Although time trials can essentially be any distance, the 6 most common course lengths are 10 mile, 25 mile, 50 mile, 100 mile, 12 hour and 24 hour (the latter three only for lunatics!). These fall into two general categories of TT races; club and open events, which have minor differences described below.
It's every rider against the clock, and usually you'll be ranked as such, however there are different categories of rider; men's or women's junior (14-18), espoir (under 23), senior (23-39), or veteran (over 40). Championship and open events will sometimes race and rank these categories separately, but at club events there is usually just one start list and one results list with rider categories only sometimes differentiated by a small code next to their name.
Speeds and Records
While the pros will average upwards of 30mph on a 25 mile course, a strong senior club rider will achieve well under 24 minutes for a 10 mile (the magic 25mph threshold), an hour for a 25, and 2 hours for a 50, though times vary due to terrain and weather conditions. To help them get there, time trialists (otherwise known as testers) usually spend all their spare pennies on the latest specialised aerodynamic equipment.
Course Records as listed in the 2011 CTT Handbook
10 - 17:57 - Michael Hutchinson, In-Gear Quickvit R.T, 2010
25 - 45:54 - D. McCann, Phoenix CC (Ireland), 2009
50 - 1:35:27 - Michael Hutchinson, In-Gear Quickvit R.T, 2008
100 - 3:22:45 - K Dawson, Life Repair C.R.T, 2003
12 hour - 302.46 miles - A Wilkinson, Port Sunlight Wheelers, 2009
24 hour - 525.07 miles - A Wilkinson, Port Sunlight Wheelers, 1997
Races are run year-round but the main season coincides with the lighter evenings once clocks change, between April-September.
As the CTT website explains, for historical reasons dating back to an era when cycle racing in the UK was illegal and time-trialling was a clandestine affair, TT events are run on courses that are identified by a system of course codes, beginning with the letter of the relevant district. These codes relate to a specific measured stretch of road - often only marked by small painted start and finish lines on the kerbside - and can be best deciphered using the CTT website courses section or the CTT handbook.
VCGH is in the London South district, which is classified by a G, although nearby racing districts are London West (H) and South (P). The regular Wednesday night ...a3crg 10 mile course, for example, (one of our most local and well-attended TT courses) is run on P881.
Club events are quite low-key affairs, with HQs in isolated lay-bys (don't depend on civilised toilet facilities!). Races are organised by local clubs, often on weekday evenings on out-and-back stretches of A-road and dual carriageway (schedules and details are published on club websites). Although there are sometimes district-based restrictions on who can enter these time trials, most clubs have an open policy although you usually have to be a member of a CTT-affiliated cycling club. Basically you turn up on the day about 45 minutes or so before the start time, pay your entry fee (usually in the region of £2 or £3), sign your name to the start list and pin your number to your lower back. You'll be recommended - or required - to wear a helmet, and you will not usually be allowed to race without a working rear light.
After pumping up your tyres and making sure your bike is in optimum racing condition, you'll probably do a quick warm-up (some riders do this on their turbo-trainer behind their parked car, but there are plenty of mortals who use the local roads). When your allocated start time approaches, you'll make your way to the starting point. Riders are set off at designated intervals (30 seconds - 1 minute for an individual time trial). You'll get a time-keeper there to count you down, and another marshall who'll hold your bike steady while you get into position and clip into your pedals. Familiarise yourself with the course map before you set off to the event, because club events - unlike open events - don't usually have marshalls on the course and it's easier than you think to make navigation errors under duress!
Open events are somewhat more prestigious and serious than club events. They generally run at the weekend, and have a larger entry than club events (around 150 riders). Where events are over-subscribed, the field is selected on the riders' fastest previous times (detailed on their entry forms), although the organiser may also operate a reserve list. Entry for open events needs to be made in advance using CTT entry forms available for download here. Cost varies - around £7 to £9 per person - and needs to be submitted by cheque with your completed entry form. Entries close around 2 weeks before the event date, and you will receive a start list in the post or by email in advance.
After that though, the procedure is similar to club events. HQ is usually at a village hall or similar space, and you need to turn up a little in advance of your start time to sign on and pin on your number. After a warm-up, make your way to the start area with a few minutes to spare, where each rider will be set off in order. The start list for many open events will have been engineered so that you are setting off amongst people of a similar pace to yourself, so that you can compete against rivals on the road (although this is only possible if you've included your recent personal best times on your entry form).
There are very stringent non-drafting rules in time-trialling so that when overtaking a rider, you must move out of their wind-shadow well in advance, and the overtaken rider must then sit up and allow you to pass. Drafting of any kind is frowned upon by the TT fraternity and rigidly enforced by marshalls in open events.
Team Time Trials
Time-trialling is not always a strictly individual discipline, and team time trials (TTTs) are a good way to mix things up a bit. Otherwise known as 2-ups, 3-ups or 4-ups, the idea is that a number of riders rotate throughout the course, affording each rider a rest drafting the leader while getting ready for their turn on the front. Well-matched riders can get times faster than their individual personal bests, and it is an impressive spectacle to see teams in full club colours and aero kit travelling at 25+mph just centimetres from each others' wheels.
For those that like to steer clear of dual carriageway and flat courses, Sporting Course Points Competition events offer some contrast. These time trials are held on more challenging terrain with lighter traffic-flow, and avoid classic fast-and-flat TT courses.
More information can be found in the CTT handbook, published each year (and including a full season's schedule of open events, with entry details).
VCGH TTist since 2010