I’ve planned before and never got there, I’ve bought a ticket before and never got there, but this year I actually did get there. Karen and I booked up, bought tickets, sorted parking, arranged an Airbnb nearby in Buxton, packed the van and headed out on the three hour trip from Newcastle to Eroica Britannia.
You can visit forums or browse your Facebook and Twitter feeds and read lots of reports about this event with some people loving it and some having a slightly different opinion. I went with an open mind and wanted to find out what it was all about. My era of bike is definately the decades of the 70s, 80s and 90s but knew that those years would only be a small percentage of what was on show at this three day festival weekend.
The weather for the weekend was forecast to be bad, especially Saturday which was the middle of the three day festival, and more importantly, it was also show day. We turned up on an overcast Friday afternoon and were quickly directed to a parking space, and after a short walk through the entrance, we entered the main field.
There weren’t too many people around but there was lots of activity with bags and tents and bikes being wheeled around the site. With a whole section devoted to food and drink people weren’t going to go hungry.
The site was full of show rides and a whole mix of bikes, parts, clothing, crafts and services with lots of space to sit down, meet up and socialise. The bike jumble was probably the busiest with a good amount of people mingling around the stalls.
The Friday was all about walking around, chilling and checking out what the event was all about. The weather was thankfully ok.
Saturday was show day and it was raining, and raining quite heavily when we set off!
When Karen heard that I was booked to come to Eroica Britannia, and that there was a best in show competition, she insisted that I entered. I wasn’t planning on entering as I don’t really do shows, I like to talk about my bikes and blog about them but the thought of showing them for prizes has never really crossed my mind or appealed in any way.
Karen was very insistent so I gave in and entered three bikes, two in best preserved up to 1987 and one in best restored. I eventually buckled to the pressure and thought it would be good to get some of my bikes out and have them seen and appreciated by like minded people.
There were so many bikes entered with rows and rows of them taking up the entire best in show arena. A lot of people came to see this event and it was the best place to meet up and chat to friends or just anyone taking an interest in the bikes. The interest in my bikes took me by surprise and there was a steady stream of folk stopping and chatting and taking photos.
The judging process was a bit of a mystery and it still is because I’ve never ‘showed’ before.
Just what exactly does ‘Best Preserved’ mean? What is the judge’s expectation and differentiation between preserving and restoring? How far do they allow preservation to go before it steps over the boundary into restoration. Are the judges looking for detail and correctness or is everything simply a show and shine event where the bike with the most polished hubs will win?
The first of my two bikes was SB6827 which is a 100% original bike from 1984 with all original parts and in perfectly preserved and unridden condition. The second bike was SB6398 which is in almost perfect preserved condition with only a few perishable consumables replaced – tyres, lever hoods and bar tape.
Without knowing anything of the judging process, I presented both bikes using my opinion of what preserved is. I don’t like to polish up parts that are meant to have a milky, matt or dull factory appearance. If toe clips are scratched through use then I don’t polish out those marks, if rims have braking marks then that is just normal for a used bike.
The judges appear next to each bike but don’t ask any questions and don’t appear to take note of anything you might say as they don’t acknowledge you. Sadly these two bikes didn’t get through to the finals.
One of the best parts for me was seeing the interest in my bikes, the Denton/Raleigh 753R was so well received and sparked a few people to reminisce about the old shop in Newcastle and the shirts and caps they still have. Even when it was stood in the corner and out of the limelight it still had so much interest. The red 531c SBDU was a bit of a WOW factor because it was unridden.
The best part though was talking to other festival goers and show entrants who knew about the blog. Talking to a stranger who already knows your name is rather strange but also good! And that is what made it for me, it wasn’t about the prizes or the accolades, it was about getting the bikes seen and meeting people with the same interests, and in my case, meeting people who knew me and my bikes via my blog.
Next up in the show area was Best Restored. I entered SB4059 even though just five days earlier it was stripped down to a frame with no paint on the top tube!
After a lot of work during the week leading up to Eroica it looked like this… a beautifully restored example of a TI-Raleigh Team Pro 753. A bike with an excellent repaint and 90% New Old Stock (NOS) parts with exact detailing and conformance to original TI-Raleigh team specification. Whatever wasn’t NOS was in mint, as new condition.
As with the best preserved judging criteria, what is the judge’s thought process and thinking about the term ‘Restored’, what are they looking for? Does restored mean taking a complete and original bike and restoring all the original parts and frame back to a previous good state? As my bike isn’t based on an original and complete bike does that make it a Renovation because I’ve used parts that were not originally on it from new?
It took a long time for the judges to get around all the bikes in the previous Best Preserved round and I think they were playing catch up to gain some lost time back. When it came to the Best Restored event the judges got to me and were there and gone in a matter of seconds. A twist of the pedal, a look at the rear derailleur and a run of the finger across the paintwork, no questions asked, some nods of heads and scribbling on a notepad. Even after that quick glance and appraisal, it did better than my other two and got a place in the Best Restored Finals. I must admit to a touch of pride when my name was called and I went up to collect my sticker.
The finals were due later in the day on the main stage but there was still plenty going on in the Best in Show arena. Best Dressed Rider, Best Dressed Family, Best Dressed Gal/Guy and Best Dressed Dog!
I put the other two bikes back in the van and kept SB4059 with me for the rest of the afternoon. It attracted so much attention wherever I left it standing. Everyone that Karen and I sat or stood next too were happy to chat and talk bikes, the atmosphere of the whole festival was excellent.
Just before we headed over to the stage for the finals, we were chatting to three guys who were all interested in the bike, just three random strangers walking past who wanted to stop and talk, all because of the bike; that sums up a lot about what this festival is about. We all had a great chat about time trialling, carbon bikes, snapped frames, engineering and even photography. It later turned out that the son of one of these already knew about the bike and the blog; it sometimes feels like a small world, six degrees of separation…
The weather was turning and the black clouds were gathering as I stood chatting at the side of the stage. Thankfully the rain was helping to clean my tyres. I really have to thank Karen who wanted to bring a camera and take a few images for me. It was getting cold with the breeze and the rain was so heavy it was nearly bouncing off the ground, but she didn’t mind at all and stood clutching the brolly under her arm while holding the camera in her hands.
The two Best Preserved classes were judged first.
And then it was the turn for Best Restored. By the time we walked onto stage everything and everyone was drenched. There was no further judging between the finalist’s bikes, so whatever thoughts were captured by the judges in the best in show rounds were used to decide the winner. SB4059 didn’t win but the whole experience was brilliant.
We weren’t planning on staying for the full three days so I wasn’t around to take any images of the Sunday, which was ride day. Maybe next year we’ll stay till the end to get a better and more complete impression of the event.
From what I did experience of the festival after attending for just a day and a half, I would say it was packed with people loving the feeling of being in the company of like minded people who were there for the enjoyment of this era of bike. Whether they were there to take part in the best in show events, just meeting up with friends, displaying, riding or maybe out for the day with the kids, everyone seemed to be enjoying the time and were there because they had some connection to the era.
I guess any event has it’s haters no matter what it is, someone somewhere will have a negative opinion and they like others to hear it; you can’t please all the people all the time. They may think Eroica Britannia is different to other vintage bike gatherings across the world, maybe thinking it is too commercialised, too expensive and too focused on pushing sales rather than keeping the spotlight firmly on the bikes. These are all things I’ve heard over the last few years so I’m glad I eventually got to attend and form my own opinion. We’ll definately be back!