Time trialling is an ideal introduction to competitive cycling. It's just you, your bike, and the stopwatch.
How to get started.
WHAT IS A TIME TRIAL?
Time trialling is the simplest of competitive formats: a race against the clock, with riders starting 30 seconds apart. It's known as the 'race of truth' because there's nowhere to hide, no one to draft behind; just you and the bike and the thumping of your heart. Oh, and a clock ticking.
Most events are fixed distance, being 10,25,50 or 100 miles. There are also fixed time events -12 and 24 hours -with the objective being to ride the furthest you can. Courses are on public roads and are either'out and back', using a roundabout to turn halfway, or circuits with consecutive left turns. You can take part on any roadworthy bike except a recumbent.
For the next 20 - 30 minutes your lungs will work like bellows. Your legs will strain on the pedals. Your nose will run. You'll be effortlessly overtaken by a skinsuited cycling machine who set off four minutes back, his disc wheel roaring like a Star Wars TIE fighter.
At the finish you'll suck in ragged gasps of air, feeling so shattered you want to be sick. So you'd be forgiven for asking: where's the fun?
Why do it?
It doesn't matter what your fitness level is, whether you're 22 or 82, male or female. If you can ride 10 miles on a public road then you can ride a time trial. It's not like a road race, where if you fall off the pack your race is over. Since the slower riders set off first, finish times cluster together.
You'll automatically get your personal record (PR) in your first time trial. Whether it's 31:07 or 25:12, that's your target to aim at next time. It doesn't matter what time anyone else got - first and foremost in a time trial, you're racing against yourself.
Where to ride
Nowadays the secrecy is gone, although it can still look a bit impenetrable. A time trial start will see a group of cyclists in a parking lot on a Thursday evening. The course start and finish might be small marks on the street.. Only a few marshals and perhaps some fold-out signs saying 'cycle race in progress' indicate that there's anything going on. It's not like popping down to the leisure centre. Yet it's not as cliquey as it may appear, and most local cycling clubs are only too happy to see new faces.
Upgrading your tyres is another way to go faster. Many starter bikes come with 25mm training tyres; they won't roll as well as decent 23mm (or narrower) race tyres.
Perhaps the biggest improvement will come from using a heart rate monitor because it will tell you how hard you're trying. Mount the HRM to your handlebar or tri-bar where you can see it. Many time triallists like to use a bike computer instead of or as well as an HRM.
If you want to do some training, remember that any training regime is only going to make a difference over weeks, not days. Add to the frequency of your rides rather than the intensity. That's your fitness base.
If you want to get your body used to 'changing up a gear', try some basic Fartlek training. (Go out for your normal ride and after you've warmed up, pick a landmark you can see - like a tree or house-and race up to it. If it's close, sprint. If it's half a mile away, ride harder but don't flat-out sprint. Once you've reached it, ease off for a few minutes, then repeat.
Whatever your riding regime, make sure you don't do any hard rides for a couple of days before the event. Your body needs time to recover.
On Race day
Most local events require that you arrive at least 30 minutes before the start. Build in some spare time. You'll probably sign on for the race with the timekeeper beside a car boot. The timekeeper will then hand out race numbers. These are typically stuck to the front of your helmet so you can be identified before you cross the finish line.
As you'll be one of the first riders off, double check with the timekeeper how-much time you've got before you start and exactly where the start is. If you've got time to spare, ride down the road a bit to warm up. Riding out to the event can be a useful warm up if it's local enough, but remember you'll have to ride home, too!
Don't slaughter yourself in the first few miles. You need to get into the ride - find a rhythm for your breathing and pedalling that's hard but sustainable. Try not to let your mind wander. Keep half an eye on your heart rate monitor or bike computer, or count your pedal strokes for one leg (one, two, three, four) and then the other, and repeat.
Other riders will come past you. Don't worry about it. When you can see the finish, give it everything. Keep riding straight past the finish into the north beach turn around and back into the parking lot. Don't hang around the timekeeper or try to talk to him/her. They'll be over with the results shortly.
Have a drink. Get your breath back. And when the timekeeper reappears, go and find out your time. So, how did you do?