Photographs by Tyrone Bradley & Leonie Mervis
While the Cape is best known for it’s two mainstream cycling events, the Cape Town Cycle Tour and the Cape Epic, it is the fringe bike event Eroica South Africa, that is fast becoming the favourite of both competitive and non-competitive cyclists.
Held annually in the historic Karoo town of Montagu, Eroica brings together beautiful routes (with lots of smooth gravel roads and scenic mountain backdrops), drool-worthy vintage/classic bicycles, great food and wonderful people.
L’Eroica was started in Italy in 1997 by Giancarlo Brocci, who admired the values of traditional Italian cycling. He decided to reconnect others to this heritage as well as campaign to protect and preserve the last gravel roads in Tuscany.
“We want people to rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest: the heroic cycling of Bartali and Coppi and the sacrifice that seeks out our physical boundaries where thirst, hunger, and exhaustion are felt with all their strength. It’s cycling that can spread respect and create bonds between loyal opponents. It is cycling in a healthy way, and its participants are inspiring and beautiful to watch”.
It was these romantic concepts that led to the creation of L’Eroica, an event that has since spread across the globe from Europe to America, Japan and South Africa!
CELEBRATING SOUTH AFRICA’S CYCLING HERITAGE
In 2016 Stan Engelbrecht, the founder of Tour of Ara, decided to bring Eroica to African soil and shine the light on South Africa’s rich history of frame building.
Most people don’t know that South Africa used to have a burgeoning local frame-building movement. Le Jeune, Alpina, Hansom, Du Toit – to name a few – are commonly seen vintage brands on South Africa’s roads, and all share a proud locally-built heritage. Unfortunately this frame-building movement slowly dissolved in the 1980’s, and it’s only recently, thanks in part to events like Eroica and a new enthusiasm for old steel frames, that these classics are being rediscovered.
Now in its 3rd year, Eroica South Africa 2018 brought together cyclophiles from all over the world, with classic South African-built bikes racing side by side with famous Italian brands like Bianchis and Colnagos. Entering the festival grounds, was like stepping back in time with participants kitted out in vintage-inspired cycling gear. And just in case you needed more bicycle eye-candy, the main exhibition space showcased vintage and classic bikes from collections around the country.
Attending my first Eroica, I was blown away by the friendly atmosphere and camaraderie at the event. Throughout the weekend, the festival grounds were a hub of activity, with small stalls selling local food, craft beer and wine, and a marquee providing a shaded seating area for cyclists and their families to relax and connect.
What I discovered was a close community of cyclists – from all corners of the globe – united by their shared love for vintage cycling culture and the values of the road cycling Heroes of Old. This spirit of solidarity extended beyond the festival grounds and onto the roads, with fellow cyclists stopping to chat, take photographs, give a push up a hill or help fix a puncture.
OF GRAVEL AND STEEL…
In the age of full suspension and carbon frames, cycling a vintage steel road bike on gravel roads is not something that most people imagine being able to do. But that’s what these bikes were built for! The road bikes of old had a geometry and ride quality similar to modern steel gravel bikes, enabling them to handle a variety of road surfaces (with the majority of roads back then being unpaved).
When it comes to gravel riding, Eroica South Africa certainly did not disappoint, with three vintage bike gravel routes ranging from 45km-135km. The shortest route, The Kingna, was aimed at introducing newcomers to the ideology of Eroica, and non-vintage bikes were allowed to participate too! The route followed the undulating gravel farm roads along the pastoral Kingna river valley to a special ‘water’ and food stop at the Kingna Distillery and then back to the festival venue. The second route, The Kogman (90km) continued straight out again into the Baden area where the scenery became even more beautiful, and the route a little tougher with some steep gravel climbs and downhills. Both the 45km and 90km rides were non-competitive with plenty of opportunities to stop off and take a snap or relax at one of the water and food stops. The catering for the event was superb, with a highlight being the food stop on the Kogman route that also presented the opportunity for a quick dip in a farm dam!
For those prepared to take up the challenge, both the 135km Keisie (Eroica Classic) route and the new Nova Eroica enduro-style race – a grueling 155km route for modern gravel bikes – were a test of true grit. The route took competitors up the gruesome Ouberg Pass, and into some really isolated and wild terrain that pushed man and machine to the limit!
In the true spirit of Eroica, the Nova winner, Jean Biermans, managed to complete his race and keep his lead by converting his bike to single speed after his rear derailleur spontaneously disintegrated and got sucked into his wheel, breaking spokes and puncturing his tire! After a few more repair stops he made it back to town, to secure his win. A true Eroici!
- See more photos from the 2018 event on Bicycle South’s Facebook page.
- See more official photos on Eroica South Africa’s Facebook page.
- Find out more about Eroica South Africa and join in the fun next year.
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