Now that the Super Tuck is banned, will we see dropper posts in road racing?
We perhaps haven’t seen such a kerfuffle over a banned riding position since the Graeme Obree days, but the UCI’s recent decision to outlaw the so-called Super Tuck has clearly caused quite a stir. Is it really that unsafe for pro racers to adopt the ultra-aero position? Did the UCI think it provided too much of an advantage? Or is it more a matter of the UCI not wanting to encourage less-skilled amateurs to go careening down mountains at such breakneck speeds?
Whatever the motivation, an analysis conducted by bicycle aerodynamics specialist Swiss Side — a frequent collaborator with the likes of DT Swiss, Canyon, Cube, Team Ineos, and others — seems to confirm the position’s effectiveness. According to Swiss Side’s calculations, a rider adopting the Super Tuck on a descent with an 8% gradient will hit a top speed that’s 5 km/h faster than a rider who tucks while staying in the saddle. When all is said and done, that higher terminal velocity will supposedly result in a gain of about 30 seconds per 10 km of distance. In terms of wattage, Swiss Side says the difference works out to about 135 W.
In other words, it’s a big, big difference (although as our resident pro mechanic, Zach Edwards, regularly likes to point out on our Nerd Alert podcast, that sort of advantage quickly translates to no advantage at all if everyone else is doing it, too).
Given the potency of the Super Tuck, it seems fair to say that pros who were using it regularly probably aren’t terribly happy about that tool being taken away from them.
But has the UCI really taken the Super Tuck away? If you look at the UCI’s actual wording, it doesn’t explicitly ban the Super Tuck, but rather the practice of sitting on the top tube (although since that’s necessary to achieve the Super Tuck position, the position is effectively banned). What if you could still get that low without sitting on the top tube?
Get low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low
Dropper seatposts were first introduced to the off-road world way back in 2003 (thanks Gravity Dropper!), and they’re now a mainstay of modern mountain bikes thanks to the incredible amount of additional control you gain by having that much more freedom of movement. With just the flick of a lever, a rider can lower their saddle (and center of gravity) by over 200 mm via a telescoping tube-in-tube design that usually incorporates a hydraulic actuator and a lightweight air spring.
Although shorter-travel droppers are slowly gaining some adoption on gravel and adventure bikes, various companies have been trying — and failing — for years to gain a foothold with the idea on road bikes, too.
Perhaps the most road-focused option was the Zeta from dropper post giant KS. First introduced in 2015 (and since discontinued), the Zeta was designed to be inserted into the frame all the way to the seal collar, with the extension cut to length as needed to accommodate the desired saddle height (not unlike a frame with an integrated seatmast). Travel was limited to just 50 mm, but it was an impressively slick and elegant design, and it’s not too hard to imagine a different version that would allow the seatpost head to drop nearly all the way down to the top of the frame.
At that point, the rider could then adopt the Super Tuck position just as before, but without the sketchiness of having your weight that far forward or essentially being hooked in place by the nose of the saddle. As a nice bonus, the rider would also be far more comfortable sitting on a saddle instead of the top tube, and the lower center of gravity would likely yield cornering benefits, too — at least for the savvier bike handlers in the peloton.
Sounds totally viable, no?
Why it’s not likely to happen
While such a scenario would be technically feasible, I wouldn’t bet on it for a number of different reasons.
For one, dropper seatposts are heavy. Claimed weight on that KS Zeta was well north of 500 g, and increasing the travel such that the saddle could drop all the way to the top of the frame would make it far heavier still. Moreover, the tight tolerances required of current dropper seatpost designs makes them tough to make out of lighter-weight carbon fiber instead of the aluminum alloys currently in use, plus there’d still be a lot of hardware inside.
Given that most World Tour bikes already struggle to hit the current 6.8 kg UCI-mandated minimum bike weight, it seems more than a little unlikely that any top pro would consider adding another half a kilo or so just to gain a temporary advantage on a descent. Of course, that temporary advantage might very well be the move that means the difference between winning a stage and finishing in the bunch, but it’s nevertheless safe to say that getting a weight-conscious racer to tow around a few hundred extra grams when bikes are already heavier than they’d like would be a tough sell.
Perhaps the biggest practical hurdle is the fact that almost no high-end road racing bikes these days use round seatposts. Instead, most seatposts now feature some variation of a D-shaped profile to reduce aerodynamic drag, and that sort of shape is a major barrier to building a telescoping structure that’s protected from the elements. It wouldn’t be impossible, of course, but it’d certainly involve a lot of specialized parts, as opposed to relatively off-the-shelf seals and bushings.
Those D-shaped seatpost cross-sections aren’t just for aerodynamic purposes, either. They also allow the posts to flex more easily over bumps than round ones, and many modern road racing bikes are now designed to rely quite heavily on that flex for rider comfort. Adding further to the ride quality issue is the fact that, owing to the stout construction required for proper operation, dropper seatposts are notoriously resistant to bending in general.
Last, but certainly not least, a proprietary dropper seatpost wouldn’t bode well for a bike’s long-term viability. We already have to potentially deal with the idea of retiring an otherwise-functional frame that still has plenty of life left in it were it not for a damaged seatpost shaft or missing clamp part — and that’s for a relatively simple fixed seatpost with no moving parts. Just imagine how things could go with an integrated dropper seatpost that requires regular maintenance and replacement parts just to remain functional. It’s not a pretty picture.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should
Indeed, some sort of road-specific incarnation of a dropper seatpost could very well bring the Super Tuck back to life. However, such a thing would bring with it far more downsides than upsides: more weight, crummier ride quality, diminished aerodynamic performance, a lot of added complication, and greater potential for unintentional obsolescence due to a lack of available service parts.
In other words, while a long-travel road dropper seatpost might seem to make sense on paper for road racing in one very narrow usage scenario, but it’d otherwise make for an awful lot of headache elsewhere.
But given that this is the bike industry we’re talking about here, though, that means there’s a good chance it’s already in development and that we’ll see some interpretation of it sooner than later.