In 3 weeks from now we’ll be in Montagu for our fourth Eroica South Africa - a celebration of vintage cycling culture, beautiful old bicycles, and good times. For those who are new to the concept, Eroica is an Italian event that pays homage to the cycling races of old. We ride old vintage steel road bikes on dirt roads, and we celebrate the cycling greats like Coppi and Bartali by dressing in vintage kit, and eschewing energy gels in favour of red wine and cheese. Eroica is not a race, rather a tough ride to reconnect ourselves with our beautiful sport, our marvellous machines and the landscapes we move through. Come enjoy a weekend of friendship and adventure on the edge of the Karoo in Montagu!
To keep things fresh for 2020 we have some new routes and fantastic food stops. Our shortest route is now a 35km jaunt into the Baden and Gewelkrans areas, with a wonderful food stop planned at Groenland Farm. The new 60km medium-distance route follows the 35km option, and from Groenland takes a tough loop through Patatsfontein to a special lunch stop at the furthest point, and back to Groenland through Pietersfontein. While this option might be shorter than previous years, it is tougher with more climbs, a few short portage sections, and some rutty roads. But well worth the adventure! Our Eroica Classic 135km route remains unchanged. For those who have undertaken this epic trek, you know what a remarkable and rewarding experience it is. The NOVA route for modern gravel bikes also remains the same, but it is now 5km shorter since it also visits the Groenland Farm stop.
There is more to see at Eroica than beautiful vintage bicycles. Like with many collectors, interests overlap to create some fitting cobinations. This is how Tim Abbot traveled to Eroica in true vintage style. Class.
As part of the weekend's events, we have a bicycle concourse, with prizes for best South African bicycle, best unrestored non-South African bicycle, best restored non-South African bicycle, and best bicycle on show. Here one of our foremost South African bicycle collectors Sven van Straaten on the right is judging with Giancarlo Brocci, the founder of Eroica (next to him). Amedeo, very knowledgeable when it comes to vintage steel himself, and I look on while the masters discuss...
Eroica is not a race. But it's no funride either. It's a homage to a bygone era of riding that is hard to come by nowadays. Our routes are tough but rewarding, and there is something for every level of rider. The routes are marked out, and you're encouraged to stop and pull out your map from time to time. The idea is to experince the wildness and beauty of the Montagu area from the back of your bicycle, just like someone might have done 100 years ago.
This was the start of the 135km Classic route, that follows the dirt roads out of Montagu towards the northeast, and up the gruesome Ouberg Pass. This is the route that every true Eroica enthusiast must ride at least once. It's remote and wild at it's furthest points, and a real achievement on a vintage steel road bike.
Deon, one of the Basson brothers, is a fixture on the 135km route. This is early in the morning, just as riders are leaving Montagu, with the mean Ouberg Pass lying just ahead. But Deon isn't concerned - he's a hard man and he knows the pain and suffering of the next few hours will be rewarded when he crosses the finish line.
Photographs can never capture the steepness of a road or the heat of the sun. Here a NOVA rider is making their way up Ouberg Pass - it's early but the temperatures were already soaring. NOVA is Eroica's race option for modern gravel bikes. The route is 150kms, and there are four racing sections of about 10km each. The rest of the time riders can enjoy the vistas, food stops and friends along the way.
If you haven't heard the story - when Giancarlo, the founder of Eroica, met Poppie at Eroica in 2019 he was so touched by her life story, and so enjoyed her delicious 'roosterbrood', that he invited her to come to Eroica's main event in Gaiole, Italy. Poppie is from Laingsburg, where she is known for making her 'roosterbrood' on the side of the N1, and she had never left the Western Cape in her life. So last year she attended the original Eroica and made her fire-baked speciality for hunderds of riders. She was a huge hit in Italy, and it was a life-changing experience for her. All made possible by Giancarlo and Eroica - thank you guys! Next month you'll have a chance to meet Poppie, and hear firsthand about her experiences overseas. Come meet her at Eroica South Africa 2020!
Eroica 2019 was struck by a bit of a heat wave - recording temperature around the mid-forties - but riders were undeterred and made the best of the food stops and farm dams. There is a huge social aspect to Eroica, and riders make a point of spending the whole day out on their bikes exploring the area and cramming as much fun into the day as possible.
It's all about friendship and camaraderie. Eroica riders don't leave each other behind. We often get asked about riding road bikes on dirt roads, and the amount of potential punctures. To be honest there are very few thorns out there, and most punctures result from under-inflated tyres that lead to 'snakebites'. If you're a cyclist, you'll know the dreaded telltale twin punctures well.
Getting a puncture or having a mechanical is all part of the experience. The challenge to 'make a plan' in the face of a setback is what it's all about. As you can see by this rider's 'tools', preparedness was only part of what he had on his mind. This is the toolkit of a man searching for adventure
Eric, the other Basson brother, is well known on the vintage scene. He has an impressive growing collection of vintage bicycles, and he's a true rider. You can find him any day of the week out on one of his many bikes, putting in the kms. It's people like Eric who are the driving force behind our vintage cycling scene. Chapeau Eric!
Amongst the vintage bicycles and riders there are some impressive modern machines and tough racers at the event taking on Eroica's answer to the modern gravel bike race - the NOVA Eroica. At 150kms with 4 x 10km timed racing segments, it's a good day out!
Another higlight of Eroica South Africa is our official Italian-style dinner on Friday night. It's an opportunity to catch up with old friends, make new ones, and discuss the next day's rides. Montagu makes a huge effort to host Eroica , and this dinner is an example of their enthusiam and attention to detail when it comes to making us feel welcome.
Early-morning mist hangs over the beautiful intersection of the Kingna, Kogman and Keisie rivers, also known as Montagu. Montagu is the home of Eroica South Africa, and with the spectaclar mountains around, fantastic gravel roads and hospitable townsfolk, we aim to keep it that way.
Sipho was one of the handful of underprivileged riders we sponsor each year to come and discover vintage cycling, and the community, at Eroica. We’ll be doing the same for 2020, and if you’ll be riding, I urge you to consider also sposoring someone you might know who would not normally have the opportunity to do something like this. Who knows, by introducing them our sport, and this mode of transport, you may change their lives forever.
Deon and Sipho, sweating side-by-side in the blazing Karoo sun. This is how life-long bonds between stangers are forged.
Lynnae Endersby rode probably one of the coolest and craziest bikes in the NOVA catergory at last year's Eroica. She found a rusty old Peugeot frame that she noticed had good tyre cleance - a rare thing on old steel road bikes. She rescued the frame, cleaned it up, and built it up herself with a mix of modern parts. This Mad Max retro-furture gravel grinder turned heads and raised a few eyebrows, but what a great way to pay homage to the great steel frames of yesteryear.
While the 135km route is the one for the true die-hard riders, the 60km route offers more of a social atmosphere. Don't think that it's not a challenging ride - there is lots of climbing, some portage sections, a river crossing, bad roads. You'll have your work cut out for you.
Nic and Poppie's farm-dam foodstop on the medium-distance route was undoubtably the higlight of the day, and many riders spent ages there trying all the delicious snack options, drinking beers or wine, chatting and cooling off in the local farm dam. This is how we ride, Eroica-style. We enjoy life, talk bikes and make friends.
Look the part!
See you on the gravel at Eroica South Africa on 14 March 2020 in Montagu!
For more information about Eroica South Africa and to enter, please visit https://eroica.cc/en/south-africa