Banned tech: 10 things the UCI has outlawed over the years

From Spinaci bars and Spinergy wheels to the latest aero hacks, cycling’s governing body has never been shy about regulating equipment in the professional peloton

Clock15:04, Thursday 8th February 2024

© GCN

We take a look at some of the things the UCI have banned from competition

The 2024 racing season is barely underway but already the sport’s international governing body, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), has been out enforcing its rules around tech and equipment in the professional peloton.

Firstly, commissaires have been seen imposing the ban on riders turning their brake levers in to get an aerodynamic advantage, with checks and changes carried out at the Tour Down Under. Most recently, they have taken aim at Ekoi’s as-yet-unreleased new clipless pedals, although this is more a case of regulatory red tape than a proper ban.

Governing a sport that is so entwined with technological developments, the UCI has to walk a tightrope between not stifling product development but also keeping the playing field fair enough that races do not become entirely influenced by a team’s technological advantages, where money may win out over ability.

That said, the UCI has often come in for criticism, mockery even, over its application of the rulebook – sock height being the most notorious example.

With all of this in mind, and the topic of UCI regulation rearing its head twice already this season, we thought we would take a look back at some of the other things that have been banned over the years.

Super lightweight bikes

This rule has been around since the year 2000 and 24 years later it is still strictly enforced. In the pre-2000s era, a lot of riders were on the hunt to shave every last gram they could from their equipment. This quickly resulted in the modification of bikes and components to remove as much unwanted material as possible.

The issue with this was that there was no limit to how far riders would go to save more and more weight. With the fear of catastrophic equipment failures, the UCI responded by enforcing a minimum weight limit for bikes at 6.8kg to prevent dangerously modified bikes from entering competition.

Since then, this rule and the 6.8kg figure have remained, even through all of the technological and material developments that have found their way into cycling. In fact, with the advent of carbon fibre and lightweight components, plenty of riders have to actively make sure their bikes stay above the threshold, as modern technology makes it easy to dip below the allowable limit.

Spinergy Rev-X wheels

Spinergy Rev-X wheels were an icon of 1990s cycling. Their radical design with eight spokes laid out in a cross shape made them easily recognisable. They quickly became a favourite within the professional peloton for their lightweight credentials. However, the UCI was not so keen to celebrate the development.

After citing concerns regarding the wheel's ability to absorb vibrations that could cause issues for riders’ wrists and backs, the UCI ruled that all wheels with fewer than 16 spokes would need to pass an impact test. Unfortunately for Spinergy and fans of the wheels, they were unable to pass this test and were subsequently banned as a result.

Long socks

When this was initially announced, it was met with plenty of backlash and criticism as a waste of UCI resources and missing the mark in regards to what the UCI should be enforcing.

The rule on socks states that a rider's sock length cannot exceed the midpoint of the shin between the ankle and the knee. This was to combat the rising trend in aero socks that offered a not-insignificant performance advantage over a traditional shorter sock.

Very few riders are ever caught out by this rule, but take a look at riders’ socks the next time you tune into a race and you’ll definitely see some that are pushing the limit.

Turned-in brake levers

This is the latest trend to fall victim to the regulation of the UCI. In recent seasons, many riders have begun the trend of pointing their shifter hoods inwards. A rider can then adopt a narrower position whilst riding on the hoods that increases their aerodynamic efficiency.

As of this year, the UCI has ruled that a lever angle of no more than 10 degrees will be allowed in competition, citing safety concerns as the reason. They say that the levers and handlebars have not been designed or tested to be used at extreme angles and thus outlawed their use in this way to avoid the risk of breakages to a rider’s cockpit.

Super narrow handlebars

A year prior to the ruling on lever angles, the UCI took aim at the width of riders' bars in an attempt to stop the trend that saw bars getting narrower and narrower. The reason behind this is understandable, as controlling a bike with narrow bars is more difficult, especially at higher speeds.

In a measure to prevent the narrow bar movement from getting out of hand, the UCI introduced a minimum bar width limit of 350mm at the bar's widest point. The issue with the introduction of this rule is that for riders looking for a narrow bar, they simply need to use a flared bar that has a width of 350mm or wider on the drops. This means that the bar width at the hoods can be considerably narrower, as we have seen with Toot Engineering’s handlebar.

