Yesterday I started my ramblings on improving time trialing. The focus of training for a time trial is increasing your threshold power so that you can maintain a higher steady power throughout the race. There are ways to get additional speed, regardless of where your FTP is. Even if you still have some improvements to make in your training to increase your FTP, you can make the best of where your fitness is today. Hopefully a lot of this is very basic to you, but I always see people at races that have not learned or applied some of the most basic things to improve your speed.

Rolling Resistance

I remember all the magazine ads in the 80’s were about tires and rolling resistance. There seemed to be a lot of concern about tires and bearing slowing you down. I guess that bikes have improved enough, and the standard tires you purchase are probably almost as good as the most expensive tires. More importantly though is the recognition of how much more significant wind resistance is. Still, I want my ride to roll smoothly in a race. There are a lot of suggestions about tire brands, but I think you should find a slick tire within your budget that you are happy with. Use a thin tube. The thicker tubes probably won’t do much for preventing a flat. If you inspect your tires regularly, you can remove a lot of debris imbedded in small cuts that could eventually cause flats. Especially when repairing a flat, be sure to pinch the removed tire at every small cut you see in the outside of the tire and look for pieces of glass and metal.

When you prepare your ride for a race, it is essential that your tires are well inflated. Do not over inflate them. Almost every race I hear a tire blow out, probably because it was over inflated (or had a pinch when installed). If you change your tire before a race, do it at least a day ahead of the race, inflate it fully, and try to ride on it for at least a few miles. Regardless, you always want to inflate your tire the evening before the race, and first thing in the morning check it to see that it is still holding air. A slow leak can kill your race. If you recently inflated your tube with a CO2 cartridge, expect the pressure to drift down much faster than if you had inflated it with a pump. I like to inflate my tires again before I leave the house or hotel in the morning before a race, and never at the actual race site (although I will pack my pump with me). Things can go wrong when pumping your tires, such as damaging the valve, and I want there to be plenty of time to deal with problems before the race. If I am at home I have all my tools, extra supplies, good lighting, a good floor pump, and still have plenty of time to take care of things. If you are pumping your tires 10 minutes before the start of the race (we’ve all seen it!) then you are really testing fate and can create a lot of stress before your race.

Latex tubes improve the rolling resistance within the tire. The portion of the tire that is on the road becomes flattened under the weight, and inside the tire there is friction created between the tire and the tube. This is so minimal that I am not convinced latex tubes are worth the expense. Latex tubes also do not hold their pressure very well either, so for long events it is likely that you will not end with the tire pressure that you really want, especially if you inflated your tires well ahead of the event.

Thinner tires and higher pressures theoretically reduce rolling resistance. The resistance of the tire against the road is due to static friction. This friction is our friend when we rely on it to keep the bike upright, accelerate, or brake. If static friction is so low that the forces overcome it, we start to slide, and sliding friction is much less than static friction, so your bike will go down rather quickly. A 23 mm width tire is plenty thin enough to race on, and provides sufficient static friction for safe riding on most paved roads. The recommended tire pressure is enough, but may be too much when conditions are slippery (wet). By reducing your tire pressure you increase the contact area of the tire and the road, thereby increasing the static friction and rolling resistance. The tire may not be as fast, but will be safer.

Underinflated tires increase rolling resistance (may be desirable in wet conditions), will make for a smoother ride as the tire will absorb more road shock, and are more susceptible to pinch flats. Overinflated tires may slightly reduce rolling resistance, will make for a rougher ride and increase bounce on bumps, and is more prone to puncture flats. Your best bet is to follow the pressure recommendations from the manufacture. Some pumps do not have a pressure gage, and even ones that do may not be correct. I recommend investing on a separate pressure gage to check your tire pressure after pumping. If you do this, and are confident that your pump’s gage is accurate, then you probably don’t need to use it very often. Sometimes you have to use someone else’s pump though, and double checking the pressure can be prudent.

Aerodynamics

Although I could probably go on about rolling resistance, I think good tires and good tire pressure are your best investment. Aerodynamics is by far more important in triathlon, and even though people seem to know that, I am always seeing people forget it.

