In June, the sleepy town of Bakewell, Derbyshire, famous for its tarts and picturesque scenery, played host to several thousand bicycle nuts as the inaugural Eroica Britannia erected its tent for a “great British adventure”.
The three day camping festival saw the valley surrounding the Bakewell Showground transformed into a scene from yesteryear. Striped tents opened up to display an array of victuals and other provisions much to the delight of the chaps and dames, who jittered and rocked to the sound of lindy hop and be bop, or the charming tunes of a monkey and his organ grinder, while the midday heat was kept at bay by lashings of gin and tonic, Pimms and iced tea.
For the first two days, it was the bicycles that were the stars of the show. What beauties there were to be seen. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet (too much) but Yeats got a lot of attention and a lot of compliments. Still with its classic British Racing Green frame matched with honey leather bar tape and saddle and cream tyres it certainly looked the part and convinced more than a few viewers that it was actually vintage and not a new build.
Given that L’Eroica is a transplant from Italy, where it first ran in 1997, it seemed only right that there were Italian bicycles aplenty. My humble gazebo was situated right next to Retrospective Cycles, which specialises in importing vintage Italian racing bikes. There were several beautiful Colnagos and Bianchis but during the event Retrospective bought, and sold, a Mark III Raleigh Chopper, which I took a spin on.
The thing about riding a bike is that it’s pure, unadulterated fun. It’s a direct connection back to that innocent enjoyment we had as children. Especially if you’re riding a classic of the time like the Chopper.
Just as much fun but in a different way was the On One Fat Bike parked across the way on the Holdsworth and Planet X stand. I took a ride on that chunky monkey and can only imagine how much fun it must be to roll around on on snow and sand.
Planet X, the Sheffield-based bicycle brand, bought up the Holdsworth name last year and unveiled its first in house produced Heritage range at L’Eroica. This first batch was produced in Italy and sports plenty of Italian flair in the finish but Planet X is actually looking to bring frame building back to the UK, which would be a fine turnout for the Holdsworth name.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Loughran, founder of Planet X and down to earth Yorkshireman, and Lorenzo Altissimo, a veteran of Columbus tubing, who oversaw the design of the Heritage portfolio. Having spent so many years hob nobbing with executives in the tech space it was exciting to be showing some of the big names in this industry what I’m trying to do.
There were some familiar names and familiar faces at the show. Catherine from Hill & Ellis, makers of London’s finest panniers, very kindly hosted one of my bicycles for the weekend and used it to display her limited edition Tour de France inspired bike bag in yellow leather. It’s a beauty.
Anna had brought GodSpeed Shop with her from Manchester and was showing off all sorts of fancy goods from WoodStick wooden handlebars to Sogreni brass bells. Hopefully you’ll be seeing some 8ball products in the shop soon too.
Then there’s Emma from South London Saddles who does wonderful things with leather and no doubt makes many happy bottoms. Emma customises saddles with a fresh coat of leather and your own hand painted design. I’m looking forward to doing some collaboration work on 8ball saddles soon too.
Round the corner was Tim from Sword Cycles who I’ve met a couple of times before. Tim’s an ex-Mercian framebuilder who launched Sword to deliver custom steel frames. He also puts hydrographic printing, or ‘camo dipping’ to you and me, to good effect.
Another framebuilder I met is Ollie from Seren Bicycles, who was showing off his own tourer, hand built in Sussex.
I also made the acquaintance of Beg Bicycles, a retailer which imports Achielle bicycles from Belgium. I wasn’t familiar with the brand but part for part, they are pretty similar to what I’m doing. Their frames are still hand made in Belgium though.
Other exhibitors worthy of note include John from Reflective Spray, who I chatted briefly with about a potential business idea that basically features a fully reflective bicycle frame.
Mike and Sam of Respoke Designs make bicycle themed jewellery from recycled spokes; Mel from Retrobicycles also makes bicycle jewellery but in solid silver; and there were lovely hand made bells and wingnuts from Lion Bellworks.
The girls at Day Glow Doris had some stylish safety apparel; Camilla at Swifty demonstrated some lovely, British made scooters; Dave showed me an excellent looking travel case for bicycles in the form of BikeBox; and I discovered a few new retail outlets in the shape of Velobitz, Dandy Horse and Victor & Liberty. I also had a couple of interesting chats, one with Tim from tyre maker Schwalbe, who explained to me the difficulties involved in creating coloured tyres and how pigmentation completely messes with the compound so carefully put together; while Steve at Ison Distibution surprised me by coming and saying hi. As a small business it’s often very difficult to get trade accounts with distributors on account of small orders and not being VAT registered. But hopefully we’ll be able to do business.
The actual event the festival is named for is the grand race which took place on day three. There were three routes available for the ‘heroes’, a 100 mile, 55 mile and 30 mile all of which must be completed on pre-1987 built machines. No doubt all were gruelling rides in 25 degree heat, featuring epic climbs through the Derbyshire countryside.
The first riders set out at about 6am and the last returned before 8pm. I abandoned the stand for a bit to watch some of the first come in and saw some really cool outfits, including one guy who cycled in a full set of vintage army fatigues. I would love to have joined the ride but it’s a bit tricky as a one man show. Maybe next year.
Overall, the festival was great. Tweed caps off to the organisers for doing a great job on the first one. I haven’t camped at a festival for years but I really enjoyed it. It was busy in the days and there was still stuff going on at night. It was genuinely family friendly as well. I took my ten year old daughter along and she entertained herself for the entire weekend (thanks Lush and Day Glow Doris!) and I had no cause for concern. The outdoor cinema in the evening showed some cool films too. I particularly enjoyed Belleville Rendez-vous. Watch it. It predicts the future in cycle racing several times, from tacks on the course to a bus stuck in a tunnel and even a nod to doping.
I came home with some good feedback, good contacts and a head full of handsome ideas. The riders were heroes, the exhibitors were heroes and the organisers were heroes. I’m told over 30,000 people visited over the three days. Already looking forward to next year’s adventure.