Chalk lines and village halls

It was all very British. Sat in a village hall car park at an hour when most folk were still in bed sleeping off the excesses of a good Saturday night, two bikes wrapped in blankets on the folded seats behind us as we watched other competitors arrive. Outside the hall stood two men, one with a clipboard the other measuring the distance of a complete crank rotation between two chalked lines. Any bike travelling more than 18 feet 8 1/4 inches was instantly disqualified. We had entered the world of medium geared time trialling. It felt like a mysterious closed society - the stuff of secret handshakes and whispered conversations.

This is the underbelly of British club cycling - an honest down-to-earth, grass roots event that sits a million light years from the glamour of televised Grand Tours. The fundamental principles might have been the same but the execution was very different.

Having passed the measurement requirement we signed on. Now we had passed the point of no return. We were committed. Our countdown with destiny (and the stopwatch) had begun.

However well you prepare, there's always those unknown factors, those niggly little things that float around in your head before the off. We lined up in a narrow lane leading to a farmer's field, everyone in sequence with the numbers pinned to our backs. No digital LED countdown, no start ramp just a line chalked on the road and man with a clipboard and stopwatch. A 25 mile TT had seemed a good idea at the time of entering. It didn't anymore. Having refused the starter's push in favour of a self-propelled start, the race of truth had begun.

You soon reach top speed on a single speed bike; the secret, as in any time trial, is maintaining it. It took eight painful miles to regulate breathing, settle down and find a rhythm. As soon as the halfway roundabout came into view we knew we were homeward bound. This elation was immediately soured by a sequence of repeated mechanical failures - on three separate occasions the chain jumped the rear sprocket. Without a team car in sight (dream on punter!) it was time to get our hands dirty. The ignoble sight of a cyclist, bike upturned by the side of the road wrestling a jammed chain signified us kissing goodbye to any semblance of a decent finishing time.

Needless to say we completed the event way down the field but we weren't last and our appetite to give it another go is keen. We have unfinished business.