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UCI Technical Regulations update: Socks, helmets and hydration packs all come under scrutiny

Governing body clamps down on bike design, kit and clothing that can afford competitive advantage

Helmet covers like the one worn by Mark Cavendish when winning the road world championship, and shoe covers, as worn by most international track cyclists, are to be banned as world cycle racing’s governing body, the UCI, looks to tighten up equipment regulations, "limit the impact of equipment on performance", and to make sure the race victory goes to the best rider not the best machine.

The UCI is also looking to tighten up its procedures in order to prevent riders gaining a competitive advantage through their position on the bike as well as various kit they use, particularly when it comes to aerodynamic properties.

The main changes outlined in a presentation called Check of the equipment and position in competition, attached at the end of this article are:

  • Detachable helmet covers, as sported by Mark Cavendish on his way to winning the rainbow jersey in Copenhagen last year, are outlawed. The UCI really doesn't like the aggregation of marginal gains. Although helmet covers are now banned, helmets without any holes in them aren't.
  • If a rider uses a Camelbak or similar hydration equipment it must be worn on the back, not the chest. Frank Schleck wore one on his chest when riding the time trial to finish 12th and win the overall title in last year’s Critérium International and there is a limit to how much liquid they can contain - 0.5L.
  • Socks must be no higher than the mid-point between the ankle and the knee. That's not a sartorial judgment on Bradley Wiggins’ calf-length black socks, but it's designed to ban the use of compression socks (thankfully our socks comply by a fair old margin, so you're safe to keep buying those - ed). All other compression clothing is forbidden too - so compression base layers and compression leg warmers, which are made by quite a lot of brands, are out. We're not sure at what point normal leg warmers become compression leg warmers, though.
  • As of January 2013, integrated water bottles will be banned and bikes will only be allowed to have water bottles fitted to the seat and down tubes. O,h and water bottles will have to conform to UCI rules on size and shape too. This is all to prevent the gaining of an aerodynamic advantage. No word yet on whether water bottles will in future have to carry a UCI approved sticker for the appropriate fee… for the good of the sport naturellement and all leading stakeholders starting with the guys in blazers. That is surely only a matter of time.
  • A number of rules banning use of modified equipment in competition, the most eye-catching of which is a ban on teams filing off ‘lawyer lips’ ( or 'lawyer tabs') on fork dropouts - to be phased in, along with a programme of (re)education for team mechanics. Filing them off makes for faster wheel changes, the extra bit of the dropout being there to hold on to your wheel even if the quick-release comes undone. As teams will still need to make fast wheel changes, some sort of technical solution will have to be found - the most obvious of which is to come up with a quick release skewer that opens wide enough to clear the retaining tabs on the dropout. We'd imagine the the UCI would want to approve that, of course.
  • From 1 October, the use of shoe covers will be prohibited during events on covered tracks. The UCI want to limit the use of shoe covers to keeping your feet warm rather than for gaining an aerodynamic advantage. 
  • The UCI have reiterated that, "All shoes that are given an aerodynamic shape by means of a non-essential addition, whether to the heel or the front of the shoe, will be prohibited." So, Bont's Crono shoes, for example, still won't be permitted despite the Australian brand's challenges to the UCI. The main plank of Bont's argument was that the UCI's banning of their shoes was invalid because the rules were not enforced consistently. It seems like the UCI are attempting to tackle that accusation head on.

  • The UCI have also said, "It is prohibited to modify the equipment used in competition in relation to the products supplied by the manufacturer, for obvious safety reasons." That modification extends to covering holes or screws with tape (except for disc wheel valves). So, if there's a cable hole in the frame that is unused, riders aren't allowed to put a strip of insulating tape over the top, which is common practice at the moment, without UCI approval.
  • The UCI also indicate that they're going to check the arm positions of time trial riders to ensure that the forearms are horizontal, parallel to the ground, for the entire race. Race officials will check this with the rider's hands on the highest point of the aero bar extensions. Currently, you'll see many riders with their forearms pointing slightly upwards or, less frequently, down... but that's going to end.
  • Interestingly, the document does mention the most famous UCI rule of all, the minimum bike weight limit of 6.8kg. It says, "The UCI receives a lot of complaints about the safety of carbon frames, forks and handlebars that break immediately in a crash. This limit could be removed only when it will be possible to prove that each part of the bicycle complies with specific and adapted safety standards for the competition." Apparently, this is work in progress. It does bring to mind UCI President Pat McQuaid's remarks last year about potentially "unsafe" high-level frames being churned out in China for "$30 or $40 apiece" so don't expect a change in the weight limit any time soon.
  • In order to detect hidden motors, "Controls will be made with a device measuring the eventual presence of magnetic induction inside the frame." A distinctive signal will show the presence of a motor. "In case of doubt, the confirmation will be made with the aid or and industrial endoscope". Are hidden motors a major concern in cycling? Really? Admittedly, we had all that stuff about Cancellara having a motor fitted to his bike a couple of years ago but it turned out he was just strong... which is what anyone with a grain of intelligence knew to begin with.

So, those are some of the key equipment checks mentioned in the document. The UCI says that the idea of the checks is to improve fairness and safety. The idea is to limit the impact of the equipment on the performance and ensure that the race victory goes to the best rider, not the best machine. They also say that enforcing these rules helps preserve the culture and image of the bicycle.

Will these equipment and position checks achieve those goals? And are all of those goals what we're after anyway? Isn't technical evolution and innovation part of the interest and excitement of bike racing, and don't they lead to better bikes for those of us who don't race? We'd be interested in your comments.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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