VIDEO: Bianchi L'Eroica Review - Why Buy a New Old Bike?
May 2nd, 2017
May 2nd, 2017
Anna is a jack-of-all-bikes, and has been riding and racing in a myriad of genres for over seven years; from World Cup level cross-country, to grass roots coaching kids on the road.
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This was always going to be a tough review. Do I review it as a new bike, or do I compare it to the vintage original in the pre-87 steel Specialissma? I'm not sure I can do either, to be honest, least of all because I'm sure I'll get linched by Bianchi fans and Eroica fans alike for different reasons. So let's start with why this bike has come about.
The History of History
It's a funny old world we live in, where vintage bikes become so popular that new versions are made of them. There's a little poetic irony in there I'm sure. Bianchi have a whole lot of history in the road racing world, obviously, given they are the oldest bicycle manufacturer on the planet. That means that they started out with handmade steel bikes that eventually evolved into the carbon road racing machines we see today, and their time included a long heritage in the glory days of pre-90s spectacles like the Tour de France with thanks to winning legends like Fausto Coppi, and Marco Pantana, who was still competing on an aluminium bike in the late nineties against the likes of Lance Armstrong on a carbon bike. Fast forward to 1997 when Giancarlo Brocci decided we were in danger of forgetting "the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of the conquest", when energy drink was tea, beer and champagne, and your main source of carbs was from cake and pastries. And so L'Eroica was born, to celebrate the history of our sport. It is effectively a non-competitive audax where riders can complete up to 100miles of glorious Italian countryside and tuck into proper feed stations, with wine and real food, like they did in the good old days, and all astride pre-87 bikes and in full vintage (or vintage-like) cycling kit. What started as a small event of 90-odd riders became a global phenomenon. Thousands of riders (or "seekers of feelings and emotions" says Giancarlo) now flock to Italy for L'Eroica each year to ride back in time. Now there a many more springing up in other countries, like California and Eroica Britannia in England. Eroica is now a firm term in cycling vocab to be used to describe a pre-87 cycling artefact. Post-production bikes are allowed to enter providing they adhere to certain rules, most noteably; externally routed brake cables, toe-clip pedals and down-tube shifters (assuming you have any, or your bike isn't based on something far older and more unusual). And so was born 'eroica' post production bikes; new old bikes like the Bianchi L'Eroica.
The Bianchi L'Eroica
Riding around my local town is no speedy endeavour, but that's not why you own a bike like this. Yes, it'll cost you about the same as one of Bianchi's modern carbon road bike, but let's be frank, you wouldn't be buying this as your only bike. It is a thing of beauty, glistening in the sun with super-polished chrome-plated Columbus Zona peeping through the signature Celeste paint. The steel tubes are lugged and welded by hand in Italy, something that required a fair bit of research and trial and error to do with modern tubing. The big difference from it's pre-87 Specialissma vintage equivalent, aside from being spanking new, is the 20-speed Campagnolo Veloce gearing. This increase in gears may get some vintage die-hards twitching, but it's fully Eroica approved, and it's certainly a breath of fresh air out on proper long rides thanks to a 13-29T cassette and a hill-friendly 48/36T crankset. I've completed the Eroica Britannia 100 mile ride on a genuine vintage bike, and it's safe to say that there's a lot less red mist descending on Mam Tor aboard the Bianchi L'Eroica. The Bianchi L'Eroica has all the zing of a good steel bike with beautifully functioning (and gleaming) components dripping off of it, including a Campagnolo rear derailleur and a three bolt aluminium crankset that comes in 170mm for all, except the 50cm, which is blessed with an appropriately proportioned 165mm arm length. You can choose from extra-classic tubular wheels and tyres, or go with the Ambrosio clinchers like I did for ease of repairs on the go. Either way they'll be laced with appropriately Italian Vittoria tyres with classic-look cream sidewalls. The Brooks Team Pro Classic saddle is a elegant modern addition that wouldn't be out of place on a real vintage masterpiece, and it comes with all the workings to soak it and perfectly mould it to your buttocks. The frame also comes in good old-fashioned 2cm sizing increments from 50-63cm.
I love what the Eroica events are doing; not only are they making vintage bikes desirable again, thus preserving our sport's heritage, but they're preserving a way of racing that may have been long forgotten after a couple of generations. It's glorious to watch events like the Tour de France in the Eroica period, when riders would wear woollen tops, casquette caps and beast each other on sturdy steel bikes up monumental mountain climbs looking as dapper as they would at an Italian cocktail bar. It's another thing altogether to be able to re-live that feeling for ourselves and really appreciate what they went through. And that's what the events, and this bike are all about really; it's not being geeky and pretentious about vintage mechanics or a manufacturing process of a time gone by, it's about getting into the spirit of a style of racing that is seemingly far-removed from what we have now. It's a handsome sort of riding where pastries were as important as the climbs and style was as abundant as the passion. Long live Eroica events, and bikes like the Bianchi L'Eroica, for keeping the spirit of those legends and their endurances alive. It may be a new bike, but the smile it creates is as old as the sport itself.