"Pedaling" in history - An interview with Franco Rossi

Segmento interviewed the event’s President, Franco Rossi, to find out why Eroica was born and how it turned into a global phenomenon.

They pedal along gravel tracks and up Tuscany’s steep hills not in the hope of winning a gold medal but simply for the joy—and exhaustion—of pedaling alongside others who share a passion for cycling.

Eroica was born as a vintage cycling event almost 30 years ago in the heart of Tuscany. Could you tell us what made Eroica possible?

Eroica was the brainchild of Giancarlo Brocci, who, in an article for a local magazine, proposed Chianti as the area for the creation of a bike park. After that, local institutions created the registry of strade bianche (unpaved gravel roads), and having them heritage-listed made Tuscany the envy of the world. Over time, the enormous value of that idea was understood: until then, Chianti was known throughout the world for its wine, but from that moment, the Chianti region turned into a place to visit all year round. In our case, riding bicycles is part of the value of heroic sports that bring generations together.

The words that best describe the Eroica experience are history, health, and sustainability. Let’s start with history. At the Eroica, people can only ride on old bicycles, and a date indicates how old they must be.

We chose 1987 because, in that year, the bicycle experienced a significant development: the first pedals with automatic attachment, and manufacturers began to have the brake wires in the handlebars. The bikes you are allowed to ride at Eroica are the steel-frame ones with shift levers on the down tube and brake cables that must pass outside and over the handlebars. Pedals should be with toe clips and straps; quick-release or clipless pedals are not allowed. The Eroica made it possible to recover thousands of bicycles destined for landfill: the enormous heritage value was linked, above all, to the skills of the builders, many of whom were mainly Italian—Atala, Bianchi, Colnago, Legnano, Olmo, Pinarello. Even clothing must be of classic inspiration, such as wool jerseys and bib shorts or acrylic or other materials that were used up until the late 1980s.

On the health front, those who follow the original Eroica route know that they need to train hard for months prior. However, the Eroica is accessible to all.

We guarantee that the event is enormously satisfying even for those who attempt the shortest route. Even in that case, everyone can experience, as Eroica’s motto goes, “the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest.” However, do not forget the true Eroica experience is the one with vintage bicycles, so no electric bicycles, modern bicycles or mountain bikes. Those who come to Eroica know that they must find an old bicycle and recover its history and original beauty. They also have to think about bringing a nice wool sweater. We, the organisers, bring in the magnificent Tuscan landscape and local food, accompanied by a glass of good Chianti or Brunello.

Cycling is synonymous with sustainability. Do you do anything more?

We do everything necessary to ensure sustainability. For example, we are committed to separating waste at our events, and, recently, thanks to the contribution of many volunteers, we have tried to clean the edges of the roads that are crossed during our events. We have recently also joined the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) to engage in the challenge of cutting carbon emissions by reducing our sport’s impact on the environment and promoting the benefits of more cycle use for sustainable development. Furthermore, Eroica has invested in the model of “reuse”: the bicycles are vintage, the jerseys belonged to dads or grandparents, and the strade bianche have been there for centuries.

You started from Gaiole in Chianti, 20 km from Siena, and today, you organize events all over the world. Can you tell us how that started?

The first Eroica abroad was in Japan, which celebrates its tenth edition this year. Two Japanese professors from the University of Perugia came to Gaiole in Chianti for Eroica and asked us to organize it with them. The following year, we received a request to organize an Eroica in the UK from an Italian-English man with a strong passion for cycling. From then on, the phenomenon became unstoppable, and today, Eroica is in Spain, California, and South Africa. This year, Eroica was in Cuba for the first time.

How successful is Eroica?

The original idea was extremely successful. From the original event in Gaiole, Eroica has grown into a global movement, a network of events attracting tens of thousands of cyclists and fans of all ages around the world. These vintage bicycle events are now widespread. The many values of cycling from the past are being recovered. Eroica is not a trend but a real lifestyle that knows no geographical or demographic boundaries.

Images provided by Eroica - Ph. Credits Paolo Martelli