As a follow-on to the two previous posts about this Time Trial (TT) bike build (if you haven’t read them before, you can check them out by just putting ‘Time Trial’ into the search bar), I can announce, that the last piece of the TT bike jigsaw has finally turned up. Fellow Facebook cyclist from Germany, a man who’s got serious TT experience, Lothar Wicht, said that he had a 24” front wheel. Hurrah! He also said he would sell it and my new social media hero had a new tubular tyre to go with it. After some pricing, paying and posting, I finally got the 24” front wheel for the bike. This wheel wasn’t just any old wheel though. It was a training wheel that came off Lothar’s 1990s TT bike apparently. That makes my Alan Shorter made ‘Funny bike’ as they were called, even more special. So at last, Cinderella gets the shoe that fits, and it looks great. Now I need to ride it, but it needs a soundtrack, and the best one I’ve found is naturally called ‘Time Trial’ and is by Jean Michel Maroussie. It’s a track on his Electric Violin EP. You should listen to it and then it’ll frame the following paragraphs.
I’ve had a rolling ten mile (16 kilometres) course in mind for some time now as a shakedown circuit, which is in the Fribourg valley in Switzerland. This is a great area to test the bike because a) there isn’t much traffic or big trucks to get an advantageous draft from, and b) the road surface is super smooth and c) unusually for Switzerland, it’s quite flat(-ish), or could be classed as ‘rolling’. These are all key factors when your body is facing downwards towards the road and the front wheel is very small. Fortunately, the course doesn’t have any sharp corners either, because that small front wheel isn’t going to make this the best cornering bike in the world.
My Cannondale TT bike is quite comfortable, even though it has two smaller than normal 650 wheels, but at least I can breath. My first run down the road on this TT bike was an absolute breathing challenge and a shock to the body. If I could have breathed out of my arse, which was above the level of my mouth, things would’ve been fine. Unfortunately, this innovative breathing style was a challenge at first. Like all people at some point, I may have been accused of talking out of my arse, but breathing out of it? No chance. I made some adjustments to make the position a bit more bearable, because any aero benefit I will have with the smaller front profile was lost due to not being able to breathe.
One of the club cycling events that rarely take place in Switzerland is the club time trial. Where I come from in the UK, time trials are an intrinsic part of every local cycling scene. These events usually take place in the evening, and are usually between 10 and 25 miles (16 to 40 kilometres) apart from the even longer 50 and 100 mile events, which are weekend races. Mostly, these are individual time trials, but there are occasional ‘two-up’ or two-in-a-team events. The French call a TT, ‘the race of truth’ because you really are on your own against the clock. At best, you’ll try and catch the person in front. At worst, you’ll get passed by the person behind you, which is always a big de-motivator. I’ve been riding TTs for a long time and you can read about a typical UK club TT experience here https://diaryofacyclingnobody.com/ill-never-be-good-enough-to-pay-the-mortgage-with-my-time-trialling-results-but-thats-not-the-point-is-it/ As there are not any TTs for me to really test my bike out in, I’m going to have to simulate one.
I need some help for this simulation. I need someone to be the ‘Starting Marshall’ who will hold the bike upright for me on the start line. These Starting Marshalls are the people that play a key role at the start by holding the bike upright as the rider is clipped into pedals and ready to go, really fast. Starting Marshalls will hold the bike from the side by holding the seat tube and the head tube of the bike. He or she will let go when the Timekeeper says ‘Go!’.
In addition to the starting marshall, I also need a Timekeeper. This is someone who stands next to me and counts down the last ten seconds before the starting Marshall let’s go of the bike and I head off into the distance as fast as possible. The Timekeeper is usually the chief steward and the person that has the last say when it comes to final times, and any appeals against process or protocol. Time keeping is a serious job and requires a person who is ultra process compliant and can use a stop watch whilst noting down times on the ‘official clipboard’, which holds the all-important time sheet.
Finally, as this TT is an ‘out and back’ circuit, I need a Circuit Marshall who will supervise the turn-around point. This is a u-turn in the road and needs to be managed carefully from a timing and a safety point of view. If a rider is held up negotiating the tight turn, there will be some choice words used. I will approach the turn-around point as fast as possible, brake hard, then steer carefully around a warning triangle in the middle of the road and then accelerate back down the road in the opposite direction. This is amateur racing at its most amateur, but it is also where all of the great cyclists have started their careers.
