It’s Saturday, April 8, and I’m in Paso Robles’ downtown park surrounded by vintage bicycles. Dozens are on display as part of Eroica California, a vintage cycling event inspired by L’Eroica, Italian for “The Heroic,” a 127-mile ride that happens annually in Gaiole, a Tuscan town that’s also Paso’s “sister city.” Today is the Concours d’Elegance bicycle display, and tomorrow participants in period attire will ride many of these vintage bikes between 40 and 127 miles, depending on the route they signed up for.
- PHOTOS BY GLEN STARKEY
- OLDIES BUT GOODIES: All the bicycles involved in Eroica events have to be pre-1987 or older.
Maybe I should back up. Last night, I was at the ultra-swanky Allegretto Vineyard Resort, where Eroica held a posh VIP meet-and-greet and media event. I got to nosh on venison chops, risotto balls, and salmon crisps and listen to speeches in Italian, Spanish, and English. This is a true international event with rides in Italy, Spain, Japan, England, and soon Canada. Paso is the site of the only Eroica in the U.S.
First I meet Beth Telford, a volunteer who quips she’s actually a “volutold” since her mom—Hospice Events Coordinator Gracie Rey—makes her come.
“My mom’s been doing events all her life and continues to, so I always help out,” Beth says. “It’s for a good cause.”
It sure is. My dad was in hospice care in my parents’ living room three years ago, and while it’s never easy watching someone at the end of his life, I’m sure glad my dad was home where we had 24-access to him and not in some cold, sterile hospital. The Hospice volunteers who came by were a real blessing during a difficult time.
- PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
- BARN FRESH: Jan Johnson of Portola Valley found this 1947 motorized Maury tandem in a barn. A pilot, Johnson flew the bike to Paso in her vintage plane.
Hospice Executive Director Kris Kingston-Barker reminds me that Hospice SLO is a volunteer organization that doesn’t charge for its services and relies on community donations, fundraisers, and grants, which is pretty amazing as their 200 volunteers compassionately assist with more than 6,000 individuals annually.
“This is one of our favorite events,” Kris adds, “and we could not survive as an organization without events like this, so we thank Eroica with great gratitude.”
Eroica is, without a doubt, a very cool idea. During the evening I see Giancarlo Brocci, who founded Eroica in 1997 in response to his disgust at the doping scandal in professional bicycling. He wanted an event that celebrated the purity of people on bicycles using what stamina they have to power themselves through the beautiful Italian countryside. The first year there were 97 riders; in 2016, Eroica Italia had 7,200!
This marks just the third year for Eroica California, and it gets bigger and better every year. Organizers estimate between 850 and 1,000 riders will participate in the ride. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have 7,000, too.
I also meet Luciano Berutti, the 75-year-old unofficial “face of Eroica,” who attends many of these international events. The septuagenarian is a walking advertisement for the power of fitness through cycling, and his fans were excited to meet him. This is a real community.
- THERE’S ALWAYS NEXT YEAR!: You can keep up with Eroica California and prepare for next year by signing up for their newsletter on their website, eroicacalifornia.com, where you can see photos of previous events, read event regulations, and purchase vintage equipment on their online marketplace. Learn about volunteer opportunities for next year’s event, which will again be a fundraiser for Hospice of SLO County, a nonprofit that operates exclusively on donations. Learn more at hospiceslo.org.
Back at the Paso park, there’s a real buzz in the air as folks wander around checking out the display bikes, visiting vendors, or perusing the vintage bike parts swap meet. Tomorrow they ride through the vineyard- and oak-covered, lush green hills of Paso Robles, making literal the event’s motto: “The beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest.”
Glen Starkey is New Times’ Senior Staff Writer. Contact him at email@example.com.