Today was the ECCA 100. I have won the event in the past two years, and this year promised to be faster times because the course had been moved to all dual-carriageway on the A11 and A14 south of Cambridge. I was looking forward to the event because in recent weeks I’ve had good form, set some pbs, made some significant aero improvements and the weather forecast looked very good with low air pressure and low wind.
In fact, I tried to add up all the potential time savings in the past 12 months – watts of drag saving, faster course, better form, low air pressure, new special waxed from watt shop. On the back of an envelope, I calculated all these factors, using the formula of ’20 seconds gain per 40km per watt of drag reduction’ and I came up with a time of 3.14. Marvellous! perhaps I should have just stayed at home and stayed with my virtual time. It’s wonderful what you can learn from the internet and a bit of ‘positive thinking’. If only riding a 100 mile time trials were as easy as writing a ‘back of a fag packet’ calculation.
For both hill climbs and timetrials I have been tempted to run a single chainring in the pursuit of a few marginal gains. From an aesthetic point of view it also looks good. The only downside is a potential risk of chain unshipping and undoing any marginal gain you may have benefited from. Therefore, it is not just about taking everything off; you need a sufficiently good mechanism to stop the chain unshipping. Also, the loss of gears are a problem for some courses and training.
The important thing for running a single chainring, is to make sure you get a chainring designed for single chainring use. A specific chainring will:
Lack ramps and pins (which help with shifting).
Also its teeth are taller its geared counterparts, which aids in chain retention.
Narrow-wide chainrings have alternating widths between teeth to help with chain retention.
Even, if get a specific single chainring, you might still want to consider a chain guard (e.g. front derailleur / chain catcher) to be 100% sure against chain slip. Though opinion is mixed. If you have a special single ring use chainring – some will say you don’t need a chain-catcher, others will say ‘better safe than sorry’.
In the UK, the local 10 mile time trial is a popular way of measuring your fitness and speed. It is an easy discipline to enter and appeals to anyone from the really keen time trialist to the more everyday cyclist interested in trying something different. The great thing with a 10 mile time trial is that you can just turn up on a decent road worthy bike and see how you get on.
But, as soon as you’ve done your first 10, you will want to try and beat your previous time. This is the great attraction of time-trialling, even if you come last, there is always the incentive to try and beat your previous pb. There are quite a few ways to improve your times in a 10 mile time trial – from spending money on some aero equipment to good old fashioned training. The best thing is to maximise in every possible area. How far you go depends on how much you get addicted to the speed and trying to beat your previous best.
Main ways of going faster in a 10
Training. In particular, specific training to improve power and speed for the 10 mile distance.
More aerodynamic position. Most riders can shave off seconds (even minutes) by making their position more aerodynamic. (Some methods are more expensive than others)
Faster course. Fortunately or unfortunately, some courses produce quicker times than others. The best is not to get hung up on the course you do, but try to beat your pb for local courses.
Faster tubulars. Ride track tubs and you can go faster, but risk a puncture.
What is a good time for a 10 mile TT?
A ten mile time trial can taken anything between 17.20 (over 34 mph) and 40 minutes.
A good target for a fit club cyclist is to break 24 minutes on a standard quiet course. This requires an average speed of 25 mph. To win an open event, depending on the course, the most common time is something between 20.00 and 21.00. A big target is to break 20 minutes (average speed of over 30 mph).
Time trials are the simplest aspect of cycling sport. Riders go off at timed intervals and race alone. The fastest rider wins. It is a simple race against the clock or as they say in France – ‘contre la montre’
It has also been called ‘The Race of Truth’ because there are no team tactics. The strongest rider should win.
It’s not as exciting or spectacular as road races, but, time trials are often included in big stage races like the Tour de France and can be exciting in their own right for big events. It is often the time trial which decides who wins the big Tours. For example, in the 1989 Tour de France, Greg Lemond (USA) famously overturned a 50 second deficit on the final time trial to win the Tour by 8 seconds.
Rules of Time Trials
The rules of time trials are fairly simple.
Ride the course
Don’t take shelter from other riders (known as drafting)
Have a bike fitting regulations of the cycling body.
In practise, there are many minor rules. The UCI have very strict rules about the placing of your saddle, angle of handlebars and even the aspect ratio of materials. In the post war period, the UK Road Time Trials Council (RTTC) had a long book of rules, including having a bell on your bicycle.
