Michael Rogers of HTC-Columbia rides the individual time trial in Stage 7 of the 2010 Tour of California in Los Angeles.
Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The individual time trial is often been referred to as the race of truth, but it takes more than just powerful legs to master this event. If your time-trial equipment and position are not up to par, you are throwing away many of the benefits of your hard-earned training.
Time-trial gear is often expensive due to the research and development that go into designing the equipment. Here is a simple guide to help you pick and choose the gear you want to stop the clock faster this season.
No. 1: Dial Your Position
Whether you use clip-on aero bars on your road bike or you have a dedicated time trial bike, your body's position is the biggest variable.
"Between 80 and 90 percent of forward-movement resistance is aerodynamic drag," said Aerodynamics advisor Len Brownlie, "and the rider is about 70 to 75 percent of that." Find a TT-fitting specialist in your area to help you get comfortable, mechanically efficient and aerodynamic on the bike. It's worth the cost, especially if you have paid big bucks for a top time-trial bike.
"If you can adjust position and not lose aerodynamics and gain a five percent increase in power—that's huge," said longtime bike tech guru John Cobb.
No. 2: Skinsuits Are Faster
Find a skinsuit that allows minimal air to flow through the material, but not so little that you suffocate yourself. "The body is a big area," Brownlie said. "For the weekend warrior who wants to do a good time trial I'm a big believer in the skinsuit."
In an extreme example, a side-by-side test using the Nike Swift TT suit versus a road bib and jersey showed a savings of just over two minutes during a 40-kilometer time trial, Brownlie said. While these results are extreme, a quality skinsuit of any kind will cut your time.
No. 3: Get the Helmet
Some riders are hesitant to make the crossover from a standard road helmet to a time-trial helmet, mostly because they don't think the benefit is worth the silly look. Yes, you'll look like a spaceman. However, a decent aero helmet is one of the most valuable pieces of TT equipment—and one of the most economical—that you can buy.
"Road helmets are mostly for cooling, and they are great at it, but the aerodynamics are god-awful," Brownlie said. "They are the equivalent of a 32-spoke wheel." So get over the look, get the helmet and shave seconds off of your next time trial.
No. 4: TT Wheels Work
A good set of aerodynamic wheels will make you faster during a time trial, but they come at a high price. If you're looking for those last few increments of time savings, a good set of wheels can help you achieve that. Cobb believes that a good pair of Hed or Zipp wheels can reduce the required amount of energy to rotate the wheel by almost 50 watts (think about how hard it is to earn those last 50 watts through training).
According to Brownlie, the front wheel is much more important than the rear wheel. In fact, he recommends that the rear wheel is one of the last items that you add to your time trial arsenal. Don't forget to use a pair of tires that do not interfere with the aerodynamics of your wheelset and add cumbersome rolling resistance.