So I left us looking longingly at the sunset and thinking ahead to what ride day would bring. Actually before I went to bed I had a little work to do fixing my front tyre! On my little shakedown ride I must have slid down the side of a lump of stone somewhere as on doing my final inspection of the bike I found a bulge in the sidewall, where the tyre had been cut through to, though not actually through the canvas. So I got the tyre off, stuck a patch on the afflicted area and refit it to the wheel (all achieved by torchlight) and hoped for the best. If I’d spotted it earlier I could have gone to the Continental tent and bought a fresh tyre, but they were shut. Well I won’t leave you hanging – it held up ok.
So we were up bright and early at 6am, aiming for a departure time of 7:15. The 100 mile heros had started leaving from 6 and we heard the Tannoy announcing each group as they left. I got my outfit on, which felt a bit like putting on a fancy dress costume. I had a bowl of granola that I’d brought along specially. Then there was time for photos, including this little detail:
I had a generous helping of my own favourite energy bar – Kendal Mint Cake. It’s basically a solid block of minty sugar and I’ve found it makes an excellent old-school way of boosting my sugar levels. I had even more of it in a tin stuffed in my back pocket!
Here’s my outfit. ‘Crack’ is a Belgian furniture company (meubelen is Flemish for furniture) and the jersey seems to have originated in Leke, a tiny town in Flanders with a population of barely more than a thousand. The shorts are De Marchi and made of merino wool with a modern chamois inside, and they cost more than the bike did! The socks are also De Marchi, also merino wool and very comfortable. The cap is a reproduction St Raphael, which I chose to match the gloves. The shoes are Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66 trainers, not ideal and the one weak spot of the outfit but they look about right for an early 80’s cycling shoe, and I saw several other riders wearing the same.
I went to the start and got my first stamp, then was urged to take my place on the start line. Would you believe it, the guy lined up next to me (in the Faema top) was riding EXACTLY THE SAME BIKE!!! There was at least a third BSA Prima in attendance as well, a slightly older one with a different cable route to the rear brake.
I had a brief chat with him, and the announcer chatted to us while we waited for our time slot. “BSA, what does that stand for? British er…” to which I snapped back “Birmingham Small Arms”, and resisted the temptation to curse his ignorance! Then in no time at all the flag dropped, and we were off…
We turned right on to the railway trail, past my tent and out into the countryside. The guy on the other BSA was riding with a friend, and another rider surged past us all. “There’s a break on Johnny!” “Chase him down Nev…” It was all good fun. We crossed over a road onto another trail and things started to settle down as everyone got into their stride, some overtaking, some being overtaken. I was very careful not to let the adrenaline get the better of me, and spent a few miles in the wake of a woman in a billowing skirt even though I could have upped the pace a bit.
We climbed gently up a hill and went passed a farm, and I had the most powerful attack of Deja Vu I think I’ve ever experienced. I know I’ve never been to the Peak District before, let alone on a bicycle, so I concluded it must just be that the actual experience of the ride was so similar to what I’d imagined. Breathtaking scenery abounded, all manner of livestock in the fields. At times we could see for over 20 miles, and it was a crystal-clear morning with the sun shining relentlessly down. The first 10 miles were absolute bliss.
