Words by Andy Richardson
I was lucky enough to chaperone Chris on his trip up the M40 to the infamous Halesowen Velodrome last month and get a look behind the scenes at what really goes into dialing in your position on his new P-Series. Oddly, I’ve always known the P-Series to be a triathlon orientated bike, so seeing it hurtling around a velodrome at 45km/h was a bewildering sight.
In between comparing our favourite motorway services, Netflix reality TV and discussing his upcoming adventure that involves him riding 107 miles a day during every stage of the Tour de France, I asked him a few ‘interview-ish’ questions:
AR: Right, we’d better actually chat about bikes, then. I’ve always known the P-Series as an out and out triathlon bike, but you’re using it specifically just for TT’s over the P5?
CH: Probably the reason I get a load of weird looks on Sunday mornings, really. I’ve got a very unique (albeit weird) position, and the P-Series has a wider range of flexibility over the P5. The front end came with a standard base bar and a ‘normal’ stem, and the ability to use standard components over proprietary ones is worth its weight in gold, with such a unique set up. In the UK, time trials are governed by CTT (Cycling Time Trials) so we have the ability and flexibility to adjust our bikes to be even faster.
AR: Explain how your position is different to most people. You know, for the non-educated time trialists out there.
CH: I’ll explain it in aerodynamics. I’m not an expert, but Xav at Aerocoach sat me down and explained it in layman's terms. Most World Tour riders sit around a CDA of 0.2 when time trialling. Before my aero testing, I was around 0.23. Most people sit around 0.25. I’m now at 0.2161.
I use the ‘high hands’ style position or ‘mantis’ position. It’s not for everyone but it tests fast for me and is also more comfortable which, for longer TTs, is much more worthwhile for me.
AR: Doesn’t sound like much…but I can tell by the look on your face I’m definitely wrong
CH: Correct. The difference between a CDA of my previous CDA of 0.23 to 0.2161 is the equivalent to a 30-second time bonus over a 10-mile TT, and at 45kph, it’s an improvement of 19.1 watts. On a 12-hour TT, that can add up to 6.5 miles!
AR: 30-seconds?! Christ. That’s unbelievable.
CH: I know. People always think time trialists are some weird breed of human who buy the most ridiculous, tiny upgrades for their bikes when they ‘could just lose a few pounds or just shrug their shoulders to drop their head’, but it’s not that at all. All these tiny changes make a huge difference. Maybe not on your weekly club ride, but in a TT, it can be the difference between first and third.
AR: Why are you so focused on time trials, though? It’s a very specific discipline and time trialists are a special breed of human, and you don’t seem like the type…
CH: I love the competitive side of time trialling and it’s just being the best version of you on the day. You against the timesheet. No-one cares about anyone else’s time, you just want to see that you’re improving, and that’s what I like. You get out what you put it.
It’s also so accessible for anyone. You don’t need a fancy TT bike, you could rock up on literally anything and, as long as you give it your all, that’s what really matters.
Also, take it right back to its truest form; I like going fast. There’s such an adrenaline rush. A National 25-mile race a few years back is the fastest I’ve ever been. You’re going 80km/h in one section downhill. It’s like being on a rollercoaster but powered by your legs. I just remember hitting 80km/h and the Super Mario star sound thing came into my head. The one where you power up and start flashing. Now that’s all I hear when I’m on my TT bike.
I do love bike riding as a whole, so I like the different opportunities in it. The competitive nature and the exploration too.
AR: There’s obviously not many races on this year. Have you entered any in the hope they won’t get cancelled?
CH: I was signed up to 6 or 7, but yeah, they were all cancelled with the current global pandemic we find ourselves in. I think ultimately that has been the right decision and it’s been nice to see some races starting up again. I’m intending to do quite a few next year. A mixture of 10 mile/25 mile/100 mile/12-hour and 24-hours.
AR: So, all of them?
CH: Yeah. I like TT’s. It doesn’t matter on the length. One of the things we made sure with my position was that it was sustainable and aero over al lengths and distances.
AR: Right, okay. Well, that sounds like type 2 fun. I guess with all the gravel riding it balances itself out. You know, the fun stuff like chilled gravel adventures and the ‘fun’ stuff like 24-hour time trials.
CH: It’s exactly that, and that’s exactly what I love. Cycling is so accessible and unless you’re competing, there are no rules. You can just ride. Mixing it up and exploring all the disciplines is definitely the way to go. I’m just a bit of a jack of all trades, really. I’m average at everything, I’m not really a specialist. I enjoy the opportunities and variety of riding with different types of bikes. The different setups and how you can make a bike truly yours.
AR: But time trialling?
CH: Well yeah, I love time trialling, but I just love cycling in general.
AR: Run us through your bike. What makes it special?
CH: Outside of my position, it’s all small, minor amendments really, but adjustments that work better and faster for me. 28mm Schwalbe Pro One TT tyres over 25/23mm. Xav (at Aerocoach) tested all these tyre widths and brands, and 28mm came up marginally slower but yielded much better puncture resistance and comfort. When you’re riding 24-hour TT’s, I’d rather be going slightly slower and moving forward than be sitting on the side of the road with a puncture.
It removes extra stress and yes, I ride tubeless. It’s the way forward. Low rolling resistance and if you puncture, you may not even know. I punctured at the National 24 hour TT in 2018 and I didn’t even realise until the end of the race (once I had come back around after passing out from exhaustion).
Disc brakes are a huge yes for me, too. I know I’ll get slated for it because people don’t think you need disc brakes on a TT bike but just try them. TT bikes are notoriously bad at braking, and in my head, the longer you wait until you brake, the longer you’re putting on the power.
I actually train on my race wheels, too, so I want to know I’m not wearing out or damaging the braking surface. Training on your race wheels also help you to understand how the bike will feel and handle in different situations. A deeper section or disc wheel will feel completely different to a shallow section wheel. The same goes for your kit and helmet. It’s better to have no surprises on race day.
Aside from that, I’m running Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, Aerocoach AEOX wheels with my Zero Lemon graphics *for that extra bit of bling* - I designed the pattern based on my own experiences and data which was generated in the wind tunnel, and Aerocoach Vantaggio extensions which have been custom printed in titanium for my ‘weird’ position. What helped with that was these custom extensions mean that my hands are always fully supported. I can ‘slump’ into the position so to speak and so not only is it fast, it’s comfortable and personally I feel like I’m way more connected to the bike.
AR: Well, that was interesting. Cheers, Chris. Have you seen Below Deck?