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Time trial tech: what's a 'two-level' bar and why does it matter?

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The Ag2r team is using BH time trial bikes - some with flat base bars and some with drop.

The Ag2r team is using BH time trial bikes - some with flat base bars and some with drop. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Vision previously had had some issues with the UCI concerning this aerobar. Based on what we'd been told, the UCI apparently took issue with the extended molded-in armrests, saying they provided more than two points of contact per arm. That regulation looks to have been relaxed since then, though.

Vision previously had had some issues with the UCI concerning this aerobar. Based on what we'd been told, the UCI apparently took issue with the extended molded-in armrests, saying they provided more than two points of contact per arm. That regulation looks to have been relaxed since then, though. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The Bouygues Telecom team includes riders with a wide range of heights - yet there is very little variation in bar position across the board.

The Bouygues Telecom team includes riders with a wide range of heights - yet there is very little variation in bar position across the board. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Bouygues Telecom looks to be taking the literal translation of the UCI's 'two-level' bar rule - the base bar and extensions are virtually in the same horizontal plane here.

Bouygues Telecom looks to be taking the literal translation of the UCI's 'two-level' bar rule - the base bar and extensions are virtually in the same horizontal plane here. (Image credit: James Huang)
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(Image credit: James Huang)
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The Cofidis team is using Look's new 596 model for time trials.

The Cofidis team is using Look's new 596 model for time trials. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Setups of this type are remarkably common at this year's Tour de France with little - if any - height difference between the base bars and the extensions.

Setups of this type are remarkably common at this year's Tour de France with little - if any - height difference between the base bars and the extensions. (Image credit: James Huang)
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This Cofidis rider has to use Look's dual-pivot Ergostem to get his bars low enough.

This Cofidis rider has to use Look's dual-pivot Ergostem to get his bars low enough. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Euskaltel-Euskadi will use Orbea's striking Ordu carbon frame for the time trial around Lake Annecy.

Euskaltel-Euskadi will use Orbea's striking Ordu carbon frame for the time trial around Lake Annecy. (Image credit: James Huang)
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So is this bar constructed on two levels or isn't it?

So is this bar constructed on two levels or isn't it? (Image credit: James Huang)
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Based on the UCI literature, extension risers are not permitted but Columbia-HTC appears to have plead their case successfully.

Based on the UCI literature, extension risers are not permitted but Columbia-HTC appears to have plead their case successfully. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Columbia-High Road has made the switch from their previous 'TechDev' bikes to Scott's new Plasma 3.

Columbia-High Road has made the switch from their previous 'TechDev' bikes to Scott's new Plasma 3. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Katusha is using Deda aero bars on its Ridley machines with this model sporting extensions perfectly in-plane with the base bar.

Katusha is using Deda aero bars on its Ridley machines with this model sporting extensions perfectly in-plane with the base bar. (Image credit: James Huang)
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On the other hand, the Deda bar on this Katusha machine has extensions placed slightly above the base bar. So is this a 'two-level' bar?

On the other hand, the Deda bar on this Katusha machine has extensions placed slightly above the base bar. So is this a 'two-level' bar? (Image credit: James Huang)
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Ridley premiered its speedy-looking Dean last year under the Silence-Lotto team but now supplies the Katusha squad instead.

Ridley premiered its speedy-looking Dean last year under the Silence-Lotto team but now supplies the Katusha squad instead. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The Ritchey bar on this Lampre team-issue Wilier has its extensions mounted below the base bar - no chance of this rider dropping their elbows and adopting a pseudo-praying mantis position here.

The Ritchey bar on this Lampre team-issue Wilier has its extensions mounted below the base bar - no chance of this rider dropping their elbows and adopting a pseudo-praying mantis position here. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Lampre's Wilier time trial bikes are among the curvier models in the peloton.

Lampre's Wilier time trial bikes are among the curvier models in the peloton. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Like most other teams, Liquigas has equipped its Cannondale Slice Hi-Mod bikes with flat base bars.

Like most other teams, Liquigas has equipped its Cannondale Slice Hi-Mod bikes with flat base bars. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Liquigas' Cannondale Slice Hi-Mod frames haven't changed much in appearance since their introduction two years ago but updates to fiber content and lay-up schedules have put it on a diet.

Liquigas' Cannondale Slice Hi-Mod frames haven't changed much in appearance since their introduction two years ago but updates to fiber content and lay-up schedules have put it on a diet. (Image credit: James Huang)
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This Milram aerobar setup looks to comfortably adhere to the UCI's 'two-level' bar rule but we're not sure how visible the Garmin Edge computer will be.

This Milram aerobar setup looks to comfortably adhere to the UCI's 'two-level' bar rule but we're not sure how visible the Garmin Edge computer will be. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Milram's time trial bike is designed by Andy Walser, who has long provided top pros with custom aero machines.

Milram's time trial bike is designed by Andy Walser, who has long provided top pros with custom aero machines. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The UCI almost looks to have had these Specialized S-Works Shiv integrated bars in mind when it penned the 'two-level' diagram.

The UCI almost looks to have had these Specialized S-Works Shiv integrated bars in mind when it penned the 'two-level' diagram. (Image credit: James Huang)
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This spare Quick Step bike is fitted with a drop version of Vision's Trimax aerobar.