History of Time Trials
In the 1880s, UK mass start road races were constantly under attack from the police. This was due to complaints from (the generally wealthy) motorists that felt they were being terrorised by ‘furiously fast cyclists’. This was in the day of motorists driving at 10mph (how times have changed…)
An early time trial. The rider is performing a ‘dead-turn’ – a u-turn in the middle of the road. He is also dressed all in black. It is rather quaint that there was a time when you can stand in the middle of the road as the turning point for a cycle race.
The British Time Trial Championship 2015 was held at Cadwell Park motor racing circuit. It had an impressive entry list with around 180 riders entering the Men’s, Women’s and Under – 23 championship. Former World Hour record holder – Alex Dowsett (Movistar) underlined his world class form to take a fourth national title. In the women’s event Hayley Simmonds (Team Velosport) won, and Scott Davies (100% ME) retained his under-23 title.
The race started on the Cadwell motor racing circuit before heading out to some local Lincolnshire lanes, which were closed to traffic. The men did 28.7 miles with women and under-23 men doing 2 laps of the big circuit for around 21 miles.
The growth in British Cycling
I did my first British time trial championship in 2005. It was held near Penistone on open roads to traffic, with a typical local school for HQ. I’m not sure how many people entered in 2005, but it wasn’t that many and only a handful of women and under 23’s. Fast forward nine years, and you can see in a microcosm how British Cycling has changed. There is much more interest from across the board and a real strength in depth. Cadwell Park and the closed roads made a very impressive setting for the Championship.
Compared to 2005, it was a bit like moving from Sunday league football in the local park, to suddenly finding yourself in the Premier League playing at Old Trafford. Sunday league football and the the village HQ retain a certain charm for domestic time triallist like myself, but it is really good for the opportunity to race on a bigger circuit, with banks of spectators and wonderful curves of a motor racing circuit. I enjoyed it a lot.
The H10/8 time trial course is on the A31 Bentley bypass. It is one of my favourite courses because it is fairly local, quite fast, a few long drags to make it interesting and a fairly straightforward turn. The road surface is mostly good and smooth (not like the H50/8 which goes further West to Chawton).
There is 93 m of climbing over the 10 miles. It finishes a little lower down than the start.
Today, there was quite a strong headwind (17mph) from the West. It meant it would be hardest out to the turn at Holybourne roundabout. It is also hard for the first couple of miles because you climb a long drag.
I used to really dislike wind when timetrialling – it makes it harder and you go slower, but having a power meter makes wind more enjoyable. You might be going slower, but you can be comforted by the fact at least your power meter says you’re making a big effort.
With a strong headwind and uphill start, I went quite hard from the start, aiming to do the biggest effort into the wind.
Sunday was the national 100 mile Time trial championship in the sleepy Norfolk town of Swaffham. It was was essentially 4 laps of an undulating course, run on quiet country roads, with minimal traffic. I thought it was a good course for a national 100, especially with the outbreaks of rain which would have made a dual carriageway more difficult. The men’s event was won by Charles Taylor (South Pennine CC) in 3.43.27. The women’s by Brownen Ewing (Trainsharp Racing Team). I finished 3rd. It was one of the hardest time trials I’ve done for a long time, and really blew up after 70 miles. My average power was much lower than last 100. I’ve never hurt so much in TT for a long time. I also punctured at 90 miles, but just managed to scrape home, to pip Michael Broadwidth into 4th by 20 seconds. Adam Topham (High Wycombe CC) was 2nd.
The first 50 miles were good. The only difficulty was at about 40 miles – catching someone who started just in front, but then half a minute later they re-overtook. I had to sit back ease off, take a gel and then I went really hard to make sure they got dropped. I think this sustained burst of power didn’t help later on. At 70 miles, I started to feel really tired and there wasn’t much power left. I’m not sure why, in the ECCA 100, I had a similar power at this stage but could maintain it all the way to the end. But, for some reason today, it wasn’t there. At 75 miles, I stopped by side of road to pick up a third bottle. In ECCA I only needed 2, but today I needed some more energy. Shortly after – going down a fast hill I got overtaken by a rider who I had recently caught for 16 minutes! He shouted some encouragement and said not to loose concentration. But, It wasn’t really a loss of concentration, just a loss of power. Anyway, the good thing about being a hill climber is that if someone who is slower than me overtakes on the downhill. I know that on the uphill I’m almost certain to be able to overtake and drop them. Even if my power was relatively low.
