Thursday, June 20, 2013

Time Trial Country

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
"Mind you, this is only a club time trial," Chris Sharp explains as we set off toward the start on our bikes. But a small club event is exactly what I want to see. The riders in the spirit of competition, but still in their element. The local atmosphere. This is what I think is known as a training race in the US. Staged fairly frequently, it allows riders to test their fitness at different points in the season.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
Time trials are a very particular form of racing, and a long standing tradition in the UK and Ireland. In the year 1890 bicycle racing was banned on public roads, permitted only on indoor tracks. This ban brought about a new form of racing, done under the radar of the law. Instead of racing each other outright, cyclists would start at individual intervals and race against the clock. Without drafting or riding in a bunch, there was nothing overtly identifying their activities as a road race. Participants wore no race numbers or club jerseys, adapting instead a style of all-black attire. Races were held in secret, the dates and start times shared through word of mouth. Part secret society, part act of rebellion, the tradition of time trials was born. And although the road racing ban has long since been lifted (I believe in the 1950s), time trials remain popular in the British Isles.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
Here in the Roe Valley - a coastal region in the Western part of Northern Ireland - the landscape lends itself to time trials remarkably well. There are long, flat stretches with very little car traffic, where it's possible to pick up some real speed. There are also small, but quite steep mountains for hill climb time trials. Pick whichever you like, or try both. 

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
On this particular evening, members of the Roe Valley Cycling Club gather to compete in a 25 mile time trial: Two loops along the scenic coastal roads, twice crossing the beautiful river Roe. We pull into a parking lot outside of Limavady, just as the riders are assembling their bikes and getting prepared.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
For those unaccustomed to modern time trial equipment, both the bikes and the riders are a sight to see. Aero bars, aero tubing, aero wheels, aero helmets...

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
Since drafting is not permitted, much of time trialing is about reducing the individual rider's air resistance. The specialised equipment is designed to facilitate this. The rider's position is quite aggressive, with a steep seat tube and set-forward saddle placing them right over the bottom bracket. In the aero position, they ride with a flat back.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
I try not to bother the racers at the start, but they are friendly and relaxed.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
We meet several of them, including Laura Maxwell - Junior Ladies Ulster Hill Climb champion - whom Chris has been coaching for the past 4 years. 

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
Recently turned 17, this is Laura's last year racing as a junior on limited gearing. Having trained for 10 mile time trials so far, the evening's 25 mile course would be a new challenge. She is the only junior and the only female racing today.  

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
Once the riders' bikes are prepped, all gathered move on from the parking lot to the start of the race - a field along an adjacent road. 

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
These are race marshals, riders, some family members there as support crews, even a few spectators. 

Wallace Donaghy
I meet Wallace Donaghy. In the 1950s he raced with the City of Derry Wheelmen, time trial and road. No longer racing himself, he comes to watch the local riders. Today Wallace rides a Raleigh Appalachian - a lugged steel mountain bike circa 1989. He also has a carbon race bike. He examines my titanium frame as we discuss frame materials, waiting for the race to start. 

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
The riders line up for their starts at intervals. Watching this is fascinating.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
A marshall holds the bike by the saddle as the rider clips in, then continues to hold the bike in place. Another marshall then starts counting back from 15 seconds. 

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
When the sign to go is given, it appears as if the marshall at the back is simply letting go of the saddle and the rider slingshots forward. In fact, it's explained to me, the marshal gives the rider a little push, allowing them to start in a bigger gear that otherwise feasible. 

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
As the rider takes off, they start off holding the wider set of handlebars. These somewhat resemble "bullhorns," and are equipped with inverse brake levers. 

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
Standing on the pedals and rocking the bike back and forth, the rider quickly gets up to speed and switches to the aero position. This is exciting to watch. They take off in a violent sort of dance, before finally turning smooth as liquid as they disappear into the distance.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
Once all the riders take off, we cycle over to a spot just before the finish line to watch them race at speed. They would be passing us twice, the course consisting of two laps. 

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
Some time passes before we see them, but finally we spot the first rider in the distance. The support crews and spectators cheer for them, then the next and the next.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
When we spot Laura, the crowd goes wild - her mother, sister and uncle.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
On her second go around the course, I stand closer to get a better look. She is in the zone, head down, eyes forward, a faint smile on her lips as she flies past us. Her posture on the bike is amazing: Her entire body perfectly still, except for the legs going round and round in circles.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
One by one I watch the riders pass. There is an almost coccoon-like stillness around each one, as if each is in their own little world, surrounded by a force field.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
On the final lap, I watch one rider pass another. This can be quite challenging in a time trial: The rider must pass immediately, since they are not allowed to draft.

