When preparing for vintage cycling events like Eroica, there is no substitute for training on the same vintage bike you’ll be using in the event. The 2017 edition will be my third Eroica California ride, and I hope I’ve learned a little something each year:
2015: It was unwise to put the finishing touches (bar tape and headset) on my 1971 Raleigh International the night before the event after having done all my training on a 2014 Cannondale. At the bare minimum, one shakedown ride on your Eroica rider is highly advisable.
2016: I was, and still am, the guy who shows up for the group ride on an old ten speed with a wool jersey. In 2016, I did lots of rides on my vintage bike well before the event. I threw in some climbing and some dirt roads. As a result, I felt much better on the coastal route. I felt strong on the climbs, didn’t walk, and I was comfortable on my bike. I was more or less “ready.”
2017: Well, seeing that Eroica is this coming weekend, the lessons the event will teach me this year remain to be seen. I’ve put in more long miles on my vintage bike this year. In fact, I sold my Cannondale, so every ride became a vintage ride: #eroicaeveryday became my hashtag. I joined Randonneurs USA, and did some French-inspired long-distance miles. It took me three attempts, but I got a 200k brevet under my belt on my 1969 Lejeune. I did a route from Sierra Vista to Nogales and back to Sierra Vista. It was part of the Arizona Brevet & Randonnee series hosted by the excellent Pac Tours folks.
The Brevet began at a Holiday Inn parking lot in Sierra Vista. One thing to be prepared for if you choose to take a 48 year old bike on a brevet, is a bunch of attention from your fellow riders. When I pulled up to the start at the Holiday Inn, I dashed into to use the bathroom. When I returned, a small gathering had formed around my bike. I would describe my fellow riders comments, most all of them on modern carbon steeds, as a mix of incredulity (“you’re going to ride grandpa’s bike?”), admiration (“that is such a cool bike!”), and curiousity (How do you shift?).
The 200k route undulated through the grassland and oaks of Southeastern Arizona. It had no long climbs, but a bunch of hills, some up to a 16 percent grade. A hilly course teaches you how to shift an old bike. A good maxim is: shift early but not often. If you don’t, you have to get off and walk mid-hill or you get stuck in your toe straps and fall over. You learn to anticipate momentum changes early, and shift before you desperately need to. With only five cogs in the rear, I’m not as likely to be in a “perfect” gear as I would be on a bike with an 8, 9,10, or 11 speed drivetrain. It is going to be a little too easy or a little too hard to turn the cranks. On a long ride, a little too easy is the way to go, to save your legs for late in the day.
Simple downtube shifters make things easier. By feel, you can tell what end of the gear range you are in. Because you have less gears, you shift less often. Just find a gear and stick with it unless you really need to shift. Downtube shifters are even given high marks in the Randonneurs USA Members’ Handbook, which says, “Add in the vastly superior reliability of these types of seemingly old-fashioned mechanisms… have a lot to recommend them for randonneuring usage.”
Carrying a lot of water is not as easy on a vintage bike. Many bikes, including my Lejeune, only have provisions for one water bottle cage. This makes knowing where water stops are, and hydrating prior to the event more important. You can also carry a spare bottle in a jersey pocket, or add a cool TA Specialites handlebar mounted cage. One benefit of riding your vintage bike in a supported brevet, is that they supply you along the way. The Pac Tours crew is has a fully stocked sag wagon/kitchen that met us all along the way and provided a fantastic lunch.
“Would you like the chicken salad or hot dog?”
After completing the ride, one experienced Randonneur, I guy who said he was RUSA #4 (I’m #11,733!), asked how my ride was. I said it went great, and that I didn’t have a single problem with my old bike, “What is there to go wrong?” he remarked with a grin. The sheer simplicity of a vintage bike is one of its pleasures. Even when riding next to guys on 7k carbon fiber bikes, my old lugged steel frame with its shiny high-flange hubs is whisper quiet and seems to sync-up with my pedaling rhythm just fine. As with most things in life, the challenge boils down more to the human component than the mechanical.