Monday, April 18, 2016

Eroica California

It was the Tuesday before Eroica and we hadn't made any plans for how we would get ourselves and our bikes down to the central coast near San Luis Obispo. Our pals at American Cyclery were heading down, but didn't have a booth or anything to show at the expo. We knew it would be a great event. After all, L'eroica only comes to the USA once a year.

Long story short, we rented a van and made it to Paso Robles fashionably late on Friday morning. Several cups of coffee and multiple croissants later our booth was unpacked and we got a chance to walk around the festival a bit.

There were plenty of lust worthy bikes on display, many sporting Soma tires and Nuovo Retro cage plates, as the demanding course the previous year led riders to reconsider their period correct freewheels and sew up tubulars.

Even though the forecast promised scattered showers there were still a fair number of people at the pre-ride show. We ran into several bay area friends from Citizen Chain, Re-fried Cycles out of SF and Stone's Cycles from Alameda.

Of course there was a healthy representation of Italian pride, with many classic Bianchis, Masis, De Rosas and Colnagos on display.

Bianchi also had new bikes including the Eroica signature model, which featured reproduction Dia Compe Shifters, centerpull brakes and Non-Aero drop levers. Even the official bike opted to spec lower gearing to give riders an edge on some of the steeper gravel climbs heading up over the coastal mountains.

Local cycling institution Wally's Bicycle Works was there with almost a full shops worth of classic bikes, apparel and components.

At the center of the event were smaller dealer tables filled will all sorts of swap meet parts and collectibles.

There were also plenty of modern classics about, including this limited edition Soma Triplecross brought by Rivet Cycle Works to showcase their leather touring saddles.

To comply with Eroica California's traditional aesthetic requirements many riders needed to "upgrade" their cockpit with some vintage levers from Mafac, Modolo or Campagnolo. Luckily American Cyclery had an ample supply for riders who failed to plan ahead.

"Is that a Californian or Milano?"

We showed off some Suntour XCD direct mount chainrings for TA, Stronglight and other 50.4mm crank arms.

Here's a beautiful custom randonneur from Fitz Cyclez sporting the full Sun 3 bolt crankset.

In classic swap meet style we brought lots of unique accessories and components for the hardcore bike nerds to paw over.

Eroica is one of the few places where "obsolete" aero bottles get more attention than carbon dream machines. We couldn't feel more at home here.

Maximizing pneumatic suspension was the ultimate hack for riders sticking to traditional single pivot calipers. "Will this clear my fork crown?"

Enigmatic bicycle personalities abound bearing obscure cycling treasures and paraphernalia.

The Soma x AC booth happened to be immediately adjacent to the British Bicycle Co, who were displaying many traditional cycling products from the British Isles. These new Harris Tweed bags got us eagerly fingering the merchandise.

The Pashley Clubman is a newish drop bar offering from the venerable English manufacturer. Like the Bianchi Eroica, it also features Dia Compe centerpull calipers, and traditionally styled components all around. We would love to see how these look with a set of cream-colored Soma New Xpress tires!

Norma from the California Bicycle Coalition came along to help us man the booth and to spread the word about their work to bring bicycle friendly streets to communities across the Golden State. There is only ONE WAY.

Despite the vintage theme of the event we did bring along one or two of our complete Soma builds from the AC showroom. This Grand Randonneur is Eroica ready right out of the box (once the Aero brake levers are swapped out).

While the majority of riders used newer derailleur mechanisms, some earlier bikes still sported fixed wheel drive trains, like this beautifully preserved skip tooth chain.

The gold anodized Modolo levers make a fun addition to the mostly silver components on this vintage Singer. (You had better pronounce that right or let me tell you you're going to get an earful.)

As a fan of center-pull brakes I certainly got plenty of opportunities to admire the many iterations of this beautiful Mafac design from several generations and manufactures.

While last years event had a more typical Californian forecast, the dreary start and occasional drizzle gave the event a more temperate feel which allowed riders to pedal comfortably even in warmer wool attire.

Taliah Lempert, an artist well known for making gorgeous bicycle themed art, had a booth set up with many vintage bicycle prints and apparel for sale.

