Learn how to ride the cobbles

Cobbles

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.

Gear up

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.

Look ahead

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.

Be first

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.

Be last

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.

Keep relaxed

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.

Practice

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.

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How to ride in a group

The performance advantage to riding in a group is that several people can share the responsibility of setting a manageable pace as well as sheltering their riding mates from the wind – a technique known as ‘drafting.’

The most efficient formation for a large group is to ride side-by-side in pairs, with riders gradually rotating and sharing their turn on the front. How long your turn is depends a lot on weather conditions and how strong you feel, but 5 minutes is a good starting point.

Riding in close proximity to other riders does carry it’s hazards though, so be sure to give enough space to manoeuvre, don’t overlap the wheel in front and be sure to keep good communication with your riding companions.

Bike thief reveals tricks of the trade

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Stolen Ride recently interviewed a reformed bike thief about his old trade in Cycling Weekly. It makes for some scary but not unprecedented reading:

Did you target specific types of bicycles and locations in London? What was the thought process?

High-value bikes were the main targets like Carrera racers, no-logo fixie bikes, Boardman racers and Ridgeback bikes. These were the popular quick sale bikes that were called golds (because of the payback to time value of them).

At first it was a hit and miss game. Grab the bike and go kind of thing, but as time moved on and we worked out there was money to be made, we stepped up our approach. For example, if it wouldn’t sell for more than £200, it wouldn’t be taken.

How did you steal the bikes? What tools and techniques did you use? 
At first it was with basic wire cutters and the average bolt cutters you could buy in somewhere like Homebase. As time went on the tools upgraded to a pair of bolt cutters a friend bought in America for us on his holidays. These were 42-inch high toughened, foldable bolt cutters, which would fit into a rucksack and would cut through any D-bar, or any chain.

Don’t be fooled by Kryptonite locks, they’re not as tough as made out to be. Also D-bars with tubular locks, never use them, they’re the most easy to pick with a little tool. It’s small and discreet, no noise and it looks like you are just unlocking your bike. With the bolt cutters we would go out on high performance motorbikes, two men on a bike.

The pillion would carry the cutters. When we found a bike the pillion would jump off, snip the chain in seconds. ‘Boltys’ back in the bag, the driver would take the bag and drive off whilst the pillion, who is now on the push bike, would cycle off. We would do this up to five times a night, every weekend.

How quickly could you sell a bike on and how much would you get on average for each bike?
A bike could be sold in a matter of minutes at the peak of it, to one of many known regular contacts. Longest was around a day. Bikes were never kept at home, they were always locked back up on the street. Somewhere, even outside police stations locked up. If the police ever raided your house then no goods would ever be found.

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Foldable bolt cutters used to slice through locks.  Shown next to domestic vacuum cleaner for scale. 

Was stealing and selling bikes full-time for you? How many bikes would you steal each month?

No, I worked as a full time forklift driver, but the money was barely enough to pay bills and rent. You can’t live on today’s minimum wage.

The prices work out at half the retail value of the bike in the shop. So a £1000 bike would be sold for £500, to a person on Gumtree, or if it was to a regular link then £400. We would work Thursday, Friday and Saturdays as soon as it was dark. Police are extra busy dealing with drunks at these times. We would get on average 10 bikes a weekend.

Did you ever steal to a specific request or demand? Did you watch certain cyclists and bikes for a period before the theft?

No, that makes it long; we would literally go out on the motorbike into central and just pick bikes up anywhere. Front of tube stations, bike racks, metal fences, underground car parks, bike parks, etc.

From the moment you pull up, to the moment the bike is cut and bolt cutters are back on the motorbike would be 10 seconds at the most, so no one really knew what was going on, almost I imagine like you have to question yourself like, did I really just see that?

No one ever confronted us or said – what are you doing?

Were you ever put off stealing certain bikes? Was it due to location or security measures?
CCTV was not a put off. We had helmets on so we couldn’t be identified (well, we thought so at least). Location didn’t matter, we were young and reckless, and we didn’t care about security or people. If it went wrong, just get back on bike and go.

How would you prevent your own bike becoming stolen? What are your top tips?
Never use a chain, they’re too easy to snip. Use a small D-lock on front and back wheels. If your lock can be moved about that means the thief’s bolt cutters can get around them, at the right angle they won’t. Stiff D-locks are hard to snip because you need the right angle on the cutters to get the force to close them.

Cold weather biking tips

cold weather cycling

Riding in the cold doesn’t have to be miserable.  These tips from Southampton City Council can help, and with a little planning, riding in colder temperatures can be quite enjoyable.

  1. Layer it.Layering clothes is the key to comfort. Start with a base layer that wicks sweat, then a medium-weight layer (such as a light fleece) and finish off with a windproof jacket. Heavier jackets can be used for temperatures around freezing and below.
  2. Cover up. Legs should be covered completely in the cold, but thick layers are not usually necessary. Workout pants, athletic tights, jeans and slacks are generally fine. Layering pants in freezing temperatures also helps!
  3. Fat tyres. Wider tyres with some tread add stability, traction and control on winter surfaces that can sometimes be wet, snowy or even icy. Depending on your wheel size, adding thicker and knobbier tyres may make winter riding easier. Talk to your local bike shop about the best tyre choice for your riding conditions.
  4. Tread lightly. If you encounter snow or ice, don’t panic. Sudden braking or swerving can cause you to slide. Be lighter on your pedal strokes, delicate on your brakes, and ride in a straight line if possible. You can always dismount and walk the bike of it looks too dangerous.
  5. Protect your hands, feet and head. Your hands, feet and head get colder more quickly than your core so make sure to always wear gloves, thick socks (such as wool) or even shoe covers as well as a hat that fits under your helmet. Using a helmet with less ventilation helps keep your head toasty too!
  6. Be flashy. Because the days are shorter in the winter (and sometimes duller), it’s important to be visible. Wear bright clothing (neon) with reflective strips and always have lights on your bike (white for the front and red for the rear).
  7. Accessorize. Fenders make a huge difference on wet days because they block the rain from splashing on your shoes and clothes, keeping you nice and dry. They are inexpensive yet very effective, so totally worth the (small) investment.
  8. Plan ahead. The most important advice for riding your bike in the winter is to check the weather forecast ahead of time! Don’t ride if conditions are poor (heavy snow or ice) but don’t be afraid to ride if the bike paths and roads are clear and temperatures are above freezing.