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As stated in the title. However, the "superman" position is also illegal, and the question applies to that as well.

Motor racing will often lean on safety to explain why there are so many limitations to how a car can be built and configured. In Formula One, e.g. fairings are illegal - it can't go too fast, as it becomes "too dangerous" (which is of course not defined, but that's a different matter). Other reasons for different types of motor sports may claim that the cars (such as in SuperGT or DTM) cannot be too dissimilar from actual production cars. Sure they are heavily modified, but they aren't purely built specifically for racing from the ground up. However, even these modifications are strictly regulated, e.g. there are limits on practically everything to slow the cars down (anything from the engine output to aerodynamics to tires, active geometry, etc.), again for safety reasons.

Even though these are justifications perhaps not everyone would agree with, they are at least some form of justification.

Now, what excuse does e.g. UCI cycling regulations have for banning recubment bicycles?

It doesn't seem like they can use the safety feature. Would a recumbent bicycle or velomobile really be that dangerous? From what I understand, recumbent bicycles are legal to use in many countries and are sold openly.

What about not adhering to the real world, being too dissimilar from "normal" bicycles? That also seems strange, given that again recumbent bicycles are sold in the first place.

The only thing I can think of is that a recumbent bicycle or velomobile is simply too "weird". People don't appreciate the aesthetics of it. Perhaps they also don't learn to ride such bicycles, and are discouraged from trying them.

Is that the reason why such rules are imposed on e.g. Tour de France?

To a naive and rather inexperienced bicyclist myself, this seems very arbitrary and counterproductive. I would like to have more efficient bicycles in general.

However, again since my knowledge of bicycles is limited I hope there is a host of problems I don't think about that makes recumbent bicycles and velomobiles dangerous and impractical. I'm curious what they are.

Now before someone points out that a recumbent bicycle may have some disadvantages, I'm talking about in general. If a fully faired recumbent bicycle or velomobile has more advantages than it has disadvantages, then why are they illegal in racing?

  • There are events and races other than UCI sanctioned events, but UCI penalise those who stray. – Criggie Feb 18 at 23:21
  • Safety on the road and safety in a peloton are two very different things. Consider aero bars, for example (and disc brakes until recently). Combined with a conservative governing body that's probably enough to explain it – Chris H Feb 19 at 7:02
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    I ride a recumbent on the road, and it gets a lot of attention, both good and bad. So the "weird" answer is reasonable. – Criggie Feb 19 at 10:19
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    The Formula One restrictions aren't for safety, they're because overtaking becomes too difficult - or dangerous, but in any case rare - and races without overtaking aren't fun to watch. They exist to sell entertainment, it's not a land speed record competition. – Useless Feb 19 at 13:06
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    Oh, and IIRC the UCI restrictions are similar: they want the race to be a competition between the riders, not between their engineering teams. That is, they deliberately restrict technical innovation to avoid the issues F1 historically had with one team achieving engineering dominance for a whole season. Those seasons were boring to watch. – Useless Feb 19 at 13:58
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This seems like a pretty good history of the circumstances around the UCI's banning of the recumbent. Your guess seems to be about right: recumbents were perceived as too weird. It's interesting to note that Faure had been racing on recumbents with success and official imprimatur for a while before they were banned. According to that article, there were safety concerns about fairings even back then.

The UCI has generally gotten more and more restrictive about what qualifies as a "bike" (although they have relaxed some rules after creating them—read the Wikipedia article on the hour record for some insight into the back-and-forth) and their current rationale is basically that a member of the public should be able to look at a racing bike and recognize it as a regular bike. There is certainly a chicken-and-egg aspect to this: if more people rode recumbents (or other configurations of bike), those would look like regular bikes. There is also the argument that achievements in cycling should be more attributable to the cyclist than the bike.

I can speculate about other factors playing into these decisions, but that's all it would be—speculation.

9

There are a number of factors that come into it. The weird factor is a major one. Cycling is a sport with a lot of history and tradition which many want to preserve. There are many technological innovations which could improve the performance of cyclists, but they each take it one step further away from the roots of the sport. You see examples of this, just look at the bikes of the Boardman era on the track. Bikes with no seat-tube and bizarre frame shapes made for faster times, but really seemed to have nothing in common with the bikes that racers had been riding in these events in previous decades. To get a sense of consistency and maintain tradition in the sport, the UCI brought in the double triangle rule along with a few others to ensure that any innovations that were brought in would still recognisably resemble the bikes ridden in the very first iterations of the tour de France.

