Put simply, a time trial is a cycling race against the clock over a set distance or time. Put in layman’s terms by world age-group triathlon champion Vicky Begg from Glasgow Triathlon Club, it’s “a mean, clean, solo riding event that hurts like hell. But, boy, does it make you faster”.
Time trials (TTs) vary in distance, including 10, 25, 50 or 100 miles, or they can be for a set time, such as 12 and 24 hours, with your goal being to ride the furthest you can. Most TTs are solo events, with riders setting off at one-minute intervals, but there are also pair or team races.
According to Andy Blow, an endurance athlete coach and regular 220 contributor, TTs are ideal training for the non-drafting bike section of a triathlon: “They teach you about cycling focus, how to ride at an even pace and what you’re capable of at your maximum effort for a single discipline.”
Convert this to the bike section of a triathlon and you’ll have a much better idea of how far you can push yourself over a set distance. TTs are also a great alternative to turbo training with many triathletes utilising a TT as the perfect brick session.
Bike and kit
To get the most from TTs, you’ll want to ride a TT-specific or triathlon bike. However, a road bike will do just fine and some events will even let you ride a mountain bike (but check with the race organisers prior to the event). There are a number of requirements for bike set-up, including rules about tri- and aerobars, brakes and handlebar width. You can read the official regulations at www.cyclingtimetrials.org.uk.
Rules also apply to clothing. In Scotland, all competitors must wear a helmet (more at www.scuonline.org). The same applies to under 18s in England and Wales. Competitors of all ages must also be clothed from the neck to at least mid-thigh, with sleeves at least to mid-upper arm. So leave those skimpy tri-suits and vests at home.
When, where and how
The TT season runs mainly from March to October with many thousands of events at club, regional and national level right across the country. Races take place mid-week and at weekends. Club events levy modest entry charges (anything up to £5 per entrant), while championship events or major races are naturally more expensive.
A list of 1,750 open events can be found in the CCT (Cycling Time Trials) Handbook, while many thousands of smaller TTs are organised by local clubs. There are a host of rules for time trialling to abide to, the most obvious being that you’re not allowed to draft. Other rules apply to clothing – as detailed earlier – and each event may have its own restrictions. You should check these with the organisers before you enter any race.
For club events you may be able to enter on the day, while open or national events require entry in advance. And you could be asked for evidence of previous best times. To find out more information about the very active TT scene in Britain, visit www.britishcycling.org.uk.
For lots more bike advice head to our Training section