I was back again this year to attend one of my favorite cycling events, Eroica California. This year the event shifted to a new venue on the coast in the little town of Cambria California. For those of you not familiar with the Eroica concept it is a gathering of vintage cycling enthusiasts who then ride their classic bikes on a challenging mixed surface route. It is the original gravel grinder type of event!

Beginning last year Eroica added a new category to the event, Nova Eroica. This Saturday class extends the opportunity for riders with modern bikes and equipment to participate on the medium coastal route. With the increasing popularity of gravel riding events this new category was sold out at it’s 200 rider limit. Perhaps in the future this Saturday will become even more popular!

Because of this added category a new opportunity was presented to me. That is to support the Saturday event on my motorcycle and then ride the vintage event on Sunday. Last year I became certified as a USA Cycling Motoref, and along with my fellow Motoref Craig we rode along with the riders on Saturday.

Craig (L) and I at the start of the Saturday Nova ride, Giancarlo in the background.

I have supported the event previously on a vintage moto, but a modern GS bike is a better choice for this mixed surface route. The Nova riders do an 82 mile route with about 6500 feet of climbing which is about half dirt road. The grades are steep, over 20% in many instances but the roads are generally good.

The Saturday ride went well and it was a fun day to be out on the moto. There were only a couple of minor mechanicals to attend to and the weather was great! These Nova riders were a fast bunch and we were back in Cambria just after noon. That left time for a run up the coast on the motos. Since Hwy 1 had only recently reopened from a long term closure due to a landslide we jumped on the opportunity!

On Sunday we joined the ride up the coast to the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. This is the first time that I have ridden the short route at an Eroica event but since I have not been on the bike much this year it was the right choice. We left directly from our hotel and headed up the coast, slightly ahead of the main group. It is an easy spin up the coast and it was a wonderful morning to ride. The grounds of the lighthouse are beautiful and for a few minutes it was peaceful and quite. This short route seemed to have the largest group of riders and as they rode into the grounds the area was soon overwhelmed. There was a canopy and a food table but the event was short of other needed facilities. There was not enough food or water and there were no bike racks! As hundreds of riders arrived they found very little support available to them. Volunteers from the lighthouse tried to keep riders from trampling the grounds but it was beyond their control and they soon got grumpy with everybody they contacted. These oversights by the event were inexplicable, consisting of the most basic needs of a cycling group. In my opinion it reflected badly on the event, both to the cyclists and the community. Also, someone is going to have some “splaining” to do to make amends with the lighthouse crew!

After watching the situation deteriorate we soon left and headed back to Cambria. There were a number of riders having already arrived at the finish when I got there. There was however no staff to greet them! Many of the services for the returning riders were still being set up and I got the impression that tending to the arriving riders was an after-thought or perhaps not considered at all. It was pretty disappointing and I left, going back to my hotel for a shower.

I have enjoyed the many venues of Eroica in which I have been able to participate. The support has always been pretty good, especially at Eroica California. This year however was a different story! This was clearly the most insufficient of the eight Eroica’s that I have attended. Without a significant course correction I fear for the future of the event!

Even successful events are not guaranteed to be well executed each time. What has happened at EC this year to cause this diminished result is unclear but there are some possible clues. Plausible factors in the decline of this years event are as follows:

  • The venue change has obviously created some unexpected challenges.
  • A change in local management personnel left many needs unaddressed.
  • A change in ownership of the franchise seems to have shifted the emphasis towards greater monetization and away from rider experience.
  • Misplaced priorities, where drone videos seemed more important the serving the riders needs.
  • California is an ever more difficult location to hold large cycling events. This will likely get worse each year.

Will I return to Eroica California? It is hard to say. I may give them a year or two to try and sort out the issues. I would not be willing to pay full fare for what the event offered this year. The scaled down festivities and lack of vendors at the venue was also disappointing. I hope the event can turn things around and give a better experience for the participants next year.

Here is another view of the event from a participants blog, the Radavist.