Anatomy of a Photo: Cornering on Cobbles

The look says it all. Keep it clenched, sir.

A lot of things taken for granted in Cycling go swiftly out the window when cobblestones are introduced to bicycle and rider. The notion that your wheels should both be pointed in the same direction at any given moment, for instance, or that that they should in some way be in alignment with the direction of travel of the rider/bicycle unit, such as it is. Not true, in fact. As it turns out, wheels can move wildly in any maner of directions and not greatly impact forward motion. Another misconception is this notion that one needs to have their handlebars reliably in hand while whisking through a corner or that the direction the handlebars are pointing should be in the direction of travel. Also untrue.

Riding cobbles is a matter of going full gas over the secteurs, no holds barred. The faster you go, the more your bike cascades over the tops of the stones; as the bike flails along, the rider links together recovery after recovery to stave off the imminent crash caused by any of the above conditions going catawampus. Riding the pavé is basically like a toddler learning to walk: always one step away from a face-plant.

For me, though, the biggest challenge is recuperation during those intense efforts. Over the years, I have gotten good at faking it and stealing a few deep breaths during short windows of opportunity, like when the pressure comes off the pedals briefly when cornering. On the cobbles, however, this matter is complicated somewhat by the bouncing wheels, jackhammering of the bars and saddle, and the certainty of an imminent crash.

Which leads me to conclude that while endurance, strength, and interval training will all form critical elements of my training for Keepers Tour 2013, I’m going to also make a point of learning how to take recovery breaths with a tightly clenched bunghole as I try to keep from shitting myself. That’s going to be a differentiator for sure.

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72 Replies to “Anatomy of a Photo: Cornering on Cobbles”

  1. Techniques currently being honed over the cobbled roads of Bristol. Terrifying in the dry, in the wet… I bail onto the tarmac roads. I’d be on my face in seconds.

  2. That brings back a dull ache in my fore arms just looking at it!

    Great photo, reminds me of these two going full gas into this corner

    Not sure if it’s a smile or just one long shout of “faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark!”

    Out of the pan… from the cobbles onto loose grit. Gianni clenches everything.

  3. I have been following the cornering (descending without pedal stroke) style of Yates since I picked it up from an earlier article that he pulls his knee toward the top tube. It feels much more stable. Only turn the knee out occasionally to slow things somewhat on a straight descent.

  4. Holy Shit!  That was the scariest thing I have ever done on a bike.  Cornering on the pave’ was unbelievably hard.  You thought you knew where your bike was going, you thought you had accounted for the speed, and you thought you had your line set and then … BAM, right between the fucking eyes you are clinging on for dear life while your bike has been posessed by a poltergiest which has a mind of its own.  Fighting your machine just parying to make it through the corner and back onto the straight where only more pain awaits you.  Fuckin’ hardcore!

    The pave’ alone, on straights, makes it feel like your biceps are going to be torn off your radius/ulna but add fighting the corners, just deadly.

    William gave me the best advice the night before the ride:  “Hands are always on the tops or drops on the pave’, NEVER the hoods”.  He was sooooo right.  Be the end my hands and forearms were aching for a different position and I slipped on to the hoods for a few meters and the amount of control you give up riding the hoods on pave’ relative to the drops or tops was unbelievable.  Just a death wish riding hoods on pave’.

    Man, almost starting to want to ride those fuckers again!

    Cannot wait to ride today!

  5. Btw, is that Yates pic from 1992?  His bike looks just like my 1992 Team Motorola Eddy Merckx.  Man, I love that bike.  I just sit there and stare at her at times.  Thing of beauty and history to boot!

  6. “Most importantly, he (Yates) showed Armstrong how to corner the hitherto unique Yates way. The classic style, and still the most common technique, going into a sharp bend is to open out your inside leg from the knee, almost to 90 degrees which shifts your body’s weight to that side.

    Partly because Yates was so big and tall for a Tour rider he found this uncomfortable so chose instead to do the complete opposite – press his inside leg hard against the top tube of the bike frame.

