Time Trials for beginners

It’s been a couple of years since I wrote this blog. Most of the advice is pretty good, but take it all with a pinch of salt. After writing this article I managed to improve my 10 mile time to a short 22 on a slightly sporting circuit, and have managed to do 25 miles under the hour a few times. I’m no expert really, but I have learnt a few lessons along the way. The best advice I can give a beginner now is to buy some clip on aero bars for £20-£30 and just turn up for a local club evening 10. Generally they cost about £4 to enter, no need to pre book, just turn up at least half an hour before the start and look for the old blokes with the clipboard. Everyone will be welcoming, and nobody will care if you’re the slowest. Once you’ve done a couple of TTs you’ll work out how what its all about and how best to pace yourself. Enjoy!

Original article:

I thought that whilst I am learning the ropes I should write down all the little lessons I’ve learnt so a) someone else might benefit and b) I don’t forget them!

I am one of those weirdos who enjoy TTs. It helps that I am still improving, so pretty much every time I ride I get a personal best. My personal gains are partly down to my fitness improving, but also because I am gaining more experience. Preparation can have a big impact on your time, so if you’re new to the discipline there should be something here for you to take away.

Worth mentioning is that the governing body has a website, here is an article for beginners on it. Oh and watch this.

Free gains

Clean the bike. If your bike is dirty its not going to cut through the air as well. Even if it is pretty clean try spraying the frame with a bit of GT85 or WD40 and wiping it down, make it shiny clean. Make sure your wheels are clean too, but don’t clean the braking surface with a lubricant…

Clean the drivetrain, dial in the gears. Clean the chain, cassette, derailleurs and chain rings. If your chain is sparkling clean it will both work more efficiently and make you feel faster. You don’t see any dirty cassettes in the pro peloton. Remember to lube it after its been cleaned.

Tyres and wheels – use the right tyres and pump them up. Should go without saying, but get the right pressure in your tyres. Also, you’re not going to go as fast with heavy puncture proof tyres as you would on some nice lightweight slicks. See the bit below about buying gains for more on this.

Take off all your accessories. Saddlebag, gone, put a spare tube and bits in your back pocket if you must. Lights, maybe leave a small flasher on the back, but that’s it. I even take off my bottle cages if I have some spare time. You’ll probably want to keep your computer though.

Trim your cables. Next time you replace your cables make sure there is no excess cable, they need to be as short as possible (whilst still functioning of course). I remember Chris Boardman saying that each loop of cable costs about 5w of energy to push through the air. If you’ve not replaced your cables for a while, now is a good time to do this.

Shave your legs and save about a minute on a 25 mile course. Watch this.

Don’t overdress. You don’t want to overheat. Get rid of the base layer, arm warmers and certainly the gillet. You’ll soon warm up.

If you’ve got overshoes then use them for aero gains, unless its a hot day and they make your feet too hot. I’ve just ordered some Velotoze overshoes, which at least look like the real deal. EDIT Velotoze are popular on TTs, but they rip easily, so be careful with them. Talcum powder will help you get them on and stop them from sticking together when you wash them. VeloToze claim they will save you something like 12 seconds on a 25 course, but they probably give you a placebo boost too. 

If you have spacers under your stem then lower it. If it is angled up then take it off and flip it over so it is angled down. This will lower your position and lessen the amount of air you are pushing out of your way. EDIT – Or just get clip on TT bars 😉

Saddle position. When you’re in the TT position you’ll be further forward than you ride normally (on the rivit!). Put your saddle forward a bit, and maybe raise it to compensate.

Be well rested. Don’t put in a massive ride on the way to the TT, or go for any KOMs. Drive if you think it will help you reserve some energy. If you’re riding out to the TT then take it very easy. Get there with enough time to register THEN warm up.

Warm up, correctly! British Cycling have a good article about warm ups: here. Basically aim for 20 minutes, but in 3 quick efforts to wake you legs and heart up.

Practice the course. If its local enough to you then ride out there the week before and check it out. You need to know where all the uphill bits are or where its likely to be windy. If you know the course you will know how better to measure your effort and you should go faster.

Practice riding in the TT position. Get used to it as much as possible. Keep your shoulders and elbows tucked in as much as is comfortable.

