The two-day, 110-mile bike ride has evoked sport’s golden age for 10 years

Story by Tristan Scott | Photography by Mandy Mohler
The Cino Heroica bicycle ride is like a time capsule with a pulse. For two days, it evokes a bygone era, capturing the golden age of cycling in sepia-toned relief until it’s cached away for next year, only to be reanimated by an unlikely assemblage of heroic riders in a tucked-away corner of Northwest Montana.

This year marks the 10th-annual Cino Heroica (pronounced chee-No He-ro-i-ka), a milestone that commences Sept. 10-11 when a glimmering shoal of more than 100 lithe, wool-clad, soon-to-be wine-drunk cyclists and their vintage, intricately lugged steel road bikes will embark on a two-day journey that takes them 110 miles on mostly unpaved gravel roads, from Kila to Hot Springs and back.

This is a very cino look.

This is a very cino look.

Riders who arrive at the start swaddled in lycra and straddling frames of carbon fiber and titanium alloy will be shunned as non-heroes and turned away, while those who grind out the ride on old steel-framed track bikes with European pedigrees are held in the highest esteem, and immortalized as heroes.

A heroic bike is mandatory, and must bear certain requisite characteristics – the most common heroic bikes consist of a steel frame made prior to 1987, with a fixed-gear or single-speed hub and old-style clip pedals and leather straps.

Gleaming top tubes of Reynolds steel, bearing Italian and French names like Cinelli, Colnago, Motobecane and Pinarello, are as ubiquitous as the Brooks leather saddles upon which riders alight, and while the durability of Cino bikes mean they are built to last, mechanical failures are inevitable on this rugged route.

Once riders are certified heroic, they’ll negotiate wheel-sucking potholes, endure untold flats on tubular sew-up tires, mend broken head sets with duct tape and scab together snapped cranks with whatever hardware is on hand in back of the classic GMC Suburban that serves as the event’s support vehicle.

At the lunchtime fete known as Pranza, arrangements of uncorked wine bottles strike haphazard poses beside cured meats, cheeses and other traditional fare, while curls of smoke from filter-less cigarettes mingle with the dust-choked air.

In lieu of performance gear and sweat-wicking garb, the riders wear wool jerseys, long skirts and loose-fitting trousers gathered at the calf. Sports drink is a swig of brandy, and the fellowship of anguish drives gasping riders to the crest of every prominence, while grit and pluck guide them down the breakneck descents, hands crimping white-taped handlebars.

“This ride is a celebration of the cycling days of old, when road racing in Europe meant racing on unpaved dirt roads over mountain passes, in sometimes horrific conditions,” says Reed Gregerson, the father of Cino Heroica. “The racers rode steel-framed bikes that were built as much for toughness as for speed. They drank wine and smoked Gitanes to quell their suffering. Nutrition was real food, like cheese, salami and a baguette.”

If the bike breaks—and it will—you just figure it out.

If the bike breaks—and it will—you just figure it out.

Riders spend the night in Hot Springs, marinating in the town’s slippery, mineral-rich pools to soothe their aching quads. The dinner at Alameda’s Hot Springs Resort is an elegant affair, and cyclists are encouraged to dress in formal attire – seersucker jackets, ascot ties, scarves, aviator sunglasses, and fine gowns are the standard regalia.

After dinner, race organizers dole out prizes to commemorate those riders who most typify Cino Heroica. The “White Handle Bar Tape Award” is given to the rider who most exemplifies the spirit of Cino. The “Fausto Coppi Award” goes to the most stylish rider, while the “Eddy Merckx Award” is bestowed on the first rider to arrive in Hot Springs from lunch.

The next morning, after noshing on leftover Pranza, riders depart en masse, reconciling their collective hangover with the torturous return route, a variant of the first day that involves a steep, sustained climb up a rough road.

But, true to the vim of Cino, “there are iron men that do it with a fixed gear and a prayer,” the event’s website boasts.

What is Cino?

The precise definition of “Cino” has eluded riders for a decade, but most heroes who participate in this event will experience a revelatory moment – usually while sucking dust on the roadside with a punctured tube and a tire iron in hand, or with their road-weary quads soaking in a brackish cocktail of sweat and mineral water in Hot Springs – when they divine the essence of Cino.

“Simply riding from point A to B is not very cino. Riding from point A through C on the way to B via a dirt road on a vintage bike converted to fixed gear in the rain wearing wool – that’s pretty cino,” says Reed Gregerson.

Cino is all about style. It’s about drinking a four-ounce cortado from crisp white porcelain. It’s a baguette shoved down the waistband of your cycling shorts and a bottle of wine in your jersey pocket. Cino is riding hard and dirty before cleaning up for a gastronomic orgy of meat, cheese, pasta and bread, drinking chianti from crystal goblets.

Cino also has a lot to do with bikes, so here are a few tips to make your whip as cino as possible.

Steel-lugged frames
Fixed-gear or single-speed hubs
Tubular sew-up tires
Brooks leather saddle
Non-indexed shifting
Downtube shift levers
Old-style clip pedals and straps

Not Cino
Carbon forks
Instant coffee

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