The time trial, or ‘TT’, is often a first step into competitive road cycling. Competitors, individuals or teams, set off at intervals and are timed over a fixed distance course. A time trial can be test of a rider’s ability to beat earlier personal bests, or effectively a race in which riders compare their performances to others. There are few tactics; in a time trial you ride against the watch – with no one to slipstream or set the pace.
Individual Time Trial
Courses vary in length with the standard distances being 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles. The winner is the rider who records the shortest time to cover the course. The ideal time trial course has no hills, is fairly straight and has smoothly surfaced roads. Many courses are on dual carriageways where the road surface is generally better and traffic can overtake the competitors more easily.
Traffic flow is often heavier and faster on main trunk roads however, so a rider has to have confidence in riding on these roads before venturing onto them in competition.
Some ‘non-standard’ distance events are held, often around one or more laps of a circuit. These so-called ‘sporting’ courses – present more of a challenge in the way of hills and bends. Non-standard circuit based courses are also a popular choice for team time trials.
A few 12 hour events are held each year. In this specialised endurance event the distance each competitor can ride in the fixed time period decides the finishing order.
The skill in doing well at individual time trialling lies in a rider’s ability to know the limit of his or her physical fitness and ride to that limit - but not beyond it. Good judgement is required in pacing oneself over the distance whilst taking factors such as the nature of the course and weather conditions into account.
Individual time trial championships are held at club, division and national level. These cater for all the different categories of competitor - e.g. juvenile, junior, senior, men, women and veterans etc. There are championships for all the standard distances of 10, 25, 50, 100 miles and the 12-hour event.
Team Time Trial
Teams of two, three or four competitors set off at intervals, usually of two, three or four minutes depending on team size. This is more of a specialist discipline. Riders in a team of two or more riders take turns at setting the pace in front, providing shelter to the other team member/s in their slipstream. This system of riding produces a faster average speed than a competitor riding solo.
The Time Trial Bike
You don’t need a special bike to take part in time trials. Your bike must simply be roadworthy and stripped of any accessories such as mudguards, carrier racks etc.
However, time trialling, in common with every cycling discipline, has seen the evolution over many years of specialised machines which can cost many thousands of pounds. The ideal time trial bike is aerodynamically efficient to reduce drag and is as light as possible whilst retaining sufficient structural strength. Lightness and strength comes from the use of materials such as aluminium alloy, titanium and carbon fibre. The use of disc wheels, compact geometry frames, triathlon handlebars and so on increases the aerodynamic ‘wind cutting’ qualities of the bike.
I Would Like To Try Time Trialling – How Fit Do I Need To Be?
If you can ride comfortably without stopping over ten miles – then you are probably capable of competing in a 10 mile time trial. This holds true for the longer distances as well. No one expects beginners to be particularly fast and once you have established a time for a particular distance the challenge comes in trying to better your personal best, or ‘PB’. You need not pit yourself against other riders until you feel ready. There will be plenty of opportunity for that once you’ve gained more fitness and experience.
How Do I Get Started in Time Trialling?
Come along to one of the Club's Thursday or Saturday TT's and give it a go. It's a very friendly environment where you will get lots of encouragement and advice should you want it. Start on your road bike and see how it goes.
FCCC time trials over various distances, 8.5 miles and upwards, are held throughout the summer; see the TT events list for details.