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The Case Against TT Bikes

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The Case Against TT Bikes

Old 09-14-23, 01:59 PM
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The Case Against TT Bikes

I suspect this topic has been discussed before on here, but I couldn't find it. Either way, many of you are probably aware of the various folks associated with pro racing questioning the wisdom of TT bikes, especially following some high profile training accidents. (See, e.g. https://pezcyclingnews.com/features/...inst-tt-bikes/.) I've never ridden a TT bike so can't speak to how dangerous they are. My bigger concern is that I think they exclude a lot of folks from an important aspect of bike racing, which is the time trials themselves.

We all know that performance bikes are expensive and a top-end road bike isn't much less so than a top-end TT bike. But a top end road bike is less of a differential in mass start races than a top end TT bike can be in TTs, or at least that seems to me to be the case based on working some local TTs. Although my evidence is anecdotal, I rarely see the top of the podium in our amateur road races occupied by people with the most expensive bikes. I haven't noticed an equipment advantage when I race, unless it's some extreme difference in equipment. As we've discussed on here ad nauseam, bike handling and tactics overcome minor advantages in bike weight and aero.

At TTs, by contrast, the best performers in many of the races I've worked often have the highest or nearly the highest end bikes. One friend who was middle of the chart in TTs improved his placing significantly after upgrading to a 14K TT bike from his older (but still TT-specific) bike. Those super expensive, diminishing returns actually make a difference, which pressures people into paying for those returns and pressures others out of TTs entirely. I'm glad that some organizers are now offering non-TT bike categories, which are becoming very popular but are also slated as lower-tier categories. It begs the question of why, at least at the amateur level, we continue to hold races that reward the most expensive equipment. Even in other expensive sports like sailboat racing, design standards tend to be very strict so that the differences in equipment are minimal. TT races, as currently organized, offer a wide latitude for folks to spend a ton of money to achieve small but meaningful advantages. Given that road racing is already suffering from loss of participation, this seems like an area to reconsider in order to attract more riders -- particularly riders who might be uncomfortable with the risks of mass start racing but who otherwise want to try something competitive.

As I said, I don't normally do TTs and the few I've done have been Eddy Merx style, so I'm curious what others think.
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Old 09-14-23, 02:58 PM
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For a weekend warrior at the lower levels I would suggest either learning how to ride a TT bike and only do that or to learn how to ride a road bike either for crits or road races. Riding a TT bike is very different from riding a road bike. It isn't like as a road racer you jump on a TT bike and you are faster. It is more like you jump on a TT bike and you the same speed at best. It is a different thing. It takes lots of training time.

The bad thing about training on a TT bike is that it is lonely. You will not be welcome on a fast group ride. And it is not because you are fast. It is because you are squirrelly.
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Old 09-14-23, 03:08 PM
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We've had some "Merckx style" time trial events around here that require a traditional drop bar road bike with no aero bars of any kind.

Maybe those events will gain traction. I hope they do -- for all the points you mentioned. And it's sort of like Zwift with pavement and air resistance, so it may be a natural extension for a growing pool of riders.

But I don't think you'll have much luck banning TT or Tri bikes. The Tri industry is too big; too many people have worked too hard creating a market to sell $14,000 bikes and $600 rear derailleur pulleys.
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Old 09-14-23, 03:39 PM
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TT's are a bit niche. Like most USAC road events aren't stage races featuring flat TT's, so I don't think they are prohibitive for many riders. For club's that hold a local series, like the Fiesta Island TT series put on by my club (San Diego Bicycle Club), riders can (and should IMO) ride whatever they want as long as it doesn't have an attached motor. There is a Merckx category for those so inclined.

Secondly, I don't think that *just* buying a superbike TT is going to make someone from a mid-pack to a top level performer. Like the frame alone might be worth a handful of seconds or even 10 seconds in a 20k, but 30 - 60 seconds or more? No way. If you can get your hands on a used disc wheel, match tire and rim widths, use fast tubes etc and most importantly - get in a good position, that is how you are going to get to high speeds. The helmet is also very important, but if you can borrow helmets from friends and test them yourself (Chung method), you can find one that is fast for your position.

