There’s a public footpath near us that runs along Benfleet Creek. It’s probably a couple of miles long and when you ride it in the dry the ruts and dips made by years of farm vehicle traffic shake the very fillings out of your teeth. In the wet, you’re all over the place.
I often think about Benfleet Creek when I’m watching the Paris-Roubaix, because that pavé across the fields in France looks a shed load worse. It’s a miracle those roads survived the Great War and I’ll bet there’s been more than one occasion when those riders wish they hadn’t.
Mind you, they are fairly well set up for the pavé by the time the race starts proper - they’ve reconnoitred some of the worst sections and know what lines to take and how they’re going to sail over the stones. In an ideal world. In reality they will be jostling for any poisition they can get that doesn’t jettison them off their bikes into the crowds.
It says something about the sadistic nature of race organisers and the viewing public that Paris-Roubaix exists at all in its present form, and Flanders for that matter. The authorities in those parts of France and Belgium had been Tarmacing over them because, well, you would, I suppose. They hadn’t invented Tarmac when roads were built with cobbles, after all. It’s known as progress.
Uproar ensued that such a gloriously punishing race would be lost forever to the annals of history and a campaign launched to save the cobbles. The campaign worked, the cobbles were saved and an entire segment of the bicycle industry was born.
When you think about it Paris-Roubaix and the spring classics are responsible for a lot of kit. It is the perfect test ground for garments thanks to the hammering they receive and as for bikes. Well we have the tyres for one thing. Big old 27mm wide bits of rubber that can be run at a lower PSI to help ease the bumps. Then what about the little rubber gaskets that the bike manufacturers have inserted into the frames? Roubaix has become a byword for ‘a bit easier on the arse.’
So I was surprised by the marketing campaign for the Brooks C13 saddle, which has our favourite dandiest ex-pro chuntering into the Arenberg Trench, one of the bumpiest, narliest pieces of this planet a pro cyclist can ever be expected to traverse. I know what those saddles are like because I’ve been testing one for the past three months and gorgeous as they look and light as they might be there’s one thing they are not and that is comfortable.
Riding one of those on the Paris Roubaix would be tantamount to gaffer taping a kango gun to your seatpost and having it wallop you for 240km.
I expect David was remunerated handsomely for his troubles and let’s face it, he will have endured a lot more pain than that on his career but one thing I noticed from the advert, and this was more because the camera focused on little else, was that he doesn’t actually sit down. That thing is slapping his cheeks like it’s Carry On up the Kyber.
I expect it would be difficult to sit on a saddle along the Arenberg Trench, given the terrain, so surely trying to advertise one in such a location is going to be a little pointless.
Massive cobbles aside, one thing I’ve learned from testing that seat is that unlike the leather Brooks options, vulcanised rubber will forever maintain its rigidity. There might come a day when it will suddenly give way but heaven knows what will happen then. On the plus side it would appear one’s butt cheeks are capable of putting up with a considerable amount of punishment and adapting to it accordingly. That thing actually does appear to be hurting less, as the nerve endings withdraw in a state of panic, perhaps.
This made me wonder - considering all the kit these manufacturers are cranking out with a Roubaix reference to it, how come no one has thought of a saddle. And then I realised, it’s probably more agony to sit down on those cobbled sections than it is to stay off the saddle, it would be like trying to ride a bucking bronco. Which brings me back to Benfleet Creek. I tried to sit on the saddle along there once and my crown jewels haven’t been the same since, and there aren’t even any cobbles on it.
I could take a ride along the creek on Sunday I suppose, on my Brooks C13-equipped bike, in homage to that most painful of bike races. I could return to the start of it by road and repeat it 27 times, once for each of the cobbled sectors of Paris-Roubaix. I could get some friends to stand along that track and wave flags while drinking beer.
Or maybe not. There’s a sofa with my name on it and a perfectly good TV to watch that race on in my living room.
I’ll leave the painful bit to the professionals.