A time trial bike will be significantly faster than a road bike. If you want to get faster times in a time trial, then a time trial bike becomes essential.
The best time trial bike to buy depends on your budget. But, bear in mind, an entry level £700 time trial bike will still be much faster than a £6,000 road bike. To go faster you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune.
Generally with bikes – as you pay more, you get better performance, but the gains become increasingly small. The difference between a £500 bike a £1,000 bike is quite noticeable. But, the difference between £4,000 and £6,000 (to say get Dura Ace Di2 vs Ultegra Di2) is very small.
General principles on buying time trial bike
A bike only accounts for 10% of the surface area which hits the wind. 90% is you. Getting a better position will offer bigger gains than getting a more expensive frame / groupset.
Always remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune to go faster.
Weight is important in time trials, but in flat time trials, aerodynamics counts for much more. You don’t have to get super-lightweight to go fast. If you do mainly flat time trials, weight isn’t so significant. You will notice time trial bikes tend to be heavier than road bikes. This is because often the frame is thicker and wider. A bigger surface area can give aero benefits, though the cost is extra weight. I guess one day they will make TT bike which meets UCI limit of 6.8kg, but you’re doing quite well if you get a TT bike below 8.0 kg.
If you’re buying a time trial bike, don’t blow all your budget on the bike, you can get bigger returns from buying accessories, such as: skinsuit, helmet, overshoes, aero bottle. See: Ways to improve aerodynamics for time trials.
When I bought a Project One time trial bike, I chose cheap clincher wheels to use as training wheels. I later upgraded and bought a disc wheel and deep section front wheel. Don’t worry too much about the wheels, if there’s a chance you’ll want to upgrade later.
Do you need to upgrade to Di2 (electronic)? Unsurprisingly I find the time trial community equally split. The consensus seems to be it gives some advantage, but it’s fairly minimal. It’s only on hilly and technical courses that electronic shifting becomes more beneficial. I’ve been riding mechanical for years and I don’t feel it’s been a handicap. However, I dug deep and ordered it with the new bike.
Position and comfort are important. One of the most difficult things I found when buying a TT bike was trying to find out whether tribars could be lifted upwards in ‘praying mantis’ position. This is non-UCI legal, but for me was faster in wind-tunnel. Some bikes have limited adjust ability in tribars. It means if you do want to adjust you will have to buy separate tribar unit later, which is a bit of a pain.
It is really quite hard to decipher all the rival claims of manufacturers. They all say that their bikes have been in a wind tunnel and it’s the most aero, e.t.c. To be honest, I don’t feel there is a big difference between the bikes, if there is a difference it is quite hard working out what it is. It’s not like if you buy a certain brand you are going to be noticeably faster. There’s something to be said for going to good shop that you like, and see what they have, what fits, and what meets the criteria you need.
A lot of my advice is – be wary of spending extra money for little performance gain. But, I’m the worst offender and spent silly money on a new TT bike. But, I do get close to National championship medals and I know I’m going to use it a lot. So that’s how I try justify it to myself.
UCI legal or non UCI legal? UCI rules are quite strict about what they allow (e.g 3:1 aspect ratio). It keeps the bike looking more like a traditional bike and less exotic. A big pain for domestic time triallist is do you get a UCI legal bike for possibly riding one race a year – the UCI British Time trial championship? I missed out this year because my bike was non-UCI legal. In my new bike I’ve gone for a compromise in choosing a UCI legal frame and illegal forks. If I do ride BTTC next year, I’ll still have find some legal forks. For most people doing triathlons / domestic TT, you don’t have to worry about UCI rules. Then you can choose non-UCI versions of Cervelo P5, Specialized Shiv.
Names of bikes can be a real pain and somewhat confusing. For example the Specialized S-Works Shiv frameset is completely different to Specialized S-Works Shiv Triathlon version.
I’ve been riding time trials for several years, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m particularly good at pacing. Sometimes, I get it wrong, sometimes, by good luck I get it right. I’m trying to improve on this aspect quite a bit at the moment, and it’s quite fun to work out best way of measuring you’re effort.
A power meter may take a little romanticism out of the sport, but it is very useful for evaluating how you paced a race.
The one consistent thing I’ve noticed with looking at a power meter is that in races, I nearly always go off way too hard, and end up dying by the end. (and I would hazard a guess 90% of beginners do this too) Maybe it’s the hill climb masochistic thing coming to the fore. ‘start off really hard, hang on.’ – and maybe that does work for a climb like the Rake, but it’s not really the best for a 10 mile time trial, even if it does make an impressive soundbite.