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
Making our way to the finish, we arrive to the sight of riders cooling down, drinking, chatting with each other about the race. Laura did well, particularly considering the new distance. The numbers don't mean much to me yet, but I am interested nonetheless and listen to the rider's chatter intently. 

Roe Valley 25 Mile Time Trial
The sun begins to set. This happens slowly here. It will not be dark for hours yet. The riders set off to their homes, in surrounding towns, villages and farms. I put my camera away and get back on my bike. "How did you like that, then?" Chris asks. I shake my head and smile, as we cross the River Roe for the 3rd time that evening. Of all the things I saw, it's the stillness of the riders that is etched in my memory. The absolute stillness against the wind, with only the legs going round in circles. 

31 comments:

  1. Weren't you fascinated by time trials and were going to do one all those years ago?

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    1. Yup. Wasn't ready for it then; still not.

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    2. Lie! Psyched out.

      Heart rate monitor.

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    3. Pls. also note Wallace is rocking the parallel 70s in the big ring looking quite fit.

      Nice.

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    4. How can you not be ready? It's the purist form of racing. Forget about the others with their coaches and specialized bikes and take advantage of a set up course with timers and excitement in the air! It's just you and the clock. Of course, you can see why others, who get into this, increasingly modify their bikes in order to improve times...But just to test oneself for an hour of hard riding is fun!!

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    5. Ok ok... It's about 1/3rd not ready, 1/3rd psyched out and 1/3rd having too much fun with distance just now. Can't do it all at once, but hopefully next year. We have a non-aero category at home, so that's what I would do before even considering the equipment game. Also hill climbs.

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    6. Twenty five mile is a long fricking way when you're pushing yourself..About five miles more than your body lilkes! Do it.

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    7. The one in Concord MA (Charlie Baker Time Trial) is 10 miles. But they say the 25 miler is easier than the 10 miler.

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    8. Another neat day when your post is about something I was doing at the same time.

      This evening was the first TT in a series that our local club and the shop I'm involved with are running this summer.

      I got to be involved with a lot of it, printing signs, marking the course, helping run the pre-race program, pushing off the first half of the field before my number was called and I got to get in the chute(stone cold), suppress a big nervous hurl and explode out of the gate like a damp bottle rocket.

      I like Time Trialing even though I've never shown any great gift for it. I can just about stand to be that uncomfortable for the time it takes to do 10 miles on a regular roadbike. It's a high that lasts for a good day or two. I got passed by my friend Jacob just about where I thought I would and put about 4 minutes on the guy I was trying to hold off. Got beat by all the women but matched my last time for this course from 7 or 8 years ago and wasn't in any danger of being DFL.

      Great night.

      Spindizzy

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    9. Too much thinking. No such thing as distance hampering TT.

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  2. Maybe it's just me, but it seems that recently you have become more and more interested in speed, time trials, etc.. You even gave up on a beautiful endurance ride because you "timed-out". There are a ton of blogs out there obsessed with winning and go fast bikes. "Lovely Bicycle" has always been different and that's why I love it. I sense a change, however, and for me it's not very pleasant. I, for one, hope you will return to your lovely prose that so clearly illustrates the beauty of bicycles, this most elegant form of recreation and transportation.

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    1. I first wrote about track racing and time trials some years ago. I love watching the riders, regardless of whether I end up doing it myself.

      I love bicycles for transport. I love bicycles for sport. I write about whatever comes to mind at a given moment, which could be weighted toward one or the other depending on time of year. And I do both on a daily basis.

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    2. Bryan, I disagree. I think riding about all kinds of cycling is a breath of fresh air. Too many cliques and tribes out there. Besides, how much can be said about Dutch bikes and accessories? Keep branching out, V. Every sub-category of cycling could use good prose and great photography.

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    3. It is true what Bryan says about there being "a ton of blogs out there obsessed with winning and go fast bikes." and obviously, like him, I don’t really care for those. What is also true is that my interest in this blog has been and is, rooted in Velouria's take on transportation via the bike. A side bonus to this blog (for those that have followed from early on) is that Velouria has graciously shared her experiences (read as growth) in all things bike. It may have started out “strictly” as a transportation blog but as with cycling in general, it lures you into areas you thought you would never go. I have completely enjoyed watching Velouria figure out what she likes and doesn’t like when it comes to cycling. A lot of what she has experienced in navigating this love/hobby/lifestyle, I have in my own “cycling path” and I find this blog enjoyable and educational. Keep pedaling Velouria however you choose to.

