10 July 2012

L'Enfer du DUMBO

I've been to Hell.

All right.  I confess (Do you still go to Hell if you confess):  I wrote that first sentence to get your attention.  I didn't see lakes of fire or papal prelates or industrial/military plutocrats with encased in ice up to their necks.  And I didn't have an out-of-body experience.

But I did ride over something that, on a fixed-gear bike, can very closely resemble Hell:

Riding over this street made me think of the Paris-Roubaix race, often called L'Enfer du Nord (The Hell of the North).  Every year in April, the race organizers look for the roads in northern France and Belgium with the pointiest cobblestones or with all sorts of other hazards.

Bernard Hinault is a five-time Tour de France winner and very old-school racer:  Unlike, say, Lance, he used to ride--and, very often, win--all sorts of races all over Europe.  But he flatly refused to ride in L'Enfer.  It's hard to blame him:  He had chronic tendinitis in one knee, a condition that caused him to abandon the 1980 Tour de France while he was wearing the leader's yellow jersey.  Finally, the following year, he rode Paris- Roubaix--the only time he would do so--and won.  

Wouldn't you like to see a race like that run through DUMBO, where I took the photo?  From there, such a race could spin through other nearby industrial areas along the Brooklyn waterfront.  There are also other areas--most of them industrial or post-industrial--with Belgian cobblestones like the ones you see in the photo.  

When I had a mountain bike with shocks, I used to ride over those streets for fun.  The experience was still jarring, because most mountain bike shocks are designed to keep the bike stable rather than to cushion the rider.  It's the kind of joyously harebrained thing you do when you're young--or, as I was, full of testosterone (and, possibly, other substances).  

After bouncing along the DUMBO cobblestones, I stopped in Recycle A Bicycle, where I have been volunteering.  The young woman there was working on this bike:

She assured me that the paint job was as it appeared to me; I was not seeing an optical illusion induced by the ride I'd just done!


  1. Those cobblestones sound a lot like a part of the asphalt-clad Westport that I avoided because it was rough enough that I couldn't see right while riding it. It is why I instead rode a freeway segment.

  2. Justine,
    That street reminds me of Hitt Street in Columbia, Missouri, which I rode very often. I had a hard-tail bike and didn't think nothing of it. As a student, you put up with a lot of stuff :)

    Bicycle Quarterly talked about PBP and the effect of tire pressure, tire width, etc, in through a Statistical Designed Experiment, if I am not mistaken. You may find that article interesting.

    Peace :)