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BIKE TECH VIDEO: Riding Rough Roads & Cobbles

This slowed down video shows what really happens as the world's best riders ride the cobbles of Paris Roubaix.  Imagine what you and your bike would look like on these cobbles!

Riding rough roads, especially cobbles can beat you and your bike up - but you likely never understood how much until watching this slowed down high speed video!

Watching this video reminded me of several key fundamentals that make all the difference when riding on any rough surface:

Body position while riding:  
  • Move Back On Your Saddle:  When riding over a particularly rough patch, the best riders technically generally move back on the saddle, reducing the weight and pressure on the front wheel.  This reduces the chances of damaging your front wheel (pinch flat or worse) and simply makes it easier for the front wheel to get over obstacles.  Generally if your front wheel makes it over obstacles, your rear wheel will follow.
  • Relax:  Relaxing your body, especially your upper body, while riding over rough surfaces allows your body to move with the terrain, not get beat up, and is easier on your bike.  As tempting as it may be to tense up, just relax and let your bike roll over the surface!
  • Ride A Bit More Upright Than Normal:  Most pro riders will ride in a slightly more upright position while riding over rough surfaces.  In the above video of Paris Roubaix, you'll notice that most riders are on the tops of their bars or hoods, rather than down in the drop.  This slightly upright position will move more of your weight to the back wheel and give you slightly better control of the bicycle.
Bike Tips:
  • Tire Choice:  Tire choice is rarely more important than while riding on rough surfaces.  Error on the side of a wider tire, with a higher profile, and a soft supple casing.  This will maximize the natural "suspension" a tire is capable of providing you while reducing the chance of getting a pinch flat.  A tubeless clincher or tubular tire will further reduce the chances of a pinch flat occurring.
  • Tire Pressure:  More air pressure isn't necessarily faster, and definitely won't ride smoothly!  Most road riders by default simply air up their road tires to the maximum printed on the sidewall of the tire - this is rarely the best thing to do.  Consider that we hardly ever ride on a perfectly smooth surface - there is always some degree of texture or bumps to the surface we ride on.  Therefore, less pressure is often the way to go.  A bit less pressure in your road tires will allow the tire to "roll through" the bump rather than "bounce over it".  Your body, bike, and often times race results will thank you for using a bit less air pressure in your tires!
  • Double Layer of Handlebar Tape:  Handlebar tape or padding can go a long way toward dampening vibrations felt by your hands, arm, and neck.  Putting a double layer of handlebar tape from your brake lever hood and up can help to ease fatigue on a rough ride.  Note that to do this, start with a partial layer from the hoods up to the center of the bar tops, then apply a regular full layer of bar tape as per usual.

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