Essay: On the Time Trial Vacancy
(2017) Those in the know sometimes take things too far. Several years ago I bore witness to an incredible set of circumstances. In a barely- serious hockey game, a coach called the referee over to report an illegal stick. Further advancement of the game was halted while the referee went looking for the curve apparatus. It was somewhere in the referee locker room. Meanwhile I’m sure every player on each bench put his Paul Coffey Sherwood 5030 stick in the rack for fear of being next. Everyone knew the Coffey curve was illegal, except no one really cared much to do anything about it. The player was busted, put in the box, and the game-winning goal was scored on the power play. What a way to win a game.
For a brief time in my cycling career I possessed a land missile that is a time trial bike. The best way to describe the attitude of a TT bike is to compare it to an American muscle car. It sure is fast in a straight line, but that first turn is where it all comes apart. I’m sure American racecars tore down the 3.7-mile Mulsanne straightaway (before those jughandles were put in) passing all the Euro cars. I wonder just how far out the American machines had press the brakes to make that right-hander and continue around. Time trial bikes aren’t meant for handling.
They’re also not meant for comfort, either. The time trial effort is a violent study in suffering. A rider can be comfortable but not aerodynamic. Or, a rider can be aerodynamic but not comfortable. Just ask Tony Martin when his skin suit was shredded in the chamois. Perhaps the lack of comfort is motivation to ride as fast as they do.
To get to the coffee stop of our last article, we mentioned route 29 in New Jersey and haven’t stopped thinking about it. For numerous years the road was in a state of disrepair. No cyclists felt the urge to take on the connector road to more enjoyable strips of tarmac. We’re not sure what forced the issue, but recently route 29 was scraped and resurfaced. The riders have slowly returned. Slowly, too, are the time trials.
Prior to the disappearance of all cyclists, an informal time trial event had struggled to remain in the area. There were two put on by the same organizer, actually. The mid-week time trial consisted of a simple north to south drag race. Every couple Saturdays in the summer meant a doubling of length. Riders would tear down route 29, given thirty seconds to turn around, and resume tearing up back to Frenchtown. Those were quite the efforts.
But as the road deteriorated to unsafe conditions, the organizer tried to take the event to the north side of Lake Nockamixon. The route was more rolling but still maintained the wide, smooth shoulders route 29 possessed in its high tide. For some reason this wasn’t a hit and the organizer collapsed the starting tent and never returned.
For those who have never had the luxury of owning a time trial bike, it’s quite the experience. I’ve tried to describe to people that the bike in flight gives the rider an extra couple watts just by feeling fast. Slam the stem, knee your armpits and you have a bonafide weapon of mass destruction being steered by your elbows. Add into the equipment of shiny fighter pilot visors attached to goofy helmets or the hollow rumble of disc wheels, and who wouldn’t feel like the Bonneville Salt Flat is his next stop? But then another rider blows by me, acting like she is updating her Instagram while giving me windburn, and the fantasy ends there. But still, it feels awesome.
I stopped doing time trials because the bike I owned saddled the era of free design and UCI regulation. I rode a bike that wasn’t too wildly designed. It simply broke a rule stating that additional parts such as fairings were not allowed if they served no other purpose. Sure I could saw them off of the downtube but I would be breaking another rule: no altering of a bike from the factory. I had a bike that was now considered illegal and I was not allowed to do anything about it. So I sold it.
I was worried that, in the highly unlikely event, I managed to get myself to the top step of the podium, someone would look over my bike, ask the event to halt as the referee went to the locker room for the rulebook, and render my effort void. I doubt that type of action would happen but there was always the concern. The bike was outdated nearly immediately off the rack.
From time to time I see riders hammering down route 29 with a slight tailwind and carbon wheels. Just last week I saw a female rider doing that exact thing. I wondered if she was prepping for the resurgent route 29 time trial a new organizer has tried to start up. I wondered if the tailwind and new surfaces were adding to her day. Whatever her reason she had the biggest smile on her face.