Opening a can of worms… 3cm rule

I’m sure there are many people who ride time trials in the UK who have a level of ignorance of all of the rules involved.  I know I don’t know them all and I really should.  Over the years I’ve picked up all the important ones (I think) but I haven’t read all of them cover to cover.  For many, though, I expect that they have never been particularly familiar with the 3cm rule which has been in force, I’m told, for many, many (20+ ?) years.  It’s tucked away in Regulation 14 (d) and the 2017 update states
(d)  Machines fitted with triathlon handlebars and derivations thereof which have forearm supports, or Spinacci type handlebars without forearm supports, may be used provided that when the rider adopts a competitive position on these bars:
    (i)  The wrists are no lower than the elbows.
    (ii)  The point of the elbow (olecranon) is no more than 3 centimetres in front of the steering axis when measured perpendicular (at right angles) to that axis.  This measurement is illustrated by the following diagram:
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CTT diagram – “3cm rule”

Now it’s been there for a quite a while and was introduced, I understand, to ensure that the “superman” positions being tried by riders such as Chris Boardman and Graham Obree were not dangerously introduced to British roads (although this is based on conjecture because nobody seems to recall exactly why this rule was introduced).  Recently, though, more and more people have been adopting aero positions that take their elbows quite a bit further forward of the steering axis and hence for 2017 the clarification (including the diagram) was passed into regulation.  This has caused an absolute sh*tstorm on the main timetrialling forum.  The last time I looked there were over 100 pages, much of it accusation and recrimination.
As far as I can see there are a number of objections including the arbitrary nature of the rule and the enforceability of it.  I’m not going to get into an opinion piece on this blog other than to say a couple of things
  1. It’s a rule, however arbitrary, and therefore I need to comply with it
  2. As with many rules simply having it may well be enough to encourage the majority of people to comply (which is the main point of a rule)
  3. However, for those that don’t, it appears that to enforce it will rely on other people “reporting” riders using  either witnesses or photographs as evidence – which doesn’t really encourage the kind of community I want to be part of (or think I’m currently part of)
  4. Simply witnessing it is almost impossible.  Indeed, the measurement from a photograph is fraught with difficulty for a number of reasons.  So enforceability will be an issue.
I’m going to attempt to illustrate this using pictures and videos of me racing and in my new position.  My new position is, I believe, compliant as shown below.  However, if I over-reach during a gear change, which can easily happen when you’ve been riding at the edge of fatigue for several hours, it might just drift out.  So do I change position to account for that or not?  So let’s get into the problems
Identifying the steering axis
Now this seems like the least of our problems.  On a bike with a standard headset (see the CTT diagram above) it’s fairly straightforward.  On a lot of modern TT bikes the cockpit at the front is fully integrated.  So on my Canyon to work out where the actual steering axis is you have to look very closely.  On the pictures below I’ve marked it with yellow sticker on the bike
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Identifying the problem as a witness
Here’s a video of me at the velodrome.  It’s helpful because it’s slowed down at points. Freeze it at 00:12s to see my position in motion.  Try to see whether I’m complying at full speed from 00:18s onwards.  It’s pretty difficult.  You can see slow motion again around 01:15s
Identifying the problem from a photo

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That’s still quite tough but obviously we can blow digital photos up.  Luckily, in this picture, the photographer caught me virtually side on, meaning there are no real issues with perspective or angle.  Of course then you get into the issues with telephoto lenses, depth of field and other such complexities that make an accurate measurement even harder.

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But even now we still don’t have my helpful yellow steering axis line there.  And my bike is unhelpfully matt black, making it a bit harder still.  Not impossible, but hard. So it’s going to be interesting to see how this pans out.  I intend to keep the following pictures because to my mind they show that my position (albeit in a static position) is compliant with the regulation.  I think that’s all everyone can do.

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Conclusion
I wonder how many people really knew about and understood this rule?  I also wonder if the timetrialling forum is representative of the overall community and whether there will be the problems in 2017 that are being furiously discussed on there?  I suspect there may well be a couple of early season “reports” made by individuals to hammer home their points.  There are some very, very vociferous people who seem hellbent on proving their point.  So worst case and we could end up with some sort of trial by internet.  If you are getting ready for the season, my advice is to take the opportunity now to make sure you are compliant, as best you can in a static environment.  Doing the photos above was a pain and quite difficult to do on my own.  I know they aren’t completely accurate but I think they are enough to set my mind at rest that I am compliant, being aware as I am that once riding, the dynamic nature of it during a 20min, 1hr, 2hr, 4hr, 12hr timeframe will almost certainly change my position on the pads at points during the ride.
Here’s hoping it’s a storm in a teacup.
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3 comments

  1. Graham · February 18

    It looks like you’re measuring parallel to the ground, not perpendicular to the steering axis, so you may actually have a bit to spare.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Rul2 28 aero socks? – traumfahrrad
  3. Pingback: April – Consistently Inconsistent | Ade's Road Cycling Blog

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