It’s an issue that has had its fair share of controversy and debate in recent years.
The “supertuck” is an ultra-aerodynamic riding position in which a cyclist sits on the top tube rather than the saddle, then tucks forward to make their frontal body area as small as possible to reduce drag.
It makes a cyclist significantly faster on a descent, but is considered dangerous by many.
The supertuck divides opinion and consistently provokes strong reactions from all kinds of cycling fans. Last year, those conversations reached a head when supertucking was banned by the UCI (cycling’s governing body).
In this article, we’ll be covering:
- What Is Supertucking?
- The History Of Supertucking
- How Much Faster Is Supertucking?
- Why Was The Supertuck Banned?
- What Do The Riders Think?
- Are There Alternatives To The Supertuck?
Ready to learn all about the infamous supertuck?
Let’s get started!
What Is Supertucking?
If you’ve never heard of the supertuck, you’re probably a little confused right now. Time for a proper explanation.
The supertuck is a riding position that allows cyclists to gain a significant aerodynamic advantage.
This technique sees riders sit on the bike’s top tube, rather than the saddle. The cyclist then hunches forward into as compact a position as possible, often with their chest resting on the handlebars.
By reducing aerodynamic drag, the supertuck enabled riders to significantly increase their speed during descents. Supertucking can give riders a decisive advantage in key stretches of a road race.
It can look a bit strange, but the supertuck has featured in many daring descents down the years.
But where exactly did this unorthodox positioning come from?
The History Of Supertucking
It’s difficult to pin down exactly where the supertuck originated, with a few riders having been credited as early pioneers of the position.
Perhaps the first example of this riding trend came from German cyclist Marcel Wüst, who showcased the first televised supertuck during the 1996 Tour DuPont. However, it wasn’t until a bit later that supertucking gained real prominence.
Slovenian road racer Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) was one of the most famous early riders to use this technique. His U23 World Championships triumph in 2013 came off the back of some serious supertucking.
(Skip to 8:13 in the clip below to see Mohorič’s supertucking in action!)
Chris Froome used the supertuck position on stage 8 of the 2016 Tour De France, showing that supertucking had entered into the mainstream.
No longer was it some kooky technique used by a few oddballs — it was a credible aerodynamic-enhancing riding position.
Clearly then, the supertuck can bring major advantages.
How Much Faster Is Supertucking?
A number of pro riders have identified the potential gains that can be achieved by supertucking – but how much faster does this position actually make you go?
There aren’t many reliable studies on the matter, but one worth mentioning is the work of Belgian sports aerodynamic expert Bert Blocken.
Blocken conducted controlled wind tunnel tests which compared different varieties of super tuck with more traditional seated positions.
He found that tucking in the saddle with a lowered back was 12% faster, while the Peter Sagan-style super tuck (in which the rider’s posterior is pushed against the saddle) was the quickest, with a 17% advantage.
Blocken’s work proved that supertucking can bring serious speed advantages – although it also showed that different variations of the method can lead to different results.
Check out more on Blocken’s fascinating study here!
Why Was The Supertuck Banned?
The benefits of the supertuck technique come at a cost.
Some control is lost when riders fully bend their elbows and place the majority of their weight over their front wheel.
This has led to safety concerns ever since supertuck cycling first gained prominence midway through the last decade.
In February 2021, the supertuck position was finally banned by the UCI.
This came as part of a range of new safety measures which included the standardization of safety barriers. Interestingly enough, throughout its time as a popular cycling technique, the supertuck had already been effectively prohibited by existing UCI regulations.
Previously, however, this hadn’t been enforced. Now, that’s exactly what’s happening.
The supertuck ban is all about curbing “dangerous conduct”, and offending cyclists are now liable to sanctions. That being said, the UCI did allow a grace period for “rider education”.
However, it’s not just pro riders that are being protected by this move. For many cycling fanatics, the main problem with supertucking is that it sets a bad example.
While professional athletes are clearly capable of using supertuck cycling to gain racing advantages and reach optimum performance levels, the same can’t be said for the many kids and amateurs watching at home.
Wider audiences attempting to imitate what they see on TV could create some real risks. By banning the supertuck, the UCI hopes to reduce the danger of accidents happening among the wider public through supertucking.
What Do The Riders Think?
Opinions have varied between professional cyclists when it comes to the supertuck ban.
Polish cyclist Michał Kwiatkowski criticized the UCI on Twitter, claiming that there are more important “real risks” such as oil on the road.
American cyclist Matteo Jorgenson made similar comments about the lack of solutions for other key safety issues in cycling.
There’s also been plenty of controversy surrounding the fact that female riders weren’t consulted properly regarding the new rules.
However, some of the best-known users of the supertuck system have come out on the other side of the debate.
Matej Mohorič was surprisingly indifferent to the rule change. “I don’t think I will be handicapped because of the ban. I didn’t take advantage of the position any more than other riders.”
Some people might be surprised to see Mohorič disregard the technique that he helped champion – but perhaps that shows that supertucking isn’t the be-all and end-all of high-speed descending as cyclists adapt to the new rules.
Are There Alternatives To The Supertuck?
The banning of the supertuck has led cyclists and manufacturers to search elsewhere for things that can help create a racing advantage.
And as it happens, a must-have piece of kit for mountain biking could end up providing some answers.
We’re talking about the dropper post.
Dropper posts allow riders to adjust their seat height during descents using a simple lever. This device can help cyclists get into a more aerodynamic position without losing control or moving their bodies in any extreme way.
Matej Mohorič himself famously charged to victory by using a dropper post on the descent of the Poggio at the 2022 Milan-San Remo (more on that here!).
It’s highly possible that dropper posts could become a big part of peloton racing now that supertuck cycling has been outlawed.
They’re within the rules and safer than the now-banned supertuck. And what’s more, it’s easier to stay in this lower position for long periods of time, as it’s more comfortable.
While dropper posts are the obvious alternative to the supertuck cycling technique, there are plenty of other existing methods for reducing drag while descending that are still legal.
And ultimately, different riding positions work for different people.
For a really unorthodox descending position, check out this “Superman” from Michael Guerra – we suspect the UCI would take a fairly dim view on this one too!
Now you know all about the supertuck…
Hopefully, you’ve now got a much better idea of what supertucking is, where it came from, and why it was banned.
Next time you watch a pro race, see if you can spot what certain cyclists are doing to make up for the loss of this technique!