As for safety, that would also be a major concern if some riders in the peloton began racing on recumbent bicycles. While a recumbent bicycle might be perfectly safe you ride by yourself or with other recumbent riders, it would be a disaster to mix them in with a peloton of riders on regular bikes. In a peloton, you don't have the luxury of a neat, organised paceline to know where riders around you are. It's a huge mess of riders jammed into a tiny space and to move through it, you take whatever gap you can. You rely on your peripheral vision to know where you can go, because you need to keep your eyes forward to not crash into riders around you. A recumbent being much lower to the ground would have riders moving across thinking that there is a gap only to bump into the recumbent rider. This would lead to far more crashes in the bunch. To allow recumbents in road racing, you would have to entirely phase out regular bicycles in the peloton. The other option is that they could replace time-trial bikes and only be ridden in time-trial stages, as time-trial bikes are also unsafe in a peloton, so are not allowed in road racing, but then there is a second set of rules on which bikes are allowed in time-trial stages.

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    Thanks for sharing your view. It seems some of these things are rather trivial to solve, but they probably don't want to solve them. If recumbent bicycles are indeed faster but unsafe together with upright bicycles, they could simply ban the upright bicycles instead. The only real reasons that seem to remain is the tradition and aesthetics, and even that is subjective, full fairings can look decent). It also seems like banning recumbent bicycles leads to people preferring upright bicycles simply because that's what's being used in Tour de France. Are these points valid? – AlphaCentauri Feb 18 at 23:19
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    Even without upright bicycles, a peloton of recumbent bicycles will be significantly less safe. The handling and position of a recumbent would lead to far more crashes. As to the second part, having recumbents at the Tour de France would increase the popularity of recumbents quite a bit, but not nearly as much as it would decrease the popularity of the Tour. The vast majority of cycling fans just aren't interested in watching recumbent racing. There's nothing stopping you from creating a recumbent race today outside the UCI, so why are the no big recumbent races? – Carbon side up Feb 18 at 23:38
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    I suggest there are no big recumbent races because breaking into the top tier of sport costs a lot, and there's no sponsorship. A bit of a chicken and egg situation of course. The races would probably end up as time trials on safety grounds, and they're less attractive for TV coverage. So you're left with enthusiasts and small teams racing without mainstream media present. And that's what we've got with the IHPVA etc – Chris H Feb 19 at 7:44
  • Do you have any sources regarding recumbent safety in pelethons? I agree fully that upright bikes have different handling characteristicts than recumbents. Not always because of size (many modern recumbents have the rider at the same height as an upright rider) but because of different acceleration and aerodynamic properties (in fact, quite similiar to tandems). It can be easy to break away by mistake if riding in the front. I have - however - been riding in fast recumbent pelethons (Paris-Brest-Paris, HPV worlds championships etc) and have not experienced incidents or accidents. – pereric Feb 19 at 20:08
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    @AlphaCentauri If everybody's using the same thing and a few people come along with a new thing, which are incompatible, they're always going to ban the new thing and tell them to have their own races. It's never going to be "Oh, you new people with your recumbents. We'll ban the thing we've always done and adopt your idea." – David Richerby Feb 19 at 23:55
3

the Recumbent bikes have their own federation/competition https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recumbent_bicycle

I guess the UCI reasoning is to find out who is the best athlete using the approved bicycle. Everybody has the same bike and the only difference is the runner.

IHPVA on the other hand put not limit on the bike and the goal is to find out which couple bike+athlete is the best.

There is some car competition where everybody has the same car (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renault_Clio_Cup for example) and the goal is to find out who is the best driver/mechanics.

  • Are there no differences between UCI bicycles? No differences in construction, materials, brakes, drivetrain, tires, aerodynamics, weight savings? I believe they allow for some variation, but within their own arbitrary rules which seem tailored to preserve a particular set of aesthetics. This preference for aesthetics appear to dominate their viewpoint so strongly, that entire classes of more efficient bicycles are illegal. Then of course one can argue there may be safety concerns too. – AlphaCentauri Feb 20 at 13:00
  • In my understanding there is as set of rules saying things like --- "the bike should not weight LESS than x Kg" --> safety concern (with carbon and new technologies, team could do lighter bike and sometime the bike is too light so they add some chain links INTO the saddle post in order to meet the weight criteria --- "the saddle post must be at least x mm away from the pedal hub and at max x mm on the horizontal dimension" --> geometry --- I don't think there is rules on brakes technologies. – Julien Feb 21 at 15:20
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The hour record for a recumbent faired bike is somewhere at the 90 kilometers. Meanwhile, the hour record on a "normal" bike is somewhere at the 54 km.
Faired recumbent bikes will smoke any other kind of bike on flat stages, and wind from the front will make the difference even greater. Meanwhile, side wind which would be uncomfortable for a normal race bike will sweep fully faired recumbent bikes from the road. Also, while the performance difference between a lightweight climbing bike and a aero one is minor anywhere but in races (6.8 to 8-9 kilograms), the recumbent bike weighs 21 kilograms.
In short, recumbent bike racing is a different sport, just like drag racing and Formula 1.

And by the way, faired recumbent bikes look just like small cars

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