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Essential Things You Need to Know Before Your First Time Trial

A time trial also known as the race of truth, is a race in which it is really just you against the clock. Once you are out there on the road you need to get yourself into as aerodynamic of a position as possible, push your legs to right below their breaking point and hold it there for however many miles it takes to get to the finish. However, before the time trial even starts what are some essential facts you need to know to be as prepared and successful as possible at your first TT?

Make sure you register for the correct category.

If you are new to bike racing whether you are a man or a women your category will be category five. Starting in 2017 USA Cycling added a category five for women which previously started at category four. If you have a time trial bike or aero bars you will register for Men Cat 4/5 or Women Cat 4/5. If you are racing on a regular road bike, make sure you register for the Non-TT or Eddy Men’s or Women’s category, this will insure that you will be racing against others who are on road bikes and not against people with full time trial setups. One other thing to note is that the masters or age group categories are for men only. So if you see a category like 45+ that is for men and not women. For beginner men I would still recommend registering in category 4/5 and not for your age group. In the age group categories you could be racing against higher category riders, former pros and other more experienced time trialists.


You can find almost all of the time trials on bike reg. Click the image above to go to the site and search for races.

Make sure you know your start time.

For most time trials they send out a list of the start times a day or two before the race. The TT may start at 8am, but your start time might not be until 8:47. It is essential that you know your start time to ensure that you are there on time and also to avoid standing around way too long before your start. You don’t need to arrive at the starting line until five to ten minutes before your start.

Get a decent warmup in before the start.

It is much easier to get up to racing speed quickly when your muscles are nice and warm. I recommend warming up for at least thirty minutes prior to the start of any time trial. Sometimes my warmup will be longer than my actual race. Make sure you either get out on the road or on the trainer and do some easy spinning with one or two short hard efforts thrown in to really open your legs up.

You can warm up on a trainer or out on the road either way is fine, just get your legs moving before the start of the race!

You can warm up on a trainer or out on the road either way is fine, just get your legs moving before the start of the race!

Make sure your number is visible and pinned on the correct side of your jersey.

Ordinarily when you are picking up your race number on race day you will be told if the number should be on the right or left side of your jersey. The side is usually selected based on which side of the road the race officials will be set up on at the finishing line. The officials need to clearly see your number in order to accurately report your finishing time. Be certain the number is not too high or low on your jersey. Try to have it centered on the side panel of the jersey so this way it can be easily seen. If you blow through that finish line at warp speed you want to make sure your number is seen and your result counts.

My number is pinned a bit high here, see how it is hard to read? I would have wanted it more on the side panel and less on my back ideally.

My number is pinned a bit high here, see how it is a little bit hard to read? I would have wanted it more on the side panel and less on my back ideally.

Be prepared for the held start.

Most time trials start with someone holding on to your bike while you clip both feet in then the clock counts down and you start pedaling as they release you. This can be a disconcerting feeling, so I recommend finding someone to practice this with before your first race, or at the very least, go to the start line knowing that this is the protocol. If you are too nervous and don’t want to be held you have the option to say, “thanks but no thanks,” and that is fine too. The advantage to starting with both feet clipped in is that you don’t have to waste time fumbling around looking for that other pedal to clip into you can just start speeding away right from the start.

The holder will grab on to your saddle and hold you rear wheel steady until it's time for you to go.

The holder will grab your seat post or seat stays & hold your rear wheel steady until it’s time for you to go.

Try to make yourself and your bike as aerodynamic as possible.

Get into a good low position on your bike (if you are on a road bike) or make sure your fit and position are good if you have aero bars or a time trial bike. Wearing a skin suit or tighter fitting jersey and shorts will help reduce drag. If you are wearing a big baggy jersey it will just act like a sail and hold you back as you are trying to speed forward. Eventually you can even invest in an aero road helmet or time trial specific helmet if you find that you are enjoying the TTs and are looking for an additional advantage.

For an added aerodynamic advantage, if the race is short enough, you don’t need to carry a water bottle and can even remove the water bottle cages from your bike for the race. The bottle and cage will just add extra weight and drag that you don’t want or need. For me, if the TT is going to be around thirty minutes in length or less, I don’t bother with the water bottle. I am so focused on the task at hand and for an effort of that length I know I won’t even take the time to drink the water anyway.

It might be a good idea to make a checklist and get your equipment together the night before this way in the morning you will be all set to go. Time trials are a great way to give yourself a training goal or a new challenge and also to measure your own personal fitness and progress throughout a season or year over year.