By Gareth Llewhellin
Mitts, check. Leather tool roll, check. Vintage bike, check. We’re off.
Now I’m a lover of all things cycling, but personally its the older the better for me. Modern bikes are nice. They’re light and fast, but they don’t have that special element of bikes from yesteryear. These bikes have souls.
From the moment we pulled up to the field vintage bikes, tweed suits and pretty dresses were everywhere. Instantly I realised that this was more than a bike event weekend, this was a celebration of cycling which holds no boundaries whatsoever. Whether its replicating Tom Simpson, Eddie Merckx or Fausto Coppi in woollen jerseys and caps or riding a tandem dating back to the 1940s and wearing clothing to match, this weekend had it all. Everyone was accepted and, more importantly, everyone embraced it with open arms, both young and old.
The rain tried, but it failed to dampen the spirit. The market place bustled with bike jumbles from the UK and France with everything from frame to toe strap, everything you needed to build a bike right there in the field. These were pick ’n mix sweet stalls for bike lovers and my eyes were as big and wide as the six year old me with 20p to spend in the sweet shop after school. I was in heaven!
We found the beer tent and enjoyed a pint of local ale whilst listening to the Chesterfield College Brass Band whilst the sun shone down. This was a British moment at its best, I do love a good brass band!
As an illustrator and print maker, I love seeing the work of my contemporaries and the one for me this weekend was Katie, Sheffield based owner and designer of Ownway, taking her graphic screen print work across prints, t-shirts and patches. Her work is great fun and you can find her at www.ownway.co and help support the independent artists!
Sunday morning arrived overcast but the rainbow of colour from the various jerseys made up for this. I joined the hoards of said cyclists in their woollen jerseys, polka dot dresses and tweed suits all queueing for the start line with my faithful vintage single speed.
There was a bit of a delay to get going so I took the opportunity to admire the many bikes on show. From Colnago to Benotto, Bianchi to Pinarello, everything was here to see sparkling away. This is where the soul comes to the fore.
Now carbon bikes are great and have their place. I have one and many swear by them, but there’s no wow factor for me personally. In the words of my son Benji, “They don’t have the shiny bits like these bikes do daddy.” And he is totally right. The craftsmanship in the building of these bikes from lug work to the finishing touches of engraving and chrome on the smallest elements is immense.
I was in the middle of a moving museum….back to me being the wide eyed six year old in the sweet shop! Rolling along I was spending longer looking at the bikes I passed than the road and on more than one occasion had to bring my BMX skills out to bunny hop the pot holes. Speaking of BMX’s, a chap camping next to me was riding the 100 mile route on a beautiful Raleigh Mag Burner. Chapeau, hope you got round OK if you’re reading this!
The course followed large elements of gravel tracks of the Sustrans Cycle Network which was fantastic and allowed for more bike viewing and enjoying the stunning scenery of the Peak District. This time without the potholes thankfully. The feed stop didn’t disappoint with another brass band, a bar and a food bag to bring a smile. The food wrapped individually in colourful paper was a lovely touch and so nice to reach a food stop that wasn’t a bun fight for the bananas and Haribos as so often seems to be the way.
Belly fully of cheese and pickle sandwich and a swift half, I’m back on the bike for more of the same. I enjoyed a burst of speed and on and offs with an original Bianchi before catching up to Pashley and Charter Lea enjoying their day out. The riders seemed pretty happy too. Seeing a Penny Farthing out on the route was a highlight for me. When asked how the ride was the answer came back with a smile, “Really great, but feels like I’m pedalling uphill when I’m pedalling down hill.” Brilliant!!!
As I made my way along the last 5 miles I made myself take it all in so I didn’t forget all I had seen. I was in visual overload with the amount of bikes I had the pleasure to see and bursting with ideas for possible artworks. I pedalled up the finish line with Union Jacks flying and people cheering.
As written in the rider notes this wasn’t a race, it was a ride. And what an enjoyable ride! This was indeed a British weekend at its very best and so much fun.
Thank you Robbie and Ellie for giving me the opportunity to experience this weekend and thank you to Eroica Britannia for a cycling weekend to conquer all others.