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My L’Eroica Ride

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I’ve bought everything from cars to a table saw on craigslist. Once I find an object I want, I quickly begin the chain of back-and-forth emails with the owner, trying to extract all valuable information and then settle on a meeting place that is convenient for both parties. The final stage in this modern form of interpersonal commerce is the exchanging of money for goods with a complete stranger. While all of this seems like a complete hassle and potentially dangerous, I have had almost nothing but pleasant experiences, met really great people and ended up with great deals on items I could not otherwise afford.

Words/images: Jordan Clark Haggard

My Eroica California bike turned out to be one of my best craigslist endeavors to date. After entering the less-thanspecific description “Vintage Road Bike” in craigslist’s search function and scrolling past most listings, my eyes fixated on one title: “Vintage Pinarello, $495.” After clicking on the posting, the web page loaded to display an image of a steel road bike with a great paint fade—starting with blue at the handlebars, transitioning to green and finally settling at red on the rear dropouts. Subsequent photos reveled clean chrome details and a pantographed TTT stem boldly displaying “Pinarello.”

The bike looked great so I went on to read the details: “Vintage Pinarello road bike for sale. Columbus steel lugged frame with nice chrome. Full Shimano 600 group, includes pedals with straps and toe cages. Frame measures 57 × 57cm. No dents or cracks. As is usual for an older Pinarello, the decals are flaking off. Paint is very nice, so replacement decals would make this bike look great. This bike is completely original, as pictured in the 1985 Pinarello catalog. Tires should be replaced, but hold air. This would be a perfect bike for the L’Eroica California event. Bottom bracket and headset just serviced.”

Without hesitation I shot out an email to see if the bike was still available. The seller responded to confirm that it was. I replied: “Will you take $400 for it?” (It doesn’t hurt to ask, right?). He responded: “$450 is the minimum.” I agreed and we decided to meet the following day.

The next afternoon I was in a Starbucks parking lot in Simi Valley, a suburb nestled in the hills northwest of Los Angeles. As I pulled in, I caught sight of a man pulling the Pinarello out of the back of a station wagon. I parked and walked over.


“Here it is,” Matt said, gesturing to the bike lodged between us.

“Looks great. Where did you get this?”

“I am kind of known as a bike guy to my friends and coworkers,” he said. “Anytime someone has a question they come to me. This one belongs to a guy I work with; he asked me to sell it for him. The thing is in great condition, aside from the tires.” I looked down to see an old set of gum walls so dry-rotted they seemed to be turning to dust as we spoke. But the bike was in amazing shape. It must have hung in a garage from nearly the day it was purchased. Matt and I chatted a bit longer, I handed him the cash and we exchanged Instagram handles before parting ways.

My goal for the Pinarello was to keep with the spirit and rules of L’Eroica, but also make a bike that would be reliable and enjoyable for the long day in the saddle. A few changes were obvious: new tires, chain and cables. But having ridden lots of the roads Eroica California traverses, many of them dirt and gravel, and knowing how steep several of the climbs are, it was going to need more than that for me to have a fun time. The Pinarello boasted a less-than-friendly 42×21 on the low end of its gearing. There was no way I would make it over Cypress Mountain Road on this bike without changing the cassette.

After discussing my gearing dilemma with a friend, he said, “You gotta talk to Hrach (the owner of Velo Pasadena).”

I had been into his shop several times, and I was always awestruck by the collection of vintage bicycles hanging from the ceiling but completely unaware of the extensive catalog of vintage bikes, frames, wheels, parts, apparel and collectables housed in backrooms and other buildings. I explained my situation to Hrach and as he dug through a box of old cogs one of his mechanics walked over and handed him a sealed poly bag. The bag was old and discolored, but inside was a “new” old-stock Shimano 600 14- to 32-tooth cassette. Hrach rolled it over in his hand and then held it up to me. “That’ll work,” I responded. I spent another hour looking around the catacombs and being completely amazed at the pieces of cycling history Velo Pasadena housed.

The cassette threaded right onto the freewheel and, with the addition of an old STX mountain bike derailleur I took off my wife’s baby-seat bike, my Pinarello was far less “racy” but ready to be pedaled up 15-percent grades. In the interest of comfort, I turned to some classic offerings from Brooks. I replaced the stock saddle with a Team Professional and wrapped the handlebars with matching brown Brooks leather bar tape. For tires, I went with Clément Strada LGG in 28×700c, which met my needs to get adequate traction over mixed terrain and to have gum sidewalls for the perfect vintage nod. While I had the tires off, I replaced the worn and folded rim ribbon with fresh Velox rim tape.

My Strawfoot Road Wrap tucked comfortably under the saddle and held two spare tubes, a set of tire levers and a patch kit without any bulk. I added a set of stainless steel King cages to carry my hydration confidently without pitching a bottle while chattering down freshly grated fire roads. Up front, I strapped on a Yanco custom handlebar bag to carry extra clothes, lots of snacks, spare parts and tools—and discreetly hide my Garmin. And last, but most certainly not least, I made perfect use of the pump peg by sliding a beautiful new Silca Impero Ultimate Frame Pump under the top tube. With my bike updated and ready to conquer anything ahead, I took it out on several rides to dial it before the Eroica weekend.

At 9 a.m. I found myself at L’Eroica California’s second rest stop and when offered a tasting of the host vineyards 2013 Reserve Bordeaux, I did not hesitate. The rolling hills continued till around mile 40 when we made the turn on Cypress Mountain Road to the west of Paso Robles. This climb starts out gradually but by the top it’s exceedingly steep and even fit riders can be forced off their bikes to walk up the grade. This was what I’d prepared my Pinarello for, and so I was determined to pedal my way to the top. When the grade increased, I reached my right hand down and slid the chain onto the 32-tooth cog. While I had been a bit frustrated by the gaps in my cluster in the mile leading up to this point, it was all worth it to pedal my way past throngs of cyclists huffing their way to the summit.

After lunch we made our way to U.S. Highway 1. The next rest stop was a straight 12 miles south; and with the wind at our backs we flew. Without exchanging a word, our group of four fell into perfect formation. We fanned out across the shoulder, with each rider sitting just off the back-left corner of the rider in front of him. We each took a short pull on the front then softly rotated to the back. My steel bike with 32-hole box-section rims glided across the pavement. At speeds around 27 miles per hour it felt as if the bike was not even in contact with the tarmac. In no time, we were at the next aid station; we filled our bottles and carried on.

By about 3:30 p.m. we had ridden nearly 90 miles and covered a huge chunk of Central California real estate. With tired legs and soaring spirits we gave hugs and high fives, removed our helmets and loaded the bikes onto our respective vehicles. It was unanimous—there is something special about riding a vintage bike. They are not as feather light as modern bikes, the components do not function with the same ease and precision and geometry has progressed past their era, but there is something unquantifiable about pushing yourself to certain limits on an old machine that is truly amazing.

From issue 54. Buy it here.