So as you can see from the first part of this post, Peter had managed to hijack an Auction on retro bike (with fair reason) and source a legitimate British light weight to enter the Eroica Britannia. With bike repainted, a gorgeous almost complete Shimano 600 groupset and a low gear of 39×25 Peter set out for the hills, and the Eroica Britannia 2015.
A Bonavia Story
By Peter Butterwick
Well! What has this got to do with Bonavia Cycles. It is probably better that I explain a little of the context. I was adopted at birth back in 1962, but due to a twist of fate met my birth father in 2011. He was Clive Bonavia a quality frame builder and mentor, from which Ross Allan, took over and continues the legacy.
After a far too brief 3 years getting to know each other my Birth Father died of a type of blood cancer on the 15th February 2014. We had intended to visit and ride in the inaugural Eroica Britannia of June 2014 and Clive was to help me build my own or modify one of his bikes to pass the “vintage” scrutiny, but alas that was never to be.
At Clive’s funeral there were a number of keen cyclists who had built their bikes under the master tutor and of course Ross had come over from Canada to pay his respects.
Of course, just because Clive was no longer around, I couldn’t abandon my plan to do Eroica Britannia, although it would become even more poignant as time unfolded.
Eroica: The event
This started in Tuscany in 1997 as a festival of cycling to celebrate the golden age of steel bikes the production of which pretty much diminished after 1987.
During the last year or so this has now been rolled out to Great Britain, California, Spain and even Japan, with massive participation.
This year on June 21st the Eroica Brtannia returned once again to my county of birth, Derbyshire in the wonderfully hilly Peak District. The event is enveloped within a three day festival focusing of all thing British and vintage and of course: the bikes.
There are prizes for best dressed man, woman, best couple, best mustache (presumably for men only) and even best dressed dog! There was a Concours d’elegance for the best bike, but more on that later.
The final day culminates in three rides: a 30 mile, a 55 mile and the” heroic” 100 mile “Man of Steel” premier event. This year there were over 3,500 participants and over 1,000 in the big one alone.
Back in January looking for bike parts, I noticed on Retrobike Forum that there was a Bonavia frame sale going through. Rather guiltily, I hijacked the sale, giving the story of my Birth Father Clive and how I got to meet him. A few days later and thanks to the two generous guys, I was in possession of a 1981 Bonavia road frame with appropriate racing geometry. Over the next few months I collected period parts, predominantly with the help of a well know internet auction site. I opted for Shimano 600 AX as it had a racing pedigree and was “top end” and of the time. The frame also deserved a decent spec.
Once all the parts were acquired, to include period brake cables and 1979 vintage new Wrights leather saddle it was time to re-spray the frame. Given the nature of the event, I went for an Azurri blue with the ubiquitous vintage white lug lining. Ross kindly allowed me to use the Bonavia Cycles decals and we were ready to go!
And what a beauty she is: very fine clearances and looking every bit the bicycle equivalent of a supermodel!
Two days had passed at the Eroica Britannia Festival and we had tasted and drank in the atmosphere quite literally. There were many prizes for the “best of” and I duly entered the Bonavia into the parade ring for best bike. I hadn’t expected it to win, but I was interested to see what the public and the Judges would make of it.
I still don’t know which bike won, but the Bonavia did attract some attention, most notably from a black Labrador who cocked his leg over the front wheel, much to the embarrassment of his owner.
All too soon it was 6.30am and we were all lining up for the 100 mile start in the picturesque streets of Bakewell. We ware waved off promptly by the official started and a rather dapper chap in a tailcoat, top hat and the biggest of Union Jacks.
The 100 riders set off in groups of about 30 working their way up to the “easy” Monsal Trail, a disused railway lining, a welcome 8 mile flattish leg warmer before the following hill climbs.
The route weaves its way through The Peak District, a National Park in the centre of England. The selection of surfaces range from rather smooth road to extremely rough limestone rubble “white roads” and has an elevation gain of over 9,000 ft. The two most testing hills were in the first 40 miles, the most photogenic of which “Mam Nick” would present itself around the 24 mile mark!
About 10 miles in the weather changed for the worst just after reaching the breakfast stop at the village of Tideswell. Here we availed ourselves of bacon rolls and coffee and bravely headed off into the wind and rain.
The weather remained poor through Edale and during the first big test. I had feared Mam Nick, a steep one mile climb over a valley ridge; however I drew on the bacon roll for energy and climbed slowly past the many bike walkers in what seemed to slow motion.
At the summit were a congregation of spectators and photographers watching the agonizing expressions of the cyclists. I did not disappoint them.
On these rides you meet some amazing people. On the gentle ride down from the summit I struck up conversation with a guy in his late sixties (or so he looked) riding his father’s fixed gear bike from 1922. I thought of the parallels with me until, he then mentioned that he was a marathon runner. No wonder he managed the hills with consummate ease.
