L'Eroica ... is NOT Italian for Erotica!

Yvette Yeates

Dec / 14 / 2018

I have a bike. A beautiful classic racing bike from the early 1980s. I bought it second hand and rode it around Sydney. I knew it was special and that one day it would be worth something.

We cannibalised other bikes to make it fit me. The original Campagnolo parts, a little pot of GIOS blue paint and spare decals, were safely stored away. One day it would be fully restored.

We moved from Sydney to several places in Melbourne, to London and then to Switzerland. And the GIOS was always there, in the corner. The problem was that technology had drastically changed – bikes became lighter, Shimano gearing was desirable, then electronic shifters and disc brakes… what next? Electric motors??

So, my GIOS hung up in the dark corner of the garage; it was admired but not enough for anyone to want to ride it and I was definitely not letting my kids near it.

A couple of years ago. I was looking for a short riding holiday to escape my kids, husband, the laundry, the cooking and all the other commitments that make me a responsible adult. A friend mentioned L’Eroica.

Yes, like every other English speaker I was mildly shocked that a bike ride would be called Erotica. Despite the name, I knew this was the perfect break for me because I already had the perfect bike for this ride! Well the GIOS was almost perfect, I needed to get it in working order again, find the spare parts, get new tyres and I only had a short time frame.

And I googled the event – the images convinced me!

My friend Vaughan, who is a genius bike mechanic was roped in to fix it up and I needed to find the spare bits and bobs. A week later, I accepted defeat. Somewhere during all our moves, some idiot (not pointing the finger at anyone in particular…) either put them somewhere really really safe or threw them out. It was not me.

So, much to Vaughan’s delight, the both of us started internet searching for all the parts to:

  • Make it work;
  • Fulfil the race criteria; and
  • Make it look awesome again.

In a short space of time, Vaughan had sourced several Campagnolo parts, pulled it apart, put it back together and had it ready a couple of days before I left. He is a genius. So, all I had to do now was find the appropriate clothing and learn to ride a steel bike with gear shifters on the lower tube and brake levers that were hard to reach. BUT no time for that, I was on the road and heading to Tuscany.

Going with a guided group helps to get bikes fitted – rented or bought, you get much-needed advice on riding old bikes or replica bikes and especially on corrugated white gravel roads – the famous Strade Bianche.

Plus, you are guaranteed an entry into the L’Eroica.

The day before the big event, we rode to Gaiole to collect our bibs and amazingly generous tin boxes of goodies…I really should not be surprised. This is Italy and their goodie bags or boxes are ALWAYS innovative, exciting and full of value for money items. We wandered around the impressive Gaiole market which sold everything to get you ready for L’Eroica. Keeping Vaughan’s recommendations in mind I hunted for all sorts of Campag stuff, took loads of photos and tried on numerous retro cycle tops. I bought two…I could have easily bought more, but I restrained myself. AND not to forget, I visited the very cool place to be seen at, the Bianchi Cafe!

On the day, a standard cycle tour start: 2 expressos and scrumptious Italian breakfast, shaved the legs, packed my snacks, filled my water bottle, charged my phone; and got dressed to look like someone who is not from the 21 st century or the 1990s or 1980s.

We rocked up to Gaiole and ordered another expresso or latte or cappucino…because we are in Italy after all! Admired and photographed the amazing efforts everyone has made to be part of L’Eroica. And then started riding.

Sealed roads lead to gravel roads uphill and stunning vistas with the obligatory castles and rolling hills or vines. I mean really, how do people race in an environment like this. Too many photo opportunities!

There is laughter, punctures, mechanical issues, more laughter. Maybe a little wine. An occasional walk uphill and sometimes downhill…those Strade Bianche are not for the faint-hearted and especially if you are not sure about the braking ability of your old bike!
Lunch can be booked at a café or restaurant somewhere along the route or at. We chose to buy a selection of antipasti and bread in the square of an old town.

The rain did not stop us, it added to the adventure. We were hardy souls plus my thinking was that the mud splatter would convince my abandoned family that I was on a perilous challenge, rather than a fun cycling holiday!

The next stop is where everyone stopped for a glass or two of local Chianti, maybe a dance or two, more photo ops, before attempting a steep climb through the village and onto a steep section of Strade Bianche. Few made it, so it was a time to chat and laugh with people from all over the world. At the top, there is another lunch possibility, a drink stop, before more Strade Bianche and puddles, Tuscan views everywhere, the beautiful and ancient Volpaia and a glorious and fearless downhill ride back to Giaole and the cheering crowds. The day turned to evening with a beer or two in hand, cheering on those crazy cyclists doing the epic Strade Bianche routes. One day I want to be one of them!

Words cannot convey the atmosphere of fun, enjoyment, of the celebration of life now and the past. Google L’Eroica Giaole images - I think they capture so much more about what makes this event such success and pleasure…so much so that L’Eroica is now all around the world.

Discover what it’s like to go back in time. View our L'Eroica bike tour here.