With the Tour of Flanders now past and Paris-Roubaix coming up, it’s worth knowing how to ride the cobbles. British Cycling’s guide gives you tips on speed, gears, positioning and more:
Speed is your friend
Don’t be tentative but try to increase your speed and attack the cobbles as the extra momentum will carry you over the lumps and bumps more smoothly. Try to add some sustained hard 3-5 minute efforts into your long rides or include regular Ramped VO2 intervals into your training.
Try to ride flat, downhill or gently climbing cobbled sectors using your big chain-ring. This will maintain chain tension, reduce chain slap and prevent your chain jumping off. A compact chainset and a wide ranging cassette will help you to manage this even when you are tiring.
Pick your line, anticipate the actions of riders ahead and look where you want to go. If there is a big gap in the cobbles or an uneven edge you want to avoid, don’t look at it but where you want to go to avoid it.
When you hit the cobbles, the best place to be is on the front as you will get a clear ride and won’t have to contend with riders falling in front of you. Do some route research, check where the cobbled sectors are and tape this information to your stem. You will then know when to try and move up through the field.
Unfortunately, with big sportive fields and everyone else wanting the front spot, being on the front can be hard. Another option is to slow up, let the group you’re with go ahead and give yourself a bit of space. Also, if you watch the pros, you will notice that they leave larger than normal gaps on cobbles and you should adopt this tactic too. Assume that the rider in front of you is going to crash and give yourself enough space so that you have at least a chance of avoiding them.
Don’t tense up and don’t try to fight the bike. Grip the bars firmly but also keep your arms and upper body as relaxed and loose as possible. Let the bike flow underneath you, correct itself and don’t over react to small slips.
Tops or drops
Your hands are more secure either on the bar tops or down on the drops. It is recommended that you do not ride on the hoods as it is very easy for your hands to bounce off.
Stay on the crown
Although often the bumpiest, on cobbled roads, the crown is usually the best place to ride. The cobbles will be less broken up, will tend to have less mud on and there will be fewer gaps as fewer vehicles will have passed over them. Avoid the cambered lines on either side of the crown, especially if the cobbles are wet or muddy.
Avoid the verges
The verges may look smoother and tempting but there are often deep wheel swallowing holes hidden by puddles and puncture causing flints and debris that has washed off the cobbles.
Steer with your hips
If you need to alter your line to pass a rider, keep your speed up and initiate the change in direction positively with your hips. Don’t try to turn by using your handlebars as you are far more likely to experience a front wheel slide or catch it in a gap.
Recover in the wheels
Between the cobbled sectors, try to regroup and sit in the wheels to recover. It can be tempting to try and push on when you hit the smooth tarmac but you are better saving your energy for the next sector of pavé.
If you know that your event has rough sections or cobbles, practice riding them in training. Canal towpaths, converted railway line bike paths and forest fire roads can all be suitable for honing your “off-road” road bike skills. Also consider including some mountain biking and/or cyclo-cross in your training to develop your bike handling skills.