Back Time Trialling

I’ve been time trialling again this season. They are strange but simple things: ride as fast as you can over a set distance. You do your best, work out what constitutes success and then measure yourself against it.  

The parameters of success bit is important. The first thing to reconcile is how fast is fast? If you used to go quite quickly (I did, believe it or not) this means ignoring what you used to do and framing it against what you do now. It’s semantic as much as anything; i.e. ‘contemporary PB’ vs ‘all-time’ PB. I know I’m not going to smash the times I used to do, but I can set and then improve new times. Similarly, placings – I’m not going to win any races, but I might be able to break the top 20 if half the field DNS because they don’t like the rain. Linked to this is accepting the idea that you will be overtaken, regularly, at speed, sometimes in a ridiculous fashion. This happened at the weekend, it was good, I was ok with it, right up until someone who started 12 minutes behind came hurtling past like shit off a shovel. I recall saying “oh”, out loud. But equally, I am reconciled that my shit off a shovel days are well and truly behind me, unless the shit is really sticky and viscous and the shovel blade is rusty, both which combine to prevent any rapidity to the egress of shit. So that’s me, lumpy shit on a rusty shovel, and I’m ok with that.  

Like sticky shit off a sticky shovel and a leg so white it was clearly borrowed from a cadaver

The second thing to reconcile is the level of equipment – or the investment. Whatever people say, bike racing is an expensive sport and it has proper gateway drug feels, especially when someone comes past on a Bolide or 11k of similar unobtainium. New bikes have no cables, no visible extremities, they are based on the spaceship from Flight of the Navigator. Old bikes have bits sticking out all over the place, like lockdown hair. I have an old bike because last year I resolved to try and do this thing on a budget. I am a bit resentful at the cost of bikes and find it hard to escape the sense that they are massively overpriced. Framing bikes that cost upwards of £5k as ‘budget’ or ‘entry level’ seems quite commonplace. I note also that the bike trade is busy changing what we think is standard by making everything disc braked, thus ensuring that obsolescence continues to creep up and we have to buy new things. That isn’t to say that you can’t find a cheap(er) frame or bike, and there are options, but you have to be creative and committed to making it work, finding the frame and parts and accepting the performance level of these elements.  

I’m using a Giant TCR from 2002 with a HED Disc from 2003 and a slightly later trispoke. Everything else is dredged from the parts bin, with the exception of a set of Tiagra brakes and a planet-x saddle. Complete, it cost about £400, which certainly qualifies as a bargain. It has added kudos, like some bikes, in that speaks of a different era of bike racing, has the nostalgia factor and helps break the ice at bike races. But there is no question that it is a slower bike. It lacks the aerodynamics of contemporary carbon. It is lighter – that’s clear, in fact, it’s probably the lightest TT bike I’ve ever ridden – but it is some way short of slippery in comparison to the new stuff. This is the element I have to reconcile – I could go faster on a newer, expensive bike, but I can also accept that I can go this fast on this bike and have fun. I also do lots of work on position. Although maybe ‘lots’ is overegging it. I try and make my position like it used to be, but with some concessions to the newer trend of ‘hands up’, etc.  

I have a couple of targets. It is going to take a while. I managed 1.58.07 for fifty miles the other day, that’s 25mph and a bit. I have done a few evening tens and hit 26mph last night, but in the context of missing a turn and getting stopped at a roundabout, all of which I found resolutely entertaining. So we’re good, I’m enjoying it. I am getting quicker, slowly.

Drafting whilst Cycling

it’s a well-known fact that drafting is the key to success in nearly all aspects of road biking, with the exception of the individual time trial where it’ll get you pariah status faster than you can say ‘75% of the effort’.

i don’t know if i speak for other cyclists or not, but one of the things i live for as a cyclist is that moment when the absolutely perfect draft appears out of nowhere. i had one that was nigh on perfect today. i turned into a long section of B road and up ahead an enormous low-loader was just turning out of a works depot onto the main road. i slammed it into the small cog and gave it everything to get on terms before it accelerated away from me. this is the first essential ingredient of the draft – you’ve got to get on terms, commit straight away and grab the lift.

the rear trailer had two enormous wheel ramps on either side, shielding me entirely from the wind. i tucked in behind and rapidly moved into the 11 sprocket, churning over the big gear like dave le grys, but without the differential gearing (something Adam from the BBP told me about but i forget how it works, it basically means you can push 300 inches or something).

i managed to cling on, completely out of the wind and quite possibly scaring the cars behind. i can’t help but think that it must be a bit of a spectacle, although this is tempered slightly by the knowledge that from inside of a car nothing looks that fast. cyclists doing 25+mph look positively pedestrian, if that’s not a contradiction too far.

So anyway, after a short while i stole a quick glance at the garmin and realised i was doing nearly 40mph. on the flat! i felt super strong, the Ole Ritter of Long Ashton. I averaged 30mph for about a mile on my road bike, and peaked out at 40. it was a fantastic drafting experience and made up for those times i’ve tried to grab a cement lorry or other such and left with a sudden build-up of lactic acid and not a lot else.

The best drafting experience i ever had was on an after work ride, from Bristol to a friend’s house in Lynmouth. It was a bit of an epic, about 90 miles, finishing with Porlock in the last 10. To compound matters i had to battle a vile headwind across the flats from axbridge to minehead. There’s a flat section after Minehead, and suddenly the guardian angel of cycling sent me a Massey Ferguson, replete with high sided trailer and a top speed of 30mph. I managed to draft the combo for 9 blissful miles. When he finally turned off i couldn’t help but laugh and he gave me a thumbs up.

The most cinematic draft ever is in Breaking Away, Peter Yates’ amazing rites of passage film that also has some cycling in it. i’ve posted it before. it’s here.



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