Saddlegate, revisited: UCI clarifies horizontal saddle rule and bans aero bottles

UCI clarifies level-saddle ruling, adds water bottle regulation

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UCI Technical Coordinator Julien Carron issued a letter on Wednesday to manufacturers, teams, national federations and UCI commissaires clarifying the enforcement of their “level saddle rule,” Article 1.3.014. The letter also included notification of a brand new regulation, Article 1.3.024, which sets requirements for the positioning and dimensions of water bottles used during competition. obtained a copy of the letter from Mr. Carron.

UCI saddle regulation
Jeremy Roy (FDJ) has is bike checked at the start of the 2011 Tour de France Stage 20 time trial. Photo: Caley Fretz ©

Article 1.3.014 requires that “the saddle support shall be horizontal,” and was largely ignored by commissaires for years. That is, until the opening time trial of the 2011 Tour de France, when its sudden enforcement forced many riders to make last-minute position changes. A war of words ensued between the UCI and teams, with the UCI claiming that proper notice had been provided and teams insisting the opposite.

In Wednesday’s letter, Carron explains that “UCI has decided to clarify the situation by introducing a tolerance to the measurement of the saddle angle.” Saddle angle will be measured “considering the plane passing through the highest points at the front and rear of the saddle,” and will have to fall within 2.5 degrees of horizontal, with .5 degrees given for margin of error. So, effectively, saddles will need to be within 3 degrees of level. Previously, saddles had to be perfectly level.

UCI saddle regulation
Saddles will need to be within 3 degrees of level. Photo courtesy of the UCI

Checks for “horizontality of saddles” will begin on March 1, 2012. Checks will be performed using a special digital measuring device. “Commissaires will place the device on the saddle to determine its angle of incline after having calibrated the device to the ground or the measuring jig,” according to Carron.

When the official measuring device is not available, Carron says “commissaires will measure the difference between the heights of the highest points of the front and rear of the saddle using a spirit level. The tolerance for the height difference is 1 cm.”

Defending the rule itself, and the new enforcement methods, Carron explained: “Ultimately the concept is to grant the rider sufficient freedom to allow a comfortable position to be adopted, reducing the pressure on the perineum, while avoiding any deviation through an excessively sloping saddle that could improve sporting performance to an unacceptable degree by the addition of a lumbar support.”

The addition of standards of measurement should allow teams to stay within the rules more easily, and manufacturers to design with the stated limits. The simple fact that the measurement device will remain largely constant throughout the season removes an enormous element of confusion and contention.

No more aero bottles

Carron’s letter marks the public introduction of Article 1.3.024, which effectively eliminates integrated hydration solutions and many aerodynamic water bottles from use in competition. The rule was approved by the Management Committee in September and will come into effect on January 1, 2013, giving manufacturers a year to comply.

“Bottles have been increasingly moving away from their original function of allowing riders to rehydrate towards an alternative use as aerodynamic elements which are integrated into the design of frames in order to improve riders’ performances,” Carron offered as explanation for the new rule.

Article 1.3.024 states: “Bottles shall not be integrated to the frame and may only be located on the down and seat tubes on the inside of the frame. The maximum dimensions of the cross-section of a bottle used in competition must not exceed 10 cm or be less than 4 cm and their capacity must be a minimum of 400 ml and a maximum of 800 ml.”

To avoid integration, “there must be a space between the bottle and the tube to which it is attached,” Carron noted at the end of the letter, adding that “the capacity is also specified in order to guarantee that bottles are used for rehydration purposes and to prevent any deviations. If bottles with a volume in excess of 500 ml are used, it is recommended that the bottle attachment system should be checked to ensure that it can bear a weight in excess of 0.5 kg.

The placement requirements are not particularly noteworthy — road cyclists rarely put bottles anywhere but inside their frames’ main triangle anyway. But the dimension requirements for the bottles themselves will make some aerodynamic bottles illegal. For reference, the round bottle on my desk at the moment has a 7cm cross section. In other words, the new rule should only effect riders using odd bottles in time trials.