This article first appeared on Bike Radar
It’s a brutal but simple problem: the 27 cobblestone sectors of Paris-Roubaix are hell to ride across on a normal race bike. Over the years we have seen a number of technologies to combat this emerge, from pivoting frames to elastomer rear suspension to front suspension forks. But the most effective solution is also simple: fat tubulars with low pressure.
While 28mm has become the standard width, last year John Degenkolb won Paris-Roubiax on 30mm tubulars, showing that even fatter isn’t necessarily slower. While Degenkolb didn’t return to defend his title, his entire Giant-Alpecin squad followed suit, riding 30mm tubulars marked with a simple smiley face.
Normal road racing pressure is around 6-7.5 bar / 85-108psi, depending on rider weight and conditions. For Paris-Roubaix, riders will start out much lower, in the range of 4.8-5.2bar / 70-75psi, and the tubulars will lose a little air over the course of the 6+ hours of racing over 258km.
As with most bike tech choices, it’s a balancing act with tubular pressure: riders want comfort on the stones but speed and efficiency on the tarmac.
At the start of the 2016 Paris-Roubaix, world champion and recent Tour of Flanders victor Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) opted not to compromise. Instead, he started the race on a Specialized Tarmac with 26mm tubulars on 64mm rims, then planned to switch after about 100km of racing to a Roubaix with 30mm tubulars on 40mm rims before the cobbles started.
Before the race, mechanics worked to prepare every bike with the front and rear pressure specifications of each rider. Most used a digital pump to set the pressures handwritten on a team sheet. Others used a track pump for inflation and then double-checked the pressure with a digital gauge.