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Eroica California

Brian Ignatin

Sunday 03 April 2016

2016 Eroica California - top tips for riders

Vintage bicycle collector Brian Ignatin is heading to Paso Robles for his second time out at Eroica California, and offers useful advice for first-timers at the event.

2016 Eroica California - top tips for riders
Photo: Dave LaMay

An Eroica event starts before the ride, making sure you have your bike in tip-top condition for the rough roads you'll be riding, and the appropriate apparel to wear. But actually it goes a long way beyond those two essentials. Here is a collection of things to think about before heading to Paso Robles for this wonderful event.


Prepare the Bike.  A common mistake at vintage rides is participants use an old bike that hasn’t been ridden for a long time, or use a newly assembled bike that hasn’t settled in yet.  Ideally you’ve been riding your vintage bike at least a few times this year and know how it fits and rides compared to your other bikes.  If you are traveling for the event, and need to reassemble your bike, it’s a great idea to set it up and make sure everything is properly tightened, adjusted, and dialed in by going for at least a short ride on Saturday.


Photo: Dave LaMay

Prepare Yourself.  Read through all the information the event team provides you and that is posted on the website.  Know the rules/guidelines so you don’t show up with non-permitted equipment.  Familiarize yourself with the cue sheet and map, since the distance of the route you chose may have changed since it was announced.  The routes will be sign-posted, but signs sometimes disappear  or are missed by riders chatting away, or not paying attention.  The courses are challenging and offer quite enough without bonus miles!  

Recognize Your Limitations.  Be honest in your self-assessment of your current fitness and skills.  These courses are not easy; there are steep hills, and a given distance on gravel is harder than the equivalent distance on asphalt.  Choose the route that will enable you to enjoy the ride and post-ride festivities; there is a difference between being challenged and suffering.  

Dress the Part.  Part of the fun of this ride is that it can be a costume ball or Halloween for bike enthusiasts. You will be riding a bike from the days of yore, so if possible, try to dress the part.  Break out your old wool jerseys and shorts if possible.  Earn style points by wearing your old team/club kit or by having something that matches the bike; this is a rare case where you can get away with wearing a pro team jersey that matches the bike without someone mocking you as a poseur.  As with the bike, make sure things are dialed in before the ride; you vintage kit might not fit as well or be as comfortable as your new kit; it is better to know before you leave the start line.  

Look the part

Photo: Dave LaMay

On the Ride

Keep Pedaling.  There are a lot of articles available elsewhere that discuss techniques for riding on dirt and gravel roads, so we’ll keep it simple: whenever possible, keep pedaling.  Momentum is your ally, your balance is better when you are pedaling, and traction improves when your rear wheel is under force.  You’ll drift less if you keep pedaling and look where you want to go.  

Hold Your Line.  While this is a general rule for all group rides, it is especially important that you look ahead and ride predictably on the unpaved sections.  You will need to avoid holes, ruts and other obstacles, but sudden lateral movements and abrupt changes in speed can result in unpleasantries.  

Make Room.  Leave sufficient space between you and your fellow riders, particularly on the unpaved roads.  This will lead to a safer ride in general, and will help you avoid collisions with riders who suffer a mechanical problem or have to dismount.  

There Is No Shame in Walking.  Speaking of dismounting, there are some really steep hills on rough surfaces.   Kiler Canyon (better known as Killer Canyon) forced many participants to walk in the inaugural edition.  Plan ahead and don’t wait too long if you sense the need to dismount.  Toe clips and straps with slotted cleat shoes don’t release as quickly as modern clipless pedals.  Call out that you are stopping, so that the riders behind you have fair warning.  

... But Watch Where You Walk!  If you need to walk, don’t do it on the best riding line.  While you may have needed to dismount, others may be able to clear this section. Give them the best opportunity by yielding the smoothest and best lines, and get as far over to the side as possible.  This said, watch out for poison oak; walking should not be punished by a painful rash lasting several weeks!

The Big Picture

Relax and Enjoy.  Take in the scenery, soak up the atmosphere, and enjoy the whole event.  While the ride is steeped in the nostalgia of the racing battles between Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi and many others from bygone times, this doesn’t mean you need to ride like them.  This is a unique event, and you won’t want to miss any of it.  Visit the Concours, Expo and Swap Meet before the event, take advantage of the untypical rest stops, and hang out afterwards to swap war stories.  

resting at a barn

Photo: Dave LaMay

Eroica is unlike any other ride: it is truly special, and if you treat it that way you’ll enjoy it as much as you can.