Panaracer skinwall tires like the Soma New Xpress proved a good option for balancing the need for offroad performance with traditional style.

Since Eroica California isn't really a race many riders preferred to wear old school hair nets and caps rather than modern racing headgear.

While the tourists oh'd and ah'd over the flashier Masi's, the true connoisseurs were checking out this rare Oscar Egg from AC's historic bicycle collection. For those not up on California cycling history Oscar Juner was a famous racer from the east coast who later opened American Cyclery on Stanyan street in San Francisco. He epitomized the term "retro grouch" before it was retro. His "Oscar Juner Trophy" still remains in American Cyclery's original store to this day, bearings the names of many up and coming young riders including the only American Tour winner, Reno Nevada's Greg Lemond.

As the riders embarked early Sunday morning the roads were still damp from light rain the night before, and overcast skies compelled us to step up the pace as we road to the first feed stop. The "No wine before nine" rule was not strictly enforced.

The access roads that wind around Paso Roble's famous vineyards gave us our first taste of dirt to come.

Everybody who rode at the first Eroica California last year eagerly awaited the excellent olive oil frites at Olea Farm. We lingered as long as possible, soaking up the delicious home made tomato sauce.

After the first couple stops our group had thinned out as the hammers pulled away and the slackers stuffed their jersey pockets with bananas and tangerines.

Kiler Canyon was the first real test to see who could stay up on their corn cob gearing and who would accept defeat.

As the day wore on and the temperature rose we cruised over the rolling hills and gravel back roads. Occasionally other riders would jump on our wheels and our group would grow for a while until somebody fell off the back or sped up to catch the next group ahead.

Every feed stop presented new opportunities to check out fellow riders bikes and chat about what parts we had chosen for the ride. Mike rode his father's custom Merz touring bike, and even got to ride along with Jim Merz himself for a while.

Bradley, the current owner of American Cyclery, rode his California made replica Breaking Away Masi, built up with period correct Campy parts, Soma Supple Vitesse 28c tires and IRD Defiant 46/30 double cranks. Orange really is the fastest color.

We joked about our customizations, claiming that mechanical doping was a real epidemic on this year's ride.

Looking back from the top of Kiler Canyon we could see dark clouds on the horizon. We knew we would have to pick up the pace if we wanted to arrive back in town before the rain.

Lunch was provided by a classic California style "roach coach". Riders who chose tacos were rewarded with a quick turn around and a flight of local wines to taste. Those that opted for burgers lost some time, but everybody left the old barn feeling satisfied.

We took a break along the final stretch to check out our bikes and review safety protocol. Our triumphant return was met with bottles of the local Olive Oil for those that got all the stamps to complete their route cards.

After the festivities wound down we packed up the van and headed over the mountains to Cambria.

The beach was covered with piles of driftwood and roots which people had used to build ephemeral structures.

Even for native Californians the coast holds a special allure.

The Pigeon Point Hostel is a real jewel. If you've never ridden down the coast you have to make this part of the itinerary. Call ahead to make sure they have rooms or bunks available.

Waking up to the crashing surf on the rocks below the lighthouse reminds us that there is more to life than push notifications and social media metrics.

On our way through Pescadero we stopped for coffee at a little spot that wan't there the last time I came through town.

This excellent old Bridgestone caught my eye because you don't see rod brakes much in the states. Apart from being a bit weather worn, this bike had all the accessories.

A fully enclosed chain case, double leg kickstand and skirt guard!

Inside we found lots of reading material and an eclectic mix of vintage records, cloths and Americana.

When we made it up to Halfmoon bay we had to stop at Cameron's Pub, a chaotic mishmash of British sundries and memorabilia.

Walkers shortbread biscuits are a staple of English bicycle touring. Just add Nutella and you'll be good for miles.

The smoking bus is open for patrons to enjoy a puff safe from the ocean's disdain.

It's not clear how this bus made it's way from it's birthplace in southern England, but it seems a safe bet that it's travels have ended here in California.

Safe and sound back in the city that mostly sleeps, we return again to our real lives. But at night as we lay awake listening to cars speeding along the freeway, we remember a time not so long ago, when heroic cyclists ruled the road and battled for glory, and perhaps a bottle of fine wine at the end of the ride.

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