By Robbie Broughton
On August 13th of this year, Luciano Berruti, died at the age of 73, doing what he enjoyed most in life – riding his bike. With his handlebar moustache, sparkling eyes, and cheeky grin, he will be best remembered as the ‘face’ of Eroica, the vintage cycling festival that began in Gaiole in Chianti but has now spread to all four corners of the globe, from Uruguay to Japan.
Luciano was an avid collector of all things to do with the bicycle and he turned his collection of bikes and memorabilia into a museum in 2010 in the small Italian town of Cosseria.
Speaking to documentary filmmaker Marco Rimondi he explained how he became obsessed with cycling back in 1954 when his teacher took him to watch the Giro d’Italia which was passing through. “All the multi coloured shirts and those cyclists left a strong impression on me.”
So began a love affair with the bike and he began to avidly collect old frames, jerseys, bike parts, posters and publications that told the history of the bike. As Luciano said, “We must take care of the past to look at the future.”
His favourite bike was a Peugeot from 1907 that he picked up from an old iron seller. “This is absolutely my favourite bike, I could say it is my bike. It allowed me to do difficult ascents that, with other bikes, I could not do.”
When Giancarlo Brocci had the idea of starting a vintage bike festival and ride on the gravel roads of Tuscany, the Strade Bianche, Luciano seemed to represent the very spirit of what L’Eroica (‘heroic’) was all about.
“I wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to use vintage bicycles as modern ones…When I arrived there everybody was baffled by the kind of bike I brought. However I thought that if once people did it, I could do it now.”
That first L’Eroica saw shocking weather. The rain lashed down and “the roads were full of water, dirt and gravel. The chain was creaking. I feared everything would break as it happened to cyclists in the past. Almost everybody crossed the finishing line but at the last hairpin I fell in a vineyard, I was completely covered in dirt, I got up and I continued my tour.”
His son, Jacek, remembers how, “My father appeared. Everybody applauded him and admired him for his courage, strength and determination in concluding the tour with that vehicle and on those roads.”
Luciano’s philosophy was that, “Nothing is impossible. You are with yourself and you know you must do it. I have always thought I could do it.” It was an attitude and outlook that Brocci described as, “the perfect embodiment of what I tried to instil with L’Eroica.”
From then on, Luciano and his ancient bike personified the values and spirit of L”Eroica and he was the most photographed and feted participant in these vintage rides in whatever part of the world they were held. In June of this year at Eroica Britannia in Derbyshire, he was the most popular celebrity there as he cheekily stole kisses off the winner of the ‘Best Dressed woman’, inspected bikes, admired outfits, chatted away in his rapid fire and incomprehensible Italian and, of course, rode his beloved bike. Absolutely fizzing with energy and life, it was a shock to hear, only two months later, of his death.
Luciano once said, “Maybe I was born in the wrong time. I was supposed to be born some time ago. Anyway I found in Eroica what I love most. It allowed me to express myself,” and seeing him at these events you could sense that he was absolutely in his element.
It’s a testament to the little man from a sleepy town in northern Italy that his obituary appeared in The Times this week. But for those who knew him and met him, it seems that many are still in a state of shock and sadness.
As Giancarlo Brocci said shortly after he died, “We truly loved each other like brothers. A less sad moment to write about this great man will come. There was no better person than him to represent the values of L’Eroica. Number 1 forever.”
Marco Rimondi is currently raising funds for a film of Luciano Berruti’s life through triboom. You can see a preview and contribute here.