Friday, August 11, 2006

Time trial

Sometime last year, I realized that there were lots of times I had a free hour. After a few attempts, I pieced together a pleasant loop of a bit over 15 miles that I could reliably ride in an hour door to door. It wasn't long before I started checking my watch start and finish. Pretty soon I was jotting down times on a scrap of paper. I was on a slippery slope towards time-trialing.

I'm fairly certain no one actually KNOWS I'm time-trialing. I still wear sandals and floppy clothes. My Romulus always sports fenders and lights and usually a basket or bag or two. I don't even go very fast, and when the evening sky lights up over McCauley Butte, I sheath the hammer and sit up to watch. Let's call it stealth time-trialing.

It is loads of fun. Coming down the home stretch after the last traffic light, I really give it my all, wondering if I'll break my best time, or my best time with a headwind, or my best time in the dark, or the heat, or the rain, or whatever. At any rate, I thought I'd share a few tidbits from my scrap paper log.

Distance=15.15 miles
Average time=56 minutes
Average speed=16.2 mi/hr
Range of times=53-63 minutes

I'm not fast, and my log shows I'm not really getting any faster, either. But, I am remarkably consistent. I started thinking that this loop of mine would be the perfect laboratory for some pseudoscience. I started experimenting with equipment a little--some actual biking shoes I hadn't worn in ages, foot retention, taking off bags and baskets, riding primarily in the drops, tire pressures--and what I found is that none of these things made any observable difference in my ride times.

A couple of days ago, I finished up work on my #2 bike. It's a fairly heavy steel frame with flat pedals, wide tires, upright bars, metal fenders and baskets front and rear. It has two gears but can only be shifted at a stop. I knew what I had to do, even if it might disgrace every roadie I met on the way. I took it on my time trial loop. I wore my watch but vowed not to pay attention to it during the ride, lest I offend the scientific method even more.

I had a nice ride. I felt fast. I went 0 for 1 on returned roadie greetings. At the end of the ride, the watch showed 56 minutes on the nose. Here I tried to build a townie and ended up with another time-trial bike. When will this madness end? :-)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Joe, don't sell yourself short. 16.2 mph is a pretty darn respectable average time for a "non-time trial time trial."

I go out for 25-30 mile rides on the weekend with my buddy, and we only average around 13, and I wouldn't exactly say we're trying to go slow. I blame it on those hills that knock me down to 7 or 8 mph for a mile...

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Perry said...

Your speed is better than good, IMO. Mine has dropped below that over the years and it does not bother me one bit. Anyway, a few years ago, I did a test on a 35 mile loop using a 70s road bike. I found that floppy clothes (regular shorts and shirt) and no clips on the shoes/pedals slowed me down about 1/2 mph, IIRC. In other words, not much.

My take is that if you do hills, weight is crucial. If you do flats or rolling hills, aerodynamics are crucial. I just got my first nice bent and after only 16 miles on it, I can tell that the bike will fly on the flats. Of course, for me, 15 mph is flying, but that's not the bike's fault. ;-) Not that any of this really matters--just talkin' 'bout bikes is all.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

I have two racks, two steel fenders, three bags, two 2-pound tires, 84 spokes, a Schmidt hub, and one steel handlebar/stem combo on my HEAVY Atlantis. I have a 20-mile mostly off-road loop that I do in about 2 hours flat without killing myself. Today, I rode my Romulus, which is built to be lightish at 24 lbs including fenders and the pump, with a friend on a 36 mile road loop. There are a few good climbs by Minnesota standards, and we finished in just over two hours.

I've long wanted to evaluate the effects of flat pedals w/o clips and straps vs clipless pedals. My sense is that the advantage of clipless is minimal for most people. Everybody says it's "more efficient" to use clipless pedals, but I have my doubts about the magnitude of the difference.

That said, my Romulus has clipless pedals. If it was my only bike, it wouldn't.

8:04 PM  
Blogger the old bag said...

Here I tried to build a townie and ended up with another time-trial bike. When will this madness end?

Great line!

9:20 PM  
Blogger Chico Gino said...


A while back I sold my 16 pound carbon Calfee and bought a Rivendell Rambouillet that weighs 7-10 pounds more depending on what I'm carrying. I still average 15-18mph on any ride (40+mph downhill, 6-10mph uphill, 17-21 on flats), still beat the guys and gals up big hills that I used to beat, still get dropped by the guys and gals that used to drop me. In other words: there's no discernable difference in the two bikes.

All the bicycle weight obsession is laughable knowing what I know now: it doesn't matter unless you're an elite athlete, and you're racing against other elite athletes.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Chico Gino said...

I forgot to mention - those speeds on the two different bikes are for rides ranging from 40-70 miles, and I've still noticed no difference... except that after a 70 mile ride, I only ache where I should when I'm on the Rivendell: in my legs!

10:55 AM  

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