Cycling Time Trials
Cycling Time Trials is the bicycle racing organisation which supervises individual and team time trials in England and Wales. It was formed out of predecessor body the Road Time Trials Council in 2002.
Time-trialling is a test of a rider not against other cyclists but the watch. Other than in team events, which are less numerous, competitors compete separated by a minute or more. Riders may not ride together when one catches another. The order of start is often organised so that the fastest riders are spaced apart. In that way they are less likely to catch each other while, when they catch lesser riders, they will pass that much faster that neither will be helped or hindered.
Although time-trialling started as a rebel sport to thwart the National Cyclists' Union's ban on racing on the road, it acquired a respectability which not only led the NCU to recognise it but for time-trialling to become a cornerstone of British racing. Before the British League of Racing Cyclists reintroduced massed racing during the war - a resurrection which the RTTC opposed - the lone ride against the watch was heart of British racing.
Races can be organised over any distance but in practice they are most often run at the standard distances of 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles with occasional races at 30 miles. The winner is the fastest over the course, routed so it finishes close to the start to lessen the effect of hills and wind. Races also last 12 or 24 hours, the winner covering the greatest distance.
There are records at all distances, not only for riders on conventional bicycles but for tandems and tricycles. There are championships for men, women and riders younger than 18.
In 1890, the National Cyclists' Union banned racing on public roads in fear of a ban not just on racing cyclists but all cycling. The legal position of cyclists was not secure. The cycling historian Bernard Thompson said: "Events organised by clubs in the 1880s, although taking place on quiet country roads, were constantly interrupted by the police. Often horse-mounted policemen charged at racers and threw sticks into their wheels."
The NCU asked clubs to run races on closed tracks, known now as velodromes. But few existed and so rebel races began, under the influence of men such as Frederick Thomas Bidlake, to continue racing on the road but in a way they believed need not bring police attention. Riders would start at intervals, usually a minute, and race against the clock. Riders meeting on the road were not allowed to race against each other. Unsure of the legal situation, riders dressed from neck to ankle in black to make themselves less conspicuous, never wore numbers but always carried a bell. Races started in the countryside at dawn on courses referred to only in code. Even the cycling press was asked not to say where a race was taking place and details to competitors were headed "private and confidential" up to the 1960s.
There is dispute over which was the first race in this fashion but credit is usually given to the North Road Cycling Club of north London. It was held over 50 miles (approx 80 km) on 5 October 1895. Within two years, time trials had also been banned by the NCU, but events continued to be run secretly. Les Bowerman, who researched this and races that followed, said:
- What distinguished them from earlier unpaced races was that the riders started at intervals of two or three minutes in reverse handicap order, the fastest first. Company riding was not forbidden but was unlikely to occur. This would then be very similar to a time-trial as we know it.
The fact, as Bowerman says, that there were unpaced races against the clock before the North Road event in October 1895 means that the North Road club can not, as it often is, be described as the founder of time-trialling. Bernard Thompson, a historian of British time-trialling, wrote:
- Neither the Road Time Trials Council or the Road Racing Council before them can claim to have invented time-trialling. Without question, time-trials took place a century ago and the National Cyclists' Union national time-trial championship time-trials are recorded in 1878 when A. A. Weir was the victor with a time of 1m 27m 47s on a high ordinary. What the RRC did contribute was as great a measure as possible of uniformity in the conduct of road competitions.
In 1922 Bidlake formed the Road Racing Council – membership of which was restricted to members of the North Road, Bath Road, Anfield, Polytechnic, Kingsdale, Etna, Anerley, North London, Century, Unity and Midland cycling clubs. Each was already organising events on the road. The first meeting was at the offices of the Cyclists' Touring Club at 280 Euston Road, London on 27 June. The Road Racing Council did not make rules, making only recommendations which, because of its "fundamental common-sense background" clubs followed.
