Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Friday, May 29, 2015

How to Succeed at Time Trials Without Really Trying

ATC Racing - 2014 State Team TT Champions

by Jack Mott

The Individual Texas State Time Trial Championship approaches this June 20, 2015, a flat and fast 40K time trial. As usual, for triathletes there is a multisport category, or you can mix it up with the pure cyclists in any category you like! Time trial rules now allow any participant to race in a higher category than his or her own. For example, if you're a brand new cat 5 but consider yourself a cycling prodigy in the making, you can opt to race with the cat 1s. Sleeveless skinsuits are now also allowed, and UCI illegal bikes are perfectly acceptable as well. If you're interested in putting yourself and your equipment to the test, this race is the perfect place to experiment.

How To Go Faster (without really trying)

Triathlon and cycling are full of suspect manufacturer claims about how much time is saved with a given part, or bike. Often these claims don't live up to reality, as every hill and turn on a course will eat away at your aero advantage. But the State TT course this year is flat and straight, and you will get every free second your equipment promises. So here is a quick bang-for-the-buck list of how you can go faster without pedaling any harder.
  1. Don't Worry About Weight! - This freebie is so free you don't have to do anything at all. You just have to stop doing something. Especially for the flat and fast State TT, don't worry about how much equipment weighs. Even if $1 would save you 1 kilogram of bike weight, spend that dollar on a better chain lube or latex tube instead. Using the powers of physics, you can illustrate this point. Open up the aeroweenie calculator. You will see two columns that represent two bike setups. You can leave all the default values if you like, or change them if you know what they mean. Now make one bike 1 kilogram heavier than the other. Leave everything else the same. Enter how many watts you expect to do (slower riders will be around 200, faster around 300). Hit the button and see how much time difference 1 kilogram or 1,000 grams makes.  
  2. Position - This often costs nothing; you merely need to adjust your bike, or adjust your posture on it. Lower is not always better, but it tends to be. Don't be afraid of low. It doesn't take flexible muscles or a super strong core; it just takes the will to try, and the time to figure out how to make it comfortable. You might not want to make any big changes in your position right before State TT, but one simple thing you can focus on is simply how you posture your body on your bike. If you are like most people, you probably have "periscope head." Drop your head down and look up with your eyeballs. Hold your torso low between your shoulders; don't hold it up.  Just this act of consciously keeping your head tucked down can save 40 seconds per 40K.
  3. Periscope head on the left. Head low on the right. No bike adjustments necessary.
  4. Clean and Lube Chain - Compared to a clean chain with a good lube on it, a dirty chain may be eating up as much as 7 of your precious watts. I like to use Rock n Roll Extreme, which has tested really well over at friction-facts, and serves to clean and lube at the same time. If you apply it every few days and wipe the chain down really well with a rag afterwards you will keep it shiny and fast. While you are at it, wipe off the derailleur pulleys with a rag as well.
  5. Tires and Tubes - This is the most underappreciated part of the bike and the most important for speed and safety. While it's a bit pricey for some of the best tires, they can save or cost you minutes of time per 40K, so choose wisely.  Read up on our previous post All About Road Bike Tires, and don't use gatorskins for racing!
  6. Clothing - A quality skinsuit that fits you snugly can offer massive time savings. For a 40K TT you can use one with no pockets, but a solid trisuit is fine too. If you are really on a budget, find a snug-fitting under armor shirt.
  7. Helmet - An aero helmet is typically worth about 30 seconds per 40K over a road helmet, and many affordable examples are out there, making it one of the better bangs for the buck. 
  8. Aerobars - The parts of your bike at the front are always the most important aerodynamically, as they hit the air dead on before anything else does. Many bikes come from the factory with inexpensive or easy-to-adjust aerobars. This is a wise way to start for people who will be adjusting their position for a while. But once you figure it out, a more aerodynamic bar can save big chunks of time. Look for models that have an airfoil-shaped base bar, and that hide the cables inside them as much as possible. Options range from super expensive integrated bars like the Zipp Vuka Stealth to less expensive options from Profile Design, Vision, and 3T. ATC can help you pick out the bar that will support your position and budget. While it might seem crazy to spend a lot on an aerobar, remember it can often make more difference than the frame behind it!
  9. Wheels and Frames - While at the top of the list for most people, given their expense they are at the bottom of the bang-for-the-buck list. Once you have addressed the items above, shave more seconds away with top-of-the-line wheels and frames. Upgrading from an aging P2 or Slice may not radically change how fast you go, but you can also get handy new features like top tube bolts for bento boxes to install these more cleanly, or integrated water and storage solutions and better cable routing. The new P2 is my top pick for a budget bike upgrade. Pair it with a slick aerobar and you have a bike as fast as anyone. Upgrading from standard training wheels to deep aerodynamic wheels can save a bit of time as well. Don't worry about how much the wheels weigh, or if they are fully carbon or not. Don't even worry about tubular versus clincher, as it doesn't matter! What you are after is aerodynamics. Go as deep as you want in the rear, with a disc wheel almost always being the best choice. For the front wheel, pick a depth you will be comfortable with in crosswinds. Zipp, HED, Profile Design, Vision and others all make great aero wheels. Again, ATC can help you find what fits your budget.

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