Touring Cycles are Rock and Roll

and why you really have absolutely nothing to fear from time trials

Don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I’d wager we have a few things in common. Checking the Broken Spoke Bike Co-op blog space? Bet you’re into cycling; bet you like to get out on the road and feel the wind in your hair, blood pumping in your veins. Maybe you’re into touring, either to a village pub nearby, or you like a classic Sunday ride with the club. Whatever kind of road riding you fancy, road cyclists like a bit of speed, a bit of a challenge, and a bit of a slog, right?

Being that we have a lot in common, I’m wondering if you, too, share some of the trepidation I feel at the words ‘Time Trial’. Time Trial (TT) says to me: kit, lots of it, carbon fibre, money I don’t have, i.e. a competition I cannot compete in. When I read about the Woodstock Classic, coming up this May 10th, I thought exactly this: 80km, cool, great, but I can’t race it – have you seen my bike? But in a burst of enthusiasm, I got in touch with Jan Phillips, the race organizer. I asked point blank, “I’m a touring cyclist; I don’t even know what category I’m in, or even what my average speed is. What do you think the chances are I could compete?”

Jan wrote back within an hour with her mobile number. We chatted and she asked me, “Are you young, fit, and competitive?” My life flashed before my eyes and I thought of how I surreptitiously race other bike commuters to work every day, how nothing pushes me the rest of the way up Headington Hill like another cyclist just a few metres ahead, and mostly how I absolutely love to tour.

“Yup, lots of all three,” I said.

Jan immediately invited me out to join her and another cyclist from the Bicester Millennium Cycling Club, Elaine, to test out the course with them that weekend. Elaine and Jan Time Trial at Weston-on-the-Green every Tuesday night and ride out 60+M every weekend, it seems like. I figured, hey, can’t hurt, and if I embarrass myself at least it will be in front of only two nice people.

What a legend: Jan, who has a stationary bike and computer set up in her flat for easy access to intense cycle training, and who competes and places in Time Trial events around the UK, says that she rocked up to her first TT on a touring bike too. I learned a few things from the ride with Jan and Elaine. Namely, that we have more commonalities than differences. I got bit by the cycling bug touring in Canada and the US. Elaine got bit by Cycling Club rides, and Jan? Heck, she was born on a bike. They both ride sweet carbon fibre-frame cycles. I ride a hunky touring bike. They very kindly suggested I should leave my pannier at Jan’s instead of bring it with me, and so I hesitatingly did, though boy did it feel weird to ride without anything on the rack! What I found is that on the road, while the equipment matters, what mattered more was bike handling on the flat and hills. Touring Canada’s Sunshine Coast, Gulf Islands, West Coast of the US and the Canadian Maritimes means hills and wind. Turns out, all that hill climbing came in really handy on the Woodstock Classic route, which features a few gorgeous climbs and descents that demand confidence in curvaceous down-hills and high-grade ascents. I definitely noticed that on the flat I was working to keep up with my two co-riders, my reliable chromo-steel dragging its heels, but it was easy to see how I could apply my touring experiences to the Time Trial course, and even how being a touring cyclist gave me an advantage for specific aspects of the route, like hill climbing, descending, group riding, endurance over distance, and a good sense of pacing.

It was Easter Weekend, so after the ride and back at Jan’s before the others took off to family festivities, we chatted bikes, routes, Time Trialling, and rides in Oxfordshire over tea and hot cross buns. “So,” Jan asked me, “you gonna do it?”. I didn’t really hesitate, being that endorphins were flooding my brain and hot cross buns were filling my belly with buttery delicious-ness.

“So game! And I’m gonna spread the word around Oxford, see if I can get some of the other Spokers and bike community interested too!” said I.

Good readers, you will be pleased to know that once I came down, as one inevitably does, from my sugar and endorphin-induced euphoria, I was still game. Time Trialists are cyclists and athletes just like the rest of us touring, commuting, and CTC (cake to cake!) cyclists. Our equipment might be different, but, material of bike frame aside, what makes a cyclist ready to ride and race ought to be, I think, a love of the feeling of the wheels on the road, a willingness to go the distance and stick with it, some competitiveness, a sense of camaraderie, and freedom from the fear that you or your bike isn’t good enough. If you can comfortably ride 80km and want to get into some fun competition that really isn’t against anyone but yourself, you really should do it with me on May 10th at the Woodstock Classic.

I’m absolutely sure Jan would be happy to answer any questions about the route you can think up, and I’m also happy to be in touch with folks. The emails I really want to get are ones saying, “Hey Karen, want to drop what you’re doing and go ride 50m this afternoon?” To which I will probably reply,


Karen McCallum
Volunteer mechanic, Broken Spoke Bike Co-op

Karen and Brodie

Karen and her fully loaded 2009 Brodie Elan cycling Chippenham to Bristol weekend of April 17-19.

For race day, this touring mule is getting stripped of back rack, mud guards, lights n’ fixings, D-lock and holder. As for riding kit, Karen’s gonna wear a jersey (pockets to be jammed with nuts and seeds), non-descript padded cycling shorts, open-backed cycling gloves with some under-wrist padding, a pair of MTB shoes bought four years ago on sale for $30 (cleats extra), and possibly a more aerodynamic helmet than her current military-style cap, but maybe not!

Check out details or register for the Woodstock Classic on the British Cycling website here.

Contact Jan Phillips:

Contact Karen: