Time Trial Tinkering

Among other things, I partake in time trials. How that came about is something I’ll write about some other time, as it doesn’t stop at time trials, and is quite an amusing story on its own.

Time trialing consists of two things: biking as fast as possible on a set course while trying not to have yourself killed before the finish line, and endless tinkering with the bike in order to achieve this goal. No matter what bike you ride, be it a normal road bike, or a specialist’s TT-bike, you tinker. With the bars, with the saddle, with the height of them, with your wheels, with the tires, with whatever there is to tinker with. Sometimes the tinkering pays off, sometimes not so much.

Just to get a perspective of where I stand, I’m a recreant. My (first) big goal is doing 25mph on a 10 miles time trial. Nowhere near the big boys, but that’s OK. Not everyone is a Cancellara, nor is everyone a Bolt, nor a Kromowidjojo. As long as you’re having fun (in whichever way you may define fun), it’s OK.

My gear is a regular (aluminum) road bike, with a clip-on tri-bar. Nothing too fancy, although I carefully picked the tri-bar for having the lowest positioning for a reasonable price. Up until this summer, the only other modification I made to the bike was moving the saddle a bit forward compared to my road bike. Beginning this summer, I started to push a bigger gear. By itself, this is not such a big change, and I’ve gone it once before. this time, however, I started to feel a bit uneasy with my position on the bike. The saddle height was OK, but the handle bars were a bit high. As there were two spacers underneath the stem, dropping the bars was easy.

On the next time trial, I did notice that the new position was paying off, but also that staying stationary on the saddle became a painful affair. Moving a bit backwards on the saddle didn’t help much as it was just as small as at the tip. Now, there’s a rule that the saddle may not be any closer to the heart of the bottom bracket than 5cm (measured vertically), and you may have an issue with that rule with a regular saddle on a TT-bike. So manufacturers produced TT-saddles, with a shortened tip. So I got me one.

Here’s the two of them, the regular one on top of the new one. The difference is about 3cm. Within a second of the first test ride, I realized I had a problem. As this was a regular bike, the tip of this TT-saddle in its most forward position was about at the same spot as a regular saddle would be in its most backward position…

As I had a time trail the next day, I could either put the old saddle back, and suffer through it, or come up with a trick, as I liked the new position a lot better.

Now, if you look at the seat stem, its head is pointing backward. What if I turned it around, and have it point forward? I had just one worry: as the seat tube slants backward, the head of the seat stem is adjusted, so it’s horizontal. By turning the seat stem around, the head will point upward, and it may be possible that the saddle will tilt not far enough to compensate for that.

Well, it got close. It’s not horizontal, but it’s off by just a tiny bit, as you can see if you look closely enough. A test ride showed that you barely noticed.

The time trial didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. While warming up, I felt the saddle slip a bit. Checking it while still riding (jerking the sip up and down) showed that it was still firm enough to continue. The course was U-shaped, with start and finish at one leg, and a turning point at the other. It went pretty good until the last turn. Heading into a small headwind, I needed far more time to regain speed that I normally would, and maintaining speed proved too hard, even when shifting to an easier gear. The finish time was 20 seconds down from by best of 0:23:16 on this 14.4km course. Still, not too bad, but it could’ve been better.

When I checked the bike later, I noticed that the saddle had slipped all the way back. I don’t know when it slipped back, it may have been already so at the start, but it might have slipped during the trial, but it may very well have caused the problems on the home stretch.

It’s now back in the intended, forward position, and I’ve got another time trial tomorrow to test it once more. One thing is for certain: there’s more tinkering on the way, come win or lose.
Note added: the time trial went OK, saddle-wise. I would’ve loved to be a bit faster, but looking at the data (heart rate and cadence), I don’t think I could’ve been much faster.

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