How to Ride a Time Trial: Tips and Techniques - HowTheyPlay - Sports
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How to Ride a Time Trial: Tips and Techniques

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist as well as being a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

How to Ride a Faster Cycling Time Trial

There's a good reason why a cycling time trial is known as 'the race of truth'. It's a simple test of a cyclist's ability. Man and machine against the clock.

Training and racing a time trial has a degree of complexity for every cyclist and for many it's not simply a case of turning up and riding their bike. With the tips and techniques below, you could be on the way to a faster cycling time trial.

It's just you and your bicycle against the clock, so it makes sense to pay attention to how to ride a time trial faster.

Riding a Faster Cycling Time Trial

A cyclist competing in a Time Trial on a specific time trial bicycle- A Planet X Stealth with deep section Planet X carbon wheels.

A cyclist competing in a Time Trial on a specific time trial bicycle- A Planet X Stealth with deep section Planet X carbon wheels.

Make Sure You Warm Up Well Before Your Race

Make sure you get a solid warm up prior to riding any cycling time trial. It doesn't matter whether you choose to warm up on the road, a turbo trainer or a set of cycling rollers; what matters is you get on the start line with your muscles prepared to give their all.

The table below shows the ways in which a good warm up before your cycling event can improve performance.

Benefits of a Good Warm up Before Your Cycling Time Trial

  • Increased muscle contraction speed.
  • Increased movement economy.
  • Facilitates motor nerve unit activation patterns.
  • Improved pre-competitive mental focus.
  • Increased oxidative blood flow to working muscles.
  • Warm muscles lead to between blood-oxygen interface.
  • Prepares the heart for exercise.

Know the Time Trial Course and Any Climbs

Getting to know your time trial course. Time trial courses aren't always fast drag-strips. Sometimes you have to get out the saddle and pedal

Getting to know your time trial course. Time trial courses aren't always fast drag-strips. Sometimes you have to get out the saddle and pedal

Preparing for Your Time Trial Event

Riding into the unknown can present an unwanted challenge to a cyclist and therefore can lead to indecision through a lack of knowledge. If you know how far a climb lasts for, how steep a hill becomes and how long before you have to make a ninety-degree turn into a headwind you can plan how to ride a faster time trial.

Even if a course is marshalled it is not unheard of for riders to take wrong turns and therefore a dry run of any course you're planning on racing is always a good idea whether it's a shorter circuit that you can use to warm up on, or need to take a drive around to gain an idea of where turns are, where any difficult climbs or tight corners might be. This can all help your aim of riding a faster time trial.

How to Ride a Time Trial: Tips and Techniques

You lose the most time while riding a time trial on the hardest sections of the course, therefore, it makes sense to ride harder on the difficult sections of a course to limit time losses during a time trial event.

Often the hardest points of a course are into a headwind. Headwinds can sap away your energy so the quicker you ride through the section the more opportunity you have to recover

Time Trial Braking Techniques

To ride a faster time trial, you need to consider whether you really need to brake and if you need to brake it should be done as late as possible. Any speed you lose has to be regained, and that takes precious energy that should be being used to power you along.

Get used to riding hard and taking corners at speed in training. Particularly on your specific time trial bike. If you ever get the opportunity to watch a time trial instead of riding one, compare how different riders take corners. The faster riders flow through corners without often needing to get out of the saddle to regain speed. They concentrate on maintaining a high power output throughout.

Training to Ride a Faster Time Trial

Time trials test a cyclists muscular endurance to it's extreme. Powering through a 10 mile or 25 mile time trial course is a test of a riders' strength and endurance and therefore a cyclist must train to work on their muscular endurance to maximise their time trial potential

