I’m 20 miles into the first day of the Cino Heroica, grinding along the dusty dirt and gravel back-roads of Montana on my 1983 Bianchi, when I see a cluster of bikes and riders gathered in an opening. Ah, a rest stop. And what am I to be offered at this break? Oreos and Gatorade, you think? No, for this is no regular bike race. Try bacon, cooked up on the spot on a Coleman stove. And Pabst Blue Ribbon. Now that’s Cino!
That was the oft-repeated catch-phrase of our terrific weekend at this gem of a cycling event. Come across something vintage, something Italian, something classy, something heroic, something weird, and that simple phrase summed it up. A woman in high-heeled boots pedaling an old Supercycle along a dirt road? That’s Cino. A leather hairnet helmet floating in the blue waters of a port-a-potty? That’s Cino too. Your bicycle getting stomped on by a free-range sheep that thinks it’s a dog? That’s very Cino. A dude in a seersucker suit, white shoes and belt, and wig at dinner? That’s sooo Cino.
What does Cino actually mean? I’ll leave that up to you to figure out. But I will tell you there are a few essential components that make the Cino Cino:
The heroic roads. Most of the route is on dirt and gravel through remote forest, mountain, and valley. It’s my kind of terrain, but I was surprised by just how rough some parts of the route were—sections of flinty rock-shelved gravel and rutted dirt roads studded with little boulders. For long sections I found I couldn’t really take in the scenery because I was focused on picking a line in the road ahead. Even then, I still had four flats on the first day (though, to be fair, one was self-inflicted, if accidental, the result of a screwed up installation on my part). Riding on skinny tires on these roads is a little crazy, but hey, that’s Cino.
The heroic bicycles. I’m no bike fetishist, but I did get a kick out of checking out all the vintage bikes and gear: old Schwinns, Eddy Merckxs, Peugots, Cinellis, and Bianchis; Brooks saddles, leather satchels, frame pumps, and handlebar water-bottle holders. Some were beauties, like the old wooden-rimmed racer with funky forks and a front derailleur activated by reaching down the seat tube and pulling a lever. Or the vintage Carlton with integrated rear rack. My faves were the obscure and strange machines, ones named after Italian racers I’ve never heard of or the ones with DIY paint jobs and epic biographies.
The Pranza. This was, for me, the highlight of the weekend. Pranza is Italian for big-ass potluck picnic. The organizers coordinate the menu and then set out the food and drink on tables under tents in a field half way through each day’s ride. Imagine a stunning array of tastefully displayed Italian meats, cheeses, breads, salads, fruit, nuts, condiments, tiramisu, Italian chocolate, wine, beer, and sparkling beverages. Such civilized fare in the middle of the wilds—it was decadent.
The Hot Springs party. Saturday night the Cino shook up the dusty little town of Hot Springs, MT. At one time, back in the 30’s, it was a major resort. Alas, those glory days are long gone; nothing’s been spruced up in Hot Springs since about 1974. One hotel and one motel remain, and dusty, wool-clad cyclists filled them both for one night. We dug into a feast at outdoor tables, took the waters, clapped for Cino awards. Hardcore Cino-ists then visited the local bar, looking to carouse. The feature band was “Out on Bail.” As one Cino veteran told us, “If you go to the bar on Saturday night, the riding is WAY harder on Sunday. Just so you know.”
The suffering. Hungover or not, you’re in for pain on Sunday. The route is shorter (50 miles vs. Saturday’s 60) but includes nine-mile hill—a bugger of a climb up a gravel mountain road. At breakfast, a fellow rider told us, “You’ll need your granny gear for that one.” I looked to Val, who’s riding a fixed gear (!) and reminded him that his granny gear is actually getting off his bike and walking. As promised, the climb was a killer. Val suffered with single-speed dignity, until his bike broke. I could barely grab my water bottle, for fear of falling over. Yes, it’s hard, but that’s what makes it heroic.
The heroes. The Cino is a tribute to the stylish legends of yore, such as Fausto Coppi and Hugo Koblet, who were champions and acted and dressed like it. Many of today’s Cino riders make an effort to at least look the heroic part, donning wool jerseys, aviator goggles and the like. Some even go for the superhero schtick: I saw Wonder Woman, Dr. Tweed, Mega Beard, Mr. Tubular, and the mysterious Banjoist.
The vibe. The Cino’s got a cool groove. It’s not a really a race; it’s more of a tribute ride and a wink-wink exercise in nostalgia, a chance for cyclists to buck the trends—at least for a weekend—that drive so much of cycling today, with its carbon fiber, Rapha, disc brakes, gel packs, and recovery drinks. Sure, there’s a fair bit of romanticizing the past, but so what? The weekend is about like-minded cyclists celebrating the simple joys of riding a bike and eating and drinking and suffering and laughing. That’s Cino.