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How to Ride the Cobbles

With the cobbled classics upon us and the biggest of the cobbled classics, Flanders and Roubaix, right around the corner there seems no other more appropriate time to provide tips on riding the rough stuff.

Do your research before and know what’s coming. Knowing the length of the cobbled section and the severity of the cobbles can make a big difference. Watch Paris-Roubaix and you’ll see each section categorised based on these facts. Likewise, when it comes to cobbled bergs/hills like those you’ll find in Flanders, knowing the gradient that those cobbles are on will make a big difference for planning and preparation. A weather check also comes into play here as wet cobbles, especially if on a 20%+ berg in Flanders are an added challenge.

If you know you are going be tackling some cobbled sections you may want to think about making some equipment adjustments prior to doing so. A must and one of the easiest adaptions (yet very effective) is to reduce tyre pressures, which will add a little more absorption and improve comfort on the cobbles.

Like everything, a bit of balance is needed here, depending on body weight, again length and severity of cobbles you’ll be riding that day and whether you’re riding clincher or tubular wheels. Reduce the pressure too much in a clincher tyre and you’ll be more prone to a pinch puncture.

With a lot of pavé scheduled some riders may choose to lower their saddle position a little, some may even move the saddle back a little. Note this also puts more weight over the rear wheel which actually also comes in handy for those steeper bergs and traction in the wet. Whereas I’m often one to not wear gloves, others would not ride the cobbles without doing so and some when it comes to riding particularly rough cobbles like those found in Paris-Roubaix, will even choose to double wrap the bars with bar tape for added cushioning.

This brings me onto my next tip which is to test and adapt as you go, don’t be afraid to stop and make adjustments after any cobbled section. When taking riders new to the cobbles out for a ride, I like to start with a smoother pavé section where they can get a feel early on and can make appropriate changes before harder/more challenging sections.

Practice makes perfect, so the more you ride the pavé the better and more at home it will feel. When training in Belgium, if there’s an opportunity to ride a cobble I do it, something I learned a long time ago being based here. Don’t be afraid of the cobbles and be sure to attack them. The harder you can hit them, the more momentum you will carry and for longer and the smoother and easier they will feel. Needless to say, the slower you go the rougher they will feel. Be sure to look out for the smoothest lines, they are there somewhere.

The centre/crown of the cobbles is one and likewise the edges and gutters may provide the smoother route at times. If there is a smoother surface at some point along the cobbled section you can use it to gain a bit more momentum to carry you over the rest of the section. Whilst riding them aggressively try to stay relaxed, in position and grip, letting the bike have some freedom over that pavé.

Hopefully some of these tips will see you floating over the cobbles and having a lot of fun in doing so, it truly is a blast. As always feel free to fire any questions to me @dfpatten (Instagram/Twitter) and even come and join me in riding some pavé, I’ll be happy to show you the way!

Written By

Daniel Patten