We were then warned by marshals about quite a steep descent, still on unpaved muddy trails, and we seemed to descend for a very long time under a high canopy of trees before we arrived at the first water stop. We’d done less than 15 miles at this point, and I hadn’t dipped into my bidon at all, so I quickly drank half of it and refilled. Some poor guy unwisely propped his bike up next to a large thistle and heard a sudden “pssssssssssssss” from his vintage tubeless front tyre. There but for the grace of god…
Well I know we’d descended a fair way, and suspected some uphill was now in order, but no. Just to tantalise us the trail from the water stop continued to descend even further. I was enjoying the descent (not going much above 25mph as the surface wasn’t perfect) but all the time a sense of foreboding was creeping in. Exactly what manner of alpine torture was lurking further down the road? The ascent did come at last, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. I was climbing fairly comfortably at my own pace, and even though I did at one point start to approach my limit I got to the top without having to get off. The view once the road started to level out was a sight I’ll never forget, a panorama of a huge horse-shoe shaped valley to our left bathed in sunshine while we rode along in the shade. No photos sadly, there was a job of work to be done…
My recollection of the next few miles is a bit of a jumble, middling ascents followed by short descents, then back up again. Don’t imagine for a minute that the scenery got any less lovely, I think I just got a bit lost in the zone. We climbed up toward the Chatsworth House estate, over a couple of nasty cattle grids, and I remember spending a fair bit of time admiring one bike that looked exactly like the type Roger De Vlaeminck used to ride. There’s another part I remember of a climb past long queues of cars waiting to get into a car boot sale that was happening. Also a long only very slightly uphil stretch were I could just feel we were high up above everything.
At this point I became conscious of a regular banging coming from my bike, and pretty soon I established it was following the movement of the crank. It didn’t seem very serious at that point and I knew neither I nor any other rider would have the tools to fix it so I pressed on, but it was very annoying. I’d probably been pedalling constantly for an hour by this time, and it was amazing how subconscious it all became. I really was in my own little bubble. I saw the guy I’d started with on his BSA, sadly it seems a mechanical had done for his friend.
At about this point we started to merge with some of the riders doing the 100 miles, who had done a slightly longer route to get to that point. On the long descent down some twisty lanes you could tell that some were more serious cyclists than others, on the whole the ones who really let the bike have its head and who tended not to bother telling you when they overtook. There were a couple of near misses but I didn’t see any crashes. We kept on descending until we were diverted on to the Monsal trail, another former railway.
There were some non-Eroica cyclists out and about and I got chatting to one local who was riding around to check us all out. I was saying how tough I’d found some of the hills and he said it was hard to make the adjustment from modern bikes to old ones. “Oh no,” I said “this is my daily driver!” And of course it is. Around this time someone saw my shirt and as they rode past chirped “I could really do with some crack right now…” the trail included two rather long tunnels, quite dark and obviously totally shaded, so nice and cool after over three hours of hot sun and sweat it made me think that it would be lovely if future events could be held exclusively inside tunnels.
Finally we rolled out of the last tunnel, over a viaduct and came to a station platform, where the first feed stop was set up. I have never seen so many bicycles in one place! And all lovely old steel beauties too!
So I was 35 miles in and feeling reasonably good. I immediately took my bike to the volunteer mechanics for a look at the bottom bracket. My cranks were see-sawing a bit but maybe only 3-5mm, the next guy to come in had an expensive-looking Alan bike with exactly the same problem, but his was epically rocking, moving a good inch or so. “Yeah I’ve had to nurse it a bit, bloody Alans!” How he managed to get that bike there I will never comprehend! Chapeau!
I got my food while they sorted my bike, they didn’t seem to have the right tool to hand but they found it eventually. At the feed stop there were bottles of Burton’s water, cans of lemon or orange San Pelligrino, sausage rolls, pastries, brownies and bananas. I refilled my bidon with water, drank a can of orangeade and ate a banana, then went to pick up my bike. They’d tightened the adjustable cup, which I wasn’t sure about as I suspected it was the fixed cup that had moved, but they’re the experts… They prompted me for a donation to the Derbyshire Dales Park Authority, whereupon I was a little cold and calculating. I had £20 stuffed in my phone case, but didn’t know if I’d need to donate to the next mechanic, and wanted to hold on to a tenner for any other contingencies. I gave them £5 which seems rather inadequate, but felt like the rational thing at the time.
I picked up a second can of San Pellegrino and gulped it down, conscious of just how much sweating I’d been doing. I also stuffed a banana in my pocket and munched on a few chunks of Kendal Mint Cake. As I had a cigarette the Mavic Peugeot 504 set off down the trail, sounding it’s old klaxon. They waved at me and I waved back, then I finished off the first half of my mint cake, got back on the bike and was off.
to be concluded…