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Last week I accidentally entered the Paris-Roubaix Challenge - a mere 90 miles of mud and cobbles next April.

So now I’m looking for cobbled roads in the UK to do a bit of training on - and to get a feel for the bumps. Anyone got any suggestions? I’m based in the Southwest, looking in the region roughly bordered by Bristol, Gloucester, Swindon, Salisbury, Shaftsbury, Radstock.

I know about some of the cobbled hills in central Bristol, the Cobble Wobble hill in Frome, Gold Hill in Shaftsbury, but ideally I’m looking for longish flattish sections of cobbles. (And I know British cobbles aren’t the same as French pave', but you’ve got to start somewhere…)

Any suggestions for cobbled roads, or maybe just rutted roads that replicate pave', much appreciated. Thanks.

46 comments

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monty dog [446 posts] 4 years ago
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The only tracks that I know that are rough enough to simulate P-RX are some of the Southdowns Way where the tracks are essentially fist-sized loose flints - I've not found any paved tracks that are rough enough. Blasting around forestry fire roads on my old road bike was good practise for L'Eroica though.
To develop your strength, try riding a slight gradient whilst seated well back in the saddle on the biggest gear you can muster - focus on getting the power down through the quads whilst gripping the tops of the bars. Most people find the pave hardest on their arms and wrists, followed by their backside - if you develop the quad and arm power you can drive the pedals whilst keeping your ar$e slightly off the saddle and cushion yourself slightly from the pain.
Also, if you hit potholes square-on, it'll simulate some of the impact and jarring!

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Simon_MacMichael [2442 posts] 4 years ago
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Not near you, but incorporating the cobbled Rotherhithe High Street into my daily commute back when I worked in London did wonders for my balance as well as keeping my arms nice and toned  3

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Fringe [1047 posts] 4 years ago
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Long Drove just of the A39 near glastonbury isn't cobbles as such but is very beaten up tarmac and benefits from very little traffic. one of my favorites in the winter (gets muddy too).  4

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stumps [3184 posts] 4 years ago
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Try any of the inner city roads in England, there are so many pot holes it feels like cobbles.  19

Only joking, there's none i'm aware of in the North East but if you've got a mountain bike some of the forest trails are good to try in the winter as they get quite rutted. Whatever you try good luck with the race !

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Simon_MacMichael [2442 posts] 4 years ago
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Just thinking... if you can identify any old tracks leading to farms near you that haven't had a fresh coat of tarmac in decades, that might help you. Likely to be nice and quiet too.

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giff77 [1191 posts] 4 years ago
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Shame you didn't live up where I am, there's a few unclassified roads I get to use that the surface is totally beat up. I get to cover climbs, flats and decents on these, getting a bit hairy in places and still no signs of resurfacing,  4 but sure sorts out the arms  3

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David Else [99 posts] 4 years ago
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Thanks guys. Keep 'em coming. Much appreciated.

As part of my research, today I went along the canal path east of Bath. Usually, I seek the smoothest course by weaving around and avoiding the rough stony sections. Today I just charged across the top of the stones in my biggest gear. Nowhere near as bad as French cobbles, of course, but a taste of things to come...

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mattsccm [324 posts] 4 years ago
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I doubt there are many worthwhile cobbled sections of roads left. Why not bring the bike across the river. Many of the graveled tracks in the Forest of Dean have got large stones as a base. As the gravel has worn away over the years you can find long stretches of solid but rough rock. Riding them is definitly an aquired taste and skill on a road/cx bike.

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Fringe [1047 posts] 4 years ago
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have you read the cycling inquisition blog post about riding the cobbles. funny stuff.

http://www.cyclinginquisition.com/2010/04/paris-roubaix-race-ride-and-er...

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David Else [99 posts] 4 years ago
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This is great stuff, guys.

@giff77 - when you say ‘up here’, where do you mean? I used to ride in the Derbyshire/Yorkshire/Cheshire area and still often venture back to those regions.

@mattsccm - the Forest of Dean is certainly within striking distance. Gravel roads are a different beast, and not really the right prep for Paris-Roubaix, I think, but those stretches of rough rock sound like they might be something like. Can you provide any more pointers on locations?

@Fringe - thanks for the link. It’s making me feel so much better. Especially the picture of the bleeding hands.

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Mat Brett [599 posts] 4 years ago
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David, it's not in any way cobbled but there's a perimeter road around much of the Salisbury Plain military area. It goes on for miles and miles and it's rough. It's good training for cobbles. Just make sure the red flag isn't flying or you might cop a stray bullet.

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Simon_MacMichael [2442 posts] 4 years ago
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Mat Brett wrote:

David, it's not in any way cobbled but there's a perimeter road around much of the Salisbury Plain military area. It goes on for miles and miles and it's rough. It's good training for cobbles. Just make sure the red flag isn't flying or you might cop a stray bullet.

Yeah, 20-odd years ago you'd definitely have been advised to steer clear when I was on the range  3

Mat's obviously too modest to mention it but you'll also want to read his experience of hitting the Paris-Roubaix cobbles with Team Sky earlier this year.

http://road.cc/content/blog/34295-hitting-paris-roubaix-pav%C3%A9-team-sky

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Rob Simmonds [251 posts] 4 years ago
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*coff*  26http://road.cc/content/feature/34113-good-vibrations-ronde-de-vlaanderen...

I can't think of anywhere that would accurately replicate the EVIL CHUNKS OV STONEY DETH that cover the P-R route, although a turn around the cathedral close in Exeter would be pretty close. Not in your patch though and the tourists might comment. You might like to try some rough off-road bridleways, that might be reasonably close.