    That in turn enabled him in turn to press hard down on the opposite pedal and gave the bike greater stability and therefore speed.” — The Telegraph

    Not cornering but unique form.

    I just like this black and white image.

    Cobbles covered in shit!

  7. @mxlmax I think that was in regards to descending and cornering, no cornering on the pave’. 

    That shot of him on the pave’ is just a millisecond in time.  You cannot catpure pave’ cornering in stop motion, probably in the next frame his leg is going in the opposite direction! 

  8. @mxlmax

    I’m all for spinning wild theories, but I think the Telegraph was just making shit up when they said that. I’ve never seen a solitary photo of him cornering with his knee in, and I’ve never seen one of Armstrong doing that either. It also doesn’t make sense to me why that would stabilise the bike – in fact I think it would be putting more mass up higher, which has a destabilizing effect.

  9. @Chris

    That brings back a dull ache in my fore arms just looking at it!

    Great photo, reminds me of these two going full gas into this corner

    Not sure if it’s a smile or just one long shout of “faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark!”

    Out of the pan… from the cobbles onto loose grit. Gianni clenches everything.

    Yeah, some of those were tricky where you started in dirt, rode over the crown, then back across the dirt.

    Those photos are both totally badass!

    @Fausto

    Techniques currently being honed over the cobbled roads of Bristol. Terrifying in the dry, in the wet… I bail onto the tarmac roads. I’d be on my face in seconds.

    I’m not familiar with the cobbles in Bristol, but even the kasseien in Belgium don’t hold a candle to those brutes in Paris. Photos please, we need to make a judgement!

  10. @frank

    @mxlmax

    I’m all for spinning wild theories, but I think the Telegraph was just making shit up when they said that. I’ve never seen a solitary photo of him cornering with his knee in, and I’ve never seen one of Armstrong doing that either. It also doesn’t make sense to me why that would stabilise the bike – in fact I think it would be putting more mass up higher, which has a destabilizing effect.

    In this picture Yates is putting the whole mass of his tongue in to the corner too – I’m going to try that tomorrow.

  11. My home town (Montrose) used to have granite setts on most of the older streets when I was a cycling teenager on the Raleigh Shadow – we just thought they were normal. They were the size and shape of big loaves of bread from a baking tin and if even slightly moist offered all the grip of a puppy on lino. You just got used to riding them and the occasional crashing falls which hurt less if you’re only 15 or so.

    They tarred them over in the 1980’s and the town just uses cars to kill cyclists like everywhere else now.

    One of the reasons I really want to do at least some of the Keepers Tour is to see a) if pave really is worse than our regular roads and b) to rediscover my teenage sett riding skills.

  12. @the Engine funnily enough – in the fucked way nearly every suburb in Melbourne nay Australia is named after some place in the UK (eg I live in Malvern), Montrose is a suburb out in the hills (or what pass for hills) – so when one says I am heading out to Montrose- it means a hard hill ride.

    Our only cobbles are not too challenging bluestone ones – but they are only in alleys – which presents a different challenge as a fall may result in a needlestick injury.

  13. @Buck Rogers

    @mxlmax I think that was in regards to descending and cornering, no cornering on the pave’.

    That shot of him on the pave’ is just a millisecond in time. You cannot catpure pave’ cornering in stop motion, probably in the next frame his leg is going in the opposite direction!

    Obviously

  14. @frank

    @mxlmax

    I’m all for spinning wild theories, but I think the Telegraph was just making shit up when they said that. I’ve never seen a solitary photo of him cornering with his knee in, and I’ve never seen one of Armstrong doing that either. It also doesn’t make sense to me why that would stabilise the bike – in fact I think it would be putting more mass up higher, which has a destabilizing effect.

    Guess one of us will need to find a great deal more on the Yates style of riding.

