Cobbles, Carbon, Silk, and Dust
I hadn’t planned to ride them every day. In fact, I had planned to only ride them once and let other people ride them. But, genius that I am, I forgot my ceramic brake pads and had to source some new ones which was a maddeningly difficult process given that Europe observes something in the neighborhood of 363 holidays per year.
I was more than a little apprehensive, to be honest, of riding a lightweight set of carbon wheels down the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix – let alone on three separate occasions and two days on the kasseien of Vlaanderen. At long last, I got my hands on some brake pads, but then my hopes of riding my Golden Tickets died with the harp hiss emitting from Stefano Museeuw’s back when when he took my FMB-clad Nemisis through a hole big enough to lose him in. One thing for sure, the young talent has the “Look Pro Stop at the Side of the Road in Disgust” nailed. I suppose it helps when you’ve got the Lion of Flanders as your dad and mentor.
But truth be told, the Cafe Roubaix Arenberg wheels were amazing to ride, especially on the tarmac. On the cobbles, they were noticeably less compliant than my box-rim tubs, but they more than made up for it in speed and featheriness on the tarmac bits. And that is the element we so often overlook about Roubaix: we identify so heavily with the 50km of Pavé, but we so easily forget there are 200km of tarmac to deal with as well – which is why Museeuw ultimately lost to Tchmil aboard his ill-fated Bianchi “Throne”. When judging a wheel, all these aspects must be weighed against one another.
One thing of note, however, is that on the roughest secteurs of pavé – in particular the Trenchée and Carrefour – I found it more difficult to discover my rhythm than I did last year. Could it be that the lightweight wheels bounced too much and spent too much time going up rather than forward? I find that notion easier to digest than the notion that there was something amiss with my riding.
I proclaim this knowing full well the wrath I’m sure to receive: even for the enthusiast, the carbon wheel is the future for every discipline of cycling. While my Ambrossios are much more lovable in terms of nostalgia and good-old-fashioned hardman looks, the strength and stiffness of the Roubaixs outmatched the classic box-rim of the Nemesis in every respect from weight all the way down to trueness. On the other hand, three-cross bladed spokes on a deep-dish rim are a real bitch in a Flemish crosswind.