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    4. You guys. All kinds of riding can be fun and "lovely." Let's not turn this into a debate. Read the blog when it's interesting to you, don't when it's not. I take no offense.

      And just for so-called LOLz... the man who is Laura's TT coach (and a racer himself) is the same man who rides vintage 3-speeds, commutes on a Brompton and organised this fabulous ride last year. It's all good.

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    5. I've raced exactly once (officially) with mid pack result. I don't really care about current hi-tech, scientifically analyzed racing, but I do love to watch outstanding professionals ride bicycles with consummate artistry and efficiency. Watch an aerial of a pro paceline. Watch this (more Beryl):

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soep-G3SPJ8) -- perfect form!

      Or Eddy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQAPyFtvVGU

      No finesse here! Just raw power!

      I have no interest in racing myself -- too old, anyway at 58 -- but I love good form and perfect efficiency.

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  3. The odds makers seem to think this will be your next experiment. Wearing all black, light and fast bike, cycling in solitude at one with the road and your own heartbeat, testing limits and discovering limitations. It's calling you!

    I really enjoyed this type of racing but these days it's mostly time trailing to the grocery store, or my commute covers 25 miles with about 15 of it on no traffic country roads which allows me to pretend and perfect my form :) The country stretch usually has high winds one must deal with and on one occasion, with the wind at my back, I was able to see far down the road and observe a cyclist coming towards me. Into the wind, which is often enough to grind one to a halt. But this person was as steady and straight as one can possibly be, legs pumping but body perfectly still. When we finally met up I noticed it was a woman on her time trial bike just beautifully maintaing her form and speed....WOW! This is also why I enjoyed triathlons....no drafting, just racing against the clock.

    Anyway, enjoy your time trial experience ;)

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  4. Look at all that sunshine!

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    1. I know, after two days of that I was getting worried. But finally it rained today.

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  5. I have zero interest in time trials, but there is some serious loveliness going on with this story and photos.

    Top 3:
    . Wallace
    . Caution Cyclists
    . man in red at the side of the road

    Good stuff Velouria. I appreciate your capacity for interest in all sides of cycling.

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    1. My favorite is the first picture with the racer on the flats and the steep hill in the background with a road visible, beckoning.

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  6. ScottUK(Eirelover)June 20, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    Great pictures, looks like mad fun.

    Hope your enjoying your bacon and cabbage, stew and Sunday roast!

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    1. None for me thanks : ) But all the other stuff is pretty good.

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  7. Are they on the correct side of the road? ;-)

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    1. If you mean, the left side, then they are riding on the right (correct) side of the road. :-) Couldn't resist the joke .... just some Northern Ireland humour.

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  8. I'm glad you saw the stillness. We used to say a rider had to learn how to sit on the saddle. An expression that baffled most. Of course the rider is sitting on the saddle. What could there be to learn?

    The kings of 6-day, old men when I began to ride, were eerily calm in the saddle. Their wheels ran straight ahead, no trace of a weave or wobble. Nothing perturbed them, nothing perturbed their machines. They didn't say much, they didn't need to, the sheer class of their riding said it all.

    The feet go 'round, the wheels go 'round. Anything else is unnecessary.

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  9. I just wanted to comment and say how inspirational I find your posts! After having not cycled since I was a child I'm back on a bike (Brompton 6 speed) for commuting and we've started to travel with them and take them on longer distances.

    I've got a lot of fitness I need to gain (and weight to lose!) but it's so lovely reading about all the different kinds of riding you mention. It gives me so many ideas for riding I'd like to try and next steps I can take in trying to do more on the bike.

    Thank you!
    Arianne

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    1. Thanks. As it happens I am riding a really cool 1st generation Brompton here. More on that later today hopefully!

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  10. Just one thing I want to say about the TT bikes .... the costs. Not unheard of for the rear disc based wheels to cost in the region of US$1500 alone. The Cervelo and BMC frames alone are eye-wateringly expensive. All down to what your priorities are though .... so each to their own!

    However, I really do like the bike ridden by Laura - it is by a British company called Ribble - excellent frames and specs for the price. Just do a search for Ribble Bikes in your favourite search engine.

    I do some time trials here in Northern Ireland, but just bolt a set of clip-on bars to my road bike.

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  11. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__2w6mXTNMk

    Watch especially the shots of her solo toward the middle of the video. No more needs to be said!

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