The seed for L’Eroica started 18 months ago when I wandered into BikeBug Nth Sydney, to admire the vintage bicycles hanging on the wall. The salesperson had completed L’Eroica and described how it involved sourcing a vintage cycles and how tough, yet enjoyable the whole ride was.
A L’Eroica bicycle should be steel (exceptions being 80’s Vitus or Alans aluminum), have toe clip pedals, down tube non-indexed gears and exposed cable non-quick release brakes. Components should be consistent to age- ie 50s brakes on a 50’s frame.
The L’Eroica Gaiole routes have options of length- 85km, 135km and 209km. There are many dirt sections, each 3-10km long which are about 20-25% of the total length. The roads are called “white roads” and are white gravel from the region. They are hard to ride up due to steepness and loss of traction and harder to descend due to corrugations, soft edges and ruts.
Whilst initially looking for a bike, I found an 80’s Vitus 979 for sale within walking distance. With hindsight, I probably paid too much and after some riding and adjustments it was still a bit too small. Eventually, I found a great Vitus 979 in the correct sizing and it had a bonus new Brooks leather seat, extra wheels and at a good price. It was a light bronze tube colour and had been brought from Ireland by the original migrating owner, with the second owner being gifted and never riding it. So I was the 3rd owner of a 30+ yr old bicycle and its history seemed sound. I had been a previous Vitus 979 owner, having purchased one new in the mid 80s. For a car-less year it was my only transport, and also used in my obsessive triathlons years (1985-88) , and club racing period. Unfortunately, it was stolen from my garage after seven years of ownership. It was a great bike, which suited my light build.
Meanwhile, I had done a preservative/restoration on my brother’s 1969 ‘Healing’ school bicycle for his 60th birthday. I learnt about the Australian “A.G. Healing” brand and also sourcing vintage bicycle parts. The extinction of the brand occurred in the 1970s, the result of the post WW2 boom making cars more affordable and bicycle commuting fell out of favour with Australians. The influx of Japanese frames of late 70s, wiped out mass frame manufacturing in this country.
After buying a worse-for-wear Healing frame, I set about welding the broken brake bridge, sanding off the house paint and respraying to my desired vintage paint scheme.
From the frame weight and age, it appears this frame was the constructed of Australian made Reynolds 531. A factory called “BTM” was set up in Sth Australia, as a joint venture between Stewart & Lloyds and British Reynolds company to supply tube for the bicycle industry. The BTM Decal are rarely seen.
My Healing decals were sourced from Cyclomondo in Coffs Harbour. These are excellent quality and a great addition to a vintage bicycle.
For gearing, I decided to use a Sturmey Archer internal geared planetary hub. I fondly remember my high school bicycle which was handed down from my father. It was 1948 Malvern Star with Sturmey Archer 3 Speed, and it was perfect in my small country town.
Once decided on Sturmey Archer, I started looking at availability and pricing of different model. The famous Englishman Tommy Godwin (held the highest annual mileage record for 75yrs from 1939) used both a 3 and 4 Speed SA.
With just a week before L’Eroica, I was seriously considering using my standby Vitus 979, as the S.A. gears were slipping and not capable of riding up my local steepest hills. With a lot of morning test rides, some loss of skin and amalgamating different mechanisms, I got a working Sturmey Archer FW Alloy 4 Speed.
As was the British standard till the 70s, the SA rear hub was 40 spokes , so I sourced some NOS rectangular channel anodized rims and laced my first wheel. For instructions I used a 1953 Sturmey Archer wheel building manual from their archive site.
When I ran out of time, my front wheel ended up being an early 80s 32 spoke MAVIC MA40 in anodized grey.
The brakes were Mafac Racers, popular French brakes from 60s and 70s. These were readily available and mine were NOS. The brake blocks emit a loud squeal, which is better then a bell!
The handlebars and stem were French and came with a bundle I shipped from France.
Cranks were steel cottered French Stronglight with 47tooth Williams chainring. I ordered rear sprockets from 19 to 22teeth (from SJS UK) and settled on the 22. The FW ratio are:
4th = +26.6% (equivalent 52/19)
3rd = direct (equivalent 39/18)
2nd = -21% (equivalent 39/23)
1st = -33.3% (equivalent 39/27)
The lowest gear (1st) could handle all local hill, but in reality in L’Eroica Gaiole, it was tough on the legs.
Riding a SA, the ideal setup is to have your flat road spinning gear to be the ratio for 2nd, and with the 47/22 it felt just right for flats and most hills.
My seat was a standard Brooks B17 Standard which was almost brand new- this is the default seat for L’Eroica bicycle. On the underside of the leather, I softened it with Dubbim and it was quite comfortable from first use. Opinions on Brooks saddle are split - some love them, others not quite. My school bike had a leather seat ( Australian Bell brand) that wasn’t too comfortable as it had a ridge down the centre due to uneven leather stretching- that problem pre-dated my acquisition.
Frame & Components:
Healing Reynolds 531 BTM - Serial #6040; Chromed “H” Badge.
Bottom Bracket- Bayliss Wiley- England
Headset - Branson -England
Chainring - Williams -England
Pedals - KKK Pro Aluminium - Japan
Cranks - Stronglight Competition - French
Wheels 700c Rear- 40h ; Front 32h
Brakes -Mafac Racer
Rear Hub - Sturmey Archer 1953 4-Speed FW Alloy - 40 hole.
Seat - Brooks B17 Standard
Seatpost - 26.8mm 80s Aluminium (non period)