17 July 2014

Velo Vintage Girl: VCG does L'Eroica Britannia 2014...

A few weeks ago I was blasting around Derbyshire on a vintage Italian road bike climbing and descending for 30 miles… certainly not your average weekend ride for me, as I took part in L’Eroica Britannia! Courtesy of Lush Handmade Cosmetics, VCG attended the inaugural British leg of the iconic event, which was transported from the rolling hills of Tuscany to the beautiful Peak District.

Founded in 1997 with just 92 riders, L’Eroica (which literally translates as ‘The Heroic’) is a vintage themed sportive, born from the love of cycling, history and literature of Italy. Its original intention was to raise awareness of the traditional ’strade bianchi’ (white gravel roads) of Tuscany and & safeguard its heritage... fast forward to 2014, it now sees 5000 cyclists subscribing to take part in what’s known as “the most handsome bike race in the world”. L’Eroica Britannia recreated the event on British soil in Bakewell with a weekend long family friendly festival, dedicated to all things vintage, lifestyle and of course cycling, culminating one of the most intense bike rides I’ve ever been on…

I headed up to Derbyshire on the Friday for the start of my "Great British Adventure" - filled with excitement for L'Eroica Britannia, I was also pondering how completely different the actual bike ride would be for me. There is no denying it - cycling 30 miles over terrain I'd never experienced before on a bike that wasn't mine had my brain ticking over like mad. I knew this wasn't going to be a gentle Sunday morning jaunt, but even through some nerves I was still eager to get on the trails and do it!

There was word on twitter that fellow cycling friends of mine would be riding Eroica Britannia, so it was brilliant to start bumping into familiar faces on the train before I'd even arrived in Bakewell! Team CTC formed by LDN Bike Kitchen's Caren, Kelly and Jenni were taking part. Of course they were looking suitably vintage and posed for a cyclestle shot before riding off to the campsite...
While they cycled off into the rolling hills, I headed to the hotel which would be my base for the next two nights (I'm not going to deny I stayed in a hotel thanks to Lush and was without bike at this point) and had a relaxing Friday evening, sorting out plans for the bike filled weekend ahead...
bicycles even infiltrate my nightwear...

Getting to know the area and why L'Eroica had chosen it was on my agenda on Saturday, so the Brooks England breakfast hosted by organiser Gian Bohan was a brilliant way to do it. Held at The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, there was a chance to sample some of the local delights that would feature on the route stops, which of course included the famous Bakewell Pudding - and yes, VCG has been fully schooled on the difference between the Pudding and the Tart...
As riders in Italy get to sample food and drink on the mountainous routes featuring local cheese, meats and wines, the hilly Peak District was the perfect location to recreate the ride. With its terrain, and a classic British twist on the food, the area was a perfect match to Tuscany.

Sausage cob and a cuppa downed, I headed off with the Brooks team for a beautiful tour of Derbyshire, and then onto the Bakewell Showground for the festival. It was great to soak in the atmosphere of L'Eroica Britannia... with a chance to catch up with the Lush Ladies, drool over the pre-1987 bicycles on show, visit the stalls and film with The Cycle Show crew... there was A LOT to squeeze in!

Then came the serious business: The ride on Sunday and meeting the bicycle I'd be doing it on. As a first timer, and having never been on a road bike with gear shift levers on the down tube, I opted for the 30 mile short route... I suspected this would be enough of a challenge for me to take on...
My bike for the day was sourced by Lush from an Italian gentleman call Stefano, who gave me a speedy lesson on how to ride it, what not to do to the gears when pedalling... oh, and also pointed out the breaks on the bike were the other way round, and not to forget that. Me and my borrowed vintage steed for the day had just 20 minutes to get acquainted with one another - most certainly the fastest lesson in cycling I've ever had! 

A believer in omens, I took getting 1942 (Poppa Vélo's year of birth) as my rider number a lucky sign. With 'Vaya Con Dios' in my mind and The Loughton Brothers by my side I headed to the start line, hoping to become a Hero on the Peaks...

The short route was 25% off road, with an ascent of 2,825ft along the way... it was hot, hard and most of all fun! The Peak District was absolutely beautiful to take in on the ride  - the railway tunnels of Monsal Trail were a little slice of heaven... providing natural air conditioning on such a hot day. Refreshment and stamp stops were after 14 miles at Tideswell and then 21 miles at Eyam... the local food tasted amazing and were the fuel I needed beyond my water. The hospitality of the locals was warm, welcoming and incredibly friendly, making it apparent they were revelling in L'Eroica Britannia coming to their villages...

I've never done a bike ride like this before, and L'Eroica Britannia ranks not only one of the best cycling experiences I've ever had, but the best festival/event I've ever attended. The organisation was immaculate, and the transition from Tuscany to the Peak District worked perfectly. The ideals and values that are a huge part of L'Eroica flowed seamlessly into Britain, with those taking part holding the same passion for the event as their Italian brothers and sisters. 

