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How can I get faster and set a PB?

A new year and another year older but the competitive streak and desire to go faster is still there, but how can you achieve that faster time?

Given the nature of time trialing in the UK you could simply choose the “right course”, we all know which courses locally are deemed to be fast or slow courses whether that be due to topography, type of road, frequency and type of roundabouts or even volume of traffic on that course. But is a PB set on a fast course truly a PB, I know that I have been guilty of travelling to fast courses before, but I’d regard the times set then as Course Bests rather than PBs. I would argue that for a PB to truly be regarded as a PB it should either be set on an honest course or a course that you regularly ride.

So, if we remove course selection from the equation how else can you as a rider get faster?

In the same way that you can select a course that potentially increases your chances of producing a new PB, through intelligent equipment choices you can also increase the percentage chance of getting that elusive PB. This doesn’t mean that you need to go out and purchase the latest and greatest new TT bike, although typically a TT specific frame will be faster than a road frame provided that the bike fits and is comfortable. Instead I would suggest that you look at your equipment and compare it to some of the faster riders around as typically the faster riders have invested time and money in perfecting their equipment. By identifying the differences between your setup and other riders you should be able to identify a number of areas that you could make equipment changes and whilst some of those will undoubtedly be eye wateringly expensive there will be ones that are relatively cheap to obtain.

Unfortunately, as much as the various manufacturers will try to convince us that having the latest and most expensive equipment will make us so much faster when independent testing has been carried out the difference isn’t that great. Typically for the same rider the difference between riding a standard road bike, with box section rims, wearing shorts, a jersey & road helmet and a TT race bike with a deep section front wheel, disc rear, wearing a skinsuit & a TT helmet is typically between 2 and 2.5minutes in a 10-mile Time Trial. So even after spending thousands of pounds for the majority of riders the performance difference is less than 10%. So yes, there are gains to be made through investing in equipment but they probably aren’t as big as you’d expect. And in terms of the biggest gains the order of priority is front wheel, helmet, clothing, bike frame, rear wheel.

That leaves probably the biggest area that improvements can be made to help you achieve a new PB and that’s by improving YOU. Biggest area is a pretty apt term as our bodies form by far the majority of our frontal area when cycling, and reducing frontal area is one of the key parts of going faster on a bike. 90% of the population would benefit from losing some weight, and unless you already are at your optimal racing weight you too could. But potentially how much faster could you be if you lost weight, luckily there are a number of performance models available that provide the answer. For a rider using identical equipment, riding a top end TT bike, averaging ~350w on a rolling 10mile TT for every 5Kg lost in body weight they would go ~15seconds faster. Admittedly only a gain in the seconds but certainly something that could result in that new PB.

So how else could you improve upon last years or previous years performances? Put simply it’s through consistently riding your bike, whether that be by following a specific training program or just riding more frequently it doesn’t matter. Obviously bigger gains can be made through following a training program however you need to be of the right mindset to do this and from my experience realistically anything over 16 weeks is too long as motivation and interest dwindles. Ride your bike because you enjoy doing so for the majority of the year and then if you want to focus on setting a new PB consider following a specific training program. Given that typically the best times are set in the summer months you could start a 12-week training program at Easter and you would be at peak fitness in late June. So, between now and Easter try to get out on your bike as much as possible and enjoy it as much as you can during a typical cold and damp British winter, once the days start to become longer and hopefully warmer you can start to focus on how to get the best out of your body through specific training sessions.

In my next installment, I will cover the various training methodologies that you could use in a dedicated 12-16 week training program to help you achieve that PB, until then enjoy riding your bike.

Alistair Lang

(This article was first published in the January 2018 Redmon Quarterly Newletter.)