There are plenty of examples on the web (including our own burnthesheep ) who have experience scraping together pretty darn fast setups with cheap/used/second hand parts and by doing their own aero testing. I'm currently on a 2014 Felt DA2 and ebay wheels, but I've managed to get myself decently fast over a few years of trial and error. I did splurge on some etap 11 speed and a dedicated 1x aerocoach ring, but otherwise I'm on basic stuff. Eventually I would like to upgrade to a modern rig (maybe a Trinity) with a cleaner front end, but I don't expect it to be a night and day difference.

So I'm going to offer an unpopular counter opinion (in this country) in that I think there should be more TT opportunities, not less. It's a really neat discipline that rewards attention to detail, experimentation and a spirit of continual improvement. I wish we had a thriving TT scene like they do in the UK. TT is a totally different discipline than road and really neat IMO.
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Old 09-14-23, 04:10 PM
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Thanks, appreciate the counter-perspective.
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Old 09-14-23, 05:03 PM
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I will say that riding a real, aggressive TT position (not a tri position) can be quite dangerous on the open road. Like that is a legit downside. If I didn't have Fiesta Island a 20-30 min spin away, I wouldn't likely get much real-world extended time in position. I basically only ride in position (for more than a min or two) on Fiesta Island or on the trainer. Visibility is too low. And the brakes on mine suck pretty bad.
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Old 09-15-23, 07:25 AM
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I also wonder, how many of those guys who buy the super nice TT bikes choose to specialize in TTs?

I have a super sweet track bike and set up. It's quite high end. But I focus all my time and energy on track racing. (Also, I chose the frame I did because my fitter said it is what I needed for optimal performance. I'd have gone cheaper if there were a better option.)

My road bike is now 10-11 years old. My gravel and mountain bikes are newer - last 3-4 years - but are all spec'd at the lower end because I ride them for fun and variety.
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Old 09-15-23, 10:49 AM
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TT is def. something that rewards dedication. Like, an athlete with mediocre fitness can get pretty fast on a TT bike if they focus on position, race-specific training efforts, aero optimization and of course, equipment. But goose70 regarding equipment, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit equipment wise that will make a bigger difference than going from an outdated/cheap/used frame+wheel setup to a new superbike setup. Like the right helmet, socks/shoecovers, skinsuit, extensions etc. OK helmet and extensions can be spendy, but we're talking hundreds here, not thousands.
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Old 09-15-23, 10:55 AM
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Dropping some resources on a professional/coach fit can also expedite your journey into a fast position as well. That can also get spendy. I'm fortunate enough to be close to a local coach who set me up in his garage after work for free, and since then I've made only minor adjustments. My position is "UCI light" (by my preference), in that I am slightly more stretched out than what would be UCI legal, but pretty close in the event that I eventually wanna do like master's nats or something.
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Old 09-15-23, 01:30 PM
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Originally Posted by goose70
I suspect this topic has been discussed before on here, but I couldn't find it. Either way, many of you are probably aware of the various folks associated with pro racing questioning the wisdom of TT bikes, especially following some high profile training accidents. (See, e.g. https://pezcyclingnews.com/features/...inst-tt-bikes/.) I've never ridden a TT bike so can't speak to how dangerous they are. My bigger concern is that I think they exclude a lot of folks from an important aspect of bike racing, which is the time trials themselves.

We all know that performance bikes are expensive and a top-end road bike isn't much less so than a top-end TT bike. But a top end road bike is less of a differential in mass start races than a top end TT bike can be in TTs, or at least that seems to me to be the case based on working some local TTs. Although my evidence is anecdotal, I rarely see the top of the podium in our amateur road races occupied by people with the most expensive bikes. I haven't noticed an equipment advantage when I race, unless it's some extreme difference in equipment. As we've discussed on here ad nauseam, bike handling and tactics overcome minor advantages in bike weight and aero.

