by Coach Peter Wimberg
I know what you’re thinking. Time trials are for everyone? Seriously? Riding alone at or above your Functional Threshold Power or Lactate Threshold or 9.5 plus on a Rate of Perceived Exertion scale of 1-10 is something we should do, and possibly enjoy? I think so, and I’ll try to convince you why.
Our club here in Cincinnati, Queen City Wheels, has been holding our Tuesday night Cleves Time Trial Series every May through September for 40 years. In that time we’ve hosted about 2,000 individual riders ranging in age from juniors under the age of 10 to seniors well into their 70s and 80s.
Some weeks we have five riders, and some weeks we have as many as 70. Some riders need 40 minutes to cover the 10.25 miles, and the fastest times are under 21:30. You can see all of stats on our website at www.qcw.org if you’re interested. So, what keeps people coming back?
The beauty of the time trial is that it is a safe place for beginners to break into racing (there’s no worry about peloton perils or zipping through tight crit corners) – and it’s a great way to test yourself.
We’ve found that while riders are very interested in how they compare to others in their age bracket or others riding at about their same speed, participants are for the most part showing up to challenge themselves. I find it inspiring that some of the least-fast riders (I hate to call them slower) are the ones who are the most excited by improvements.
You Really Don’t Need a Time Trial Bike
I know that one argument against riding time trials is the equipment needed. But let’s keep in mind that about 80% of the aerodynamic advantage can be achieved with just some aero bars on a road bike. Another easy item to add is the aero helmet. Several studies have shown the helmet to be worth more time savings over a 40k than most aero framesets.
You could even borrow a helmet from a time trial fanatic — as we (yes, I am one!) seem to buy a new one every year. A skinsuit will also provide some time savings. Losing those pockets and working your way into super-tight lyrca on a hot afternoon will buy you a minute over 40k, which is still more than gained by the aero frame.
But if you can’t (or don’t want to) come up with the bars or helmet or skinsuit, go Merckx and just ride your road bike. You can still compare efforts riding the same course on the same equipment.
What Are the Benefits of Time Trials?
So why ride a 10-mile, 20k or 40k time trial?
First, it’s very difficult to achieve this kind of effort in your own training, either riding solo – where, without competition it’s hard to push yourself so hard — or in a group, where drafting is an option. It’s a unique way to boost the effort you put forth in training and riding.
Knowing you’re chasing and being chased in a time trial will bring out an effort you never knew you had in you. If you do road races, crits or even just group rides, this type of power is useful when bridging a gap, hanging with the front of the pack or maybe even dropping some of the competition. Even if it’s a no-drop group ride, it can help keep you from being the rider everyone else is waiting for.
For the racer and non-racer alike, the time trial effort will pay off in a lower heart rate for similar effort or higher power over longer rides. Over time, you’re training your heart to move more blood with each beat. It’s like your car all of a sudden getting more mpg at the same speed.
Finally, learning to pace (in a TT, riding hard enough so that you have nothing left at the end but not so hard that you can’t finish) is very different for each distance. It’s a skill that comes only through practice. Many riders invariably start off too hard no matter the type of ride they’re doing. So pacing is a valuable skill to learn, whether you’re putting it to use in a TT or a much longer tour or group ride.
So, if you’ve never ridden a time trial, consider the benefits, and try to find one in your area. Often, there are club time trial series (like the one my club hosts), local one-off organized TTs like the one John and his buddies ride each year, and even organized series hosted by bike shops and the like.
I think you’ll find that challenging yourself, and benchmarking your results, along with the myriad benefits that apply to numerous aspects of road riding, will prove to be – dare I say it again – something you enjoy.