I urge you, if you are thinking about doing this next year, YOU MUST! A beautiful celebration of all things vintage and cycling in the surroundings of the Peak District was bliss... I'm already looking at June 2015 in my diary and making sure I'm free should it be in the same month again. Who knows, perhaps I'll get enough training in to bump up to the 100 Mile route...

The L'Eroica Britannia feature with the The Cycle Show is up on their website - you and you can catch it right here, (anywhere in the world too - huzzah!) including footage of the festival and the Go-Pro views from my steed!


Huge thanks must go to:

9 June 2014

Bicycle Review: Series 01 by Milk Bikes...

Falling for bikes I see at the Bespoked Handmade Bicycle Show has become an occupational hazard for me, so you can guess what happened when I saw THIS by Milk Bikes on display in April! Founder Mark Meadows debuted his new Series 01 range with the 'Barra' model...

All photography by Ian James.

At first glance this was a beauty: the design, build and wooden features looked stunning and taking a closer look would reveal some subtle and lovely detailing. Already curious about this collection and how the bikes would actually ride, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to take this one out on its maiden voyage on the Tweed Run, and give it a whirl for VCG...


Milk Bikes has a unique approach to producing bicycles: all are made in batches of just 12, which is known as a SeriesThose made in a Series are named together, and the Series 01 Bikes are named after Scottish Islands, with colour schemes inspired by the geography of those isles. A first for Meadows, the idea for a step-through city bike had been in his mind for a while, so it was brilliant to see the dream brought to life. Teaming up with some of the best names in the UK bike scene, the roll-call for the Series includes Fresh Fabrications (frame building), Rebecca J Kaye (colours and graphics), Argos Racing Cycles (frame painting) and Woodguards (all wooden parts, excluding pedals) 


Mark's concept for Series 01 was for it to be "functional, easy to maintain and amazing to ride". Meadows, who started the Chelmsford based company in 2010 holds these elements as the cornerstones of Milk Bikes' design ethos.

Function: Having ridden it for the last few weeks around London for the Tweed Run and to get across town for two photoshoots, I can certainly vouch for it being functional. The Barra isn't a very large bike, something that struck me when I first saw it. In comparison to my Pashley, this looked much more nimble & I felt that when I got on to ride. The wheels are smaller than usual, which in turn keeps the bike small. Designed for city living, Barra's geometry has been scaled back to be more manoeuvrable in a busy urban environment. 

In keeping with this nimble design, the only storage facility on the Series 01 is the wooden front porter. Initially I was concerned about how secure it would be: yes, the design looks beautiful and the wood felt sturdy, but I've gotten so used to chucking stuff in a large wicker basket with high sides, this rack seemed a bit open to me. And then I used it. 


The base is lined with skateboard gripper tape, and the silicone "cat's cradle" style cords can be strategically wrapped around the valuables to keep them in the rack. Combined, the two worked together effectively keeping my bag in place... it didn't escape! Notice that bit at the back which looks like a cup holder? It IS one! Grabbing a take out coffee or tea on your travels you have somewhere to store it on this bike...


My only wish for this is some kind of rubber/plastic adaptor to make the hole a little smaller if you're not getting a large hot drink, or want to pop a bottle of water in there. If you're not planning on carrying a lot around with you while you zip through the city, you really don't need more storage space than this and you won't miss having a back rack. 

Maintenance and riding: First things first - the Belt Drive. All Milk Bikes come with the Gates Carbon Drive system, and it feels like an utter joy when you get pedalling on it. I've always cycled on bikes with traditional Chains, but this feels very different....


A belt drive is incredibly low maintenance: no lubrication is required (so no grease - I'm not afraid of a bit of dirt, but it's nice not to have to get mucky), it isn't going to rust-up, and with the teeth of the belt completely engaging into the drive system, it feels like it rides a lot smoother. Clean, quiet and direct, there was a feeling of being a bit more connected with the bike. Along with the wooden belt guard, this gets a total thumbs up from me. 

The low maintenance theme continues through the Series 01with its lights. The front and rear lights (note the rear cable is internal, and built into the mudguard) are Dynamo powered, converting pure pedal power into electricity... green and clean, I love this!


They are bolted to the bike and with no charging of batteries or having to fuss about taking them off / fixing back on, this is quite a cool "fit and forget" system.

Overall I found the Series 01 a comfortable bicycle to ride: I'm a huge fan of the traditional sit up and beg riding position, and the angle of these bars is great. The bike does have a little bit of weight to it, but the Series 01 is NOT incredibly heavy, so riding doesn't feel like a labour. A mention must go to the saddle all the bicycles in this batch comes with - the Brooks Cambium C17s. I've been intrigued by these since they launched, so it was great to finally get a chance to ride on one.

"Ready to ride" as soon as they come out of box, Brooks state these saddles need no breaking in, and are incredibly easy to look after... the vulcanised rubber is already waterproofed, protecting it against the elements and doesn't require ongoing care. Although not exactly instantaneous (perhaps I'm too used to my B66s which has moulded perfectly to the shape my bum after 4 years!), the Cambium have proven to be a comfy saddle, and I'm sure with more rides over time it gets even better. 

