Riding in a bicycle timetrial

Hi all,

I’ve been riding since last summer, and have spent a lot of time since then hanging out on these forums learning stuff and chatting with people. Thought I’d share my experiences during an experimental ride yesterday. I’d be interesting to see if anyone else has done similar rides, although I’m sure many others have done far more extreme stuff :slight_smile:

Yesterday I did my longest ride ever - 10 miles “competing” in a university bicycle timetrial. I’d never ridden any kind of timetrial before - even on a bike - so doing it for the first time on a uni (whilst riding a long distance by road for the first time) was quite scary. The contestants ranged from the super-serious with carbon fibre bikes and teardrop helmets, through to random street / mountain bikes who just fancied a long ride, with the slowest riders being myself and a friend (probably - we may have come ahead of some bikes who didn’t finish ;-)) on our unis.

I was riding a Nimbus 29er (which has an enormous Big Apple tyre, 125mm cranks), my friend had some kind of 28-inch from UDC with a skinny tyre and shorter cranks (115, I think).

The ride was 10 miles along a single carriageway road, quite wide, speed limit of 60mph. The road was not that busy - with cars, vans and buses thundering past at high speed, we were grateful for that. Due to there being racing bikes all over the place, the traffic was mostly behaving quite carefully and passing at distance - many of the cars passed fully on the opposite side of the road. Some tooted their horns or waved in encouragement, whilst many of them just goggled on the way past - unicyclists with race numbers on their backs are apparently fairly uncommon.

I was allowed a standing start, holding onto one of the race marshals. This favour is also offered to bicyclists so that they can engage their toe-clips before the start. I’m not sure it gave me such a speed advantage, but it avoided freemounting under pressure in front of a large crowd :wink: I fell off for no obvious reason after about half a mile, fortunately there were no cars / bicycles near me at the time. After about a mile into the race, a path reappeared by the road, so I decided to ride on that. It was fairly lumpy and slower to ride, and it stopped suddenly after about 150m :frowning: I walked across the verge back onto the road, found a gap in the traffic, freemounted and rode off.

After about 3 miles there is a fairly steep hill to a bridge over the motorway. Being up on a bridge above such an enormous road felt strange, and a bit exposed. Fortunately I didn’t have to deal with much traffic on the bridge, which led out into an exposed straight, with strongish gusts from the brisk wind. Riding from here on was fairly “routine”, with cars and racing bikes passing me periodically. The racers gave shouts of support as they passed me in either direction. Somewhat further down this road, my uni-ing friend passes me - coming back. He’s on the return leg of the course; he started a minute before me, but has pulled out quite a lead. I notice he’s pedaling enormously quickly, wobbling alarmingly and is being overtaken by both cars and bikes. Cars are overtaking me too at this point, so there’s a minute or so of surreal uni-induced traffic congestion until we pass each other!

The half-way point itself is a large roundabout - I had been intending to walk around it, but there were actually very few cars so I decided to ride. I stayed close to the outside of the tarmac, signalling right past the exists until I’d gone all the way round. The cars were very considerate, although the slow speed of the uni seemed to mess up their distance calculations - they gave way to me me even when they had plenty of time to drive off. But maybe they just wanted to watch :slight_smile:

It was nice to know I was finally heading back - it was many times further than I’d ridden before in distance terms (although not necessarily in terms of time).

The journey back was fairly uneventful, and I returned to the motorway bridge without incident. The hill down from the bridge proved something of a problem - the ground where I live is so flat that I’m not used to controlling my speed on hills. I recovered twice whilst there were cars passing me, but then unexpectedly I totally lost it further down the slope - I flew down the middle of the carriageway, landing on my right leg (which buckled, having been already weak, and then exhausted from pedalling against the camber of the road) and then skidding through the grit. I quickly got off the road, quite glad there had been no cars nearby! I wouldn’t have ridden the race if I didn’t think I could be safe among traffic, but this would have been quite a dangerous fall if there had been other vehicles around.

