The vintage cycling festivals UK based event is now into its fifth year, my third time of visiting, and first time at it’s new venue since moving last year from Bakewell to Friden Grange. Driven by a number of factors including festival size and weather based grounds issues, the new site is much more suited to festival life.
We arrived on the Friday driving up from Bournemouth and stayed in a little cottage just outside Buxton, this is easiest location to stay if you aren’t big on camping!
Saturday we signed on for the ride and collected our musettes, ride numbers, and had a look around the show ground. From the moment we arrived the festival felt more contained and standalone than before. Cars all in one field with a short walk into the festival grounds. Inside the arena there was plenty of room, maybe too much? But plenty to see. With food stands, vintage clothing, bicycle jumble, best in show area, two big bars, and the main stage there was plenty to keep family entertained. Throughout the day the main stage played host to a mix of musical styles all with a vintage twist, and near centre of the ground a vintage car display put on by Jimmys Iced Coffee as part of their RideClub. The Christchurch based business also served up top iced coffee and white Russian cocktails alongside this. We all had a good nosey around with a good stint in the bike jumble, maybe picking up a few last minute add ons for the bikes, grabbed some lunch (food had a great selection), and had a beer in one of the festivals two giant beer tents. We then proceeded to dress my brother up in a dinosaur costume and parade him around the showground (it was his stag do after all) to make a fool of him. It actually ended up making him one of the main attractions with kids from all over the show wanting to either try and kill him or get a photo with him.
Saturday is also the day where the festival has it’s best in shows events, and there were plenty of people showing off their efforts. With categories for best dressed man, woman, family, then multiple different bicycle categories, and even one for best moustache! All categories being judged in the central arena. Great to see so many people put on a show, this is where Eroica’s heart is the effort of the attendees.
That was Saturday over and we retired to our cottage for Sunday (ride day) preparations. Sunday is the main event, a challenge of man and machine around the Peak District. A lot of climbing on bikes that could easily be 50 years old and probably not up to the job! A choice of three routes were available depending on how much you wanted to punish yourself with 30, 60, and 100 mile options. We opted for the 60.
Sunday came. We all stuffed breakfast down and set off to the start line aiming to head off for half eight. After parking and unloading the bikes we were there or there about on time. Riding into the show ground we flashed our wristband and headed for the start. Lining up for an obligatory pre-ride photo we waited for our turn, then we were off. Heading out under the gantry, out of the gates, and down a disused railway line to churn our first few miles. We had a mix of abilities and bicycles on the day and the 60 miler proved a little too much for both bike and rider for a couple of us, with one bike going through two sets of brake blocks in 15 miles!!! that just goes to show the amount of climbs in the Peak District (plus you can’t take the look of a bikes brake blocks as a guide to their longevity!). We decided to find our way back to the 30 mile loop and join that, and by the number of people that had loaded up the fuel stop at Moneyash we weren’t alone! They even ran out of sandwiches due to the number of 60 mile dropouts.
Fuelled up we headed of on the remainder of the 30 mile route and back to the show ground. There were a couple of nice little climbs on the way back to test you but when out the way it was on to the old disused railway lines to roll out the last few miles. On return a large crowd of well wishers cheered you over the line as you were announced by the master of ceremonies. Not that my brother needed announcing, we had decorated his bike with streamers, kids windmills, and tied tin cans on for crossing the line. You could hear him a mile off! We also dressed him up as some sort of odd super hero complete with cape and mask. He received a mighty cheer riding across the finish.
With the ride over it was time to soak in the post ride atmosphere, vintage bicycles and tired legs were everywhere. Both accompanied by fast flowing beer. This is one of the best parts of Eroica, when everyone gets their machines together and chats about their days, and days past, adventures. If you can imagine it’s the only time where all the bicycles are together. Start times are staggered depending on distance, riders get strung out on the road, and on the Saturday the bikes are left at accommodation. It’s a great site to see so many vintage bikes (and vintage cycling enthusiasts!) in one spot. We filed into the Eroica pub, played some darts and had a few pints, and did exactly as described. We were only interrupted when Beth Rowley, Brit award nominee, took the stage and sang a great little acoustic set. A lovely end to the day.
Eroica Britannia is a good festival, the Peak District is stunning, there’s plenty at the show ground for families, and the cycling is glorious. It’s had a few years of great success because of these reasons. Although this year I felt the shine had worn ever so slightly. Taking the festival away from Bakewell is a big blow, it’s really effected the feel of the show. There was something about taking over a beautiful ancient town with vintage bicycles, it’s added real magic to the whole weekend. It also upped appeal for non cyclists. The other issue with moving was the lack of sightseeing on the 30 mile route. Don’t get me wrong the cycling was still fantastic but there were no Monsal trail tunnels, viaduct, or Thornbridge house unless you rode 60 miles or more. Both of the above kind of exposed the show ground a little, making it seem slightly under provided (this could be sorted by simply reigning in the size of the show ground and bringing all closer). Another difficulty for this year seemed to be the artists lineup, last year ABC performed (big scalp in fairness) as headline but this year no big name. As I said above Beth Rowley was very good but isn’t a big crowd puller/pleaser. Another couple of absences over previous years were big name cyclists, past shows had been attended by David Millar and Chris Boardman (plus also the death of Eroica poster boy Luciano Berruti), and sponsors Maserati. All Together the factors above brought a real sense of class to the festival, raising it a notch above most family festivals let alone ones just for cycling.
We had a great time, the festival still stands alone as the best cycling festival the uk has to offer and is still well worth a visit. The standard has been set very high in the previous years, I can understand that it’s difficult to keep momentum, but don’t sweat the festivals assets Eroica and raise the bar again! As a seasoned Eroica visitor I will be looking abroad for my next vintage cycling hit but to keep people coming back to the uk event a few sparks need to be added. First timers though I still recommend growing a moustache, getting a pre 1987 bone shaking bicycle and getting your wool and tweed ready as Eroica is a great experience and the Peak District is beautiful.
Anyway here’s a few pictures from the show, but really you should go take your own!