But as the sport flourished during the 1930s, the council reviewed its constitution in 1937, opening membership to all clubs and changing its name to the Road Time Trials Council, or RTTC. Its first recorded meeting was at the Devereau hotel in The Strand, London, on 16 November 1937. The first committee was Maurice Draisey (chairman), E. E. Stapley, E. F. Cash, W. S. Gibson, H. Parker, A. Shillito, Alec Glass, W. Frankum, A. Reeder, Bill Mills and Alex Josey. The rules were written by Glass, Josey, Mills and Draisey. The first general meeting, in spring 1938, resulted in its secretary, Stapley, being disqualified from re-election, even though "he had worked like a slave to create the new body on thoroughly democratic lines." Clubs in Yorkshire then broke away, dissatisfied with the RTTC's national control, and set up their own regional body. It lasted only briefly.
In the RTTC's first year there were 429 races. In December the membership was 434 clubs, with a further 69 proposed. It sold 5,564 handbooks.
Opposition to massed road racing
British cycling split during the Second World War when enthusiasts for massed racing on the open road organised a race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton against the rules of the National Cyclists' Union. The NCU banned those who organised it and took part in it and the RTTC, because it recognised the NCU's suspension, did the same.
The RTTC had the same fears as the NCU, that massed racing would endanger the position of all cyclists. The RTTC's position, however, was hindered by its decision to stop all racing at the outbreak of war - a decision quickly changed - and to stop elections to its national committee until the war ended. The committee re-elected itself for four successive years."
The RTTC came to recognize that massed racing existed even if it didn't approve. But it stuck to its insistence that that races were run in secret. That led to ban a race from Paris to London in 1947. The NCU's ban on massed racing on the road meant the only way to hold the stage from Folkestone to London was as a time trial. But the RTTC said reports before the race would be against its rules and refused to approve it. The race sponsor, the News Chronicle, refused to back a race it could not report was happening. Compromise was reached when the newspaper, the NCU and the RTTC agreed to say that a time trial stage would be held from Folkestone to London but they and the cycling press were obliged to keep the start and finish lines secret.
In 1951 the RTTC said, in a statement of around 3,500 words headed The Council's Statement on the Menace of Mass Start Racing on the Highway: "Bunched racing is an utterly selfish and irresponsible use of roads; the policy of the Council is that all such racing should be stopped; the ringleaders and their associates of the BLRC have only financial gain as their motive; unsuspecting commercial concerns and newspapers have been given a distorted story about road racing; BLRC road races violate every one of the principles of clean amateurism, authenticity, and regard for public safety."
A leader in the weekly magazine, The Bicycle, called the statement "sheer balderdash and offensive writing" and "a disgusting attack on the constitution, officials and members of the British League of Racing Cyclists, and of course, the repeated assurance that the RTTC can do no wrong."
The NCU and the RTTC later recognised road racing and the BLRC and the NCU merged to become the British Cycling Federation.
Over the years, restrictions were lifted. Insistence that riders dress from neck to toe became impracticable during clothing shortages in the second world war. Events are no longer secret - it is doubtful that even from the start the police were unaware - and lists of riders in bigger events are frequently published in the cycling press and on websites. Far from wearing black, riders are now urged to wear bright clothing to make themselves visible on busy roads. The habit of starting early in the morning has continued, however, although for the benefit of light traffic rather than as secrecy.
In 2002 Cycling Time Trials, a company limited by guarantee, was established as a corporate body for the RTTC.
- Alpaca to Skinsuit, Bernard Thompson, Geerings of Ashford
- This Island Race, Les Woodland, Mousehold Press, UK
- Journal, Fellowship of Cycling Old-Timers, UK
- The Bicycle, UK, 4 August 1943
- Josey's papers are in the cycling collection at the University of Warwick
- The Bicycle, UK, 22 January 1947, p9
- The Bicycle, UK, 4 August 1943
- Massed racing on the road was neither legal nor illegal. There was no legal stance. Time trials, being lone races against the clock, were widely considered legal. The RTTC feared not only for the wider position of cyclists but that if laws were passed and organisers had to ask for police permission to hold a time trial, the police would gain a power to say no that they did not currently have.
- The Bicycle, UK, 4 August 1943
- The Bicycle, UK, 19 March 1947, p11
- The Bicycle, UK, 7 May 1947, p12
- Cited The Bicycle, UK, 11 July 1951, p3
- The Bicycle, UK, 11 July 1951, p3