It worries me does Eroica Britannia. Not the bikes bit but the vintage bit. I love old bikes. I love old stuff. I just don’t really like vintage. Whenever someone says “vintage” something cool dies, and Wayne Hemmingway presumably makes some money out of it. Vintage also seems to mean ‘will be accompanied by bunting, cake stands, and pretending that all the things that are awful about Britain don’t exist.’ There’s a lot to be said about that last one but I find bunting and cake stands to be amongst the most irritating things on the planet. If you want to live in the great British Bake-Off then that’s fine by me, but I’m definitely popping round for a glass of squash whilst we watch the tennis at Wimbers. Can I move on from this paragraph now? I feel ill.
As it was I needn’t have worried too much about Eroica. The vintage is there but it’s offset by all the amazing bikes. Country Life magazine have a big tent there, but they’re offset by all the amazing bikes. There’s a swing dance, but the bikes. Everything that I can barely stomach is offset by the awesome bike porn, in fact I found some actual bike porn
I didn't buy the book but if anyone’s got a copy I’d be happy to review it for a later post.
Eroica is different to my usual experience of festivals. I’ve not had to bury anything in my socks so that it’s not discovered by sniffer dogs on the way in, and no one has tried to sell me anything to inhale out of a balloon. However I didn't stay after dark so who knows what went on. It was probably Gin and Pimms. Up there with bunting for me, but oh the bikes.
Now in its third year Eroica Britannia grew out of the L’Eroica ride in Tuscany. Without the Strade Bianchi of Tuscany, or the weather, I wondered who the event in the Derbyshire Town of Bakewell would appeal to but it has found it’s audience and it’s not just a niche one. The types of guys that you would expect to be here are here, the types of guys for whom the bike is way more important than the ability of the rider. I overheard two of them having a debate about the type of tubing on an old Eddy Merckx. One of them should definitely have spent less time debating and more time on the road. Also here, though, are women. Actual women who aren’t just here with their partners. Women for whom cycling is part of their lifestyle, and what is great about this event is that it expects them to be here rather than just cater to men. There are several cycling brands on show here that are aimed solely at women, and that helps to create one of the only festivals I’ve ever been to where being a woman isn’t a massive inconvenience. Also helping massively is the fact that there are enough toilets and they aren’t an unspeakable horror.
As much as it’s a festival Eroica Britannia is also part fete and part trade show. For anyone attending I’d advise you bring a large amount of spending money. Not just to feed yourself but because shopping is the main entertainment on offer. On the Friday afternoon the music hadn’t quite started yet, and the arts tent was holding a sparsely attended talk on bell ringing during the Yorkshire Grand Depart of the Tour De France. A great scene for a gentle Sunday evening BBC 4 sitcom, but not quite my speed just now. Outside of that there was nothing to do other than drink and shop. There are no jester hats or dream catchers on sale at this festival, more handmade tweed cycling gear, or bespoke leather saddle bags. The main difference being that the latter is much less annoying, and far more effective at stopping nightmares, but also way way more expensive. Give me a chance and I could have easily dropped a grand at L’Eroica, or several grands if I’d gone all in and bought myself a bike. A pair of goggles caught my fancy at £240 but I don’t have the top hat or blunderbuss to go with them.
What I loved about Eroica was that it confirmed something that I already knew about cycling and cyclists. It’s a small, tight-knit community. I bumped into the guys from Mercian in Derby who I’d filmed with a few months earlier. My colleague Richard Moore is here doing a Q&A with David Millar for Maserati. I only ever used to ride past but Pedal Pedlar from Balls Pond Road in East London are here, as are Retrospective Cycles who used to be based on the corner of my street when I lived near Alexandra Palace. I’m not even that immersed in this side of cycling culture but I still feel like I’m part of the scene, if you’ve actually been in this world for a while it must feel like a family reunion. No wonder people are coming back to L’Eroica every year.
I didn’t stick around for the ride on Sunday but I will do it one day. One day when I’ve got that original 1979 Colnago Super. I did cycle from Glossop to Nottingham and back, though. My thoughts turned to how much the old woolen jerseys must have been sagging as the rain teemed down in the late afternoon but I reckon the hardy Eroica souls just take that in their pedal stroke. Just another story to tell for these heroes.