The second food stop was a welcome break from the poor weather at a reservoir yacht club. Cue second bacon butty of the day. In fact, with five scheduled food stops, I thought this could be a record for consumption of bacon products. Here I sat with a chap called Robin, who sported a flat cap and rode an old 1950 Woodrup touring bike, which he jokingly said was made of lead! During our conversation I mentioned that I was doing the ride for charity and without hesitation he pulled out a ten pound note for me. What a true gent and a gesture so typical of the day.
As we passed the highest point around the 40 mile mark the weather improved markedly and the Italians started racing. I was passed by a quartet of crazy Italians, shouting and gesticulating their way down one of the steepest and roughest white roads, I wouldn’t care to ride again.
Soon we were back on another disused railway line called the Tissington Trail and enjoyed 5 miles of bliss along a flat gravelled path. The speed increased as the sun shone and I was able to truly enjoy the breath taking scenery in all its glory.
The next stop was at 50 miles in the village of Hartington. This was by far the busiest as the 55 mile and 100 mile routes converged at this point. The food stalls were set around the village pond and there must have been 200 cyclist taking advantage of the sunny weather and the strategically strewn bean bags. There was a brass band playing and they were handing out “free” beer! Had I reached heaven, had I over done it somewhat?
Well with a full belly I soon found out the answer halfway up the steep hill out of the village. It wasn’t really steep or really long, but I think psychologically the rest and recuperation, just really serves to soften one up.
The next fifteen miles took us through the steep glacial valleys of the White Peak and descents into Dovedale down one of the steepest hills I have ever experienced. Having been passed on the way down by more suicidal Italians, I reached my top speed of 38 MPH whilst squeezing the brakes as hard as I could. This is a place I used to visit as a kid and whilst I reminisced at it beauty, I knew the impending climb out of the river valley would certainly test my stamina.
But before that, another food stop at 65 miles in the gorgeous setting of Ilam Hall, a 16th century manor house in stunning grounds. As well as the food, I gratefully received several hot towels, which were being handed out by an attractive young lady and were put to good use removing the oil stains from my hands from replacing the chain drop I had encountered.
Not long and it was back on the road again for what was to be the most arduous section of the ride. I had encountered cramp after 65 miles on previous rides and was rather pessimistically expecting it to strike soon. Whist the ride took us out of Dovedale through a deer park, I lost my chain again, an took the opportunity to walk up the steepest part of the hill talking to a couple of Italians, one riding a bike which I think he said was from 1910 with wooden wheels. What a tremendous feat to get so far. They were indeed true heroes.
The next few miles were hard, the villages came and went, and I struggled with the little hills. Why did the big ones at the first half of the ride present a challenge to which I was equal, but the little one just break my heart? Perhaps it was the prospect of another section of disused railway line (bliss) that just never seemed to get any nearer. Or was it the first worrying signs of cramp in my right buttock. Nevertheless, I managed to eventually reach the High Peak Trail disused railway and rode it’s wonderfully flat 5 miles through woodland to the next food station at Cromford (80 miles down).
We are now in the Derwent valley and the heart of the industrial revolution of England. The next few miles were less spectacular from a scenic point of view, but nonetheless interesting visually because of the huge mills and relics from 200 years of British invention.
At about 90 mile whilst cycling with a few other riders, we were flagged down by another half dozen or so who were lost. It would appear that somebody had removed the signpost denoting a turn left and 20 minutes was lost whilst we searched frantically for someone to ask. They were no help, so the consensus of opinion was to ride in the general direction of the next stop and yes we eventually re-acquainted ourselves again with the yellow Eroica signs. We were back on track.
We dropped down through moorland and bracken lined road to our next stop at Chatsworth House, one of Britain’s most visited stately homes. We had been told of the wonderful array of treats in store for us from riders who had attended the event last year. Sparkling wine canapés and cream teas!
Well these had clearly been finished off by the 30 mile and 55 milers like a plagues of locusts in a maize field. The heroic 100 milers would have to dig deep for the final 6 miles. Riding through the stunning grounds I took the opportunity of a “selfie” as I passed in front of the grand house.
The surrounding countryside around Chatsworth through to Bakewell is very pretty with golden stone villages, dry stone walls and soft and rolling hills. However the hills I climbed seemed anything but soft and rolling. My legs were now one vote away from a general strike, but the prospect of my free beer at the finish was gradually reeling me in.
The final descent into Bakewell was down a steep and winding tree lined road. Squeezing my brakes before each bend, I could now hear the festival in full swing and the Master of Ceremonies announcing the finishers over the PA system. Eventually I entered the show ground and adjusted my 1980’s aviator sunglasses and sprinted for the line. Well to me it seemed like a sprint. I was a little choked with emotion as the MC announced my name and the thousands cheered, but inside was the realisation that I had ridden one of my late Father’s frames on Father’s Day. I was now officially a “Man of Steel” even if it was of the low tensile variety.
It was a tough, but a fantastic day and a privilege to dedicate a ride to my father on one of his frames. It almost felt like he was there!
Well I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did. Thank you Peter for taking the time to write such a great story!