At some foundational level, to be a cyclist is to know pain. Perhaps that’s the burn of muscular exertion, or the ache of back pain, or the metallic tang in the lungs of an all-out effort. Maybe it’s the swelling, sharpening discomfort of a saddle sore, or the tingles of feet or genitals fading to numb meat-lumps. These are personal tortures, known only to the rider.
Rarely can you look at a picture of someone on a bike and instantly recognise that you would not, could not, tolerate that position. Unless you’re looking at pictures of vintage track bikes.
For a heady period in the 1980s and 1990s, there were fledgling understandings of aerodynamics combined with rapid technological advances. Crucially, the UCI was behind the ball, consistently being outplayed by innovators like Francesco Moser and Graeme Obree who found the loopholes in the regulations to attain ever more improbable forms.
Perhaps the most famous position of this era was the ‘superman’ position adopted by Obree, putting his hands about 30 cm in front of his front hub. This was widely copied, before being banned by the UCI in October 1996. Further refinements of regulations reined things in even more; by 2000, positions became more recognisably similar to what exists today.
For that heady decade or so, however, we have a photographic archive to look back on: bike after bike, position after position, to look at and think ‘absolutely not‘.