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Tech Spot

Time Trial Bike

TIME TRIAL BIKE

SPECS:

  • Tubular tires pumped to 130-140 psi
  • Front wheel airfoil design that reduces wind resistance
  • Rear disk wheel offers stability and aerodynamics
  • Low profile handlebars reduce wind resistance and force rider into better position
  • Airfoil seat is easy to adjust
  • Frame cuts through air efficiently with airfoil-shaped tubes

Built for Speed: Amgen Tour of California Time Trial Bikes Slice the Wind, Seconds Off the Clock.

Time Trials. Called 'the race of truth', these races pit cyclists against the clock, the course and the limits of their own endurance. The time trial is a unique event, and it calls for a unique bicycle. Everything on these machines, from the tires to the seat to the frame, is built to go fast. Trim, streamlined and built for speed, these bikes are high-tech marvels that push the limits of cycling technology.

Tires

Time trial bikes use super-narrow tubular tires that are pumped up to as much as 150 lbs. per square inch. Glued to special rims, tubulars, or 'sew-ups', as they're also called, offer a faster ride and can hold more air.
The Good. Tubulars are f-a-s-t. Tubular tires can hold a lot of air, and offer less friction with the ground, or rolling resistance. And tubular wheelsets weigh less, so they roll faster.
The Bad. With 130-150 pounds per square inch, these wheels are not always the most comfortable. You feel every pebble and crack in the pavement.
The Ugly. A poorly glued tubular can roll right off the wheel in a turn. And they're nearly impossible to change quickly. But pros don't sweat it - their mechanics can properly mount a tubular tire in their sleep, and change a wheel in seconds flat.

Wheels

The rotating spokes of a standard racing wheel are light and strong, but they create wind resistance. Even a little wind resistance can add crucial seconds to a time trial result, so most time trial bikes use tri-spoked front and solid disk rear wheels. These cut through the air with far less resistance.
The Good. Less wind resistance means a faster finish. Plus you can add yet another sponsor to the big, flat rear disk wheel. Happy sponsors make happy teams.
The Bad. These wheels are far heavier than their traditional spoked cousins. If you have to climb a hill, it feels like you're carrying an extra passenger.
The Ugly. In a crosswind, the back wheel can become a sail, carrying the rider right off the road. Hopefully someone checked the weather report, first...

Handlebars

Traditional handlebars are built for versatility: Racers can ride in the drops for control on fast descents and for power when sprinting, or on the brake hoods or the flat of the bars when climbing. But the typical, wide hand position turns the cyclist's body into a parachute, creating drag. It also gives a rider less than maximum leverage. So time trial bikes use wind tunnel-tested bars that put the cyclist in a lower, more compact and extended position that slashes through the wind.
The Good. Efficiency. These bars maximize aerodynamics, minimize drag, and give a time trialist far more leverage on a long, flat course.
The Bad. The crick in your neck at the end of a 100-mile time trial.
The Ugly. Brakes are hard to reach, and it's hard to maneuver your bike in an emergency. More than one seasoned pro has fallen out of contention because of a spill in a time trial.

Seat

When it comes to the seat, less is more. Time trial bikes sport super-light little platforms that can barely be called a seat. Shifted forward, the seat on a time trial bike helps the rider maintain a perfect aerodynamic position.
The Good. A time trial saddle shaves grams, and maybe a second or two, off of the results. The streamlined seat mast further minimizes drag.
The Bad. Ouch.
The Ugly. Did we mention they can be a trifle uncomfortable? Unless your butt has spent years on a bike, don't try this at home.

Frame

Next to the wheels, the time trial frame is the most clearly specialized feature of a TT bike. Airfoil-shaped, every inch of these frames is tested in computer models and wind tunnels for optimum strength and aerodynamics. Some riders even swear the paint makes a difference - in theory, a smooth finish creates less drag than a scratched one.
The Good. Speed, speed and more speed. Plus, these frames are designed to resist the stress of fast riders pushing huge gears without flexing, for the most efficient transfer of energy from pedals to wheels.
The Bad. Cost, if you're worried about it. Frames are typically used for one season, or sometimes even a single race, and they're often built for a single rider.
The Ugly. Some traditionalists have suggested that only the biggest, richest teams can afford these state-of-the-art frames, turning the Race of Truth into the Race of the Rich.

The Sunday prologue in this year's Tour of California will offer some tough choices. The route takes racers through the flatter streets of San Francisco and finishes up a steep, short climb. Lightweight or low wind resistance? Better handling or less drag? Watch the Prologue on Sunday, February 19, and see how critical choices, and the pros who pilot these amazing machines, will decide the first day of racing.