At TTs, by contrast, the best performers in many of the races I've worked often have the highest or nearly the highest end bikes. One friend who was middle of the chart in TTs improved his placing significantly after upgrading to a 14K TT bike from his older (but still TT-specific) bike. Those super expensive, diminishing returns actually make a difference, which pressures people into paying for those returns and pressures others out of TTs entirely. I'm glad that some organizers are now offering non-TT bike categories, which are becoming very popular but are also slated as lower-tier categories. It begs the question of why, at least at the amateur level, we continue to hold races that reward the most expensive equipment. Even in other expensive sports like sailboat racing, design standards tend to be very strict so that the differences in equipment are minimal. TT races, as currently organized, offer a wide latitude for folks to spend a ton of money to achieve small but meaningful advantages. Given that road racing is already suffering from loss of participation, this seems like an area to reconsider in order to attract more riders -- particularly riders who might be uncomfortable with the risks of mass start racing but who otherwise want to try something competitive.

As I said, I don't normally do TTs and the few I've done have been Eddy Merx style, so I'm curious what others think.
I agree, but not for reasons you really list.

It's not the raw cost, because there are a lot of money rich brains poor folks with very nice TT bikes with setups nearly as slow as well setup road bikes because they only really understand "mash harder to go faster".

I agree for lots of racing in the sense that teams travelling then need to deal with multiple bike types where one of them gets ridden for maybe 30min for a couple weeks of racing. And the complexity/cost/logistics there of that.

For amateur racing, it's largely not what you'd think. It's often a lot of folks crossing over from triathlon to get in some training races who already have the bike. Not the relative few who travel with pro teams around the country or the world. Also, since amateurs aren't tip of the spear pros, they aren't scratching the surface of their efficiency and bike position even opening their wallets wide open. They probably don't know enough about aero to use the expensive gear correctly.

I think for "hobbyist" amateur TT racing, it's fine as its own category. For domestic and travelling pros, I can definitely see some pain there and cost. It's the defacto weapon of choice for triathlon, so you'll always have plenty of hobbyists that own them.
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Old 09-15-23, 02:20 PM
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Originally Posted by ljsense
We've had some "Merckx style" time trial events around here that require a traditional drop bar road bike with no aero bars of any kind.

Maybe those events will gain traction. I hope they do -- for all the points you mentioned. And it's sort of like Zwift with pavement and air resistance, so it may be a natural extension for a growing pool of riders.

But I don't think you'll have much luck banning TT or Tri bikes. The Tri industry is too big; too many people have worked too hard creating a market to sell $14,000 bikes and $600 rear derailleur pulleys.
My first race at 55 years old was a Cat 5 time trial and I rode it on an old steel frame bike with nothing aero except for bladed spokes .It was a 2002 LeMond Zurich with everything original except for the tires and chain. Everyone else I think were tri guys in full time trial bikes and kits and of course Cat 5 because they never raced road races or crits.

I smoked them all.

In a ten mile TT I won by about two minutes.
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Old 09-18-23, 02:38 PM
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Originally Posted by burnthesheep

For amateur racing, it's largely not what you'd think. It's often a lot of folks crossing over from triathlon to get in some training races who already have the bike. Not the relative few who travel with pro teams around the country or the world. Also, since amateurs aren't tip of the spear pros, they aren't scratching the surface of their efficiency and bike position even opening their wallets wide open. They probably don't know enough about aero to use the expensive gear correctly.
This is essentially me. Got into duathlons/triathlons because my wife got into them and it was an excuse to get a new bike. The one real bike race I've done is a TT on that bike. Would love to do more, but there simply aren't many available, so I'm stuck running and sometimes swimming too.
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Old 09-18-23, 05:03 PM
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Originally Posted by TMonk
I will say that riding a real, aggressive TT position (not a tri position) can be quite dangerous on the open road. Like that is a legit downside. If I didn't have Fiesta Island a 20-30 min spin away, I wouldn't likely get much real-world extended time in position. I basically only ride in position (for more than a min or two) on Fiesta Island or on the trainer. Visibility is too low. And the brakes on mine suck pretty bad.
I have felt for quite a while that road racing should be done entirely on UCI legal road bikes, including the TTs in stage races. So all who aspire to road race spend all their time on the road while training on road worthy road bikes. I've seen and heard of too many crashes on TT bikes in non-competition settings. (Chris Froome while reconning the course and reaching for his WB.) The current TT bikes that are legal under UCI now are not remotely safe bike on the road. Yes, you can argue that it is up to the individual whether he chooses to ride it or not but anyone seriously interested in TTing has to have one or be an also ran. But if all TT had to be run on UCI legal road bikes, yes the TTers would go by 2 mph slower but little else would change except fewer crashes. (On the TT course, in training and with the wannabes.)

