Riding Eroica California
By Cody Stevenson
"Hey Bill, want to ride old steel bikes in Paso Robles at Eroica California?"
That's all we needed to hatch a plan and pull out the trusty steeds. Bill Holland would be riding a bike that he built back in 1986 and has been kept in pristine condition, along with its Joe Bell paint job, by its original owner, Gary Forseth. I would be riding a somewhat unique bike. Not unique by the fact of its steel lugged construction, or the 1983 Campagnolo Record group, or the leather stitched bar wrap, but more by the story behind it.
My bicycle was left to me four years ago by San Diego cycling legend Gordy Shields, after he passed away at 94 years young. When I was notified of his bequest, "Cody from Holland Cycles, gets the blue bike" ,I went and picked it up. When I loaded it into my truck it was still attached/rusted to the indoor trainer and it had a mixed match of components. I took it to work and put it out the back, in Joe Bell's paint area. When Joe arrived for work he came to the front and asked me what the blue rust bucket was doing in his workshop. We went out to where the bike was and I explained that it had been left to me by Gordy Shields. JB mentioned, "I painted a bike for Gordy way back", then Rob Roberson, who was in the workshop piped up and said, "Yeah and I built a bike for Gordy way back". Could it be? There was a moment of silence. We got a rag and wiped off the head tube, there was a Roberson head badge. We wiped off the left chain stay, there was a JB Paint logo. We took the seatpost out. Inside were three business cards: Gordy Shields, Joe Bell, Rob Roberson all dated 1983.
That was enough for Rob to begin pulling the bike down to a bare frame, fix up the rust, the cable guides and remove the paint. Once the frame was repainted we put a NOS Campy Record group from 1983 on it to be period correct. It was placed in my living room as a piece of art.
In all the years I had the bike, I had never ridden it. Until one week before Eroica. Can I do 90 miles on a Turbo saddle, again? Do these brakes even work? Is a 42 tooth inner ring really what used to be the norm? Six cogs in the back, really? To my surprise it was great, smooth, and looked the goods in the sunshine! I was ready.
Photo: Cody's bike, left to him by cycling legend Gordy Shields, restored by Rob Roberson and Joe Bell
After arriving in Paso Robles we went to the Festival and checked out the Concours. It was a really relaxed vibe and lots of chit chat. I'm sure most conversations began with, "Do you remember when..."
Photo: The Concours
On Saturday evening I went to the Eroica dinner with a few friends and enjoyed the great food prepared by Michelin star chef Vincenzo Guarino who traveled in from Tuscany. It was a good night with lots of laughs.
Photo: Eroica Dinner
Sunday morning started with 6am coffee and breakfast then down to the start. Oh, it's cold. 7:30am, the Coastal Route riders depart. I'm shivering. It's still cold. We cruise the first section as a big group. I'm riding beside Bill Holland and a guy rides up beside us. "Wow, is that a Joe Bell flame paint job on that Holland?" Bill answers, "Yep, that's the one". I say outloud, "Wouldn't it be wild if Bill Holland was actually riding a bike he built 30+ years ago?" The guy responds, "That's an awesome Joe Bell paint job" and rides off. Bill and I laughed.
At the first rest stop in Halter Ranch we fill bottles and ride out through a wonderful covered bridge. At this point we have connected with the guys from The Pro’s Closet, a group of good guys that I used to race with, Justin England, Sean and Ryan Sullivan and Lucas Euser, amongst others.
Photo: Halter Ranch
As we hit the first dirt section I notice the winter rains in California have produced beautiful and lush surroundings. There is a nice canopy of trees and a few creek crossings. The dirt also has perfect traction and the steel steed is rolling over every bump, rut and divot as if they are not present. We begin to climb, up and up, steeper and steeper, we are on Cypress Mountain Road and I'm struggling. My mind is full of 42x28, toe clips, how on earth did the "real men" ever do this. Stay in the seat, I need the traction and out of the saddle, it's 18%. A constant back and forth is happening in my mind, all at 30 rpms. The top give us a breathtaking view. That wasn't so bad. We re-group and descend to the next rest stop and I am reminded of how much power is lacking from my brakes, but still the bike is performing admirably, soaking up the bumps and cornering like my 2017 Holland Carbon.
Photo: Cypress Mountain Road
After the rest stop at Linn’s Fruit Bin, adorned with burritos and mac and cheese (no weight loss or hunger flat at this event) we headed down the coast from Cambria, through my favorite town, Harmony, and on to Cayucos. I have ridden this stretch on numerous occasions and the tailwind is ever present, today it did not disappoint. Going 30mph, 52x13 in the drops of my old school Cinelli bars I kind of felt like Roger De Vlaeminck, minus the Brooklyn jersey, for a split second.
After a real Coca Cola and some entertainment from some wool/lycra clad riders playing hacky sack on the pier at Cayucos, it was off to the final part of the ride. We left the Pro’s Closet guys and our reduced group set out to tackle Santa Rita Road, a beautiful dirt climb with a steady, but manageable grade, up over the range before plummeting back down to Templeton and on to the finish in Paso Robles. On the climb, the foliage and scenery was just gorgeous. So green and full of life, it was a pleasure to climb and seemingly it took you away from your thoughts and the fast pace that can be California living. Just an old steel bike, a 42 tooth, your breathing and a clear mind. At that moment, nothing else mattered. Once at the top, we were once again treated to magic views of the Pacific ocean. For the remainder of the ride we laughed and played racing games on the dirt section into the head wind. Attacking each other, hitting over the top when someone mis-shifts, using the downhills to launch and generally just enjoying riding our bikes.
Photo: Santa Rosa Road
Once at the finish in the center of Paso Robles, we rolled under the finish banner and thanked each other for a wonderful ride. No egos, just a great bike ride, on a great route, with great people. We just happened to be doing it on old steel bikes with downtube shifters. Ultimately, I believe that this is what Eroica California is all about. I think the older bikes are just a medium to make it happen. There are no power meters. Nobody is going to set any Strava records and be wearing skinsuits and using aero wheels on the ride, so all of that is taken away and your reward is to enjoy a great ride.
As Bill and I loaded our bikes into his Tesla and headed south, back to San Diego, we chatted about the great weekend we experienced, the terrain, the riding, the atmosphere and the simplicity. I must admit I had a chuckle to myself when we had to stop and wait, 45 minutes from home, to charge the car. We had just ridden simple, steel, toe strap-equipped bicycles built 30+ years ago, without an issue, not a ruffle of a feather and here we are, at 11:30pm charging an electric car in a Chase bank carpark...45 minutes from home. Technology. Simplicity. The irony.
Steel is real.
For more information on Eroica California, please visit: eroicacalifornia.com
Cody and his fully restored bike, left to him by cycling legend Gordy Shields, and restored by Rob Roberson and Joe Bell