  15. @Marcus yeah I remember seeing a few of those alleyways when we were walking around Melbourne a few weeks ago…there were a few that had some pretty significant gradients to them as well, you could probably link some kind of Ronde tribute ride along some of them.

    You would of course need to kick off the fashionista latte sippers. Have you ever given Fyxo’s Melburn Roobaix a crack?

  16. There may be something to the knee held next to the top tube position a la riding a motorcycle and counter steering. This was something I was not aware of when I was competing but since have fiddled  around with. The difference is 200 kilos vs 8 and it becomes really subtle on the bike. If I was still trying to beat some kid out of the last corner I think it would be worth getting to know the subtle effects.

    Cobbles in the rain are the only experience I missed! The keepers tour may correct that if I win the lottery…

  17. Davis Phinney writes about the knee in cornering technique too, along with more counter-steering than seems normal. Apparently it worked for him. I tried to use the techniques to some degree of success but found it hard to undo the learning of the many years riding prior to reading about. I would say that these days I use a bit of both techniques…whatever it takes to get around the corner fast and safe, really.

  18. Had my first few kms on gravel a couple of weeks ago, hated it, couldn’t get any traction bike sliding left right and centre, absolutely exhausting – I went from reasonable shape to hammered in about 15 minutes. Can’t even imagine what the Pave are like. Kudos to all who’ve survived!

  19. @mxlmax

    @Buck Rogers

    @mxlmax I think that was in regards to descending and cornering, no cornering on the pave’.

    That shot of him on the pave’ is just a millisecond in time. You cannot catpure pave’ cornering in stop motion, probably in the next frame his leg is going in the opposite direction!

    Obviously

    Not so fast.  It is a well established practice to take a millisecond in time and extrapolate minutes/hours down the road.  A prime example is Frank and the photo of The Prof with an “unorthodox” hand position.

  20. @Marcus

    @the Engine funnily enough – in the fucked way nearly every suburb in Melbourne nay Australia is named after some place in the UK (eg I live in Malvern), Montrose is a suburb out in the hills (or what pass for hills) – so when one says I am heading out to Montrose- it means a hard hill ride.

    Our only cobbles are not too challenging bluestone ones – but they are only in alleys – which presents a different challenge as a fall may result in a needlestick injury.

    The back alleys of Malvern/Caulfield were our cobble training grounds. One mate suffered a busted rim from getting wedged in between the bluestone, another a smal wrist facture from stuffing up a turn in them narrow alleys.

    Good times!

    View Larger Map

     

     

  21. @sthilzy

    Caulfield cobbles for my post above. (Can Google Maps, Street View link be posted?)

    Since seeing this in Winning back in 1985, this image of cobble rash has been imbedding in my mind;


    Yvon Frebert on the descent from the Intelvi in the 1985 Tour of Lombardy won by Sean Kelly – 171 starters, 32 finishers.

  22. @frank

    How about this photo. Inside knee inside of his elbow. Looks like he is using the “lean your bike more than your body” technique here.

  23. Cobblestones (or how we used to call it in Poland: “The Cats’ Heads“) aren’t my favorite. They might be technically tough but what’s more important they are tough on my balls…

  24. I don’t think you can really compare cornering today to cornering 20 years ago. Think about the differences in frame sets in general. My #1 is a carbon compact frame with Speedplay pedals; ton’s of clearance, I can pedal through corners there’s no way I could on my standard steel framed #2. Even more so on #2 when I had Time Equipe pedals.

    I learned a technique for cornering in the 90’s to pedal through 90d turns by practicing this: i.e. left turn, hands in the drops, as you corner you push on the right drop keeping the bike more horizontal, “turning” the bars left while keeping on the gas with the pedals. It’s a bit disconcerting at first to get used to the right “feel”, but when you figure it out, you can pedal (see go faster) through the turn than those coasting. I use a variation of that on my #1 in crits with sharp turns, >90deg.