The 3-speed hub gearing is enough for getting around the city, and as they're Sturmley Archer gears, this again ticks the clean / easy maintenance boxes of the S:01 design.


Milk Bikes have said of their bicycles "we want more people to get out and ride - if the bikes are not comfy or useful, people won't ride them... what's the point of a bike that isn't used?"  The Series 01 is definitely a bicycle that matches that criteria and is certainly a bike that I'd be more than happy to use. The craftsmanship, aesthetic and design of the Barra / Series 01 is beautiful, and with a majority of the bikes components being handmade and assembled in the UK, that's rather special. Retailing at  £2,495 the Series doesn't come cheap, but believe me when I say you get what you pay for with Milk Bikes, along with owning an extremely unique bicycle which is a little work of art.


Many thanks to Mark Meadows for loaning VCG the Barra for review, and to Ian James for all his excellent photography for this blog post.

More details on Milk Bikes Series 01 can be found here.
Further photography by Ian James of Milk Bikes can be found here.

19 May 2014

The London Tweed Run 2014...

My favourite cycling event of the year swung around again last Saturday: the sixth annual London Tweed Run! Although VCG was there in spirit last year, I was counting down the days to taking part in the ride this time. With the temperature hitting 23 degrees, organiser Ted Young-Ing couldn’t have chosen a better day for the event… which also led to a last moment change of my planned outfit for the day. I doff my cap to those who preserved in full tweed, but I suspect I would have baked in Central London with the suit I had in mind!

… but to be perfectly honest, my cyclestyle for the day faded into the background compared to the most striking accessory I’ve ever had on a Tweed Run - the beautiful Series 1 Milk Bike I rode for the day...


I seem to have developed a habit of riding bicycles I fall in love with at Bespoked, as I first saw the bike at this years event. Milk Bikes founder and friend of VCG, Mark Meadows launched the Series 1 range with the "Barra" model in April… and it really was bike lust at first sight. A small production run of just twelve, all of the bikes are designed and handmade in the UK. With the brilliant cycling artist Rebecca J Kaye designing the colours and graphics, each one is named after the Scottish Island which also inspired their colour scheme. Being so limited and extremely unique, it was an honour to take Barra on her maiden voyage on London’s most sartorial ride - a bicycle very much in keeping with the Britishness of the Tweed Run.

Of course I wasn't going to be cycling solo - my ultimate riding partner and VCG photographer Ian James (The Boy) was by my side, with my lovely Colourbolt Ratty as his steed of choice


I must give an honourable mention to his get-up for the day, as he was certainly cutting a handsome dash! A massive thank you also goes to our friend James Greig for lending Ian the plus-fours, braces and shooting stockings for the day.

Full of frivolity as we cycled & laughed in the early morning sunshine, we headed toward the starting point Sommerset House, via Tower Gateway to meet up with good friends Jim and John Loughton, who came to London with Pippa & Neil. It's become a wonderful tradition to ride with them every year and it's always a pleasure to see them.


Arriving at Sommerset House, we were greeted with tweed and bicycles for what seemed like as far as the eye could see. The atmosphere at the starting point was that of excitement and happiness, combined with onlookers enjoying the stylish spectacle of 500 riders taking over the streets of London. While assembling for the group photo, I had a chance to catch up with friends and admire all the different outfits and bikes on show...

Official group photo courtesy of Tweed Run

All done,  it was time to hop back on the Series 1 (which I was itching to get back on again) and take our tweed army into town! Our 11 mile jaunt through the city took in iconic sights around London, and drew many spectators who came to cheer us on...


It's not a Tweed Run without a very British tea stop, and this year the purveyors of the fine brew were Good and Proper Tea... and if you recall my blog post on them recently, you'll know this made VCG very happy indeed!


Suitably tea'd up, it was once again time to saddle up, take in some more of the glorious sunshine and see more of the beautiful city... and head to Russell Square for a much needed picnic stop! It was also wonderful that en-route we crossed over with the #BigRide organised by the London Cycling Campaign, the chosen charity of the Tweed Run this year


A short ride after, we arrived at the end of the Tweed Run in Clerkenwell for a champagne reception. Courtesy of Pol Roger, we celebrated the end of a perfect day in style - and on such a hot summers day, those fizzy bubbles never tasted so good...


Every Tweed Run I have been on has been huge amounts of fun, but this one has to rank as the best one I've ever been on. A huge thank you to the Marshals who got us all safely across London and special thanks to Ian for all the VCG photography, Mark Meadows of Milk Bikes for the beautiful Barra Bike for the day (a dedicated review coming soon) and thanks to Ted Young-Ing for inviting me and The Boy to take part and for laying on a truly amazing day.


Hopefully we'll see you in 2015 for the next Tweed Run... can't wait! 


View Ian's photos from the Tweed Run on his Flickr Stream
View VCG's iphone photos on Instagram / Flickr
View VCG's videos of the day on YouTube