Thursday, May 12, 2011

Swanton Time Trial Report May 5, 2011

Swanton Time Trial Report (and thoughts on time trialing)
or, How Mark and Jim Went Over to the Dark Side
by Mark Edwards and Jim Langley

It had been quite some time since I'd been out for the monthly Thursday-night SCCCC (Santa Cruz County Cycling Club) Swanton Road Time Trial. I've worked hard to reach a certain goal time racing it Merckx-style on my road bike. Once I reached the goal, I've found it hard to improve any further. Between aerodynamic limitations and age, I was holding my own, but I wasn't getting any faster.

Mark's Felt at Masters Nationals
I had bought a fast Felt time trial bike some time back and even raced on it in the Masters Nationals Time Trial in Louisville, Kentucky on 2009 (photos). Jim was there but rode a standard bike with clip-on aero bars. We had fun but didn't set fast times and were awed by the winning times in our respective age groups - all set on super aero sleds.

But, I found the aero time trial position on my new bike so uncomfortable that I didn't want to ride my TT rig once the race was over. I also was put off by the $3,000 price tag for a competitive wheelset. It's tough to want to commit big dollars for something I wasn't sure I'd like.

And, I knew from comparing my times to others that, without all the aerodynamic goodies, I would never stand a chance to match other guys of similar fitness.

The starting ramp at Nationals
Meanwhile Jim went to the Madera Stage Race in March and took 3rd in the crit, won the road race, but had an awful time trial. Actually, he time trialed with his Power Tap and analyzing the file proved that it was a really solid effort and should have resulted in a fast time that might have kept him in the running for the overall. But, because he was on a standard bike, his time wasn't competitive.

Jim's first road racing in the late seventies was time trialing and he was a decent triathlete due to fast times on the bike. Plus, he had aero bars and a disc wheel in 1984, long before it became popular. So, it frustrated him to lose badly at Madera because of slow equipment, and he decided to do something about it so that at the next stage race he would have a chance.

With the same concerns regarding such a big investment, and not being sure just how many TTs we would do, Jim called upon his trademark ingenuity and decided to build a budget TT rig. His goal was to build a competitive machine, without putting his family in the poor house.

This was a plan I could get behind!

With solid 2nd tier aero frames we had a good foundation. Aero helmets, while not cheap, are a bargain compared to wheels - and supposedly help just as much. Fortunately we had both bought helmets two years ago for the Masters Nationals Time Trial. Same for our skin suits.

Next... wheels. I couldn't even consider a nice set of Zipps. How would I ever be competitive? Jim found me an easy and cheap fix, which worked amazingly well. An $89 rear wheel cover. I know it sounds funky, but it's really engineered well, and works great. It also allows me to use my power meter so I can monitor the watts I put out. Cool. A Power Tap equipped Zipp disk is going to run $3K by itself.

Jim's P2 with retro aero wheels
Jim dug through his garage and pulled out a vintage Specialized tri spoke front wheel and that old HED rear disc wheel circa 1984. While most of us would have dismissed 1980s technology (7 speed friction shifters), Jim isn't like the rest of us. Toolbox in hand, he had everything working like it was designed from the factory that way.

Not content to leave any stone unturned, he didn't like the front brake cable hanging out in the wind. Heck, that's nothing that a 1980s centerpull front brake won't fix! Then how about those quick releases catching the wind? Where's the lever for opening and closing? More tricks to cheat the wind. He also put on an aero bottle and cage setup, another thing shown to reduce drag significantly.

For my part, besides the wheel cover, my best idea was to relax the overly aggressive position I'd used at Nationals. Raising my bars by a full two inches solved more problems than I have space to list, making the thought of training on this bike much more appealing.

With neither of us doing a single ride (no training) on our TT bikes, we headed out to Swanton. With the usual evening ripping north coast wind, combined with our lack of time riding on aerobars, we agreed we'd ride hard, but not take any chances. This was an opportunity to set a benchmark time that we could hopefully improve over the next year. I figured the slower my time, the more personal bests it would be possible to achieve.

There's nothing like setting a new PB to keep you motivated.

Bike inspection at Natz is serious
So, off we went, into the wind. Jim was my minute man, while teammate Nils on his supersonic Giant Trinity positioned himself right behind me. Great... just what I need, the reigning King of the Swanton TT starting 1 minute behind me. So much for an "easy" race. I'd be riding scared, waiting for the inevitable whoosh-whoosh of that fast Zipp disc.

The bikes worked perfectly. Of course, we'll be making minor adjustments (isn't that half the fun of time trialing?). But the results speak for themselves. A 40-second PB for me (29:11) and 58 seconds shaved for Jim (31:02). Now let's see if we can train a bit on the bikes, get more powerful in the aero position and go even faster. Hope so.


Nils said...

Great report, guys! Glad to have you on the dark side.

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