The Puppy Paws cycling position is the latest to fall foul of the sport’s lawmakers.
Though the “Puppy Paws Ban” might sound like a UN decree on some ominous black market trade, it actually refers to the outlawing of an unconventional aerodynamic riding position by cycling’s governing body, the UCI.
But what is the “Puppy Paws” position – and why did the sport’s suits feel the need to ban it?
To get you up to speed, we’ll be covering:
- What Is The Puppy Paws Cycling Position?
- Why Was The Puppy Paws Position Banned?
- Is The Puppy Paws Cycling Ban Fair?
- How Do Pros Feel About The Ban?
Let’s dive in!
What Is The Puppy Paws Cycling Position?
The Puppy Paws position sees the rider rest their forearms across the middle of the handlebars for a more aerodynamic (and therefore faster) riding position.
This position simulates the tucked position adopted when using aero bars on a time-trial bike.
Aero bars are fork-shaped handlebar extensions that extend forwards, allowing you to sit your arms on top of them.
Aero bars can be mounted to your road bike and have two main benefits:
- They make you more aerodynamic on your bike by lowering your upper body position.
- They reduce stress on the hands and wrists during long sessions on the bike.
It’s been proven that aero bars significantly decrease energy expenditure whilst cycling by reducing drag in this way.
So, it’s no surprise that pro racers created a technique to replicate the benefits of aero bars while using regular drop handlebars.
While the Puppy Paws cycling position doesn’t give you the full rewards of aero bars, it certainly helps.
The world’s professional cycling governing body, The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) defines the position as resting your forearms on the handlebars in any way.
In pro races, it’s a favorite of breakaway riders who don’t have the drag-reducing effects of the peloton to pull them along.
Why Was The Puppy Paws Position Banned?
As of April 1st, 2021, the UCI declared that “taking dangerous positions in races” was now prohibited, with offenders being subject to bans or disqualifications.
Specifically, “riders must observe the standard position as defined by article 1.3.008” – meaning bum on the saddle and hands on the handlebars.
Alongside the Puppy Paws cycling position, the ban was also targeted at the so-called “supertuck” which sees the rider lower their body onto the top tube while descending to slash drag.
However, the ban on Puppy Paws didn’t extend to time trials. Because time trial bikes have aero bars to use, time trial races are considered exempt.
But why did the UCI feel it needed to be banned in the first place?
It’s fair to suggest that there’s a certain amount of guilt by association going on here.
The Puppy Paws cycling position is fairly inoffensive in comparison to the supertuck, which has a much bigger effect on speed – and makes you more likely to crash.
The supertuck has caused several crashes in professional races, and the CCC team manager Jim Ochowicz told the New York Times:
“I would never recommend [the supertuck], not even to an enemy. You become a cannonball.”Jim Ochowicz
And beyond the peloton, it seems the UCI was concerned that supertucking pros would inspire amateur copycats, and there’s certainly an argument for that.
The supertuck is a strikingly awkward body position that makes you much faster on the downhill, whilst also placing more weight on your front wheel and leaving the rider much less ready to react.
Whether or not you agree with the ban, it’s easy to see how the super tuck could get a casual cyclist hurt.
And the Puppy Paws cycling position has been tarred with the same brush.
Although not as dangerous as the supertuck, the Puppy Paws cycling position still reduces control of the bike and increases response time as the hands are removed from the brakes.
With the new ban, racers need to be careful, as dropping into the Puppy Paws position will now mean the end of their race.
We saw this when Dutch great Marianne Vos was disqualified from her win in the Postnord Vårgårda WestSweden in August of this year.
After being caught in the position, race organizers disqualified her and the win was forfeited to the second-placed rider.
Is The Puppy Paws Cycling Ban Fair?
But is that fair? Does the Puppy Paws cycling position deserve to be “banged up” with the supertuck?
Compared to the supertuck, which involves cramming yourself between the saddle and handlebars, the Puppy Paws position is a pretty minor body adjustment.
From the Puppy Paws position, you’re a little more aerodynamic, but you also keep much more safety and control, because the position is very quick to get in and out of.
This was evident in Marianne Vos’ case:
She slipped into the Puppy Paws position seemingly instinctively, for a mere three seconds, before apparently remembering the position had been banned and quickly resuming a proper “1.3.008.”
Innocuous maybe, but as far as race organizers were concerned the rules had been broken.
After this incident, Vos actually taped the message “NIET LIGGEN!” or “DON’T LIE DOWN!” onto her handlebars to make sure she didn’t slip up again!
So that’s it, right? No resting your forearms on the handlebars?
Well, no, actually.
Earlier, in February of this year, Tim Wellens, an ex-Puppy Paws enthusiast, was spotted apparently circumventing the new rule.
There were no penalties for Wellens, who was clearly riding for forearms resting on his handlebars – how did the Belgian manage this?
Wellens was riding with padding under his bar tape, creating a platform, presumably for adopting the puppy paws position with greater control.
Perhaps not wanting to push his luck, Wellens didn’t adopt a fully aerodynamic position over the handlebars, but nevertheless, his forearms were being used as a point of support.
Apparently, a bit of padding and a partial Puppy Paws posture meant the difference between rule infringement and fair play.
So we’re left scratching our heads somewhat about the rule.
British racer Alex Dowsett apparently felt the same, tweeting: “Where exactly does one’s wrist end, and forearm start? Asking for a friend.”
How Do Pros Feel About The Ban?
Of course, you and I can Puppy Paws all we like on casual rides.
Whether you consider that sensible or not, there are no race officials to tell us otherwise. After all, it’s the professionals this ban actually affects.
How do other professional racers feel about the puppy paws ban?
Some wholeheartedly agreed.
Israel Start-Up Nation racer Dan Martin tweeted the UCI should be applauded for “being proactive for once” in support of the new safety regulations.
Martin had already spoken out about dangerous racing positions in 2018:
But not all were happy with these concerns.
The Slovenian Bahrain Victorious racer Matej Mohorič – one of the supertuck pioneers – expressed frustration.
Other professional cyclists vented that the UCI was quick to penalize cyclists for how they raced, but the organization should instead focus on ensuring races are run more safely.
The supertuck and Puppy Paws ban came in alongside other new safety regulations, passed partly in response to Fabio Jakobsen’s horrific collision with a course barrier at the 2020 Tour of Poland.
Racers Iljo Keisse and Louis Vervaeke of Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl argue that the UCI should have other safety regulation priorities than riding positions.
And frustration with the UCI seemed to be a point of agreement among racers, whether they agreed with the Puppy Paws ban or not.
Italian Jacopo Guarnieri of Groupama-FDJ tweeted in support of the ban, before referencing the Tour of Poland, implying the UCI still has work to do.
Whilst there is no doubt that the UCI’s decisions are primarily motivated by trying to make the sport as safe as possible, one can empathize with both sides of the debate.
Ultimately the professionals’ relationship with the UCI can be fraught, and it’s no surprise that the fastest cyclists in the world are unhappy: Puppy Paws cycling is faster after all.
To Puppy Paws Or Not To Puppy Paws…
And all of this feeds into a wider conversation around safety and regulation. Whether it’s supertucks or helmets, some cyclists don’t like being told what to do.
We all know cycling comes with certain risks, and while it’s ultimately your decision how to cycle, safety should always be a top priority.
Remember the reaction time you lose in the puppy paws position could be the difference between you and an accident.
So realistically, for almost every cyclist out there on the open roads, the extra risk really isn’t worth shaving a few seconds off your Strava time.