Since 1998 this event has been held in the Chianti region of Italy. The Idea behind the event is to honor the cyclists and their vintage machines from the past. Participants must ride a pre-1987 bike and wear gear appropriately “vintage.”

Eroica California was a two day event held in Paso Robles on the weekend of May 11th and 12th. Paso Robles was selected because of its similarities to Gaioli, the host city of Italy’s L’Eroica.

Saturday’s festival was centered around the history of bicycle technology; models dating all the way back to 1899 were on display in Downtown City Park. I love to tinker with bicycles and discover how their mechanisms work. Bicycles are fairly simple machines. Most components from the past were made from metal and are operated with cables, just like a majority of bikes today. I was in heaven walking around each jewel discovering its uniqueness and in awe of the mechanisms of the past. Super Champion and Campagnolo Corsa derailleur systems, finely crafted lugs, leather saddles galore, eloquently hand crafted frames―it was all so inspiring. You could see the love the craftsman from the past had for the sport of cycling.

Bikes from such brands as Pogliaghi, Jack Taylor, Cinelli, Masi, Schwinn, Bianchi, Legano, Olmo, Raleigh, Moulton, Eagle, Nishiki, Cooper, Copi, Hechins, Allegro, Peugeot, Utesti, Gios Torinos were all there.

Sunday’s ride was just as remarkable as the day before. Rolling hills covered with vineyards and oaks and golden grasses and fresh country air welcomed each cyclist at every turn.

Each rider was encouraged to wear the garb from the era of bike they rode. To see each fanatic admire the past with costumes of the day was amazing. Wool jerseys and shorts, hairnet helmets and caps, old goggles, leather shoes with nailed on cleats and even one gentleman had a cigarette behind his ear.

Andy Hampsten, the only American winner of the Giro d’Italia, led the riders who were riding the 43 mile or 65 mile routes. The hard core 125 mile route cyclists left hours earlier to head to the California coast and back.

The crowd following Andy had a laugh as he made a wrong turn at the very first intersection. It was the start of a wonderful day. Nice roads, bike trails and single track dirt trails led us to the first rest stop at Cass Winery. We were welcomed by owner Steve Cass in his cowboy boots and hat and then handed a full water bottle of Viognier white wine. That was the spirit of the day. Each rider had a story of their bike and the miles they had logged on them. Some bikes were bought new by their riders, others were handed down and more were purchased to restore and bring back the beauty of their history.

I rode a 1962 Armstrong Moth. An English bike in its original condition except for the tires. The bike rode great, even the saddle wasn’t that bad. The gearing was a little tough with a 51/48 chainring set and a 14-24 freewheel, that didn’t give me much help on the loose dirt climbs that we encountered a few times. I was happy to get out of my pedal toe clips and trudge up the hills with most of the other walkers instead of falling over in embarrassment. On one such climb I started up with Andy Hampsten. He was under much more pressure than I to “make” the climb since he was a Giro winner. I had to stop and catch my breath and walk the rest of that climb. I never saw him again, but what a great thrill it was just to be alongside him and every other rider who pedaled that day.

I hope many of you will go along with me next year when this event is sure to blossom into one of the great rides in the United States.

I’ve been around the bicycle business quite a long time now and this event had to be the most exciting one I have ever been to. It was quite Erotic after all.

Find about this year’s Eroica California.

— Tony Jabuka