And yes, there is precedent. Anyone recall the now defunct "puppy paws"? The crazy TT bikes of the 90s? Those all got banned and to my knowledge, all lived through the deprivation.
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Old 09-20-23, 10:00 PM
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I have this really nice TT bike hanging next to me.
Bars are not what we see now in WT events, but the rest is.
It has never been ridden by a family member.
Why?
I just like the stuff.
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Old 09-30-23, 04:42 PM
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Originally Posted by TMonk
So I'm going to offer an unpopular counter opinion (in this country) in that I think there should be more TT opportunities, not less. It's a really neat discipline that rewards attention to detail, experimentation and a spirit of continual improvement. I wish we had a thriving TT scene like they do in the UK. TT is a totally different discipline than road and really neat IMO.
TT for weekend warriors is mostly the tri-guys that will all be Cat 5 because they have ZERO road race or crit starts and can never be Cat 4 or higher. Some of these guys are very strong and will eat the lunch of a new racer attempting to add TT to their race schedule. The best way for a new racer to get their feet wet in TT is to enter an omnium where there is also a road race and a crit to keep the tri-guys out.
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Old 09-30-23, 06:37 PM
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Originally Posted by mollusk
TT for weekend warriors is mostly the tri-guys that will all be Cat 5 because they have ZERO road race or crit starts and can never be Cat 4 or higher. Some of these guys are very strong and will eat the lunch of a new racer attempting to add TT to their race schedule. The best way for a new racer to get their feet wet in TT is to enter an omnium where there is also a road race and a crit to keep the tri-guys out.
Good points. Another good way for a new racer to try TT is a local series. There are a couple in SoCal, including one hosted by my club (San Diego Bicycle Club). As you might expect, there is good participation from the local tri communities, but the top times are put in by cyclists who are also into TT.

Valley of the Sun is an example of a TT specialist stage race, in southern AZ. Attracts talent from all of the western US. I got third overall in the 35+ this year, top two guys were from Michigan of all places (go figure) and were seriously fast time trialists. Its a TT well and hold it type race.

I just noticed that they score all cat 5 categories as omnium - not stage race. I wonder if it's for the reason you just mentioned, so some elite triathletes don't register and wipe the floor with everyone in the TT.
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Old 11-27-23, 01:06 PM
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Originally Posted by goose70
I suspect this topic has been discussed before on here, but I couldn't find it. Either way, many of you are probably aware of the various folks associated with pro racing questioning the wisdom of TT bikes, especially following some high profile training accidents. (See, e.g. https://pezcyclingnews.com/features/...inst-tt-bikes/.) I've never ridden a TT bike so can't speak to how dangerous they are. My bigger concern is that I think they exclude a lot of folks from an important aspect of bike racing, which is the time trials themselves.


We all know that performance bikes are expensive and a top-end road bike isn't much less so than a top-end TT bike. But a top end road bike is less of a differential in mass start races than a top end TT bike can be in TTs, or at least that seems to me to be the case based on working some local TTs. Although my evidence is anecdotal, I rarely see the top of the podium in our amateur road races occupied by people with the most expensive bikes. I haven't noticed an equipment advantage when I race, unless it's some extreme difference in equipment. As we've discussed on here ad nauseam, bike handling and tactics overcome minor advantages in bike weight and aero.


At TTs, by contrast, the best performers in many of the races I've worked often have the highest or nearly the highest end bikes. One friend who was middle of the chart in TTs improved his placing significantly after upgrading to a 14K TT bike from his older (but still TT-specific) bike. Those super expensive, diminishing returns actually make a difference, which pressures people into paying for those returns and pressures others out of TTs entirely. I'm glad that some organizers are now offering non-TT bike categories, which are becoming very popular but are also slated as lower-tier categories. It begs the question of why, at least at the amateur level, we continue to hold races that reward the most expensive equipment. Even in other expensive sports like sailboat racing, design standards tend to be very strict so that the differences in equipment are minimal. TT races, as currently organized, offer a wide latitude for folks to spend a ton of money to achieve small but meaningful advantages. Given that road racing is already suffering from loss of participation, this seems like an area to reconsider in order to attract more riders -- particularly riders who might be uncomfortable with the risks of mass start racing but who otherwise want to try something competitive.


