. Looking the part is an important element of cycling culture and there’s a rich history of cycling apparel, from the old merino wool tops and racing shoes of the pre-war era to the famous team kits of more recent cycling legends. Admiring and discussing all the old bikes and outfits is all part of the experience. For people of a certain age, it’s a chance to relive their youth.
4 It’s More Than Just a Bike Ride
The Ride itself is only part of the Eroica experience. For example the Eroica Britannia in Bakewell takes place over 3 days and 50 000 people attend. There’s exhibitions, live music, other vintage themed attractions, camp sites. It’s got the same vibe as a music festival. This film from the Eroica Britannia gives you a flavour
5 It’s a Genuine Sporting Challenge
The old bikes are more challenging than modern bikes as they’re heavier and don’t have same range of gears to help you along. Plus you ride on un-tarmaced roads and on steep hills. There are several rides to register for. Some are more than 100 miles in length, so there’s a genuine sporting challenge involved. You have to take it seriously!
The Eroica format has been so successful that it’s spawned similar events elsewhere. The town of Anghiari, also in Tuscany, has a race called L’Intrepida, and follows a similar format, which I took part in last year. It was a wonderful event that galvanised the whole community
This year I’m taking part in the Eroica Britannia as it will give me a chance to ride through my beautiful home county of Derbyshire. Can’t wait.