Bikes and Wheels

Everyone wants a time trial bike and wheels, and the bike shops want you to buy these. These are important things to consider, but even if you are only going to be doing triathlons and time trials, I really think your first bike should be a road bike. I am convinced that training on a road bike is much better than training on a time trial bike, day in and day out. You definitely need to work the TT bike into your training, but the types of training that you need to do require a road bike. You can still slap a pair of aerobars on your road bike and race with it until you are ready to invest in another bike. I can go on and on about this, so it should be a topic for another post if anyone is really interested.

So, you have to address aerodynamics, and although a TT bike and race wheels do this, people on very expensive rides are doing a horrible job at addressing aerodynamics.

Clothing

Clothing is very important. Choose clothes that are snug, don’t flap around in the wind, and of course are comfortable. I’ve experimented with a fair amount of clothing designs. I want to them to be comfortable and aero when on the bike in a very aero position. I keep the zipper all the way up, and look for bagginess and gaps between my skin and the clothing when in the aero position. Some jerseys and suits may look like they fit well when you are standing, but when sitting on the bike and in the aerobars they take a different shape. Pockets are okay, but I want snug small pockets that aren’t going to be flapping around in the wind.

Aerobars

Your next best investment is aerobars. Have them, and use them. If you are on a TT bike, then you already have them. If you are on a road bike, try to adjust your bike so that the using the aerobars is a decent position for you. You may need to push the seat forward and slightly raise the seat. If you are doing ultracycling, the aerobars become an extra position for you, and you can take advantage of the aeroposition on descents. In a TT or triathlon, you have to use the aerobars to their fullest. This is one reason why I don’t like training on my TT bike every day, because if I am on the TT bike, I need to be in the aerobars all the time. During a TT or a triathlon it is absolutely essential that you make yourself aero, and using the bars the entire ride is the only way to do that. A few months ago I did a TT with my road bike, in the drops 100% of the time, and somebody started passing me. We turned into the wind, requiring more effort to keep up the momentum, and the racer sat up out of the TT bars. He immediately caught the wind, slowed down, and I never saw him again. He had a very expensive bike that he was not utilizing.

Helmets

An aerohelmet is a good investment for aerodynamics, but this is an extra helmet. Be sure to buy a decent vented helmet first. The aerohelmet is constructed so that the tear drop rests along your spine. This requires you to keep your head up (looking where you are going!). I like to feel the helmet lightly grazing my back, and if I don’t I’ll bring my chin up more so that it is.

Accessories

There are a lot of aero-accessories out there, particularly water bottle cages and drink systems. These can be good, but their ease of use is also important. If you are messing with accessories and meanwhile slowing down, losing momentum, then your system is not efficient enough. Usually people have too much on their bikes. If you don’t need it, don’t carry it. If you are losing bottles out of a bottle cage behind your seat, adjust it so that the vector from bounces does not result in ejecting bottles. I find having the bottle less vertical keeps the bottles in place better.

Position

Your position on the bike affects your aerodynamics the most. If you are riding a road bike, you need to be in the drops and dropping your elbows below your knees to get your body down. If you are using aerobars, use them! If you are not comfortable staying in the aerobars, then you should work on it. Improving your core strength is the biggest thing. Do plank exercises and push-ups. Doing good push-ups build arm, shoulder, chest and back strength, and improve your core strength. You want to focus on doing the push-ups slow enough that you can focus on engaging your core muscles (abs and back). The plank exercise is performed by holding a position on your elbows. If you do this exercise with other people you may find you are motivated to do more than you want to. I prefer to do the plank at 1 minute rotations, and include a full extension (push-up starting position) and a lowered push-up position (just off the floor) into the cycle. So I’ll set my watch timer to alarm every minute, and do Up, Down, Elbows, Right Side, Left Side, then repeat. Here are some pictures of Elbow position and Right Side positions:

Hopefully you’ve read a couple points that you can implement into your next race. Thanks for reading!

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