As I said, I don't normally do TTs and the few I've done have been Eddy Merx style, so I'm curious what others think.

Interesting observation from the UK TT forums I'm on when they posted back some updates to some local groups going to road-bike only or working to expand their road bike only groups............hint hint.......the equipment war continued and just went there instead.


Short of Japanese track cycling with sports betting on "we hand you a bike", you're going to have money and tech wars.


Next up, it's the perception of the losers that winners always have better things. Yeah, I have a freaking nice TT bike. Nicer than probably lots of domestic pros. It's my hobby. Then again, I have TT extensions on my gravel bike also. And my road bike fit is really really freaking aggressive. So I ride in an aggressive bike fit.........a lot. Either way, the road bike is slower.....but it isn't so much slower someone can be like "you won because of your bike". Nah, winning is a combo of many things. You can have an aero bike fit without an $11k bike, and you can make gobs of power for free.


When I won the TT regional for my category the two years I was making for a 40km more power in the TT position than anyone on my race group could do for 20min sitting upright on a road bike.


Practically speaking for real racers and not hobbyists, it would help race teams to NOT have TT bikes and have an extra expense/transport nightmare for their races.


For the hobbyists and triathlon folks, is what it is. Man up and don't whine about losing to a "nicer bike". Shoot, lots of the fastest of the fast UK riders are on older Trinity frames or Chinese open mold framesets and Chinese wheelsets.


TT and triathlon frankly has a lot of mentally lazy folks unwilling to do the aero homework that doesn't cost $$$, but time. It's why I can't podium at cyclocross. I'm strong, but do not invest the "free" skills based homework others do. In that way I'm "lazy" at cyclocross.


Personally, I also laugh at the cost aspect when at some events and group rides you see all manner of $40000 and more cars in the parking lot. Or folks on $5k+ road bikes. Or folks with several cyclocross bikes. It's what they like. Instead, one a $2k road bike and a $2k TT bike versus one $5k road bike.


I'm not a UCI racer, but guarantee I could build an open-mold Chinese TT bike for $2k that would aero test better than a mentally lazy person buying an $11k s-works Shiv.
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Old 11-27-23, 02:05 PM
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Originally Posted by burnthesheep


When I won the TT regional for my category the two years I was making for a 40km more power in the TT position than anyone on my race group could do for 20min sitting upright on a road bike.

And how exactly did you determine that?
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Old 11-27-23, 03:11 PM
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Originally Posted by TTgrav
And how exactly did you determine that?
I assume you thought I meant the random folks showing up to the race. My race group as in my team-mate's power and the few guys not on the team I'm in a local TT 'beer run' club with. Not other folks in that category that I've never met. We talk in our Slack chat about all manner of stuff just like here amongst the race team members. Of course I know nothing about the other people. Nobody could determine that.

The comment is largely meant to convey that people who can win a TT or a multisport event including a TT bike can still put out power. There is no free lunch.
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Old 12-21-23, 07:10 PM
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Bikes: '20 Specialized Roubaix Expert, '20 Specialized Shiv Elite, '13 Specialized S-Works Epic

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I do wish the term/definition/standard Time Trial bike would go the way of the UK TT scene. Meaning the always lurking UCI definition of time trial bike is displaced without contention by the rider on a Tri bike optimized for TT'ing or whatever a person wants to ride. In my handful of Time Trials I've participated in (USAC registered) the event host was cool with any bike as long as it wasn't motor'd. I am on a Specialized Shiv Tri versus the absurdly priced TT version. There were a few times a participant made some noise about Tri bikes. Most however were ok with my bike. And they went faster anyways (I have earned two podiums in my class so I'm not completely a lost cause). It would seem to me the TT races in the US would perhaps experience some growth if USAC went chill on the definition of TT bikes.

Last edited by cybirr; 12-22-23 at 02:24 PM. Reason: typo
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