Sean Estes Part II
What was the first road bike you ever owned, and did it even have downtube shifters and toe clips?
My very first drop bar bike was a Kona Major Jake. People don’t necessarily think of Kona when they think of road bikes, but I was working in a mountain bike-focused shop at the time, so a cross bike was the perfect “road” bike for me. It had a scandium frame and a cool cheddar cheese-colored paint job. I cut my teeth on the road with that bike – made a lot of memories that will be with me forever. I also rode the technical MTB trails in the Santa Barbara front range on that bike, another unforgettable experience.
As a road and cyclocross racer, what made you decide to do a non-competitive event such as Eroica California last year?
Mike Sinyard was really fired up on the event and pulled a group of us here at Specialized to go and ride Eroica together. Sadly, Mike came down with a nasty bug days prior and wasn’t able to make it, however Chuck Teixeira, Jim Merz, Rita Jett and a bunch of us still went down and had such a great time.
Did you buy a vintage bike just for the event?
I looked into buying a bike but ended up having the opportunity to ride one of Chuck Teixeira’s old race bikes – a 1978 Colnago Mexico. I think it’s so cool that Chuck raced that bike in the year I was born and no one else has ever ridden that bike since but Chuck, and now me. What a phenomenal bike and what a privilege! Chuck is a big believer in the old adage “ride your sh%t” – bikes are meant to be ridden. Nothing lasts forever, enjoy them as much as you can.
Was it a difficult learning curve going from an ultra-high-end carbon race bike to a bike that’s decades old?
Not at all! Sure it took some time, but I enjoyed the challenge so it didn’t seem hard in that sense. In fact, since I hadn't really ridden toe clips nor used friction downtube shifters, it was really fun to experience those things and learn the techniques. I’m sure it helped to have a legend like Chuck to guide me along the way. When he showed me how to shift with your knee when launching an attack, my mind just about exploded. That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen done on a bicycle and gave me such a deep appreciation for the level of talent the riders from that time had.
What is your bike du jour this time around?
As fate would have it, a friend reached out completely randomly to ask me if I knew anyone who would be interested in a good condition used 1986 Allez SE Jim Merz edition. It just happened to be my size and the price was right so I didn’t hesitate. I’m in the process of restoring the bike to stock and getting it ready for April and I can’t wait. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Jim Merz pretty well over the past few years, so it’s really an honor to ride this amazing bike, which he designed. Jim’s bikes are known for being some of the best riding bikes ever made. This particular model also represents the last year which steel Allez were made in Japan, so that’s kind of cool, too, given the prestige of Japanese frame builders.
Is there any advice you can give to an Eroica first-timer that you wish you would have known last year?
Don’t go to Eroica unless you like to have fun! But seriously, I would just say don’t worry about getting a super nice bike, just find something that fits the bill and ride the darn thing. Other than that, I would highly recommend fitting a rear cluster with a nice low gear – 24-tooth or larger. A lot of those old bikes came stock with brutal corn cob clusters. You can score a decent freewheel for a lot less than the price of double knee surgery. Oh, and don’t forget to loosen your toe straps before you come to a stop!
How does Eroica California differ from the other events/races you enjoy doing?
The magic of Eroica is that it’s not like any other cycling event. At first blush, it would be easy to dismiss Eroica as overly nostalgic and not necessarily practical. Think of that hipster barista dude making individually prepared pour-overs, looking like he walked out of a black & white photo from the turn of the century, complete with waxed moustache, leather suspenders, perfectly-worn in denim head-to-toe and enough pomade in his perfectly sculpted hair to thoroughly wax the chain of every rider in the Tour de France peloton. Seems like a lot of work for no particular reason other than nostalgia, right? I mean, whatever floats your boat, but that level of effort is not for everyone.
The thing about Eroica, though, is that, for me anyway, I had no idea what I was missing until I experienced it for myself. As a guy who’s first road bike had clipless pedals and STI shifting, I gained so much respect for not only the riders from generations before me, but also for the builders of that era. We’re so heavily indoctrinated with marketing hyperbole about the latest innovations – carbon fiber this and that, lighter, stiffer, faster, etc. – that we dismiss these old bikes as relics, not good for much beyond looking at in a museum. Truth is, those old bikes ride incredibly well and in some ways rival or even exceed the experience one can have on the latest and greatest machines money can buy. That was an eye-opener for me.
Without events like Eroica, I’m afraid the history of our beautiful sport could become lost forever. So, like the hipster coffee guy, Eroica is not for everyone, but for those who Eroica is for, it’s priceless and irreplaceable. And, while few desire to be that hipster guy making you that fancy cup of coffee, many more will enjoy the end result of what he so carefully and lovingly crafts.