The Handsome, Throwback Magic of Italy’s L’Eroica Bike Race

In 2014 bike parlance, L’Eroica is the ultimate gravel grinder, a 38-204 kilometer ride along the strade bianche (“white roads”) of Tuscany, Italy, with ascents steep as 23 percent grade and sketchy, sandy downhills as a reward for the hard work. Unlike the Dirty Kanza, though, you won’t find riders toeing the line in Gaiole in Chianti with carbon bikes, electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes.

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Jeremy Berger

In 2014 bike parlance, L’Eroica is the ultimate gravel grinder, a 38-204 kilometer ride along the strade bianche (“white roads”) of Tuscany, Italy, with ascents steep as 23 percent grade and sketchy, sandy downhills as a reward for the hard work. Unlike the Dirty Kanza, though, you won’t find riders toeing the line in Gaiole in Chianti with carbon bikes, electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes. At L’Eroica, advanced gear is forbidden and contemporary garb is discouraged: the rules dictate that all riders must use bikes made before 1987, of steel, with shift levers on the downtube, wheels no larger than 20mm and no clipless pedals. Without all the extras, it’s just you and the open road — plus a few old-timey extravagances for good measure. Here’s what one of our guys used.

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Fanini Super Road Bike

THE BIKE: This borrowed bike came out of a basement in Gaiole in Chianti, but it was the gem of the lot. As far as we can tell it was made by the Italian company Fanini, likely during the 1970s. It’s outfitted with a host of Italian components from the same period, including a Campagnolo Nuovo Record derailleur and Modolo Speedy brakes.

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Campagnolo Nuovo Record Derailleur

THE DERAILLEUR: Light and durable, the Italian-made, aluminum Nuovo Record was one of the derailleurs of choice for bike racers throughout most of the 1970s.

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Modolo Speedy Brakes

THE BRAKES: Another Italian brand, Modolo made caliper brakes from the late-1970s into the 80s. The Speedy is a budget racing model, and in 2014 these were about as reliable as dragging your heel in the dirt.

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Campagnolo Record Downtube Shifters

THE SHIFTERS: Campagnolo downtube shifters were used with the Nuovo Record through the Super Record. They use “friction” shifting, which is similar to the way most contemporary bike shifting works — it’s cable-actuated — but shifters now are “indexed” so one click equals one shift. On these old shifters, you shift by feel and have to tinker a bit to make sure all the parts line up.

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Brooks B15 Swallow

THE SADDLE: This is the one new piece of gear on the bike, but it looks the part. In fact, it suits a vintage setup very well: the Brooks B15 Swallow is based on the English brand’s 1937 patent for a racing saddle. It’s still made the old-fashioned way, by stretching a piece of good leather over a frame, which produces a stiff but comfortable saddle that wears in nicely over time. It’s rather heavy for an actual racing bike, but ideal for a classic bike or a commuter (though not one you leave outside).

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Quoc Pham Tourer

THE SHOES: Quoc Pham makes beautiful cycling shoes intended for touring. They’re hand-lasted and made with a leather upper and rubber sole. The Tourer has a stiff, rugged sole that’s SPD-compatible, ideal for longer rides when you’ll be clipping but making stops for espresso and capicola. The Fixed model with a flat sole would actually be a much better fit for the small toe clips on bikes at L’Eroica, but these were suitable as well.

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Custom Brooks B1866 Cycling Kit

THE KIT: It’s actually quite difficult to get a slot at L’Eroica, so we rode with one of the sponsors, Brooks, who set the entire team up with wool kits, made in Italy. No moisture-wicking properties here, but neither does red wine hydrate very well.

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Pedaled Cycling Cap

THE CAP: Founded by Hideto Suzuki, a Japanese fashion designer who left couture for cycling, Pedaled makes some really good looking garments with technical features designed for biking — all of it made in Japan or Italy. This cap is…just a cap. It offers roughly the same protection as a leather helmet.

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Bianchi Water Bottle

THE BOTTLE: This vintage-looking water bottle was actually manufactured pretty recently, though we picked it up at the L’Eroica flea market the day before the race. There are no real advantages of used water bottles in our book.

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Capocollo

THE MEAT: This is L’Eroica, so don’t cheat and pick up a Gatorade mid-ride. Halfway through the ride we stopped at a market for a healthy portion of capocollo, a pork product made from the shoulder and neck of the pig. The drink, chinotto, is a bitter soda made from the myrtle-leaved orange tree. We were biking so slowly it didn’t much matter what we ate.

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