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TECH NEWS

Has the peloton found an aero loophole to the UCI's minimum bar width rule?

Handlebars are required to be wider than 350mm, but they didn't say anything about hood angles...

From the looks of things at the Tour Down Under's prologue, more than a few WorldTour teams have spent the winter trying to find an aero solution to the UCI's new minimum handlebar width rule.

As we reported back in November the UCI wanted to clamp down on the trend of narrow bars, the latest fad for the aero-conscious made popular by riders such as Dan Bigham and Victor Campenaerts, forcing a minimum handlebar width of 350mm on the peloton.

> Tech trends: Narrow bars with shifters angled inwards – should you be copying the pros to ride faster?

However, from these stills of this morning's action there seems to be a widely exploitable loophole — regulation width bars with aggressively turned-in hoods. Cover your eyes, things are about to get ugly...

Stage winner Alberto Bettiol, second-placed Magnus Sheffield of Ineos Grenadiers and third-placed Julius Johansen all sported varying degrees of turned-in hoods during the 5km prologue.

Tour Down Under prologue hoods (GCN+)
Tour Down Under prologue hoods (GCN+)

Other riders from teams such as Groupama FDJ, Team DSM and Trek-Segafredo all seemed to have spotted the solution too. This still from home rider Miles Scotson shows one of the more striking angles on display.

Tour Down Under prologue hoods (GCN+)
Tour Down Under prologue hoods (GCN+)

The hood angles appeared to enable riders to adopt a position not dissimilar to the 'puppy paws' position banned by the UCI in 2021, but without removing their hands from the hoods.

Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - 17/09/2020 - Cycling - 2020 Tour de France - Stage 18: Meribel to La Roche-sur-Foron - Marc Hirschi

[📷: Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com]

Banned on safety grounds, the UCI outlawed "using the forearms as a point of support on the handlebar [...] except in time trials", (where TT bars make the position safer) even if the rider's hands have something to hold. 

In fairness, turning your hoods inwards for aero gain is nothing new. We have seen the ultra-narrow and boundary-pushing set-up before, notably by Dutchman Jan-Willem van Schip. It even found its way into the national, regional, and local racing scene.

At the British National Criterium Championships in June, for instance, Harry Tanfield was spotted sporting similar bars on his Ribble Ultra road bike.

2022 Ribble Weldtite crit racing bars Zac Williams SwPix.com

[📷: Zac Williams/SWPix.com]

But today's Tour Down Under tinkering is the first time it has been used to specifically overcome a UCI regulation.

The minimum bar width change was published at the back end of last year in the 'Clarification Guide of the UCI Technical Regulation', stating that "the minimum overall width (outside – outside) of traditional handlebars (road events) and base bars (road and track events) is limited to 350mm", but does not limit the way shifter hoods can be manipulated to give a rider a narrower frontal area.

As our tech writer Jamie pointed out last year, most sources indicate that for every 2cm closer together you bring your hands there’s a 25W advantage when travelling at 40km/h, suggesting these turned-in hoods could be here to stay.

It does, however, remain to be seen how many riders are keen for such an extreme position when tackling a six-hour road race, not a six-minute prologue.

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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12 comments

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kil0ran | 1 year ago
0 likes

Feels like a safety issue, as this position will make brake levers less accessible in the drops, particularly when you factor in what pros do with stem length and droop (I refuse to use the term negative rise)

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Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
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Is there a rule which says that road bikes must have dropped bars? I'm thinking a flat bar with a very long stem and either levers mounted horizontally or MTB levers would get one into a pretty good aero position.

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OnYerBike replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
3 likes
Rendel Harris wrote:

Is there a rule which says that road bikes must have dropped bars?

Yes, there is.

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Rendel Harris replied to OnYerBike | 1 year ago
1 like

Thanks, genuinely didn't know!

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uberdemocrat | 1 year ago
0 likes

This does look ugly. It was entirely predictable. Hence you've got to consider the possiblity that somebody at the UCI didn't ban it in the new rules they published last year, because they need something to ban this year, to justify their job.

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mattsccm | 1 year ago
0 likes

With flared bars it is rather comfortable I find.It is a more natural position that vertical levers. Now to find some narrow flared bars as most are off road biased. 

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Dogless replied to mattsccm | 1 year ago
0 likes

PRO vibe 'pursuit' bars are the closest I've found. Not tried them but decent flare in sensible widths.

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lesterama | 1 year ago
0 likes

I thought the Tour Down Under banned TT bikes to stop teams bringing too many bikes halfway round the world and back. Now it seems from some comments that some riders have road bikes built for this prologue alone. Bit of a shame.

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Rendel Harris replied to lesterama | 1 year ago
0 likes

It all seems to have been badly thought through, apparently there was a message from the UCI overnight (according to another website) saying that in the TT a modified "puppy paws" position was allowed provided some part of the hands was still touching the hoods or levers. I'm all for cutting down the carbon footprint of races but given the huge amount of gear and personnel being shipped over I wouldn't have thought one TT frame per rider would make much difference one way or the other. If I were involved with a major manufacturer I would source TT frames already in stock in the country, use them in the TT and then resell them at a premium; surely, for example, a TT bike used in one race by Rohan Dennis would get a lot of interest?

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EddyBerckx | 1 year ago
0 likes

Doesn't this mean they have to stay on the hoods though? Getting in the drops will make it worse than normal?

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Sredlums replied to EddyBerckx | 1 year ago
0 likes

Even on a regular setup, the position in the drops is less aero than on the hoods. Getting the hoods closer together makes that position even more aero.

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Dhill replied to Sredlums | 1 year ago
0 likes
Sredlums wrote:

Even on a regular setup, the position in the drops is less aero than on the hoods. Getting the hoods closer together makes that position even more aero.

Think you saw  some article on GCN or similar where on hoods with bent elbows. In drops with bent elbows was shown on another test to be a bit faster than hoods. Bit puzzling for the group riders. In Crits get on the hoods, great for tight turns. I think it best to let them ride TT bikes.

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