5 Common Mistakes When Buying a New Time Trial Bike
Updated: Jul 26
Time trial bikes are…. well, tricky, to put it simply. For performance, positioning is absolutely critical. The time trial position requires riders to adopt an extreme aerodynamic position to slice through the air whilst still being able to deliver power. It’s a tough balancing act, one that requires the cyclist to possess excellent physical characteristics and can go terribly wrong terribly easily (see our blog here about how poor position can destroy your ability to deliver power).
It typically takes riders a number of years before they are truly able to deliver great performances in the extreme position, and usually requires the athlete to develop better flexibility, better torso stability and ability to deliver power in the seated position whilst the posterior chain musculature is on full stretch. Understandably this takes the body some time to adapt to.
For those considering a new time trial bike, I wanted to share with you 5 of the most common purchasing errors I see in selecting the TT rig. I hate to say it but most people who make one of these errors end up making virtually all of them.
1. Buying the bike THEN trying to get it to fit.
What is the point of grabbing “the red one which looks SO COOL and it’s on sale” if it isn’t the right size? What a waste of money! The wise athlete will know exactly what size frame and handlebar coordinates they need BEFORE they start shopping, and can then make an excellent decision, even waiting for the sale to occur before purchasing.
It’s especially important to get your position dialled in BEFORE purchase for time trial bikes, since the musculoskeletal requirements are much more demanding than for your road bike. So get a Sports Physiotherapist like David Wadsworth to assess your physical characteristics carefully prior to purchase and help guide your decision making process. He can also use a fitting bike to perform the complete fit prior to purchase and establish the exact positional coordinates you require.
2. Failing to consider crank length to optimise your aero position.
It’s pretty rare these days for a serious time trialist or triathlete to ride the same crank length on their TT rig as their road bike. Why? Because cranks that are too long won’t let you get aero enough to be competitive. They can also contribute to a range of injuries for those who try to overcome physics and physiology (hint – physics and physiology always win).
3. Not selecting a modern aero cockpit.
Most of the aerodynamic drag in the time trial position is coming from the rider (yet another great reason to get a great position dialled in before purchase!). To optimise airflow around the front of the rider (and remember it is the front profile of the rider that is presented to the wind) then choosing a modern aerobar and extensions is paramount. This is one of the most important and comparatively less expensive ways to reduce drag and improve performance. At Cycle Physio I use Sync Ergonomics aero-extensions and pads to help optimise aerodynamics, and can advise on other options. If you are going to spend thousands on a new bike, why would you not include a couple of hundred dollars in the budget for suitable aerobars that most times make a larger difference to drag than the differences in time trial frames between competing brands?
4. Not selecting a time trial specific saddle.
A regular road saddle, for most people, won’t cut the mustard when it comes to being comfortable in a time trial position. This is because the TT position requires your pelvis to rotate forwards considerably more, resulting in weight bearing on different parts of your pelvis. Consequently a different shape and style of saddle, designed to allow these different parts of the pelvis to bear weight, is usually required. Otherwise obtaining the more extreme aero position may not be possible as your perineum is squished against the saddle, causing parts of your anatomy that you’d really prefer to have working properly to become sore or numb or worse.
5. Failing to consider what helmet optimises air flow over your body – AFTER you have dialled in your position.
Helmet selection for your time trial is important as it can help smooth the airflow of your body and prevent turbulence which causes drag. The aim is to choose the shape of helmet that best matches your position on the bike. Because all riders adopt their own unique optimal time trial position, the helmet that best smooths airflow over you neck and spinal posture is likely different to someone else’s optimal choice. So getting fit on your bike and then choosing a helmet to match is a far smarter way to go about things. Like aerobars, helmet selection can significantly reduce drag and is a relatively inexpensive way to improve performance.
So the upshot is this: get fit for a TT bike prior to purchase, for example using Cycle Physio’s pre-purchase time trial bike fit on their fitting bike. Establish what crank length and cockpit you will use, and consider a time trial specific saddle. Once you have your bike, have Cycle Physio fit you to it and recommend a matching TT helmet to complete your aero adventure.