Time trialling is perhaps the most quintessentially British form of Cycle Sport. Back in the mists of time racing on the open road was banned in the UK so clubs would organise secretive individual time trials very early in the morning where the riders would wear all black outfits. To keep the authorities at bay, when the race was being publicised the course being used for the event would be referred to by a special code, e.g. K6/25, L241, which are still used to this day.
Many of Britain’s best riders have developed their talents through a youth spent time trialling; just think of Chris Boardman, Graeme Obree or David Millar.
Time trials are often called the “race of truth" which is a good description: in road racing a rider who lacks fitness but employs first class tactics will normally get a better result than the super-fit rider who rides naively. In a time trial, there is nowhere to hide. Without the slipstreaming effect, tactics take a back seat and pure ability comes to the fore.
For the beginner time trialling can seem a lot less frustrating than road racing. If you compete in time trials every week you will be able to see a gradual improvement in your times and your position against other riders.
In the UK, time trialling is governed by CTT (Cycling Time Trials – formerly known as the RTTC). They have about 2,000 events being held under their watchful eye each year with a further 2,000 or so being club events that are not advertised. There are events held year round but the majority are concentrated into the spring and summer months when there is more daylight about. If you want to participate in any of the events then you have to be a member of a club (you can find your nearest club by looking in our club directory or contacting CTT) but if you’re polite and contact the organiser of an event, they may well let you ride on a “come and try" basis. If you want to find out about one of the non-advertised local events, you could do a lot worse than asking in your local bike shop.
Time trials are nearly always over set distances of 10 miles, 25 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles, 12 hours or 24 hours. In the past time trials were mostly held on out and back courses, typically on dual carriageways. In recent years there have been a number of deaths where drivers coming down a slip road and looking right over their shoulder instead of straight ahead, have knocked riders off. In a bid to find safer routes, more and more time trials are being held on what are known as “sporting" courses that tend to be held on a circuit using only left hand turns.
In terms of equipment, time trialling is very accessible. Remember, you are riding “contre la montre" (against the clock) so while it might be nice to have a specific time trial bike, it’s just as possible to make big improvements, week on week, on an old mountain bike. Nowadays you will need to wear a proper helmet rather than an aero head-fairing but that’s no hardship to most riders anyway.
The best position to be in from an aerodynamic perspective is the one that creates the smallest frontal area against the wind and specific time trial bikes are available to help achieve this. Time trial bikes tend to be very expensive and very limited in their potential uses (while it’s possible to go touring on most road racing bikes, the same is not true of a time trial bike). Most people find they are best off using a normal road bike with tri-bars and aero wheels (if you can afford them).