Know your Heart Rate. If you have a HR monitor then definitely use it. I recommend doing a Functional Threshold Heart Rate test. Once you know your functional heart rate then aim to maintain that for your TT. EDIT – actually, you should be pushing over your FTHR on a 10 mile TT, and ride to your FTHR on a 25 mile course. 

Check the weather. In particular know which way the wind is blowing. If you want to be really geeky then see what the pressure is too, the thinner the air the less of it will be in your way.

Don’t wear gloves unless they’re aero ones or its too cold not to.

Hydrate and fuel yourself correctly. Eat something like pasta a couple of hours before the start. EDIT – 3 hours probably better. Eat a banana 15 minutes before the start. Drink plenty of water in the 2 hours leading up to the start (wee in the bushes). DON’T take an energy gel 1 minute before you start, by the end you’ll be wanting to vomit (trust me). If you drink enough water before hand you wont need to drink whilst you’re riding, although you’ll probably want to. EDIT don’t bother drinking on a 10 mile TT, maybe on a 25 mile course, but you’ll only need a quick sip. Save some water back for after you finish, you’ll really need it by then. Take two bottles of water with you, every time I’ve taken just one I’ve regretted it.

Pin your number on so it doesn’t flap around in the wind.

Bought gains

There are lots of great resources online, for example check out Cycling Tips, in particular look at the chart to see what you can spend your money on to go faster. The other day I went to another clubs TT and there were people there on really expensive TT bikes who were wearing their regular, baggy, club jerseys. Any gains they could hope to get from spending £2000+ on their specialist bike would be lost because they were wearing £35 jerseys.

Clip on aero bars – they cost about £30 at places like Wiggle and Planet X. I’ve only just got around to ordering some myself. If you want to spend money to go faster then you should probably start with buying these.

Clothes – if you want to spend real money then get a skin suit or speed suit. This will probably be the next purchase for me. But if you don’t have £150 to spend on something you’re only going to wear a handful of times a year then get a race fit jersey. The more you spend here the more time you’re likely to save.

Wheels and tyres. If you’re still riding on the crap wheels that came with your bike then you should spend the money here before you spend on anything else. Spend as much as possible, but you’ll want to spend at least £150 to get a worthwhile upgrade, and more like £300 for the best bang per buck. Some deep section carbon wheels will probably make you faster still. But they do cost a lot more. You can find cheap second hand wheels on http://www.timetriallingforum.co.uk/ However, you can also spend £50-£100 on a new set of tyres and latex inner tubes to go faster. Read this, and this – Continental GP4000S II tyres seem to be the best for regular clincher wheels.

Helmet – pointy helmets work, and cost in the region of £100 – £250. You can also get a normal shaped aero helmet for a lot less (eg £30 from Planet X if you don’t mind the colour). IMO wearing a pointy helmet on a normal road bike looks a bit funny, so if I were you I’d only get a pointy helmet after buying a TT bike.

As mentioned above – Velotoze shoe covers £15. On a 10 mile course I guess they might save you 10 seconds?

Anecdotal evidence

I have recently put some of this to the test and rode the same 10 mile TT two weeks in a row, changing my preparation slightly. My fitness level probably didn’t change an awful lot in one week. The weather was nicer on the second attempt, but if anything the cooler weather with a tailwind on the hardest parts of the course was probably more favourable on the first week. Also worth noting is that when I got the faster time it felt a lot easier, and my HR data backs this perception up. This is what I did differently:

  • Drove to the TT.
  • Didn’t take a gel on the start line.
  • Took the saddle bag and water bottle cages off my bike.
  • Cleaned the bike, lubed the drivetrain.
  • Used newer tyres with latex inner tubes.
  • Lowered my stem, raised my saddle.
  • Didn’t wear a base layer or gloves (needed it the first week though).

I was hoping that taking these measures might save me 20 seconds to get me below 24 minutes, so I was surprised with how much faster it helped me go – 48 seconds faster. Next time I’m hoping my purchases of shoe covers and clip on TT bars will help me to shave off another 30 seconds, and maybe get under 23 minutes.

To summarise

If you can improve your position, know your heart rate, know the course, shave your legs, clean your bike, reduce your drag and spend a little bit of money on some bits to help you, then I’d expect you to go MUCH FASTER on a 10 mile TT than if you’d not prepared. You’ll have more fun too 🙂


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