CYCLING TIME TRIALS: A BEGINNER’S GUIDE

What you need to know to get started with time trials from OMQ cycling correspondent Lauren Bishop

OMQ, be fit, cycling, time trials

Time trials let you test your mettle and take on your biggest competitor – yourself. Pic via Boris Stefanik

The time trial – otherwise known as the Race of Truth – this event gives you the chance to test your physical and mental endurance against the clock. It might sound intense – and it is! – but since you’re only really racing against yourself, you don’t need to have any particular level of ability to be able to take part. If you’re thinking of giving time trialling a go, here are a few words of wisdom to help you get started.

Join the club 

If you’re not already a member of a cycling club, check out your local clubs and join the one that suits you best. You could go to a couple of club events before doing this, to check whether the club is right for you. Some clubs are more race-oriented, whereas others are friendlier and more inclusive. Choosing the right one could make a big difference to your enjoyment of cycling, and how much support you get from fellow members.

Being part of a club is great, as it means you can represent your club when you time trial. Although racing as an individual, this gives you a sense of camaraderie and being ‘part of something bigger’. I find I get as much pride from this as from my individual performance on race day.

If you’re already a club member but find there’s another one you’d like to join, you can do so and one club will become your ‘second claim’. Your ‘first claim’ club will be the one you represent at events, but you’ll still get the membership benefits of being part of the second club.

Choosing events

There are two broad types of time trial (TT) event: club and open. Club TTs are low-key affairs, usually held weekly on a particular evening throughout the season, with the occasional weekend event. Although riders from other clubs are usually welcome, priority may be given to club members if the event is oversubscribed. You simply turn up on the day, sign up and ride, usually paying something in the region of £5. As a beginner, a club event is a great way to get a taste for the world of time trialling.

Open TTs are bigger events, where entries are made in advance and prizes are on offer. Most clubs host a few open events each season, and encourage their riders to go to other clubs’ opens to represent the club. Open events are listed on and entered via Cycling Time Trials (the national governing body for TTs), where you can search for local courses and events.

There are different types of TT course, which vary in distance and terrain. 10 miles is the usual distance for a club event; and standard distances also include 25m, 50m and 100m. 10 miles is a good place to start to get a feel for time trialling, and depending on your riding style you may find yourself wanting to ride longer distances too.

As well as different distances, you’ll find different types of course as well, which might be described as hilly, sporting or fast.

Fast courses are just that: the courses you’ll expect to get the fastest time on. These tend to have smooth roads, be fairly flat and sometimes start on a steep downhill section known as a ski-slope. Fast courses are used more towards the end of the season, giving everyone the best chance of getting PBs after a summer of training.

Hilly courses do what they say on the tin, and are often used during the early part of the season. 

A sporting course will generally be somewhere in between, presenting the rider with challenges such as undulations and/or bumpy road surfaces.

Finally, there are specific hill climb TTs, which are short, sharp climbing events, held in the autumn after the main TT season has finished.

TTs can be ridden individually or as part of a team. Most often you’ll see two-ups, which are ridden as a pair, with some events specifically for mixed teams (male and female). There are also three-ups, four-ups and even tandem races. Sometimes an event will be specifically for individuals or teams, and sometimes you’ll have the option to do either. Riding as a team is a great way to share the effort and go a little bit faster, and may also help you to build your confidence.

Make sure your training is on point 

Indoor training 

A turbo trainer is a piece of equipment you can fix your bike to and train in the home (or indeed in the garden, shed, garage, hotel room, car park; the possibilities are endless…). It’s like having a stationary bike, like you get in a gym, but way better because it’s your bike and the more time you spend on your bike the better you get at riding it.

You’re free of the elements and variable road surfaces, meaning you have total control over your session. You might want to do interval training to increase your explosiveness for hill-climbing, or try long, sustained efforts to improve baseline power and endurance. The turbo can also be used for strength training, by doing short, high-resistance intervals. 

Weight training

Weight training can be done in the gym or at home, using body-weight or equipment-based exercises. Working the whole body is preferable, as core and upper body strength will improve your position and stability on the bike, and leg strength will of course enhance your pedal power.

Multiple-joint, single-leg movements are best as they are more similar to pedalling and help to minimise any imbalances. You might even want to do some plyometric (jumping) training to improve your explosive power. Whatever you do, make sure you keep safe and seek further advice if needed. 

(Contact OMQ for bespoke training packages)

Outdoor training

When the weather is good, nothing beats actually getting out there and riding. Try picking a route that will hone the type of riding you’re looking to improve. An easy way to do this is to ride the courses you want to race. Remember it’s not always about beasting yourself though and there’s a lot to be said for enjoying a social ride at the weekend. These rides are likely to be fairly low-intensity but also fairly long, and miles in the legs will always contribute to your fitness even if you’re not working really hard.

Generally, doing a mixture of different types of training will help keep you motivated and prevent over-training. Feel free to combine your cycle-specific training with cross-training such as running, yoga, pilates, swimming, or any other activity of your choosing (perhaps pick one that isn’t overly likely to result in injury, as that won’t do your riding any favours).

Get out there and give it a go

Hopefully this article has given you some food for thought and you’re feeling ready to try your hand at the humble TT. Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it: if riding your bike becomes a chore, something has gone wrong and you may need to rethink your approach.

Happy racing and we’ll look forward to hearing how you get on.

Interesting in personal training or bespoke training plans? Click here. 

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Author: Lauren Bishop

Lauren Bishop is a public health student and wellness coach on a mission to get the people of Britain living healthier, happier lives. She's also a keen cyclist, fanatic about food, and partial to the occasional glass of red wine!

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