Spinaci bars

One of the more iconic equipment bans from the UCI came in 1997 when they decided that Cinelli’s Spinaci aero extensions were not suitable for use in competition. In the modern era, it is remarkable to think that they were ever deemed acceptable. In essence, they were clip-on aero extensions that allowed riders to drop into a more aerodynamic position.

They proved so popular that ​​Carrera, Motorola, Gan and Lotto all used them in races. The issue and ultimate cause of the ban was that riders could not control the brakes whilst riding using the extensions. The ban although effective did bring to light a new riding position that was arguably more precarious than the one it replaced.

Super tuck and puppy paws

In the absence of extension bars, riders commonly took to draping their wrists over their handlebars, in a position that became known as 'puppy paws'. However, it's not just equipment that the UCI is able to banish to the history books, with the positions riders can adopt on their bikes also falling to the judgement of the UCI.

The puppy paws was outlawed in 2021 in the same package of measures that scrapped the 'super tuck', in which riders would drop from their position on the saddle to sit instead on the top tube of the bike in an attempt to get into a more aerodynamic position and therefore descend faster.

Due to the concerns about riders out on the open road trying to emulate these positions and the concerns over control of the bike, the UCI introduced specific rules surrounding contact points on the bike.

Blood glucose monitors and data transponders

It is not even just on-bike equipment or rider positions that the UCI has used its power to prohibit; health-related technology is also not safe from regulation. Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) that can tell riders their blood sugar level at any given moment were banned in 2021 to promote the skill of learning how to fuel and listen to your bodies, something particularly important for young riders on their way through the ranks.

It's also to prevent ‘Formula 1 style racing’ where riders would become machines more than human athletes. Similarly, although power meters and heart rate monitors are allowed, the use of transponders that could relay that data in real-time from rider to team car is strictly forbidden.

In 2023, we saw the first rider punished for using a CGM in competition, when Kristen Faulkner was stripped of her podium finish in Strade Bianche after being spotted with a device on her arm during the race.

Aero fabrics and fairings

If you are a UK-based rider and have spent any time kicking around at time trial events in the last few years, you have likely seen riders using oddly shaped bits of equipment under their clothing. These ‘aero fairings’ until recently were permitted for use in UK TTs, but they have now been banned. The UCI has always had a ban on the use of these fairings, which alter the shape of a rider's body to improve their aerodynamics.

It is not just aero fairings that have been banned, either. Textured fabrics that aim to create aerodyanmic advantages - such as the ‘vortex skinsuit’ with raised dots used by Team Sky in 2018 - are closely regulated. Since 2019, the UCI has stated that “the surface roughness of clothing must not exceed 1mm and clothing must not contain any self-supporting elements or rigid parts”.

Riders do still use aero clothing, for example materials with ridges and ribbing to encourage smoother airflow, but there are tighter limits.

Pinless number holders

There's no wattage too small for the UCI to take aim at, and one of the more recent bans concerns the ways by which race bib numbers are attached to a rider's jersey.

A few years ago, there was a growing trend for aero skinsuits that came equipped with what were essentially transparent pockets on the back, which threatened to make the humble safety pin redundant. The idea was that this would reduce the chance of the number flapping in the wind, creating a smoother and more aerodynamic surface for air flow - even if it's at an area of the torso that doesn't catch a huge amount of drag.

The UCI's argument wasn't based on sporting advantages but on practicalities, stating that "various cycling stakeholders (Commissaires, Fans, and Commentators) have reported difficulties in reading the identification number due to the non-transparent nature of the mesh-based number pockets."

Number pockets were first banned for the 2022 Tour de France, before a blanket ban came in from the UCI from the start of 2023, although this only applies to road races and not time trials. Numbers must now be placed on the outer layer of clothing, with some races offering adhesive patches as an aero alternative to the traditional safety pins.

Integrated bottle cages

This one is a little more nuanced than the others as it is not an outright ban. However, the UCI has clamped down on the use of integrated aero bottle cages in the last few years, and added them to the list of things that must get approval before use in racing.

The rules now state that “bottle cages that are integrated must be submitted by a manufacturer to the UCI during the approval procedure for framesets, and in any case before use in competition”.

This comes as an attempt to try and prevent bottle cage and bottle design from getting out of hand and essentially acting as an aero fairing itself.

Did we miss any off our list? Let us know in the comments section below as well as anything that you think should be banned that currently isn’t.

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