The UK’s Cycling Time Trials ban fairings, but some are already highlighting loopholes

Fairings are out as hydration bladders look set to stay, for now.

Cycling Time Trials (CTT), the national governing body for time trials in England, Scotland, and Wales, had its annual general meeting over the weekend, and, as expected, the use of “on-body fairings” in time trials was up for debate. The topic came to a head following the National Time Trial Championships in September, when the use of fairings was described on one forum as “rampant.”

Now, following a motion carried by a vote from the floor at the AGM brings an update to the CTT’s Regulation 16: Competitor Clothing and reads:

“A competitor may not compete with items such as padding or fairings inside their clothing (skinsuit, socks, overshoes, etc) in order to significantly change the shape of their body.
N.B. The use of base/under layers and hydration bladders such as Camelbak are authorised (provided the hydration bladder is used for the purpose of hydration).”

So, is that case closed? Well, not quite. Fairings are now banned, but less than 24 hours after the AGM, some are already highlighting potential loopholes.

Escape Collective covered the use and impact of fairings in an article at the time and dug into the complexities in attempting to outlaw their use. In summary, the fairings many riders used this year were mostly cheap “DIY-jobs,” and the testing we have seen suggests the “gain” is anywhere from a single watt all the way to 15-20 watts, possibly more.

Many of the riders interviewed for the article feared the fairings may become much more sophisticated and costly as riders refine the exact shape that provides them with the biggest gain. Some suggested the fairings create a perceived barrier to entry for newcomers to the sport. Others warned of an element of “technological coercion,” because if one rider uses a fairing, everyone else is forced to just to stay in the same relative position.

Fairings did have their defenders also, suggesting the “time trialling arms race” has bigger problems than cheap homemade interventions, that the gains are not as large as suggested and definitely not a “slam dunk.” Finally, and perhaps the biggest hurdle to any regulation, many of these so-called fairings were, in fact, hydration systems. The fact that riders carried copious amounts of hydration for sub-20-minute races was perhaps less of a problem than the one a governing body could find itself in should it ban or attempt to regulate hydration while in a TT position.

All that said, crucially, none of the fairings in question were in violation of any CTT regulations until this weekend’s AGM.

The photo shows Alex Dowsett in a time trial position
A suitably hydrated Alex Dowsett in the “National 10.” Photo – Sarah Swinscoe – Sarah Behind the Lens

As covered in our earlier article, on-body fairings have proved quite a divisive subject. While most agree blatant fairings should be outlawed, most also understand the complexity in writing, implementing, and policing any new rule, especially around hydrating in longer events. Nevertheless, several districts (clubs bring proposed regulation updates to regional AGMs, and if carried, the regions bring these to the national congress/AGM) brought motions to ban fairings to the AGM. While this process means any club can see a new rule implemented, a 75% majority and the risk that several motions on a single issue risks “splitting the vote” has in the past seen seemingly obvious matters like rules enforcing mandatory helmets and rear lights take up to a decade to pass.

Not so this year, in the interest of having a fairing banning motion succeed, delegates from the various regions bringing the proposals agreed on a single composite motion in advance of the meeting and said new motion was then put to the AGM floor. It passed with close to a unanimous vote, but some now fear the compromise required to get a ban on fairings leaves the door wide open for some riders to exploit the new hydration bladder-permitting rules.

Of note, this year’s AGM also passed a motion banning the use of time trial helmets in road bike time trials. This comes off the back of the introduction of a road bike category at last year’s AGM. It was decided at that time the regulations for this new category should focus only on the bike with the same goal of avoiding a motion bogged down in minutia being rejected by the floor. Twelve months later, the road bike time trial category is already proving successful and the road helmet-only (visors are permitted) update to the category-specific regulations is now possible.

Back to this year’s AGM, the wording of the new fairing rule has left some riders feeling certain others will exploit that hydration loophole to carry dummy or inflated hydration packs inside the front of their skinsuits, doubling up as fairings in short-time trial events where riders seemingly do not require hydration. However, CTT chair Andrea Parish told Escape Collective that details and arguments from the floor, some highlighting the requirement for some para-cyclists, supported retaining the option for riders to carry extra hydration packs.

Opinion about the new rules was split amongst the riders Escape Collective spoke to, as is almost par for the course on this topic. One rider jokingly admitted he may get exceptionally thirsty during ten-mile time trials next season, while others, who thought the new rule is merely “a start,” suggested riders may run hydration packs down their sleeves with rule-bending hoses checking off the “hydration purposes” requirement, and also that riders could simply inflate hydration packs, add a few millilitres of water and effectively make a mockery of the new no-fairings rule.

That said, Parish also pointed out that the initial steps for the formation of a new “Rules Council” were also passed at the AGM. Said council may be given powers to update rules as and when required if riders are clearly exploiting loopholes in the CTT regulations or should some new controversy erupt in future.

It should also be noted that CTT events are organised and officiated by volunteers. In a time when organisers, marshalls, and officials are increasingly fewer and further between, the idea of asking the few who do remain to implement more stringent and likely controversial rules is unlikely in anyone’s best interest.

Before this weekend’s AGM there was no rule banning the use of on-body fairings. While the new rule might leave some loopholes, it is clear riders “may not compete with items such as padding or fairings inside their clothing” and hydration bladders are authorised “for the purpose of hydration.” Dare I say that wording, while leaving a few loopholes, entirely removes the option for riders to use fairings or fairings disguised as hydration bladders in good conscience. Is the CTT rider’s moral compass alone enough to police the time-trialling arms race? Only time will tell.

What did you think of this story?