This spare Quick Step bike is fitted with a drop version of Vision's Trimax aerobar. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The integrated bars on Giant's new Trinity Advanced SL time trial bike can easily accept extension risers but Rabobank team leader Denis Menchov goes without here.

The integrated bars on Giant's new Trinity Advanced SL time trial bike can easily accept extension risers but Rabobank team leader Denis Menchov goes without here. (Image credit: James Huang)
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We can understand the UCI's concern in regards to how 'two-level' aerobars might be used but in reality, it'd be nearly impossible for a rider to place his elbows on the base bar underneath the arm rests and still be able to control the bike, at least when straight or s-bend extensions are used.

We can understand the UCI's concern in regards to how 'two-level' aerobars might be used but in reality, it'd be nearly impossible for a rider to place his elbows on the base bar underneath the arm rests and still be able to control the bike, at least when straight or s-bend extensions are used. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Wow! Check out the bar setup on Jens Voight's (Saxo Bank) Specialized S-Works Shiv.

Wow! Check out the bar setup on Jens Voight's (Saxo Bank) Specialized S-Works Shiv. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Specialized's novel extension riser system also provides a convenient mounting point for a computer.

Specialized's novel extension riser system also provides a convenient mounting point for a computer. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Voight's aerobar setup looks more like an airplane from this angle than a bicycle handlebar.

Voight's aerobar setup looks more like an airplane from this angle than a bicycle handlebar. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Skil-Shimano riders are using a mix of dropped and flat base bars.

Skil-Shimano riders are using a mix of dropped and flat base bars. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The Skil-Shimano team-issue Koga time trial bikes are fitted with PRO integrated aerobars.

The Skil-Shimano team-issue Koga time trial bikes are fitted with PRO integrated aerobars. (Image credit: James Huang)
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This is the sort of thing teams and sponsors have to contend with when designing equipment and supplying componentry.

This is the sort of thing teams and sponsors have to contend with when designing equipment and supplying componentry. (Image credit: James Huang)

Take a look at the following excerpt from the UCI's recently published "Technical Regulations for Bicycles: a Practical Guide to Implementation" and try to determine its meaning (image below).

Now imagine you're a team director or sponsor with countless hours and heaps of money invested in wind tunnel time and rider set-up sessions over the previous off-season and imagine what your reaction might be heading into the biggest bicycle race of the season. What's your course of action and what exactly is a two-level bar?

Taken literally, the "constructed on two levels" description and the accompanying diagram imply that riders and teams can no longer use any means to raise the extensions relative to the base bar. Moreover, the description could also be interpreted to mean that base bars with drop are outlawed as well since either situation would put the outer grips and extensions at appreciably different heights.

As a result, many of the time trial bar setups we've seen at this year's Tour de France almost look as if they could have been hewn from a single flat plate of material – the extensions are dead-straight and the base bars have no drop whatsoever, in marked contrast to what we've commonly seen in the past.

However, other bar setups – say that of Saxo Bank rider Jens Voight, who sadly had to retire after a gruesome crash in stage 16 – look to clearly violate the rule, yet the commissaries allowed them to start both the stage 1 individual time trial in Monaco and the team time trial three days later around Montpellier. So why the discrepancy?

According to the UCI, the new guide "does not replace Articles 1.3.001 to 1.3.025 of the UCI Regulations [those describing allowable equipment], but instead complements them and illustrates the technical rules defined therein. The objective of this document is to offer a definitive interpretation in order to facilitate understanding and application of the Regulations by international commissaires, teams and manufacturers."

In this particular case, the 'dual level' clause is meant to clarify rule 1.3.023, which states that handlebar extensions used in time trials must place the rider's forearms "in the horizontal plane" and that the angle between the upper arm and forearm not to exceed 120 degrees "when in the racing position".

Regardless, what the UCI is trying to do here is further prevent riders from adopting the so-called 'praying mantis' position popularized by Levi Leipheimer (Astana) and Floyd Landis (OUCH). Even when forearm rests and aero extensions are oriented at the same height, the UCI fears that riders using 'two-level' bars will simply be able to move their elbows down to the base bar below, thus effectively angling their forearms upwards and shielding their torsos with their hands for a more aerodynamic position.

Teams such as Saxo Bank, High Road-HTC and Rabobank apparently have already communicated with the UCI in regard to the rule's intended meaning and gained prior approval for their seemingly illegal bar setups. Thus far we've noticed no riders exploiting a 'two-level' bar setup as the UCI had feared and we would guess other teams will eventually revert back to their preferred setups in the near future now that the precedent has been set. However, whether or not we'll see any changes in time for the upcoming individual time trial around Lake Annecy remains to be seen.

On a more general note, however, this issue only further highlights the UCI's inability to convey its technical rulings in a concrete and unambiguous manner that engineers, mechanics and designers can understand. Much as the sport's governing body is maligned for its supposed evil quest against advancing technology in the sport, the underlying goal of leveling the playing field somewhat and ensuring rider safety is at least admirable in its intent, if not its execution. However, as has become somewhat typical, what comes forth in the text is often disappointingly confusing.

Want even more confusion? Check out the UCI rules and guides for yourself:

"General organization of cycling as a sport"

"Technical regulations for bicycles, a practical guide to implementation"

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