TT Tip of the week: Find your TT position
This is a continuation of my open challenge to Nytro readers: Cover 40K in under one hour (link)
There are volumes of information out in print and cyberspace about training for time trials. Loads and loads of information about how to prepare the engine. Specific intervals and workouts, etc… In this era of power meters and ultra-refined nutrition, it is easy to forget the broader picture and goals.
This week, I am going to discuss basic positioning on the TT bike.
Traveling at time trial speeds, the greatest resistance, by far, a cyclist faces is the atmosphere. "Wind" resistance. And of that, 70-80% of the drag is produced by the rider. So, finding an aerodynamic, powerful position that you can hold for 30min to an hour is paramount to a good time trial. Physically, good time trialists are both very powerful and very flexible.
If you have never ridden a time trial before or do not have a refined TT position, GO GET FIT ON YOUR TT BIKE. Now that I recommended you get fit for your TT position, I am going to slightly contradict myself and tell you that it's a good idea to tinker with that position once you've found it. Bring a bike tool with you on your rides. As you get used to riding in the position, you might bring your elbows in, or down, as you get more flexible. You might find that 1cm further forward on your saddle actually feels pretty powerful. Focus on feel and comfort.
While it is possible to beat the hour on a standard road bike with drop bars (and I applaud you if you can do it) it makes little sense to deny yourself 30 years of aerodynamic and biomechanics progress in time trialing.
If you have a TT / Tri bike, you're a step ahead of the game. If there are three things you can purchase that add up to the greatest bang for the buck in terms of aerodynamics, they are aerobars (extensions where you rest your weight on your elbows), aerodynamic helmets, and skinsuits. There will be more about the latter two later…
The modern time trial position differs from the standard road position in two main ways:
1) Your upper body is supported by your elbows
2) The saddle is further forward toward (sometimes beyond) a vertical line intercepting the center of the bottom bracket.
Here are two photos of David Millar to demonstrate the difference
Really, there is no reason why you can't do this with a road frame (albeit with maybe a different seat post and stem) but obtaining a starting point for your TT position might require a little outside help.
In general, the distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of your saddle will differ very little, if any between road and TT positions. The further forward your saddle position, the greater the angle your leg and torso make at the top of your pedal stroke, and the lower you can get your torso (aerodynamic benefit), but the further forward your saddle, the less you engage your glutes and hamstring muscles in your pedal stroke. In short, moving your saddle further forward gives an aerodynamic benefit in lieu of power. How low you can get your torso is a function of your flexibility, breathing, and the aforementioned.
Feel free to email with questions.