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Five tips for time trialling

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

Hopefully I've already convinced you why I think you should give time trialling a go in my first blog in the series here. Now onto how.

Whilst people often think that time trials are the preserve of lycra clad men on very pimped up bikes and pointy helmets and long socks, that’s certainly not the case. Firstly time trials are open to everyone, and everyone can gain something from taking part. And secondly there are lots of ways to improve your speed on the bike without spending lots of money on TT bikes, wheels and helmets. Here’s my five top tips on getting involved.

1) Find an event! Sounds simple but the CTT website can be a little impenetrable at first. When looking for races, I select all the areas nearish to me (press control to select more than one) and the date(s) and distance(s) I want and then just look through everything that comes up to see if it’s of interest (whether it’s close enough, if I like the look of the course - most but not all will have a course map). It’s also worth asking around local clubs for suggestions or whether they have races you can enter.

2) Getting yourself aero – whilst people tend to focus on kit, the biggest thing creating drag is not your bike but you. Don’t be tempted to think I’m slow, there’s no point in getting aero – whilst it’s true that the faster you go, the more important position becomes, if you’re slower, you’ll be out there for longer, so even a few watts saved will have a big impact over time.

To hold your position you need to train it. Just like all other elements of training – the more you do it the easier it gets but if you do too much too soon you risk getting injured. Build up time in position over time.

Aim to make the smallest hole punching through the air at the front, so hands down low on aero bars/ drops, shoulders narrow, elbows and knees in close, head low (and looking forwards, not down! On the turbo choose a spot on the wall ahead to focus on, often the muscles that hurt the most on a TT are those in the eye socket or neck) etc. Start on easy sessions/ recovery intervals, but then build up to holding at race pace. On the turbo set up a mirror/ phone so you can check your position, and make sure it doesn’t drift over time.

And make sure you’re practicing bike handling in position as well, there’s no point in having aero bars if you slow down because you’re not confident on them, or you’re dragging round dead weight because you don’t stay down on them. Make sure you’re happy in the wind, especially cross winds, going around potholes, drinking and eating etc, all whilst staying as aero, and safe, as possible.

You need to be able to hold the position the whole time, and if you’re a triathlete you need to be able to run off the bike, so there may be some compromises to make on position to balance aerodynamics with comfort. But this is what you will test and dial in with practice.

3) Getting aero – your kit: Firstly don’t stress about kit – remember you’re going for your best time, and if that’s your best time without any special kit, then that’s your best time. It’s only if you're competing with others that you might want to get more serious on kit (if you’re doing TTs to practice for triathlon, only invest in kit that you would also use for tri).

Secondly make sure you’re not wasting watts unnecessarily – so e.g. you don’t have to get a skin suit, but do go for your tightest fitting jersey, get rid of the creases and anything flapping or dangling out the pockets, pin the number on well, don’t carry unnecessary water bottles (unless they are designed to make your bike more aero), check your tyre pressure, that cleats aren’t worn, and clean your chain!!!

Then if you’re up for spending some money focus on £ per watt savings rather than what looks fast. For example latex inner tubes are one of the best £/watt saving. As are decent tyres (e.g. GP 5000s). Don’t even think of getting new wheels til you’ve sorted those. Dan Bigham's Watts it Worth blog is a bit out of date but it’s a good starting point.

4) Set yourself some goals – at first that could be as simple as just doing your first time trial. But after that, hopefully you liked it enough (maybe ‘like’ isn’t the right word!) to do another one. Consider setting yourself a target time to aim towards (remembering that conditions on the day can make a big difference) or new distances to try. You might want to look at the BBAR or VTTA where you compete across a range of distances to set your fastest average speed.

5) Start looking for areas to improve - If your goal is to get faster then start analysing your races to see where you can improve. If you went slower than you’d expected was it that you didn’t put enough power? In which case you probably want to look at your training (I’ve not talked training at all here as that’s a whole subject in itself but, in short, a structured training plan is far more effective than just riding a lot), pacing, mental training or nutrition. Or was your power on target but you didn’t go as fast as expected, in which is its more likely you need to work on position or handling.

For more on structured training plans and coaching see here.

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