The Cobbles of Paris-roubaix
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.