Words by Hannah Reynolds

Deep in the heart of the Peak District, a motley group of riders in woollen gear on vintage bikes assembled to preview the short route of the Eroica Britannia which is taking place 16-18 June 2017.

Eroica Britannia 2017: A weekend of cycling, heritage and fun

Being driven to the start of a vintage bike ride by Dave Millar in his Maserati, whilst wearing itchy, vintage woollen shorts was unusual, and a slightly uncomfortable, way to start my Eroica Britannia preview ride. Millar himself, always the pro and style conscious, had opted to wear his woollen shorts over his own Lycra. I wanted to go for full authenticity, the result of which is some cringe-worthy pictures with full thigh exposure.

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You might think this is too much information about our outfits but riders in last year’s Eroica Britannia event spent 50% more on their outfits than they did on their vintage bikes. Eroica Britannia is an incredibly stylish event; it is most certainly Britain’s most handsome bike ride. The whole weekend is a riot of vintage fashion. It is quintessentially British summer party as we imagine it when viewed through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. It is elegant women, raffishly good-looking men and Hendricks gin with a twist of cucumber.

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Vintage bikes are at the heart of the event when it comes to finding a bike there are strict rules. For the preview ride, we were presented with hire bikes from Andy at The Vintage Bikeshed. I had a beautiful model from Harry Hall, a well-known name in British frame-building. Hall was an amateur racing cyclist who opened a bike shop in Manchester in 1957 specialising in custom frames. Harry Hall Cycles is still there today, although Harry himself died in 2007.

I hadn’t ridden a vintage bike since, ooh about 1987, when it wasn’t a vintage bike, it was simply a bike! Even a quick spin around the car park reminded me to be grateful for Sti shifting, clipless pedals and road disc-brakes. However, it is the simple mechanics of these older bikes that make them such a joy to ride. Andy reminded me you have to ‘coax’ the gears into shifting, listen carefully to your bike and softly pedal to make an even shift. In the days of quick shifting electronic gearing, it is easy to lose the mechanical sensitivity that these old bikes require.

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Dressing up in vintage gear and riding old bikes is a great leveller. When we meet other bike riders, consciously or sub-consciously we skim their bike and outfit. Amongst the disparate bunch that gathered in the car park in woollen outfits, it was much harder to spot the former pro rider from the novices. I put this to Dave Millar and he agreed, “Vintage bikes are just fun, you pootle around. There is nothing very threatening about Eroica, there is no competition, there is no sense of rivalry. I went to my first event last year, when I got there the spectacle was just mind-blowing. It’s so weird and different and random, things that you don’t really expect from a cycling event."

Our support car for the day was a stunning vintage Maserati, seeing it parked outside the village pub, with our bikes lined up behind it, it was easy to believe we had been transported back several decades. Millar, a Maserati ambassador explains the connection, “Maserati is 103 years old, it is a vintage brand, it is a historic brand, it's stylish and cool. It very much fits with the vintage ethos and it is an Italian brand so it fits with the origins of Eroica. The brand does match, there is a slight irreverence to Maserati and there is a definite irreverence to Eroica."

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There was a noticeable difference in the way we were greeted by car drivers, walkers and other cyclists. A group of cyclists, dressed up on old bikes and escorted by a vintage sports car tended to elicit smiles, cheers and waves. Everyone loves a bit of dressing up.

The new Eroica Britannia show site

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Our ride started from Eroica Britannia’s new home at Friden Grange, if you attended last year you will remember the challenges of a very wet site, whilst the show went on with indefatigable British spirit, it was decided to move the event a few miles up the road. Currently, the site is a mass of waving green grasses, dotted with yellow dandelions, with secretive dark groves of deciduous woodland behind. As Gian Bohan, one of the race directors talked us through where the glamping would be, the showground, vintage fun fair and main stage it was easy to see how this peaceful site will come to life in June.

Behind the cycling scenes of the Eroica Britannia cycling festival

All the rides start directly from the grounds, heading out onto the trails of the Peak District, the white gravel being evocative of the strada bianca of the original L'Eroica. Free from concerns of traffic we were all content to roll along chatting in the sunshine. Whilst Eroica takes its name from the idea of ‘heroic cyclists’ and the motto of early events was, “The thrill of the conquest and the beauty of fatigue" it is not essential to approach the ride with masochism. There are three routes and the short route is mainly off-road with minimal climbing, perfect for idling around if you want to return with enough energy to enjoy the rest of the festival. This year’s rides are at 85% of capacity so get your entry in quick.

Millar is definitely not going for the joys, challenges and hardships of a hundred miles on a vintage bike, for him it will be a weekend away with the family. “When I first saw it I thought this could be really good fun for the kiddies. We’re going to do the camping thing and have a little adventure, enjoy getting dressed up. There is so much to do, the cycling is almost a bolt-on to the festival."

The most fierce competition of all is not on the bikes but in the show ring. Prizes are awarded for best outfits as well as bikes, Millar says, “my wife is panicking about what we dress the boys in, we are going to go for the Best Dressed Family award but I think the competition is going to be incredibly stiff. I heard about a Father and Son who changed four times in one day!"

With only a few weeks to go there are a handful of ride entries left so get in there quick! You’ll need some time to plan your outfit and polish your steed.

Eroica Britannia takes place 16-18th June 2017 in the luscious green fields of Friden Grange, Nr Buxton. Kids under 12 go free, and adult days passes start from £20. The main event Ride on 18th June 2017 is for pre-registered places only and bike hire is available. For more information and to book your tickets, head over to the Eroica Britannia website here.