6

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?

19
  • 2
    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 '19 at 10:19
  • 5
    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 '19 at 13:06
  • 7
    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 '19 at 13:58
  • 1
    You mean like Keirin racing? As it stands the UCI have a minimum bike weight. Teams are allowed to improve their frames for handling etc, but they have to add weights to reach that minimum. It's hardly the white heat of unfettered innovation.
    – Useless
    Feb 21 '19 at 11:52
  • 2
    I think a more appropriate comparison would be NORBA. You've never heard of them? The story is that when mountain biking was first invented, UCI did not adopt it, possibly because it was too similar to cyclocross. Instead of whining like recumbent enthusiasts, MTBers organized events under National Off Road Bike Association until they proved too popular to not let into UCI. I don't see any reason why IHPVA can't do the same, except that speed records competitions don't attract either audience or participants.
    – ojs
    Sep 10 '19 at 15:38
17

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.

11

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.

5
  • 2
    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? Feb 18 '19 at 23:19
  • 5
    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? Feb 18 '19 at 23:38
  • 2
    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 '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 '19 at 20:08
  • 5
    @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." Feb 19 '19 at 23:55
5

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.

3
  • 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. Feb 20 '19 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 '19 at 15:20
  • @Julien There certainly used to be rules on brake technologies - I had a disc brake on my cheap commuter bike before the peloton got theirs. And the minimal weight limit had been a "problem" since long before the rise of carbon. The sad thing is that (at least outside of Australia) recumbent racing is nowhere near as popular as UCI, partly due to the UCI penalizing racers who dare enter non-UCI races. Sep 10 '19 at 13:59
4

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

4

First of all: unfaired recumbents and faired recumbents racing are two different classes currently and adding unfaired recumbents would be far from as dramatic as faired ones. (An unfaired recumbent compares to a TT bike, like a TT bike compares to a roadbike basically, while a faired one is much faster)

While I agree with most of the answers above, the main reason to keep things the way they are (with the exception of TT ) is that the mechanics and tactical decisions of roadracing would change drastically if recumbents were allowed for the following reasons: 1. They cause less drag, which means there is less reason to keep the peloton together. 2. The rider cant see the front of their own front wheel, which makes it a lot harder to stay in a close formation, and would make it a lot more dangerous to try to do so.

What makes roadracing exciting for me is watching the tactcal decision of when to push it and when to just hang on - that part of the sport would be a lot less important if recumbents were allowed in UCI road races.

3

The problem with recumbents is that they would make cycling an entirely different sport, something that is won with aerodynamics in the flat regions, as opposed to for example climbs. It would make entry costs of the sport far higher, because aerodynamic recumbents are expensive. I suspect it would also put a premium on small cyclist size (because smaller is more aerodynamic), so the ones winning the race would generally be the shortest cyclists.

We have to remember that cycling is a sport that is not isolated from the concept of what is considered a "bicycle". Cycling is a sport that uses general purpose bicycles, something that are considered by the majority of the world population something they could consider even using. The majority of cyclists won't consider recumbents a realistic option, probably partially because they're expensive, partially because they're unstandardized, partially because they really suck at uphills.

In a similar manner, you could of course ask why won't we add for example motors to bicycles -- or for that matter, eliminate the bicycle completely and use only legs for propulsion. The main reason we won't is that these would also make it an entirely different sport.

I'm sure there are races for recumbents too, after all every vehicle built by humans is occasionally used in racing as well (yes, even Bromptons are raced). Why practically nobody watches recumbent racing on television is because recumbent is not something they can relate to, something they could consider buying and using.

3
  • If reading the entire discussion before adding an answer is too difficult, there are also Internet search engines that could be used to check the existence of recumbent bike races.
    – ojs
    Aug 9 at 13:54
  • 1
    I never claimed that recumbents aren't raced (in fact, to the contrary: I claimed that even Bromptons are raced, which suggests that recumbents are probably raced too). I only claimed that recumbent racing will never reach the level of popularity that ordinary road bike racing has reached. Admittedly I didn't read every single answer before posting my own, but now I did read and saw my answer genuinely adds something that wasn't added by the other answers.
    – juhist
    Aug 9 at 14:04
  • The problem with guessing is that you get the guesses wrong pretty often, and just bothering to look up how the recumbent racing is organized would might have turned this answer into something possibly more useful. If you had read the other answers, you'd also know that this does actually not add any new information.
    – ojs
    Aug 9 at 14:22
0

I think this is just a problem of money, and performance, security and technical progress is completely out of consideration...

If you have a look at the UCI financial report you see that 1/3 of their revenues comes from "media and marketing rights", and another third from "hosting and registration". So 1/3 of their income comes from the fact that general public are watching the events, and they do so because they can relate to their personal experience with cycling. Recumbents are not for the general public because it is not what a child learns first, and because recumbents are less agile in heavy town traffic.

Recumbents are so much more efficient that a mixed race with uprights gives no chance to the latter. So if UCI allows recumbents, all road and track competitions would immediately shift to all-recumbents. But then less spectators, so less revenues. And maybe also less participants, so also less revenues.

Don't forget that UCI is based in Switzerland, and it is quite probable that UCI head staff love money more than sport or other considerations exposed in this thread.


I would also add a consideration about health: if you consult https://www.aafp.org/afp/2001/0515/p2007.html, you see that the practice of cycling can lead to many traumas.

For the traumas caused by collisions, the recumbent position with feet first is much more safe than with uprights, where the head is exposed first. I've been falling from my recumbent dozen of time while having fun off-road, and I never had a bruise, only scratches by bushes..

And there are the trauma caused by the heavy practice of cycling (and so the competitors under the responsability of UCI): "Overuse injuries may contribute to a variety of musculoskeletal complaints, compression neuropathies, perineal and genital complaints". Those risks are vastly reduced or annihilated on a recumbent.

So we can say that UCI does not care about those considerations, money is king!

1
  • 1
    Hi, welcome to bicycles. You argue that it's just about money, based on a single statistic, and without any actual evidence. This seems more like an opinion than a proper answer, can you cite at least some evidence that other decisions about what is allowable in the sport have been driven by monetary concerns?
    – DavidW
    Aug 9 at 14:02

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