UCI Leaves Women’s Cycling Unsupported

But Not in the Usual Way

Much has been made of the UCI’s artfully titled “Check of the equipment and position in competition,” the recent set of new rules, reiterations, and clarifications that, among other things, famously requires professional teams to
retain the factory lawyer tabs on their forks and limits the height of riders’ socks.

Most observers seem to agree that the latter rule, which limits sock height to half the distance between ankle and knee, is aimed at discouraging use of compression socks in competition. It’s a benevolent gesture if ever the UCI has made one: it saves cyclists from feeling compelled to don knee-highs for competitive purposes, thereby paying the considerable price of looking like either a triathlete or my Uncle Ned on a day at the beach. But while the wailings of sock-height fashionistas have focused attention on the sock aspect of the compression issue, the UCI’s battle against cyclists squeezing themselves is much broader than that.

Slide 36 of the UCI’s masterwork, Clothing Material, expressly forbids wearing clothing “designed to influence the performances of a rider such as reducing air resistance or modifying the body of the rider (compression, stretching, support).” I’m with them on the aerodynamics part and on the spirit of the modifying the body part. Since the document also forbids Frank Schleck’s belly-mounted hydration system (Slide 40), we can’t have him showing up in a skinsuit that squeezes his emaciated pectorals into some sort of aerodynamically advantageous bird chest.

But let’s read that particular edict again, this time thinking more of Marianne Vos and Emma Johansson, and less of Schleck(s), Boonen, Cancellara and the rest of the boys. That’s right, the UCI has forbidden any garment worn exclusively to change the shape of the body or provide support, and in doing so, has apparently outlawed…the sports bra. Really, does nobody at the UCI think to explore the potential unintended ramifications of their rules before they release them?

I would hope a formal exception or more precise language will be forthcoming from the UCI to allow women cyclists to continue to wear what I’m sure most would argue is an essential piece of athletic equipment. Otherwise, there could be some pretty uncomfortable pre-race checks for the pro women’s peloton this year. Though I suppose once we crossed the Rubicon of appointing people to watch other people pee, pre-race underwear checks were sort of inevitable.


  • Do I think the UCI meant to issue a ruling affecting sports bras? No. Do I think they intend to enforce it? No. But I do think they're exceptionally careless in how they construct, consider, and release their rules. And I think that they don't consider for a minute how any of their rules might affect women's cycling differently than they do men's.

  • You can view the whole UCI document, courtesy of Cycling South Africa.

  • Big hat tip to reader Lionel for sending the link to the presentation and noting the UCI appears to be regulating lingerie. He also noted that the UCI standards in the presentation will be applied to Masters track nationals, thereby rendering his custom track machines illegal. As a smaller rider, his bikes violate the provisions on Slide 43, which indicate that the distance from the center of the pedal axle to the rear edge of the front tire must be greater than 89mm. This could obviously be a problem for riders who need a short top tube, particularly on track bikes with their steep front-end geometry. Again, when we consider top tube length as a function of torso length, and the typically shorter torsos in the female population, the women’s professional peloton could be most severely affected by such a blanket standard.

  • I’ll go ahead and issue a similar notice to the one that was necessary during the sock-height dustup: The UCI does not hold much sway over the vast majority of cyclists' daily lives, male or female. So by all means, please feel free to keep wearing bras. Or not. Whatever works for you.

  • I do look forward to the UCI's inevitable bra inspection and approval process. Please note: all bras bearing the UCI seal of approval will have safety tabs to prevent accidental release. These are not to be removed.

  • Where have you gone, Paola Pezzo? Cycling turns its lonely eyes to you.

  • Thirty-plus years of lycra, and now we’re going to get fussy about how cyclists squeeze themselves into their clothes? How tight is too tight? And no support? I fear any regulatory body that would have us hit the Arenberg trench in boxer shorts.