I walked some way down the verge, pushing the Nimbus, allowing my leg to recover. At the foot of the hill, I had space to freemount, and had recovered enough to hop back on after a few attempts. I had 2-3 miles left to ride. After getting back to pedalling, although I noticed after a while that my right hand was covered with blood.

I was very glad to see the 1 mile post - it appeared unexpectedly, and was very welcome encouragement. I passed the finish line to cheers from cyclists and the other uni, as I was simultaneously overtaken by a bicycle at extremely high speed. I’d ridden 10 miles, including a period of 6-7 miles non-stop. My friend had finished in 59 minutes, my time being 10-15 minutes longer (we don’t have the full results yet). I would have liked to be faster, but didn’t fancy pedalling so fast, especially whilst sharing the road with motor vehicles.

All that remained was to get home and find a pub. We’d arrived in the race-organisers car. We hoped to get home by a public bus… hoping that we’d be allowed to take our unicycles onboard! We stood for 15 mins in a partially-wrecked bus shelter, hiding from the biting wind as best we could. The bus driver had, in fact, passed us both during the day since we’d been riding on his route. He was friendly, and let us carry the unis on board and took us back to central Cambridge, and the highest density of pubs per square mile in the whole of the UK :slight_smile:

Although all of me ached, and the cuts and grazes needed cleaning up, neither of us had sustained any major injury. The ride was great fun and I’d love to try it again some time. Probably not for quite a while, though :wink: Maybe next time I’ll take a coker!


Nice one, sounds like a great ride, and a good write-up too.
Which roads was it held on?
Hope your hand is recovering!

Sounds cool. Was that on the A505?

You guys did pretty good times for your first long ride on a 29er. I know what you mean about not being used to hills too, I learnt riding by Parker’s Piece and round there, down the river etc. and the first time I hit a hill it certainly was hard. There’s a nice ride to Fulbourn (up to the windmill), Wilbraham and round somehow to Newmarket which I can recommend, that has some hill practice on it (only Cambridgeshire hills but better than in town), I think you can get a train back if you’re tired by Newmarket.

By the way, I’ve lived or worked in three places that all claim to have the highest number of pubs per square mile in the UK. Twickenham, Cambridge and Nottingham. I think York and Chester claim this too.


It was on the A1303, near Bottisham. It’s 6-7 miles from the centre of Cambridge, otherwise we would have ridden out there. We didn’t fancy doubling the riding distance - turns out that was a good decision, my legs ache!

My hand is not too bad. It bled so much because I was cut by the grit on the road, rather than because of any huge injury. It’s healing up nicely now, thanks!

Thanks for the hints about other rides! We’d been thinking about going out for longer rides so once we’ve recovered maybe we’ll check them out! Going up hills isn’t a problem for me, but the movement required for downhill riding is … tricky … I can’t quite persuade my legs that it’s something they want to do :wink: If I don’t concentrate I release the back pressure and start zooming off again!!!

I’m glad our times don’t look too awful :slight_smile: Alan had ridden 9 miles on a 20" with 125mm cranks once before (!!!). I’d never ridden more than a couple of miles, although some of my rides had been quite long in terms of duration. Impressively, Alan had only just got the 29er, having borrowed it a few weeks previously in preparation for the race. I ride mine a mile or so to work on a fairly regular basis.

The final result is: Alan took 59 minutes, 3 seconds. I took 72 minutes, 33 seconds - which is on the faster end of the range I’d expected for myself. For comparison, the fastest road bike was 24 mins, 15 seconds.

Amusingly, this was a “Cuppers” race, which is a kind of team event. For those not in the know (I wasn’t until looking up the scoring system yesterday), this is where your college (within the university) receives points depending on how well you do, meaning that all people from one college are on one “Team” in the race, as well as competing for personal glory. It turns out there was only one other person from my college in the race, so my token 1 point for finishing last doubled our team score :smiley:

I’ve also heard the pub density disputed. In fact the actual pub density has probably changed since I first heard the claim (although whether it was true then is debatable). It’s high enough to satisfy hungry, thirsty unicyclists - we found ourselves some real ale and huge portions of food :slight_smile: