Time trialing is competitive cycling in its simplest and purest form. It just means riding from A to B in the least amount of time. There are no other riders to worry about, no tactics to consider, no special equipment needed. It’s just you against the clock.
A time trial is called the 'race of truth' for good reason. There's no hiding in the bunch as in road racing. You have to work for your speed every inch of the way.
If you want to ride a time trial, you’ll usually race over a set distance (the standard ones are 10, 25, 30, 50 and 100 miles) where you’ll aim to complete the distance in the shortest possible time. There are other events where you’ll aim to ride as far as possible in the time allowed – either 12 or 24 hours.
There are two golden rules in time trialing.
Am I fast enough?
Can you ride 10 miles on a road? Then the answer is 'yes'. The beauty of time trialing is that, essentially, you’re racing against yourself. Once you’ve ridden one event, you’ll have a target to beat.
What equipment do I need?
All you need to ride a time trial is a roadworthy bike. That could be a mountain bike or touring bike but not a recumbent. If you’re 18 or under, you must wear a helmet. If the bug bites, you might decide to get a specialist time trial bike with tri bars and special wheels but to begin with, a decent £500 entry-level bike will be more than adequate.
You’ll see some riders who’ve added clip-on tri-bars, which allow them to get even more aerodynamic. Tri bars differ in cost, with the more expensive ones offering greater adjustability, lower armrest cups and better aerodynamics. Another modification you may wish to consider later is to fit lighter tyres than those that come with many entry-level bikes.
How do I start?
The easiest way to start time trailing is to enter one of the Wheelers 10 mile events. We hold these are every Wednesday between April and August on a course that starts in Lower Withington. Sign-on from 18:30 in Lower Withington Methodist Church car park. You don’t need a racing licence as a Club member. If you’re under 18, you must bring a consent form signed by a parent or guardian.
There are awards at the end of the season based on your performance in your best seven events in the series divided into scratch (ie actual time) and handicap sections. In the latter, riders are given a notional allowance (the handicap) which is subtracted from their actual time to get their handicap time. So if you have a handicap of 5 minutes ad you record 30 minutes for the 10 miles, then your handicap time is 25 minutes (30 minutes less 5 minutes).
There are also two inter club 25 mile time trials in June, organized jointly by the Wheelers and Congleton Cycling Club. There is also a Club Hill Climb championship, held in August, decided by your position on the two climbs of Pyms Chair and the Cat and Fiddle.
The Club sets standard times for the different time trial distances and, if you beat those times then you are awarded a certificate at the Annual Club Dinner. Details of the standards are set out in the Club Handbook.
What’s it like to ride a club time trial?
Make sure that you arrive at least 30 minutes before the start. You sign on in the car park, pay the fee (currently £3 for members, £5 for guests) and collect your race number. Ask someone to pin yours to the back of your jersey, towards the bottom, not too high up. Your number determines your start time. For example, if the event starts at 1900 and you’re number five, you will start at 1905.
If you’ve got time, go for a ride to warm up. Riding from home to the event can be a useful warm up, but remember this’ll mean you also have to ride home. Make sure that you get to the start with a few minutes to spare. At one minute to go, you’ll get in position. Make sure you’re in a gear that you can accelerate away in. At 30 seconds, the starter will, if you wish, hold you up. Take some deep breaths, clip into your pedals and set them in your starting position. The timekeeper will count down to the start finishing with 5-4-3-2-1-GO.
Don’t make the mistake of starting too fast. You need to get into the ride, so find a rhythm for your breathing and pedaling that’s hard but sustainable. Try not to let your mind wander. This will probably feel like the hardest thing you have done on a bike – if it doesn’t, then you’re not trying hard enough. You’ll most likely be caught by other riders, including one or two dressed like extras from a Star Wars movie with disc wheels that make a whooshing sound you can hear from some distance.
The aim is to reach the finish line feeling like you couldn’t pedal another foot, although in truth you’ve probably felt like that for the last few miles. Don’t hang around the timekeeper or try to talk to them. Pedal back to the Rising Sun car park, get your time there and start planning how you’re going to beat it next time.
If you enjoy club time trials, you may want to move up to ‘open events’ which are bigger and attract riders from many clubs. The Wheelers organise an Open 25 mile event in April. You have to enter open events in advance and the fee is usually a bit higher than for club events. Open events will often award prizes for several different categories, including handicap times as well as specific awards for veterans depending on how much they beat a ‘standard time’. We are fortunate that most of the open events in Cheshire are held on courses based around Chelford.
You’ll find information on open events and lots of tips and advice about time trialing on the Cycling Time Trials website. Be careful, time trialing can be addictive and you might need to save the site as a ‘favourite’.