Workouts for a faster time trial

  • 40 second hard intervals: A favourite workout for time trial training and cyclo cross training is 40 second hard efforts with a short 20-second recovery. Continue the session for up to 20 minutes and you have the basis of an excellent muscular endurance workout. Aim to work during those 40-second intervals at or slightly above your usual time trial work rate. This will stress your maximal oxygen uptake and lactate threshold.
  • Threshold heart rate workout: Starting at 20 minutes ride continually at time trial cadence at your lactate threshold heart rate and going no higher than 5 beats above lactate threshold. Building your interval up to 40 minutes or completing multiple intervals of 20 minutes or more
  • In this workout, you will be effectively working at your 25-mile time trial pace. You will need to consider your route wisely ensuring the route is relatively flat. This workout is ideally done on a local time trial course so you can accustom yourself to the demands of the route.
  • 5 seconds on, 5 seconds off: On a turbo trainer ride hard for 5 seconds in the 53-15 chain-ring and rear cog before easing of for the next 5 seconds. And go again for up to 5 minutes in total. This workout teaches you to apply power through the pedals over an extended period of time.
  • High cadence spinning for a faster time trial: It is generally accepted that a cadence of around 100 rpm is the optimum cadence for time trialling. Get used to riding at above this cadence for periods of time in training. Concentrate at keeping cadence at around 120 rpm for periods of around 10 minutes. This will help to improve your pedalling economy and will allow your legs to be able to better cope with cadence changes during a time trial on sections where you start to travel downhill which will allow your legs to build up speed before you change up gears.
  • Spin up to speed: Efficient gains in speed are often required during a time trial. Whether you're cresting the top of a hill and need to accelerate up to speed or have to brake suddenly you can prepare for such actions in training. With a relatively low resistance on a turbo trainer concentrate on slowly raising your leg speed to it's maximum over a period of 30 seconds to a minute and then attempt to maintain your highest possible cadence for 10 to 15 seconds. Once your cadence hits maximum concentrate on relaxing your feet and ankles to ensure your pedal stroke doesn't cause a bouncing movement.
With the right training you can ride a faster time trial. Bicycle pictured is an awesome looking Cannondale Slice with deep section Zipp 808 wheels

With the right training you can ride a faster time trial. Bicycle pictured is an awesome looking Cannondale Slice with deep section Zipp 808 wheels

Equipment for a Faster Time Trial

While you can happily ride a cycling time trial on a regular road bike and relatively quickly there comes to a point where training along might not be able to elevate you to the times of the competition. That's where getting an aerodynamic advantage can help you towards a faster time trial.

The cyclist pictured below has chosen his equipment to ensure he travels as fast as possible.

The frameset of his bicycle is designed to allow the rider to get relatively low down to provide a smaller surface area against the wind. The frameset is designed with aerofoil properties to allow air to channel along and limit resistance which will slow the rider.

The deep section carbon fibre from wheel and carbon disc wheel are designed to be able to swiftly cut through the air and cut time to lead to a faster time trial.

Getting the Right Equipment for a Faster Time Trial

An erodynamic helmet, time trial bicycle, and aerodynamic wheelset with a rear disc can help you ride a faster time trial. Bike pictured is a Scott Plasma with a fron HED tri-spoke carbon wheel and disc wheel to cut through the air

An erodynamic helmet, time trial bicycle, and aerodynamic wheelset with a rear disc can help you ride a faster time trial. Bike pictured is a Scott Plasma with a fron HED tri-spoke carbon wheel and disc wheel to cut through the air

An Aerodynamic Helmet for Faster Cycling?

A traditional cycling helmet sticks out from the head and provides an additional object of resistance for the cyclist riding a time trial. A specifically sculpted aerodynamic cycling helmet can help save time while maintaining the safety of a cyclist during an event.

Now Get out There and Ride

Sometimes you can spend too much time reading up on how to do something.

Good luck and let us know how you get on.

© 2012 Liam Hallam

Feel Free to Leave Feedback on This and Your Time Trial Experiences

Dave Wojtkowiak from Buffalo, NY on September 17, 2012:

Great article that really captivated my attention! I will try the techniques that you talked about and see how they work for me.

Ellandriel from Portugal on September 17, 2012:

Awesome, totally deserves to be hub of the day! I just started biking, not pro but sure will use some tips and techniques. Thank You!

Natasha from Hawaii on June 16, 2012:

Thanks for the great advice. I've never been in a race, and probably never will be, but I can put this to use to get to work faster. Less commute time = more time hanging out with my patient dogs.

Liam Hallam (author) from Nottingham UK on June 15, 2012:

Thanks Angela-Michelle. All of the photos featured in the hub were taken by myself on a trusty canon eos 500d (usa- it's a rebel t1i) which is a nice mid range dslr camera for a photography beginner. They were taken with a basic yet practical tamron 55-200 mm lens. It shows you don't need the most expensive kit to get good results.

I have a couple of new hubs on cycling photography if you'd like to know how to shoot them yourself.

Angela Michelle Schultz from United States on June 14, 2012:

Wow, those photos are amazing! It appears you took them yourself? What kind of camera do you use?

Liam Hallam (author) from Nottingham UK on June 09, 2012:

Thanks ClarkParker. I'm glad that you've found this extremely useful. I hope it helps you towards a faster time trial.

ClarkParker from California, USA on June 09, 2012:

Excellent hub! Your hub provide us with lots of helpful information. Thanks!

Liam Hallam (author) from Nottingham UK on June 06, 2012:

Thanks internpete, this information should set you well on the way to riding faster. Good Luck

Peter V from At the Beach in Florida on June 06, 2012:

Wow, a lot of good information here. I've been getting into cycling over the last year and this is very good information to read. Thanks!

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