Inspired by the world famous L’Eroica event which graces the rural strade bianche (white roads) of Tuscany, La Bicicletta in Toronto announced the Giro Epoca d’Oro retro cycling event this spring. The format: only pre’87 steel frame bikes with down tube shifters and no modern ‘clip’ pedals. The ‘buzz’ was great however a few days before the event was to begin, calls went out that ‘paid registration’ did not live up to email interest so it was off. It may have been too early in the season for an event such as this (La Bicicletta vows to try again) or perhaps some went on Google Earth to see what lay ahead and had a change of heart.
The cancellation was a disappointment to be sure as I had spent the last few weeks getting my 1966 Legnano Roma Olimpiade fully sorted as well as putting in some good road time to make sure that I didn’t drift into another rider reaching down for a shift lever or to tighten a toe strap. I found the best prep during these weeks was to park the carbon bike, Di2 shifting and clip pedals altogether and tell my brain that such things didn’t exist outside of daydreaming in the hammock.
So what to do? Well, I had the route map and the roads aren’t going anywhere (so to speak) so why not just go and ride it. And that’s what I did. Sunday, May 3rd was probably the best weather we’d seen so far this year with clear skies and a high in the low 20’s (°C). I arrived at Polksi Dom, the intended starting point for the event and what I understand is a country meeting place for Poles living in the area. The gates were closed as expected but no matter, I parked the car at the side of the road, unloaded the bike, gathered my gear together and was off.
The first 10km was the usual limbering up and settling in, something that takes a little longer now that I am 60 years old however I am only partially acknowledging that line in the sand. It can’t be true. Here I am, feet in the traps, cranks spinning, hands on the hoods the same as when I was 15, or at least that is until I get to the first climb of the day. And hence the expression, “It’s like riding a bike, you never forget”. And for any of us that have spent serious amounts of time on a bike, you never forget a thing.
At the first push of the wheel it’s as if the time out of saddle has somehow been instantly deleted and every race, tour, or trip to the corner store is joined together into one continuous ride with no beginning and no end in sight. Your hands change, realigning muscles and motor skills with brake levers and shifters. You can once again hear everything that is behind you as well what is in front of you. Your direct cone of vision widens and your peripheral vision has a greater range of focus. Your reflexes sharpen. You can smell everything. You can hear your body. You transform.
I knew a little of this area northwest of Guelph, Ontario however I had not ridden these roads before. It’s serious farm country for the most part and being springtime the fields had just been turned and ripe with the smell of fresh manure. What a way to clear the sinuses! The upside of that was I knew the elevation changes would be fairly tame as farmland goes. Flat to gently rolling with the occasional grunt and grind would describe it best.
There were numerous small churches of various denominations positioned along the route at key concession crossroads. There is also a large Mennonite population in this area and being the morning hours, I was fortunate to receive friendly waves from numerous families making their way home from church by horse and buggy. And a few Mennonite boys in black, flat-brimmed hats, white shirts and black pants following behind on their bicycles. Their welcoming smiles and the quiet wave of their hands were to become the highlight of my day and a memory that will keep.
The historic mill town of Elora, and gateway to the famous Elora Gorge, was the mid-point turn for the route and it was here that I managed to get off course for an extra 10km or so before catching the right concession road for the return leg. To this point in the ride there had been a couple of stretches of gravel road but nothing significant. All that was about to change with the majority of the return trip on the stoney, washboard side roads of Woolwich County.
The 1966 Legnano Roma Olimpiade is original to the day it rolled out of the Saguanash Bicycle Store in Chicago, including the high flange, Legnano-engraved Campy Record hubs and Fiamme ‘green label’ tubular rims, wheels that have no place on gravel roads. So I had another pair of ‘period’ wheels built for the day with 1963 low flange Campy Gran Sport hubs and early 60’s Ambrosio/San Remo aluminum clincher rims fitted with true 28x700C tires. Not the lightest set of wheels to spin up on the asphalt but I was happy to have them under me on these back roads. Actually 32mm wide tires would have been even better and 23mm or 25mm tires completely inconceivable for such a route.
There were a few dodgy moments on the gravel until I found a pace that was reasonably quick and also provided some sense of control should a car or truck pop out from one of the farm entrances on short notice. Having grown up in a small town, riding gravel roads were often short cuts to one place or another and once again early experiences came back to mind, reminding me to keep a loose but restrained grip on the handlebars and let the wheel find its way. It takes a bit of getting use to but you can soon relax into a steady rhythm and get back to enjoying the scenery. A vintage ride didn’t seem the place to have a Garmin strapped to the bars however I would estimate my ‘collected’ pace on the gravel to be about 18-20km per hour.
As the washboard gave way to the final stretches of asphalt and my water bottle almost empty, I knew today’s adventure was nearing the end. There had been a fair breeze blowing across the open fields all morning and now it was square behind me for the run home. So draining the bottle and pushing it back into its cage, I snugged up the toe straps, hit the drops and told myself that this was not a solo journey at all but rather I had just made a break at the last turn putting me out of sight from the peloton and the finish could be mine. Those race days are long behind me now but the spirit never really leaves as many of you know. Head down and everything into the pedals, I arrived back at my car, heart pumping, adrenaline racing and a smile on my face.