Mastering the Cobbles – Preparing Your Bike

By Jiri Kaloc

Are you considering giving cobblestone riding a try? Has the test of skill, the adrenaline factor or the historical background of pavé piqued your interest? Then you need to get your bike ready for the challenge. Let’s go over the basics like the selection of tyres and pressure, and some advanced tips like handlebar setup to give you the best possible experience.

Tyre selection and pressure

When it comes to riding the bumpy and unpredictable cobbles, any form of suspension is your friend. The best thing you can do on a road bike is to choose the right tyres and pressure. Wider tyres are a must because they allow you to do two things. They increase the surface area touching the ground so you have better traction and you can also easily lower the pressure to significantly increase comfort without increasing rolling resistance. For optimal cobble riding, go for 28 mm or 30 mm tyres.

For tyre pressure, you will have to do a bit of experimenting to find the right number. Just for reference, pro cyclists at Paris-Roubaix or Tour of Flanders often go as low as 4 bar. Rider weight, tyre and riding style can all influence the ideal pressure you should use.

Handlebars and bar tape

Set your handlebars a bit higher. On cobblestones, your hands need to stay relaxed to soak up the constant bumps on the road. A higher position of your bars will make all three primary hand positions comfortable: the hoods, the tops and the drops. If you’re considering upgrading your handlebars, go for carbon if your budget allows. You will notice the extra give they offer. Also, go for thicker handlebars as they will make it easier to avoid overgripping.

Alternatively, you can also increase the size of your existing handlebars by simply adding a second bar tape over the existing one. This will also help you absorb some of the shock from the cobbles.

Unlike the predictable hum of asphalt, cobblestones offer a rollercoaster for the senses. Every second is a new challenge of trying to balance speed with the risk of falling off. © Profimedia

Bottles and cages

One thing that you may not think of before it happens is your bidons jumping out of their cages. Cobbles tend to shake your bike a lot more than what you come across riding on other types of roads. If you use your usual carbon cages, they may not be able to hold onto your bottles. It’s much more secure to switch to old-school aluminium cages, which you can give an extra bend to increase the clamping force applied to the bottles. This will not only help you stay hydrated but also prevent a possible crash caused by a rogue bottle hitting the wheel of someone behind you.

To be extra safe, stick to small 0,5 l bottles that have a low centre of gravity. Larger bottles would be more likely to fall when full of liquid.

Brakes and loose parts

If you have rim brakes on your road bike, it’s a good idea to move the quick-release lever a bit closer to the horizontal. This will give your rims a little more space to jump around over the cobblestones without touching the rubber surface of your brakes. If you find on the day that you need a bit more bite to your breaking, you can always reach down and push the levers back to their usual position.

Of course, disc brakes are the far better option on cobbles, especially if it’s wet and muddy. They perform almost as well in wet conditions as they do in the dry.

And finally, it’s more important than ever to do a thorough check-up of your whole bike before venturing onto pavé. Tighten all bolts and screws because the vibration from cobblestones can loosen components over time.

With your bike ready to take on cobblestones, all that’s left is to check out a few tips on the handling technique and body position. The last article of the series will be all about that.