If you don't yearn to be on your aero bike, something isn't right.
An accomplished age-grouper recently told me that over the past year he has ridden his TT bike only a handful of times, primarily at races. He was sheepish about it, explaining that his road rig is "just so nice" and had proved too enticing whenever his training schedule called for time on the bike.
You often hear people talk about their bittersweet relationship with TT bikes: They love the technology and the feeling of being aerodynamic, but they can't seem to get comfortable on one or ride one for more than 60 to 90 minutes at a time.The wonderful thing about showing up on a TT superbike is that it almost forces you to prove your worth.
Forming a bond with an aero bike is like any other worthwhile relationship: At times it may be a lot of work, but it shouldn't be a chore. It should ultimately be a positive experience, even when it's a challenge. In fact, I think there should be at least a small hint of romance.
When I first saw a picture of my current TT bike—a catalog photo of a final prototype not yet in commercial production—I was smitten. Thus began a relationship that resulted in a significant investment of money, time and attention but has paid off in a great way. It's made me a happier, more confident time trialist, but perhaps even more importantly, I've become a better cyclist and a stronger all-around athlete.
I'm a road racer who has made time trials an important part of weekly training over the past few years, though I've never made it a big focus for formal events. I've entertained the thought of getting more serious about it, but for me it has always represented more of a fun and fast alternative to the road bike, the same way mountain biking has provided an enjoyable change of technique, terrain and scenery. So I'm writing this perhaps as an outsider looking in, as one who hasn't taken up time trialing because my discipline requires it (though stage races sometimes do).
In the past, teammates and group ride companions would see me on my old, inexpensive TT bike and ask me if I was preparing for a specific event. Why else would I be on it after all? "Nope," I would respond, "I'm just trying to stay flexible and familiar enough with my aero bike and position so as not to hate time trials when opportunities present themselves."
Even more importantly, I've always appreciated the way a TT bike works the glutes and hamstrings, compelling me to pull through more efficiently at the bottom of my pedal stroke. It's also a great way for a roadie to develop power for seated efforts, especially one who tends to come out of the saddle when the pace picks up, which isn't always the most efficient way to deal with changes in tempo.
Riding the Superbike
After purchasing the new, aero superbike, and customizing it to my personal taste, including swapping out the clip-on extensions for more comfortable ones so as to completely relax my wrists and upper body, I took it out for a number of long rides. Once I felt comfortable astride it, I began showing up at one of the weekly training rides well-attended by triathletes, including super-biker Chris Lieto.
Each week, I spent more and more time at the front until I was taking longer pulls alongside or in rotations with the tri-guys. It was the middle of the road race season, and I was finally beginning to find my form. I had nailed the position pretty closely right off the bat, due to the time I had spent fooling around with that first, less-expensive aero bike. I had done some road racing with Chris Lieto, who I think was a bit surprised that someone he had never before seen on a TT bike looked so comfortable.
I felt great on this new rig and was really enjoying riding it hard. People noticed the bike; it was one of the first of its kind in the area. It was unique looking—curvaceous and sexy—designed by one of the foremost aerodynamics researchers in the industry. Fellow riders commented on how good it looked and how at-home I looked on it. It was already money well spent.
I'm not trying to toot my own horn here. If this isn't also the first chapter of your TT bike story, it should be. As a triathlete, this is your destiny.
Prove Your Worth
Fast forward to a month later, after I had done this group ride several times. At the bottom of what had become the long TT bike drag race—a gradual, rolling climb up a well-known canyon about five miles long—Lieto and others were ready to "throw down." And so was I.