Bike & Equipment Choice
While all of our events can be ridden on a standard road bike, the experience can be considerably enhanced, in terms of both speed and comfort, by a judicious choice of equipment.
All three events in the Lapierre Cycle Classics Series – the Tour of the Black Country, the Cheshire Cobbled Classic and the White Roads Classic – include a significant amount of riding on unpaved or cobbled roads: gravel roads and cobbles in the Tour of the Black Country, steep cobbled climbs in the Cheshire Cobbled Classic, and white gravel and chalk sectors in the White Roads Classic.
Each of these surfaces produces a challenging and exciting riding experience (which no doubt contributes greatly to the huge popularity and iconic status of their professional counterparts Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders and the Strade Bianche). While all of these events can be ridden on a standard road bike, the experience can be considerably enhanced, in terms of both speed and comfort, by judicious choice of equipment.
The principal challenges that arise from riding over rough surfaces are increased shocks and vibration, together with reduced traction, which can lead to difficulties in handling, difficulties in pedalling smoothly (leading to inefficient power transfer to the back wheel), and an increased risk of punctures. Perhaps the three most important factors involved in trying to mitigate these interrelated problems are frame choice, choice of wheelset and tyre choice.
1. Frame Choice
Relative to a standard road bike designed to perform on smooth tarmac, a slightly longer wheelbase and shallower angles will yield greater stability and more predictable handling on uneven surfaces. Nothing as extreme as Steve Bauer’s 1993 Roubaix bike (below) is required, but a seat tube angle a degree or so less than on a normal race bike will give a noticeable improvement in handling and comfort.
A variety of methods have been tried in an attempt to reduce shocks and vibrations from the use of front suspension (two-time Paris-Roubaix winner Duclos-Lasalle’s 1994 Rock Shox) to Johan Museeuw’s full suspension Bianchi (1994).
Such extreme measures quickly fell out of favour but it is now increasingly recognized that some degree of shock absorbency, and slightly shallower frame angles can improve performance in such races. Fabian Cancellara’s 2010 Roubaix-winning bike was fitted with small elastomer inserts in the forks, and our sponsors Lapierre have further developed this concept with the Pulsium, a Classics-specific endurance bike with a relaxed frame geometry and a built-in shock absorber.
In order to increase pedalling efficiency, an oversized and reinforced bottom bracket, chainstays, down tube and head tube are employed (Lapierre’s ‘PowerBox’), which markedly increases the lateral stiffness of the lower part of the frame and hence improves power transfer.
The Lapierre Pulsium was rigorously tested by FDJ riders and used in the 2014 Cobbled Classics. Arnaud Demare (below) finished 12th in Paris-Roubaix and 2nd in Gent-Wevelgem. The Pulsium would be an excellent choice for all of the three events in the Lapierre Classics Series.
2. Wheelset Choice
Many Classics riders (with some notable exceptions) prefer to ride simple boxed alloy rims rather than deep section carbon wheels. These offer strength and flexibility when navigating bumpy terrain and offer more predictable handling. Still popular are wheelsets such as Mavic’s Open Pro series.
3. Tyre Choice
The ideal tyre for unpaved or cobbled roads would have four features: extra grip, higher strength, additional puncture resistance and greater width relative to a standard road tyre. A fatter tyre (25-28 mm) gives greater comfort and additional traction, and the optimum tyre pressure is probably about 80-90 psi, depending on the rider’s weight and on the exact nature of the surface. If one’s budget extends to tubular tyres, these offer the additional benefit of eliminating pinch-flats. The Lapierre Pulsium takes tyres up to 32 mm. Our preferred tyres for the Lapierre Tour of the Black Country, the Cheshire Cobbled Classic and the White Roads Classic is the Vittoria Open Pave CG, a long-time favourite of professional riders for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – reviewed here by Bike Radar.
In addition, there are several other simple modifications that can be carried out simply and quickly to optimise comfort and performance on unpaved roads. First, the use of a narrow seat post (27.2 mm rather than the more common 31.6 mm) will give additional flexibility and comfort without sacrificing rigidity around the bottom bracket area. Second, many professional riders double-wrap their handlebars with bar tape for races such as Paris-Roubaix, to dampen the vibrations from the cobbles. Third, it is very easy to lose a water bottle on rough or cobbled roads and the best solution is perhaps to use the older metal cages, which can be tightened by simply bending the metal by hand. This ensures that bottles are held very securely.