Returning to Bakewell with last year fresh in the back of my mind, and the unfounded stereotypes of road cycling left behind at home, It made sense to part ways with the miscellaneous clutter of modern living and strip it back for a few days in the peak district.
The weather would be a slightly touchy subject, this was known, and along with some extra woodchips (by the truckload) the showground went from bog to a raised island of dry beech and happy feet, at least for a while anyway.
Whilst on the train up I had encountered a handful of riders that were en route to the event, each with their own plans and stories, Two couples, one from London, another now located in Switzerland and used to a slightly different kind of hill. Together we joined forces to form a macro peloton that would screech from Matlock to Bakewell along the A6; one of the roads that snake into the interior of the peak district where Eroica Britannia takes place.
An enormous tail back rings bells from the previous year a reminder of the popularity that the event has, and the commerce that such a unique event offers to the small town.
After gingerly passing a mile or two of stationary buses, vans, cars and motor homes, Bakewell begins to unfurl with each pedal and the showground gates appear on our right.
On saying our goodbyes and ensuring ‘we must catch up’ we part ways, not to see each other again for the duration of the weekend. Classic.
So I get my wristband and make way to the interior, the showground is less than arid, looking south to my toes I can see my socks are in for a wet ride, and on further inspection it seemed that Dunlop welly sales were doing very well indeed.
On arriving a day early this year, it gave me a chance to really get amongst the festival spirit and meet those who had put the time and effort into making the weekend their own. With some superb period outfits, refurbished bikes and original cycles dating from 1925 in some cases, re enforcing the next level of passion beyond other ‘sporting’ congregations.
This is where Eroica seems to lead the way in its preference on being referred to as a lifestyle festival, as for many this isn’t just a weekend away, they are living it day-to-day, the clothes, the bikes and more importantly the ethos.
I find myself in the company of good friends throughout the weekend’s festivities and more importantly people that are equally passionate about the world of 2 wheels.
Wayne, Tom and Cam of London based vintage cycling shop, Pedal Pedlar, were my crowd for my time in Bakewell and if last year was anything to go by we were surely in for a busy and enjoyable weekend.
This time enjoying the delights of a larger pitch for their store and some pretty exclusive stock, there were some expert eyes peering towards some of the rarer bikes on sale at the show, namely a young Jean-Paul Van Poppel’s ex-race bike & a late 70s Gazelle with limited edition black Campagnolo. As one can imagine, these machines were drawing a lot of attention, with the addition of drooling adding to the already saturated ground.
Past the front line of bikes lay the Aladdin's cave of last year, full to the brim with parts, bottles, caps and throttles (oh wait no, its all pedal power at this one) - alongside the sparkling Campagnolo and box-fresh Shimano dating back as far as the 1970s, you could be sure to stumble across a jersey to suit any discerning cyclist/raver from the 90’s. A full technicolour dreamcoat selection of jerseys from the yesteryears of road cycling, covering off any fashion requirement you could dream of.
Come Saturday the competitions were in full flow and the competitors were prepared in every respect, many of which I’m sure had spent months ensuring they themselves along with the bicycles looked as good as can be.
Both people and bike are judged at Eroica, separately that is, with best in show being awarded for man, woman and machine.
Others however just seem to enjoy the atmosphere and environment of parading around the setting in garbs that are seemingly at one with the town's locale, couples, families, dogs and (horses?) OK so not many horses, but what good’s a list with just 3 things in?
The Sunday is the the day of the ride, in essence the core of what Eroica Britannia is about, the opportunity to use the human mechanism to power yourself and the machine between your legs along a great distance while enjoying every second.
The energy is thoroughly electric, along with constant chatter keeping the oxygen levels low by the startline. As each staggered group gets on their way from as early as 6.30 the energy does not falter, the crowds remain and the cheers continue; from the the first to leave until the last return.
It’s all about the experience, enjoyment and satisfaction of being around people, bikes and beautiful scenery. No racing. Just the opportunity to really wallow in cycling nostalgia with thousands of people reflecting the same ilk.
With the Pedal Pedlar boys deciding on going for the casual 30 rather than the Grande or Venti if you needed a coffee themed analogy. Their well seasoned vintage steeds were almost at the ready with just a few tweaks left to fine tune the machine for the ride ahead. Each one just as unique as the rider. Wayne sporting a dark horse in the form of a tired old ‘68 Gitane Super Course, Cameron aboard a 1980s Super Record-laden Cromovelato Faggin, and Tom straddling his barely legal 1st Edition Kirk Precision.
The fleet now amassed and the age appropriate jerseys carefully unpacked, the musettes were consummately stuffed with the essentials, most of which provided by Eroica themselves. Minus the Johnnie Walker. Of course.
The buzz of the starting line is superb, flags, cheers and the odd hollering woop woop (the technical term i believe) as each staggered group sets off through town and out towards the hills which surround the town of Bakewell.
Within 10 minutes or so the busy local roads are soon a distant memory and the masses are directed onto Monsal path, 8.5 miles of converted railway that bores its way through hill and spans over valley. Tunnels damp from the rocky condensation drip groundwater onto the brow and echo with the fuzz of tyre on wet concrete. Aqueducts reach across stretches of field and forest that clutch onto the gradients the Peak District is so well known for.
Passing vistas and scenic points, groups split off for pictures, a chat, and unfortunately the odd puncture, but no spirit is dampened. Arriving at the first official stop off after a great winding climb the church yard in the centre of a beautiful village hosts a pretty large gaggle of wool draped cyclists, all excited for bacon baps and a delicious hot beverage of their choice.
Conversations rage with compliments on bikes and components, the hot topic of the day seems to be Tom’s Kirk, a far cry from the conventional looking cycle even today, and after a second magnesium pressed unicorn is spotted across the way only a little wonder of the fame and wonder is lost.
Pushing along the route that creeps along the precipice of a hill paragliders can be seen near the summit, dancing amongst the thermals and banking away from dry stone walls, etching lines across the landscape. At the top, face of Eroica Luciano Berruti and Wesley Hatakeyama of Eroica California take a few minutes to look out on the scene.
Belting down winding descents cut deep into the hills, rustling canopies of trees above and steep drops to the left, the ride now feels like it had it all, then a sharp right through stone walls and steel gates up a smooth inclined driveway leads the way onto Haddon Hall.
The last pit stop for the 30 mile ride, well kept gardens, free beer and a sniff at how the other half live, we stop to reflect on just how enjoyable our ice creams with a view were, how fitting the Johnnie Walker was and infuriatingly our inability of dealing with the local pollen.
In between our sniffling, another fan of Tom’s Kirk begins the line of enquiries, this time though from an unexpected legend - Trevor Jarvis and his team of Flying Gates.
The decision to do the shorter ride was justified by the need to open up for trading in the afternoon. This surprise meeting completely foiled those good intentions, as the Pedal Pedlar team got lost in conversation with the Flying Gate ensemble. If you’re not familiar with the story of The Flying Gate then head over to tjcycles.co.uk for a good old fashioned schooling.
The complimentary beer finally stopped flowing, and it was time to head for the finish line, but not before an impromptu photo-shoot with Trevor & The Gang.
So we were finally ready for the last 2 kilometers, a leisurely tortoise sprint finish. As we said our farewells to the TJ crew, faces alight like a litter of Chesire cats, the ultimate words were spoken, Trevor mounted his pride & joy, shook our hands and concluded with ‘And it was all because of the Kirk’.
Thanks Tom :)
Written & Photographed by Michael Drummond.
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