  25. @scaler911 i had an opportunity to practice some of those turns with a coach last year…really opened my eyes to what can be done to maintain speed in a turn

  26. Here’s my favourite cobbles video, you can see the tires skating across the tops of the cobbles, dancing around with no real control. The muscles are flopping about in a manner that looks like old people having sex. It’s quite glorious.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QSpuhIQg1A

    In Vancouver we have different type of cobbles, just east of Crackton (the DTES) you can find patches where the blacktop has worn away to reveal how we used to build our roads – with wood. I should get a shot of it, there’s not much of it left around any more as we erect condos as fast as we can.

  27. @itburns

    @mxlmax

    @Buck Rogers

    @mxlmax I think that was in regards to descending and cornering, no cornering on the pave’.

    That shot of him on the pave’ is just a millisecond in time. You cannot catpure pave’ cornering in stop motion, probably in the next frame his leg is going in the opposite direction!

    Obviously

    Not so fast. It is a well established practice to take a millisecond in time and extrapolate minutes/hours down the road. A prime example is Frank and the photo of The Prof with an “unorthodox” hand position.

    Chapeau!  Excellent retrieval of old thread post!  Made me laugh this morning.

  28. @Dan_R

    @scaler911 i had an opportunity to practice some of those turns with a coach last year…really opened my eyes to what can be done to maintain speed in a turn

    That’s the thing:  I never rode a single cobble until the day of the cyclosportif and I wonder if I had tried to maintain a little more speed in the corners if it would of helped? Probably not.  Most likely  just would have crashed really hard!

  29. @TBONE

    Here’s my favourite cobbles video, you can see the tires skating across the tops of the cobbles, dancing around with no real control. The muscles are flopping about in a manner that looks like old people having sex. It’s quite glorious. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QSpuhIQg1A

    In Vancouver we have different type of cobbles, just east of Crackton (the DTES) you can find patches where the blacktop has worn away to reveal how we used to build our roads – with wood. I should get a shot of it, there’s not much of it left around any more as we erect condos as fast as we can.

    Great vid! Although I would put it to some harder music, though.

    But that  is what actually hurt the worst for me near the end of the ride, my bouncing and tearing (albeit very small) biceps.  Man, they hurt, like everything else, like hell for weeks.

  30. @frank

    How about this photo. Inside knee inside of his elbow. Looks like he is using the “lean your bike more than your body” technique here.

    What beautiful evidence! Thanx The Potato Man!

  31. @itburns

    @mxlmax

    @Buck Rogers

    @mxlmax I think that was in regards to descending and cornering, no cornering on the pave’.

    That shot of him on the pave’ is just a millisecond in time. You cannot catpure pave’ cornering in stop motion, probably in the next frame his leg is going in the opposite direction!

    Obviously

    Not so fast. It is a well established practice to take a millisecond in time and extrapolate minutes/hours down the road. A prime example is Frank and the photo of The Prof with an “unorthodox” hand position.

    Does this even make sense?

  32. @TBONE

    Here’s my favourite cobbles video, you can see the tires skating across the tops of the cobbles, dancing around with no real control. The muscles are flopping about in a manner that looks like old people having sex. It’s quite glorious. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QSpuhIQg1A

    In Vancouver we have different type of cobbles, just east of Crackton (the DTES) you can find patches where the blacktop has worn away to reveal how we used to build our roads – with wood. I should get a shot of it, there’s not much of it left around any more as we erect condos as fast as we can.

    Wow. That’s all I have to say. Just wow! I’m not sure my skinny, stick arms are up to the challenge (got %50 off my bicep tattoo cause they didn’t have to use as much ink).

  33. This article is an anomaly

    It is impossible to corner on cobbles

    Unless you invoke the help of pixies

  34. @mxlmax

    @frank

    How about this photo. Inside knee inside of his elbow. Looks like he is using the “lean your bike more than your body” technique here.

    What beautiful evidence! Thanx The Potato Man!