Today, was a 10 mile TT with exceptional weather. Very windy – 20mph, with gusts of up to 30mph. Not quite as windy as Nat Hill climb 2013, but pretty close. Any windier and it would start to get pretty marginal over whether it was worth riding.
It was definitely a day to leave the Zipp 808 at home (10 races so far this year, still not been able to use the Zipp 808). But, I still used a disc and Zipp 404.
The course was the H10/17R on the A420. Not the fastest course, but local. The weather meant it was 5.5 miles to the turn (with strong tailwind) and 4.5 miles into roaring headwind.
My pacing strategy was to try keep at 300 watts on the way out, and then blast it at around 350 watts on the way back. It would feel like a sweat spot training session on the way out – and then treat it like a long hill climb on the way back. In the end, I was pretty close to my rough plan. I looked at my power meter a few times on the way out, and as a result backed off a little. On the way back, I never looked at power meter – I was concentrating on staying upright, and I have a pretty good idea how to ride a hard 10 minutes on feel.
Distance: 5.5 miles
Average speed – 33.7 mph
Av. power – 305 watts.
Distance: 4.3 miles
Average speed: 25.4 mph
Av. Power – 346 watts
Distance 10 miles
Average power of 325 watts.
The first 2 miles were at an average speed of 35mph for just 290 watts
It was hard to keep at 300 watts on the way out, the temptation is to go much faster. It feels like you are not making much effort.
I put a 56 chain-ring on, and was spinning 100 rpm in the 56*11 for a bit.
It would have been faster on the outleg, but, I had to come to a complete stop at first roundabout on the way out. It’s a bit of a pain having to break from 35mph to 0 – but there you go.
On the outleg, the average speed was 25mph. But for the first 1–2 miles of return leg, it was quite sheltered and relatively quite fast. But, then you hit an exposed part of the course, and it was time to grovel into the wind. At the last roundabout with 1.6 miles to go, I was on target for a course pb. But, that last mile or so was really hard!
The Kask Bambino helmet is an expensive aero helmet. Despite its price (£299) it has become quite popular, probably because of its use by Sky procycling team. The logic is that Sky must have spent quite a bit of money on wind tunnel tests. If it’s good enough for the likes of Froome and Wiggins, it must be good enough for me. I noticed Michael Hutchinson used a Kask Bambino in the 2013 10 mile TT championship. (but, I also noticed he didn’t use it in the 25, and I haven’t seen him use it since.) I’m surprised how many people are turning up to TT with a Kask in the past couple of years. I think a big reason is that they look good and much less geeky than the typical long tail pointy thing. They are also very comfortable to wear.
But, if we are a real time trial aeroweenie, should we really be basing our decisions on aesthetics and comfort? Probably not.
Aero-helmets can make a big difference to improving aerodynamics in time trials. They probably offer one of the best ‘bang for your buck’ in terms of watts saved to cost.
When I went in the wind tunnel, I tested two helmets, and as a result ended up getting a Giro advantage. The Giro Advantage However, although it came out of wind tunnel with relatively good results, I wasn’t happy with the helmet because it was uncomfortable, and I couldn’t get a proper visor to fit. I ended up gluing a visor on, which was all messy and un-aerodynamic. I liked the look and simplicity of the Kask Bambino helmet and decided to get one.
The advantage of small tail helmets is that they are said to be better in crosswinds when the wind is coming from the side. Long tails provide more surface area in a cross wind. The short tail helmet like the Kask Bambino is said to be good whatever the wind direction. This is something wind tunnels can’t replicate – they generally measure efficiency with wind coming straight on or at 7 degrees yaw angle. The second advantage of small tail helmets is that you don’t have to worry about the tail sticking up in the air. With my last long-tail helmet, I was often repositioning the helmet trying to get the tail to touch my back.
It is hard to evaluate the aerodynamic benefits of aero helmets – even if you can go to a wind tunnel. The aero benefits of a helmet depend on the riders position, body shape, wind direction. With so many variables, it is hard to ascertain exactly how much benefit this helmet is.
However, I’ve heard quite a few rumours that in wind tunnel tests, the Kask Bambino is not as good as other aero helmets. I heard someone ‘on the grapevine’ say you lose 5 watts wearing a Kask Bambino. I’ve certainly not seen any drag 2 zero rider wear a Kask Bambino. Quite a few TT riders who test aero equipment seriously don’t seem to rate the Kask Bambino.
