5 things we learned riding the Paris Roubaix Challenge

Pavé is rough, big tyres are better and frites are great

Reuben and I recently rode the Paris Roubaix Challenge and, much like our other foolish exploits over the last year or so, we learned a great deal from the event. Here are five highlights from our dirty weekend away on the cobbles.


Watch how we got on at the Paris Roubaix Challenge on our YouTube channel

This video contains a paid product placement on behalf of Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

1. Pavé is much, much rougher than you think

This is so, so much rougher than it looks

I spent many years skittering around the cobbled streets of my native Edinburgh and went into the Paris Roubaix Challenge arrogantly thinking that this experience would put me in good stead for tackling the famed secteurs.

Finishing in the velodrome was an amazing experience (I ‘won’ by the way)

The reality of what it’s actually like to ride on the cobbles could not have been further from my expectations — the pavé is so unbelievably gnarly, with the cobbles themselves spaced out at just the right width to swallow a narrow tyre with ease.

Even though each secteur is rarely longer than one or two kilometres, they drag on forever and are one of the most challenging things I’ve ever ridden.

2. Bigger tyres are better

I rode a Lauf True Grit…
…and Reuben was on his Open Upper

For the race, I chose to ride a Lauf True Grit fitted with 36mm wide Clement X’Ploro tyre while Reuben rode his new Open Upper fitted with 47mm wide WTB Horizon tyres.

I have no doubt that some will pour scorn on our bike choice, but I couldn’t care less what the pros use, what is the fastest or what is in the true spirit of the race — I had a blast pootling around a non-competitive sportive in the sunshine with Reuben on my daft bike with 35mm tyres and goofy suspension and I would do it all the same, semi-comfortable way again.

if you’re riding the Paris Roubaix Challenge, you’re probably there to enjoy the pavé secteurs, and chunky tyres only added to my enjoyment.

With that said, if you think you’d have a better day out skimming over the cobbles on 28s at full pelt, then more power to you! If you decide to go narrower though, just make sure you bring lots of spare tubes…

3. Reuben and I are unable to have a normal accommodation arrangement

Why does this keep happening to us?

Shortly after signing on for the race, we were sitting in the car on one of the roughest streets in Roubaix desperately trying to find out where our apartment for the night was when we discovered our hosts had cancelled on us three days previously.

Mercifully, our colleague Josh Evans was staying in a hotel in Kortrijk, just north of the border, covering the race for sister site Cyclingnews and managed to hook us up with a room there.

However, trying to book a room on the night before the weekend of the oldest bike race was never going to be plain sailing and, once again, Reuben and I ended up sharing a bed for two cosy nights.

Every trip we go on seems to have some kind of unusual accommodation arrangement, so I dread to think what fate has in store for our next adventure.

4. Frites taste better on the continent

Roobs sending back a steamin’ hot pile of Roubaix’s finest frites

There’s something about the heady mix of beer, sunshine, drunk cycling fans and mayonnaise of unknown provenance that makes a clutch of frites all that more delicious than back home.

That we were still weary from the previous day’s efforts also meant we felt no guilt tucking into our greasy feast.

5. Watching the race from the velodrome is an unbeatable experience

Watching the finish from the centre of the velodrome was an amazing experience

As part of the Paris Roubaix Challenge we were granted entry to a set of segregated ‘stalls’ in the centre of the legendary velodrome. This meant we got to watch the length of the race on the big screen right through to the finish — and what a finish it was!


The atmosphere in the velodrome was amazing and, if you find yourself lucky enough to do the challenge, I highly, highly recommend you take full advantage of this.