The Cob­bles of Paris-roubaix

Bicycling WOW Rides - - Wow Rides -

You want, I know, the wow – be­cause what cy­clist doesn’t? – but if we’re re­ally go­ing to get into this and if you’re re­ally con­sid­er­ing this (and yes we are, and yes you should), you need to un­der­stand that this thing here is the wow of the wow, an un­der­tak­ing so boun­teous with woooo! and also with owww! that the ride won’t merely wow you but will wooooww! you in ways that you, be­fore ped­alling the cob­bles, are un­able to imag­ine; and that I, af­ter ped­alling them more times than I can or care to re­mem­ber ac­cu­rately any more, can­not fully ex­plain.

The cob­bles, of course, be­ing the Roubaix cob­bles, the only cob­bles you can mean when you say ‘the cob­bles’. Yes, other places are cob­bled; but that does not make them ‘the cob­bles’. And yes, I’ve rid­den a good bit of those other cob­bled places – the rat­tlers of Flan­ders, the pleas­ant stones of sundry Euro­pean streets, the cute lit­tle world-cham­pi­onship din­gi­ty­d­ings on the Libby Hill and 23rd Street climbs in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia, and the churl­ish bluecol­lar pavers in Philadel­phia – and lis­ten, what­ever you got, wher­ever you got it, when­ever you’ve been on the rough­est, cru­ellest de­stroyed-ass road and shouted to your friends, Paris-roubaix!, well, good for you and I know you had fun (be­cause I do, even know­ing what I know); but come on – just get over there and ride the cob­bles once and for all, and let ’em change who you are as a cy­clist for­ever.

Here is a cu­mu­la­tive ap­prox­i­ma­tion of what rid­ing the cob­bles is like: ev­ery­thing. Noth­ing. Kafka. Dante. Jimi Hen­drix. Kill Bill’s Beatrix Kiddo. !!!!!!!!!!!!!! ????????? I hate you. I’m in heaven. I love you. Go to hell. My tyre has to be flat. My bike has to be bro­ken. I am bro­ken. I won’t be bro­ken. !?!?!?!?!? This is wrong. More. This is beau­ti­ful. No more. No, more. Oh my god my god my god my god my god.

In ac­tu­al­ity, this is what rid­ing the cob­bles is like: rid­ing the cob­bles.

Ride them. Please. So you’ll know. Start with the hard­est and the most fa­mous, the Aren­berg Trench (pic­tured). Get to France and drive to Aren­berg, just out­side Wallers. Start rid­ing north on the D313. In a kilo­me­tre or so, when you cross the rail­road tracks and the road bends right, pedal straight past the bar­ri­ers into a new cy­cling life. Dif­fi­culty 10

bill strick­land rec­om­mends fin­ish­ing roubaix be­fore 6pm, so you can cel­e­brate with a jupiler beer in the bar in­side the velo­drome.

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