A brief history of time (trials)


17.02.22 at 11:32 am

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In 1988 the Bantam Dell Publishing Group published a brief history of time by Stephen Hawking. Sixty-six years prior to this, in 1922, time trialling was invented – sort of. I will be telling a brief history of time trialling today – I shall leave the subatomic particles to Stephen. This year sees the UK’s time trialling corporate body celebrating the centenary of time trialling in the UK as it is 100 years since the formation of the Road Racing Council – the first official body devoted to organising time trials in the UK. 

a brief history of time trials


An early history of UK time trialling.

Due to concerns about the legal status of cyclists, the National Cyclists’ Union banned bike racing on the roads in 1890. The NCU asked clubs to organise their races on velodromes but not many of these actually existed. This lead to the time trial. 

There’s an open debate about what exactly was the first time trial in the UK but it certainly pre-dates the formation of the Road Racing Council by over 30 years.

Why do time trials exist? 

It’s possible that you yourself have done a time trial, I have and this is a question I ask myself every time. It’s often paired with “why am I doing this to myself” and “I could’ve bought myself a new pair of socks with the entry money”. There’s an actual answer to time trialing existing, however. They do so because bike races were quite illegal when they started off. This lead to secret time trials being held under cover of darkness with coded course names (which exist to this day) and secret entry lists. 

Road racing is now completely legal and happens quite a lot yet time trials still exist. They’re a beginner friendly means of bike racing and have a pure appeal with the aim of getting from A to B as fast as possible. 

Time trialing champions over the years

Britain’s time trialing scene is quite a unique one – both in the cycling world and in the sporting culture of the UK. Over the years there’ve been a number of champions born out of this scene. I’ve picked a few personal favourites below – this list is by no means exhaustive with some notable names missing out. I’ve picked the names due to their impact on cycling or time trialling either because of their results or their activities off and on the bike. 

Dave Akam 

The 20 minute barrier for 10 miles is still the bar many time trial enthusiasts aim for to this day and Dave Akam was the first person to achieve this in 1980. He did this due to anger at not being selected for the Moscow olympic games saying that he rode with his “angry head on”. 

Graham Obree 

The Flying Scotsman has broken the hour record a number of times as well as having a few British time trialing records at points in his career. Obree has been inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame and deserves recognition for a number of things – not least riding on the world’s fastest washing machine, an extremely innovative approach to riding a bicycle quickly and his open discussion around his battle with bipolar disorder. Obree truly is a sporting legend on and off the bike, in and out of cycling. In 1993 he broke the British 10 mile record clocking 18:27.

Wendy Houvenaghel

Wendy Houvenaghel was a pursuit rider from Northern Ireland. She competed in a number of major track championships and has three rainbow jerseys to her name. She’s on this list for another reason though – Wendy was the first woman to go under 20 minutes for 10 miles according to CTT’s records! 

Bradley Wiggins 

Known for turning up at his local club 10 every now and then, Brad Wiggins has done more for getting people on bikes in the UK by becoming the first brit to win the Tour de France. He did this, in no small part, down to his impressive ability on the TT bike. He also became Olympic champion in the time trial the same year he won the tour. He was also the first man under 18 minutes for 10 miles, in 2006. 

Sarah Storey 

Dame Sarah Storey has won more Paralympic medals than most countries, many of these have been down to her amazing time trial power. She also has a brilliant set of domestic time trial results clocking 1:54:40 for 50 miles, amongst other things. She rides for her team, Storey Racing – I interviewed one of their riders here. 

Alex Dowsett 

Alex Dowsett has long been an advocate of British Time Trialling and once held a number of TT records including both the 10 and 25 mile events. He’s made it on this list for the work he’s done for his charity, little bleeders. We wrote more about this here. 

Joss Lowden 

Joss Lowden holds the women’s hour record. She might well be the most aerodynamic person in the world. She rode for Storey Racing in 2018 too and has signed for Uno-X Women’s Pro Cycling Team. She set the hour record mark at 48.405km in September 2021 destroying the old mark. 

Dan Bigham 

Partner of Joss Lowden, Dan Bigham’s impact in time trials lies mostly away from his bike. It’s fair to say he’s a very solid rider himself breaking the British hour record in October of 2021. Big-ham is mostly associated with an improvement in time trialing technology and attention to detail which has lead him to wind up working as a race engineer for the Ineos Grenadiers. 

The British time trial scene is influential on the world of cycling, leading to hour records being broken, riders winning grand tours and more people ending up on bikes in general. If you’re interested in getting into time trials, check out our blog here. If you want to insure your time trial bike, check out Yellow Jersey bicycle insurance here.  

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