The next point to consider is what to wear. This is a ‘90s bike so I will need some tribute to that decade. This comes in the form of the aero helmet. I still have mine. As a piece of head protection, it is rubbish. As an aid to aerodynamics, it has been wind-tunnel tested and validated, so it will give me a valuable advantage, but this is assuming I can breathe in it. The rest of the kit is just kit, apart from the all important club jersey. In this ‘epic’ first simulation race on the bike, I will proudly wear the jersey from my last UK club, the Wrexham Roads Club, who are based in North Wales. Unfortunately, the helmet doesn’t match the jersey, so hopefully there won’t be any time deductions for rubbish fashion sense.
As a reminder, this TT bike is based around a hand-built frame made by Alan Shorter, from London. He has been making bikes, sponsoring riders and events for a long time. He and the Shorter Rochford cycle shop have sponsored some of the all-time great riders, like world champion and hour record holder, Graeme Obree, who rode in the Shorter Rochford team colours. In essence, this bike was as aero as it got for the time. Actually, it might have had a carbon disc or 3 spoke wheel on the front instead of my training wheel, but hey, it’s fine as it is.
The day of the first TT arrives and the weather is good. I get the bike out of the van, put my shoes and helmet on and ride up the road as a warm up for my body and to check that nothing broke on the bike in the van since leaving the house. I’ve planned everything, already done a reconnaissance of the circuit a few days earlier. I’m hoping not to get a puncture, because if I do, I’m f@@@@d! This is because I haven’t got time to change tyres or any spares etc. I will just not get a finish time worth putting on the official time sheet, which remember, is on the official clip board. I am not wearing a race number pinned to my jersey because there is only me in this TT.
I approach the Starter Marshall who grips the frame of my bike firmly. The Time Keeper counts me down through the last ten seconds and I’m off, out of the saddle and trying to get up to a speed fast enough to push the big gears without running out of energy too soon. I’m not used to riding in this position and it’s stretching every part of the body. These ‘funny bikes’ were designed to have the small front wheel to reduce that frontal area so that you break through the wind faster. This means craning my neck upwards to look forward, trying to breathing regularly and efficiently, and whilst ignoring legs that have had enough and could do with a break. There are no breaks in a TT, just pain, which I can vouch for in this position. Inhaling through the mouth and exhaling through my arse would be the best physiological approach.
I’m riding smoothly out on the course, the Time Trial soundtrack in my head is providing rhythm, and the bike is working just fine. Before I know it, I’m approaching the halfway turn-around Marshall who gives me the sign that all is safe to make the turn quickly. Using the front break to slow down into this turn throws my body onto the front tip of the saddle and I push back with my arms to try to keep my weight in the middle of the bike. OK, so this isn’t MotoGP braking, but you get the picture. I get around the turn carefully and thank goodness the road isn’t wet, and I get back out of the saddle and try to get back up to speed in as a fast a time as possible. Remember, the clock is ticking, so it’s pressure time.
The run down to the finish line, where the official Time Keeper is standing, official stop watch and clip board in hand, is fast. I give it everything to make sure I get the best time possible, and importantly, look really stylish crossing the finishing line as the club photographer will be on hand to capture the moment.
I slow down gently and try to get my breathing back to normal and then turn back to see what time I have posted. As I was the only one in this TT, I am the clear winner, which is also a first for me. Usually, I am averagely in the middle somewhere. I check the official time sheet, which has now been taped on the Time Keepers car window for all to see. I tell stories of how my knee hurt 2 miles into the race, how I nearly missed the turn-around point and how I really got going fast just as I crossed the finish line. The usual bull shit stuff. If only the wind had been more favourable, I’m sure I could have etc etc………..
So, the bike works and it is actually fun to ride. That’s achievement number 1. I can ride it as well, so there’s achievement number 2. I didn’t fall off, which realised achievement number 3 and finally, achievement number 4, and even as the only competitor, I won. This last achievement is clearly the most memorable. ‘What now?’ I hear you ask yourself. Well, it’s been great fun building myself a TT bike, even if it had its frustrations along the way. I should probably find a club TT somewhere, the closest being in France, to enter to really see what the two of us can (officially) do together.
Footnote: I was reminded whilst driving home in the van with the TT bike in the back, that it is clear that whilst the four wheels I’m currently driving, move the body, the two wheels on my home-built TT bike really move the soul. Fact.
All Photos by Rodrigo Macip