    Trouble is, that’s a dumb way to corner, especially if there are tyre grip issues. Paul Smart invented the knee out/body off the bike cornering style on a motor-bike to keep the bike more upright, helping with ground clearance and tyre grip,  notably on a dog of a Triumph.   Good reasons.  Weirdly, cos it works, it caught on.  Sure, bicycles have nowhere near the corner speeds but they don’t have anywhere near the grip either, not to mention the conspicuous absence of a suspension.

  35. @Ken Ho I wouldn’t say it’s “dumb” at all, just different. I would suggest that pros renowned for their descending and bike-handling chops like Sean Yates and Davis Phinney might be in a better position to really feel out the limits of bike handling than a few internet heros like us. Motorbikes COG are a lot lower than cyclists so perhaps that has some bearing?

  36. @TBONE

    Here’s my favourite cobbles video, you can see the tires skating across the tops of the cobbles, dancing around with no real control. The muscles are flopping about in a manner that looks like old people having sex. It’s quite glorious. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QSpuhIQg1A

    In Vancouver we have different type of cobbles, just east of Crackton (the DTES) you can find patches where the blacktop has worn away to reveal how we used to build our roads – with wood. I should get a shot of it, there’s not much of it left around any more as we erect condos as fast as we can.

    Great Video!! Must admit the airborne segment gave me chills.  Say what’s with the pussies sneaking down the shoulder near the end? HTFU!!

  37. @The Pressure

    The airborne shot and the extreme close ups are staged, not from the race… check out the chain on the small ring, feet not pedaling and no crowds. I read somewhere that those were staged shots.

  38. @Ken Ho

    Sure, bicycles have nowhere near the corner speeds but they don’t have anywhere near the grip either, not to mention the conspicuous absence of a suspension.

    Nor do they have the same mass (or pull) as a motorcycle.

  39. Yes, my thought was that he was on a curve, not a corner, and that he was pedalling to keep the power down.

    Sure, I’m an internet expert, but have done a few ride days and a couple of Keith Code Superbike courses as well as watched a lot of motorbike racing, and got to hang out with Paul Smart for a day once at Miisano.  Cycling races are not won or lost on corners, the way that motor-bike races are, so perhaps there is less attention paid to the finer art of it.

    On COG, the bulk of a rider +bicycle combo is the rider.  If anything, it makes more sense to get the riders weight as low as possible, even more so than on a motorbike.  Having the rider weight hanging on the outside of the bike makes no sense at all.

    Mostly though, it’s about front end grip. Being a good passenger is also critical to good cornering and Keith Code has a bit to say about that.

  40. @Oli

    Or he’s pedaling. Still photos of a dynamic activity don’t really tell us anything conclusively.

    To remain open minded, I first questioned if he were pedaling in this shot. He appears to be tucked* and leaving his left crank stuck* to the bottom. Classic 5 arm crank nice. Nice long stem too.

  41. @The Potato Man

    @frank

    How about this photo. Inside knee inside of his elbow. Looks like he is using the “lean your bike more than your body” technique here.

    Also refer to this shot for the front skewer position. But keep knee pressed inward.

  42. @sthilzy

    @sthilzy

    Caulfield cobbles for my post above. (Can Google Maps, Street View link be posted?)

    Since seeing this in Winning back in 1985, this image of cobble rash has been imbedding in my mind;


    Yvon Frebert on the descent from the Intelvi in the 1985 Tour of Lombardy won by Sean Kelly – 171 starters, 32 finishers.

    your spot on Finch Street is about 50 metres from my house…

  43. @Chris

    That brings back a dull ache in my fore arms just looking at it!

    Great photo, reminds me of these two going full gas into this corner

    Not sure if it’s a smile or just one long shout of “faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark!”

    Out of the pan… from the cobbles onto loose grit. Gianni clenches everything.

    One, thanks Chris for posting this shot. And thanks Jess for being such a killer photographer. From my shattered memories of that day, I think I was already well behind you and many others. Still, I was crushing the massive 50 x 21 gear, not going as fast as the photo makes it look. And Bill was just enjoying the sufferin’.

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