Club Handicaps

Laurie Bird explains his method of calculating handicaps in club TTs

When the results of an event are posted it's possible to work out any handicap retrospectively, so I am sometimes asked how I calculate the handicaps for club events, particularly as many riders feel their handicap is insufficiently generous! We used to arrive at them by clever estimation, but when I took over the handicapping in 2001 I decided to establish a method which would remove personal decision making, as far as possible, and use fixed formulae in a spreadsheet. There's nothing wrong with the estimation method, but the handicapper is always open to accusations of bias, or even incompetence!

The method normally used in open events is to handicap each rider in relation to the fastest, ie. the scratch man. In club events this can vary from week to week and it's difficult therefore for riders to keep track of their handicap and make comparisons. Instead I base it on a ''mythical' 20-minute man in 10-mile events. This may have to be lowered if times continue to be lowered, but so far no first claim member's been able to beat this in a club event. I've done something similar for 25s, using 55 minute man, but this may have to be lowered to 50 minutes.

For each rider I take the average of the best 3 times achieved during the current season, then relate these to a mythical 20-minute man. So if your handicap is 5m 30s this indicates you should do an actual time of 25:30 (given decent conditions etc.), with a net time of 20:00. I also apply a small factor, just to make sure the system is very slightly tilted towards the slower riders. In accordance with CTT handicapping guidelines I then round the handicaps to the nearest 10 seconds. I do the same for 25 miles, except handicaps are rounded to the nearest 15 secs. For unusual distances like 5 or 7 miles I ratio the 10 mile handicaps, or for the hilly 13.6 miles I ratio the 25 times, since it's nearer to a 25 than a 10 in terms of time and effort required.

The problem comes early in the season, because conditions are usually less favourable and everyone is slower until they peak around July or August. For that reason new members are always the most unpredictable as they usually start slowly and improve rapidly. With members who have ridden the previous season I now count their previous handicap as their first handicap in the new season, until they have 3 rides posted, after which the previous season is ignored. Obviously I wouldn't include a slow time where someone has limped home with a problem. For new members with no previous time I apply zero handicap, until they have something on the board. I used to estimate their first handicap, but this seemed unfair on everyone else.

It's more difficult with 25 mile handicaps as many riders, particularly new members, have no previous times for that distance. So as not to exclude them I extrapolate their 10-mile form by multiplying by 2.5 to estimate their time. This may sound a touch harsh, but it would appear unfair if a rider won their first 25 handicap competition based on an estimated handicap, but it gets them into the system.

I never use times established in open events, for two reasons: first, I don't always get to know who's done what in opens, and second, people go faster in opens because they are usually better prepared, have marshals all round the course and have probably not had a full day at work.

All this is done within a spreadsheet, so I cut and paste times from each event and a macro does the hard work. The method is based on my own ideas and it seems to have worked over the years. However, I'm open to suggestions if anyone can come up with any improvements, preferably something that can be easily computerised. I currently have over 100 riders in my system, including those who have disappeared for a season and suddenly reappear.

Most people would agree that having a handicap competition adds encouragement, especially to the newcomers who can initially feel blown away by the fast guys. It's also interesting to see how a rider who experiences a bike upgrade (or a fitness upgrade) can suddenly leap up the handicap rankings!

Laurie Bird