Every racer should time trial

When I wanted to learn to snowboard, a friend described it as “strapping your feet to a board and throwing yourself down a hill”. If someone were to ask me about time trialling, I might describe it as “riding until you feel like puking, then you keep going until someone says ‘stop'”.

Who would want to do that?

Yet when I first started racing, 20 people would regularly show up on a Wednesday night for a Summit Freewheeler club time trial in the valley. At first, no one used any aero gear. It was all “Merckx-style”. There was something oddly compelling about getting on your bike and suffering to see how fast you could go. We knew it would make us better racers.

Some of the guys who show up at Jim Behrens’ time trial ride that way. Just get on your bike and go fast.

I think every racer would benefit from doing time trials. Here’s why.

It makes you tougher mentally

If you can keep your focus and suffer through a 40km time trial, it makes a lot of other races seem easier. Then when you find yourself in a solo breakaway in the closing miles of a race, you are familiar with suffering by yourself. You can tell yourself, “it’s just a time trial.”

More than just mental toughness, it’s also about the ability to focus during a race or during training. If you want to do well in a TT you have to keep your focus. During a 40km race you might find your mind starting to wander: mmm, pizza will taste good later … when will this be over? … why did I ever think this was a good idea? … I suck … etc. After a while you learn to bring your attention back to what is at hand — something that’s useful in all kinds of races and training sessions.

It makes training more interesting

No question, training for racing requires some significant time. And doing it year after year, well, it’s bound to get a bit stale. Since doing more time trials the last 2 years, I’ve noticed that specific TT training has made my overall training more interesting. It’s something different — different bike, different type of training, different training events like the Thursday night TTs. Over the winter, it’s easier for me mentally to do a hard trainer workout on the TT bike. If training is more interesting, you’re more likely to do it.

It makes you a stronger rider

I’ve had a couple of people ask me recently how old I was, and how I managed to keep training and riding well. I think the TT training I’ve done the last couple years has made a big difference. When you get on the TT bike to do a workout, it’s all about going fast. You generally don’t get on and just casually ride around (although I will confess to having done several 3 hr + rides on the TT bike). Those are workouts I just wouldn’t ordinarily have done without the TT bike. This year I’ve been in quite a few races where I’ve found myself in solo or 2-man breakaways. This is where the TT training really pays off — when you can put your head down and maintain that TT threshold speed and see yourself pulling away from the field … and more importantly, when you know that you can hold that speed.

You get to buy cool equipment

I guess this one is all in how you look at it. One the one hand, you get to buy cool equipment: TT bike, disc wheel, aero helmet, etc. On the other hand, you’re always wanting to spend money on cool equipment. It doesn’t seem to end with the TT bike and wheels. There’s always something more. But having the TT rig seems to make you want to get on it and ride. After having spent all that money, you have to ride it to get that $$ per ride ratio smaller and smaller, right? And there is no question, showing up to a big TT and seeing all that heavy artillery is quite a sight, and pretty cool to take part in.

But I’d also like to say: you don’t need a TT bike. Clip on some aero bars. Or better yet, just show up to a TT and ride “Merckx-style”. I saw a few guys do that at the State TT: a 38km TT on a standard road bike. That’s hard-man racing.


I guess the word is out. About 12 people showed up for the Leroy Township TT Thursday night. A mix of TT bikes, Tri bikes, road bike with clip-on bars, and a couple Merckx-style. Nice turnout!



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7 responses to “Every racer should time trial

  1. Interesting. I think the 4 benefits you listed for TT also apply to cyclocross, plus the improvement in bike handling skills and partaking in the CX culture (although I’m not familiar with TT culture yet). I will make it out to Leroy this summer (I’ve been giving Track cycling a try out at Lorain on Thursdays).

  2. Brian

    one exception: since cross comes after the road season, I don’t think fitness is going to be carried into the next road season. I’m sure it helps to keep you from turning into a slug those first couple of months in the off season though.

  3. Tom H.

    Brian, I agree with what you said because, like you, I see TTs not so much as a test against other riders, though they are, but as a test of one’s own power, speed, and, mostly, character. I think riding a TT is a long look into the mirror that reveals just how fast you are and just how strong you are.

    The other reason I like them is that there is a correlation between effort and reward. If you go harder than you have before, you’ll do better than you have, and the people who finish high in the placings are suffering too. No one gets to sit in or surf wheels. In that regards, time trialing is like cross.

  4. ray

    I keep telling everyone I race with the same thing. It will make you faster and you’ll learn a lot about yourself. its quite a journey those 16 to 60 minutes of pain.

  5. Brian

    After last night’s TT, I was thinking I want to show up some time and do it on my road bike. It would be cool if Jim could keep track of “aero” as well as “Merckx” records. You know, put a little asterisk next to the non-aero-assisted times. (hint to Jim).

    I think non-aero would mean: standard road bike, no clip on bars. What about wheels? Require 32 spoke box-type rim? Or say … nothing deeper than a zipp 404? That was what the Freewheelers used to do — the idea was, what you would normally use in a road race.

  6. Great Write up and I believe totally w/ everything you said. 14 people total raced and I did it on a cross bike w/ clip-ons to add to the list of bikes.

    I like the non-aero idea too. It’d be fun to compare times.

  7. Jim

    I just read this post and there is no problem on my part. It would be easy to do and so I will start keeping a “Merckx” record next year.

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