I feel a bit bad for spending all the money on a wind tunnel and not using the most aero helmet (Giro advantage) but choosing something which looks better. I feel the Kask Bambino may be wasting watts, so I’ve made another effort to get a visor for the Giro (from Bob Heath Visors) and I will have another go at using. However, for last two races, I still chose the Kask Bambino.
Sat, there was a 16mph crosswind for a 10 mile TT, this is the conditions where a Kask should be most benefit
Sun. For hilly time trial, I preferred to have comfort and not worry about long tail because in a hilly TT, you’re moving about all over the place.
However, for flat fast 10s, 25s and 50s with heading, I will probably revert to the Giro. I will save Kask for crosswinds and really hilly events.
Type of rider who benefits from short tail Kask Bambino
According to this article, short tail helmets are becoming more common in recent years. The logic is that short tail helmets are likely to be good for a wider range of athletes, even if they are not the best individual choice. It also states that short tail helmets are best for riders who can ride with low back and low head in ‘turtle’ position.
In general, “riders that don’t or can’t shrug or ‘turtle’ their head as much benefit more from a longer tail, assuming, and this is the big caveat, that they can hold their head steady in the optimal position the entire time,” Yu said. “Riders that bury their head or turtle really well tend to benefit from shorter-tail helmets.”
It offers a short stubby tail for tall riders who can ride with flat back.
It offers a longer tail for riders, who are shorter and can’t keep flat back.
This suggests that the Kask Bambino is more likely to favour a tall rider like me, who can ride with a flat back in the turtle position.
Without visor, the Kask Bambino is 354 grams
With visor (and magnest) Kask Bambino is 395 grams
Interesting comparison. Bit bulkier at the back of the head.
The Kask Bambino fits very well. There is a nice leather strap and inside the helmet you can adjust the inner strap. It is close fitting, but doesn’t box in the ears like my old helmet. Very easy to wear. Though like any helmet, fitting is a very personal thing. I’d advise trying to test before buying. I use a size Medium. Perhaps it is too comfortable. If it did squash your ears, perhaps it would be making you more aerodynamic. If I did a long time trial, I might favour the Kask Bambino just for comforts sake. I certainly couldn’t face a Giro Advantage for 12 hours.
Those pesky magnets
The last thing you expect from a helmet costing £300 is poor workmanship. But, everyone I know who bought a Kask Bambino has had the experience of magnets falling off. I thought about trying to contact Kask, but thought it would be too much hassle. In the end I bought some small magnets from www.first4magnets.com. Just annoying.
Those magnets didn’t really work, so I contacted Kask, they told me to send vizor back to
Unit 8 Flight Way business Park
and I got a free replacement. This was good though it doesn’t fit as snug as it might.
The main drawback of the Kask Helmet is the price. I was looking into getting another visor (with sun shade, the visor they give you is clear). But, just an extra visor is £79.99. That really is taking the mickey mouse. You could buy a new helmet for that. It remind me of Mac charging me £400 to replace a cracked screen. Despite taking the mickey on price, they have poor workmanship, with no obvious place to get free magnet replacements. I have heard Kask are improving the glue for future models, so you may be better off if you buy in the future.
I don’t think Sky are wearing Kask Bambinos because they all went in the wind tunnel and found the Kask to be the most aerodynamic for them. It’s a commercial decision and sponsorship. For pro teams, whose helmet choice has to fit all in the team, the short tail is perhaps the best common denominator. But, the amateur time triallist free to choose whatever he wants, could actually be more aero than pros.
I think the Kask Bambino is a good helmet if you have no intention of going in a wind tunnel to find the optimum helmet for you. It’s good in the sense that you don’t have to worry about a tail sticking in air.
I kind of like it, but at the same time, I have a nagging feeling that it may not be as aerodynamic as some other helmet. Would I recommend buying it? That’s a tough one. If you want aerodynamics for low cost, there may be many better value aero-helmets. I have a nagging feeling you are asked to pay a premium for a product well marketed. Nevertheless, there are certain benefits, which mean I’m kind of glad to have it. It is good for hilly time trials, where you’re in and out of the saddle. A short tail seems to be better for a rider with profile like me, especially in crosswinds. However, I’m sure if I go in the wind tunnel, I would come out with a Kask not getting very good results.