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mattsccm [324 posts] 4 years ago
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When I say gravel I mean stuff thats 3 or 4 inches across and hard packed. If I can I'll find some grid refs.

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shollin [47 posts] 4 years ago
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If I was you I would sit butt naked on a pneumatic drill for a few hours...give you some idea how tender you will fell after the ride. I've watched some videos of the Paris Roubaix, one where the guys saddle fell off...Couldn't make up my mind if he was better off without it to be honest! Good on you though, one hell of a challenge. Best of luck  1

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David Else [99 posts] 4 years ago
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This is all very useful. I really appreciate the responses.

With some of my buddies (also training for Paris-Roubaix) I have indeed been riding on bridleways and byways recently - notably some all-day jaunts up and down the off-road sections of the Fosse Way and Ridgeway. But these routes are mainly loose gravel, compact stones, chalky mud or wet grass. It can’t harm the training of course, but I think they’re simply not rough enough to give a feel for the aforementioned EVIL CHUNKS OV STONEY DETH.

Mat - I will investigate the Salisbury Plain perimeter road. I have ridden across the Plain a few times on the Imber road that is usually closed to the public - and some of that is broken concrete and quite rough. If the perimeter road is like that, then it will be pretty handy, as you say.

Failing everything, then I’m off down the tool hire shop to get a pneumatic drill to sit on, as recommended by shollin. If it doesn’t help for Paris-Roubaix, at least I can send the video to Jackass.

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Rob Simmonds [251 posts] 4 years ago
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David Else wrote:

Failing everything, then I’m off down the tool hire shop to get a pneumatic drill to sit on, as recommended by shollin. If it doesn’t help for Paris-Roubaix, at least I can send the video to Jackass.

Don't forget to line your gloves and shorts with coarse grit sandpaper.

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giff77 [1191 posts] 4 years ago
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I'm in Paisley, Scotland. The Campsies, Trossachs are within an hour cycle of me. Some of my local routes going into Ayrshire and Inverclyde are pretty much beat up once you get off the A and B roads. The various councils are pretty reluctant to repair  19

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David Else [99 posts] 4 years ago
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@giff77 - ahhh, that's a bit too far north for me, especially on a Sunday training ride from West Wiltshire.

Looks like I'll be heading to Salisbury Plain this weekend to check out Mat's suggestions.

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giff77 [1191 posts] 4 years ago
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Just a bit  3 hope the training goes well and the P-R a success.

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Martin Thomas [376 posts] 4 years ago
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"accidentally entered" like it  1

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Fringe [1047 posts] 4 years ago
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@David Else - hows the 'cobbled' road training going? found any good bits of bad road.. just curious.

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notfastenough [3661 posts] 4 years ago
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There's apparently quite a bit of cobbles round the Blackburn area; they're used for a sportive that's likened to Belgian classics in terms of surface etc.

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David Else [99 posts] 4 years ago
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@ Fringe - thanks for the interest. A few people have emailed me to ask the same question. Training is going well. Several long steady rides over the past month, some in Flanders-like conditions, interspersed with turbo sessions. The nearest we've got to pave' has been several furious laps round the cobbled quadrangle of Queens Sq in Bristol (much to the bemusement of passing Christmas shoppers) and a couple of rides taking in the miltary roads over Salisbury Plain (normally closed to the public, but open end-Dec early-Jan). Still nothing that comes close to the infamous boulders we'll encounter on the Paris-Roubaix, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

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Rob Simmonds [251 posts] 4 years ago
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There's a cobbled street in Frome - Big Dave did the Cobble Wobble last year as I recall. It's a steep hill though, not flat like P-R.

EDIT - Just ignore me. Forgot you'd already mentioned it in your OP.

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David Else [99 posts] 4 years ago
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Thanks Rob. Yes, as you say, not flat, but we have got a plan to include it in a training ride soon, just for fun. Likewise the famous Gold (aka 'Hovis') Hill in Shaftsbury. Any other suggestions for close-to-cobbles rough-as-hell roads in the Westcountry all much appreciated.

Meanwhile, here's another question for anyone who might have done this ride, or similar jaunts. Glasses or not?
Sure, they keep the mud out yer eyes, but are they likely to get so splattered it'll be like riding blindfold? Any thoughts and advice most welcome.

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rbx [226 posts] 4 years ago
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Hi Simon, could you share where exactly in Rotherhithe are these cobbles? Any other areas in/around London with cobbles are also welcome.

Thanks!

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joemmo [1145 posts] 4 years ago
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not very long (and a bit out of your way) but these 2 in Newcastle are bloody cobbly... and uphill. Close together so they could be built into a circuit!
http://g.co/maps/w7x4n
http://g.co/maps/sqre5

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Yorkshie Whippet [499 posts] 3 years ago
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David,

I'll see you at the start. Looking forward to the "stigmata" at the end.:-D

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Bez [584 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm doing the P-R Cyclo in June... is the April one the proper competitive one then?

David Else wrote:

Glasses or not? Sure, they keep the mud out yer eyes, but are they likely to get so splattered it'll be like riding blindfold? Any thoughts and advice most welcome.

I always ride with glasses myself - on the rare occasions they turn out to be more trouble than they're worth they just go in a jersey pocket (generally I'd rather ride with a compromised view than end up in a big stack by getting suddenly blinded by some lump of airborne stuff).

I'd also suggest Compeed patches for the bits where your hoods are going to rub your gloves against your hands (probably worth establishing where this is in advance). Or, at least, that's what I'm going with to prevent the stigmata - I have a lump on my foot where I need to use them for anything more than a couple of miles' walking, and they work really well. I suspect anything to prevent the friction of glove on hand will be of use. I may also load up my gloves with Vaseline or minty arse lard, but this may be a personal affectation.

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