AERO NO NO – How the ITU is changing the game

Gary Laybourne, Head of Retail Training and dedicated triathlete, explains how the upcoming changes to drafting rules in triathlon are set to change the game and what to consider when looking for new, compatible kit.

>>Shop all Triathlon Bikes<<

Okay, so I’m well aware of Rule #42 and more so, my colleagues ensure I don’t forget it! But the fact of the matter is that triathlon is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK and it shows no signs of abating.

Since 2009, participation has risen from 120,000 on the start line to just shy of 200,000.  True, many come from non-cycling backgrounds and therefore have much to learn about the art of road riding but any multi-sport enthusiast will be rather proactive when it comes to researching new developments, they will spend a lot more time in the saddle than given credit for and what’s more, will be prepared to be spending the cash required to ensure all those hours of training across the three sports won’t go to waste.

Never more will this be tested than when the rules on the cycling leg dramatically change as of next year…

So what’s new?

The ITU (The International Triathlon Union) announced that, as of 2016, age group sprint triathlon and duathlon age group championships will be draft legal. The planned changes currently don’t affect standard distance and local level competitions but the general consensus is that due to its lower maintenance for race organisers and the excitement that bunch racing brings, it won’t be long until all distances and levels of competition will follow suit.

For the athletes it means three major things:

1) No more constantly focussing on the dreaded imaginary box with lots of men in high-viz jackets blowing whistles at you!

2) Triathletes will now have to learn how to ride in groups (e.g. sack off the turbo and embrace the crits!) as this is a skill that can make or break your race (and your limbs!)

3) Your beloved time trial bike with more curves and gadgets than a Bond movie, will sadly have to be saved for your local TTs only.

Why? Well, for a start, tri bars are banned from draft legal racing and so are disc wheels. And don’t get started on the potential to clamp down on aero forks, seat posts, etc., etc. ! As for kit, teardrop TT helmets will also have to go…


But it’s not all doom and gloom as you can now approach that significant other in your life with a genuine reason for needing to bring yet another bike into the house rather than some nonsense excuse about the decal peeling off or your mechanic telling you the cassette is done so you better buy a whole new bike….

All jokes aside, there is no reason to feel the costs that those bank-busting triathlon purchases caused in the first place and, for those new to the sport and aspiring to age group racing, hopefully the following guide will help you continue the quest without leaving you having to remortgage!



Dependent on your budget, you want to be looking for a ride that offers:

– a lightweight, aggressive frame set-up for fast riding but conform to the ‘double diamond’ rule of frame composition

– a groupset that has a race-ready set-up and reflects the fact that you need to put the power down most of the time

– a decent aero wheelset as these are not outlawed (so long as they are 16 spoke minimum and conform to the maximum rim depth).

Take a look at models such as the Cannondale SuperSix Evo, Bianchi Athena, Specialized Venge and the Fuji Transonic (which, in this triathlete’s very humble opinion, is the best pound for pound bike I rode all last year).

You can then place clip-on tri bars (if you wish) onto all these models, ensuring that they do not go past the brake levers in length, are not connected (i.e. are two separate bars) and brake/gear levers are not attached to the clip-ons. Consideration needs to be given to wheelset, forks and seat post, dependent on the race you select, but ultimately, there is enough choice here to keep the speed despite sacrificing the aero position and TT kit.



Aero time trial helmets might be a no-go but there has been major developments in the past couple of years to the classic road helmet which mean you can still cut through the wind like a hot knife through butter without having to opt for the traditional teardrop-shaped TT model.

Examples include:

Louis Garneau Course helmet with vents that ‘close off’ when you go onto the drops

Specialized Evade which is said to shave off an impressive 46secs over 40km

– the Giro Air Attack that offers 70% more cooling than the long tail TT helmet at a cost of only 10% less aerodynamic capability.


It’s definitely an announcement that has major repercussions across the ITU community and one that will inevitably mean a rethink on your kit and equipment.  But by doing so, not only do you conform to the new rulings in triathlon but by investing in a draft legal bike and bike helmet, you are opening up a whole new world of racing that will ultimately enhance your performance and love of the wonderful world of cycling!

Here’s to an exciting future of ‘flicking an elbow’, ‘holding a wheel’ and ‘chasing the break’!


Rufus Greenway 20/11/2015

You mentioned this was for specific “Age” groups?

can you shed any light on this?

Best regards


    Dan S 5/12/2015

    “Age group” is triathlon talk for “amateur”. If you aren’t a pro then you’re an “age-grouper”.

Liam Nicholson 20/11/2015

Whilst I agree that bunch racing is far more fun to watch, I worry that this will be dangerous for many competitors.
Sprint triathlon is the typical gateway race for new triathletes, and as such many do not have very many bike handling skills. A fast swimmer with no previous cycling experience could potentially be a problem within a lead bunch in a sprint tri.

Regarding the cost of adapting to the new rules, I don’t think that it will be reflected in the turnout of these races. There are very few triathletes who own a load of TT gear but don’t have a road bike etc for normal weekend riding.

Bill MacIsaac 20/11/2015

Just got a giant propel with 50mm carbon wheels, is this legal under new rules ? If all categories are to be draft legal why dont the ruling body make the announcement now . Feel gutted for anyone who has just bought a tri specific bike.

    Mike Morris 21/11/2017

    Reading the rules yes; as long as the wheels have at least 16 spokes and it is age group racing, elite races have an approved list of wheels which mirrors the UCI approved wheel list.

Derek Underwood 20/11/2015

I have a straight bar road bike with individual bolt on tri bars, so the bolt on bars go past the brakes as they are on the straight bar. What distance are you allowed with straight bars?

    Dan Sawyer 5/12/2015

    All except sprint. And they’re only banned in ITU sprints (unless local events adopt the rule as well).

Neill Crowther 20/11/2015

I believe that amateur age groupers will not even be allowed to have stubby clip on aero bars – only elite. Could be wrong though….

Glen 20/11/2015

Would have thought a Cervelo S3 or S5 would have been the pick of the bunch for drafting group rides with a sprint finish.

    Dan Sawyer 5/12/2015

    A sprint finish to the bike stage isn’t that important: you’ve still got a 5km run to go (in a sprint triathlon, which is what this rule applies to).

Martin kerry 20/11/2015

So dating. As we have age group and gender waves can you only draft in your wave. Can you jump in a faster younger wave. Won’t it mean all closed roads as unlike road racing bikes spread all over the course so rolling close no good. Most triathletes will never be able to ride a critical
The standard moles too high in bike racing. Going to be interesting.

david gordon 21/11/2015

The article says that tri-bars should not be connected. I could be wrong but I have seen ‘connected’ tribars of the shortened variety being used in the olympic distance.

Tim 21/11/2015

Interesting article but could you just clarify whether tribars are allowed or not. You say they are not allowed but in the ‘bike’ section mention that you can fit clip- on bars to any of the bikes mentioned.
As someone who was about to invest in clip-on tribars for the first time I’d like to understand before I take the plunge.
Many thanks.

    Alex 1/12/2015

    Tim, you can use clip on tri bars mounted on the traditional road bike drop bars. This means you are braking and shifting with traditional road bike brakelevers. You can’t use Tri base bars with direct mount extensions (aero bars) because the brakes are on the edge of the base bars and the gear shifters are on the tip of the extensions, which is illegal.

      Jim Smith 16/01/2016

      Clip-on aero bars are ABSOLUTELY NOT ALLOWED. It’s pretty clear in the ITU Rules.
      “For Age Group draft-legal competitions, the following handlebar rules will apply:
       Only traditional drop handlebars are permitted. The handlebars must be
       Clip-ons are not allowed.”

Son’ 9/01/2016

Unless you’re a bike geek none of this really makes any sense. Ridiculous.

This just seems like a money making scam to me. Introducing new bikes so you have to go out and spend more money in a sport that isn’t cheap. When the accidents start it’ll go back to normal the year after and I’ll have to change bikes again. More money because I can’t afford several bikes.

This does nothing for triathlon’s already bad image for being elitist with the high equipment costs. In addition, with the risk of injury drastically increasing, which will reduce predominantly women but men too in competing. I want to be back at work the next day after a great event not in hospital because I or someone else hasn’t got the skills. It’s bad enough already on the non draft races with people everywhere.

Shame on you..

    Fezzef 3/06/2016

    The reason ITU changed sprint to draft legal at world champs is that many other countries typically race draft legal, unlike here in the UK. Whilst there will have to be some draft legal qualifiers for world champ slots I doubt most races here will go draft legal due to necessity to have closed roads. The rule has been changed to better accommodate other countries racing style, it’s not all about us!

Christian 21/01/2016

Is there any ruling on Frames? Could I for example take my Fuji Norcom, switch the aero bars for drops and STI levers, slide the saddle right back to a more compliant position and race with it? I want to keep aero, off the front and out of the way of potential carnage resulting from poor cycle skills in a group.

mark 18/05/2016

Hi…. Really panicking about do I have the right or wrong bike…. Just bought a giant propel advance 2….. Carbon and areo forks…. Starting to worry now that it may not be legal for age group tri quals this year :'(

    Denzil De Bie 9/06/2016


    Aero bikes are fine (just not TT bikes). There are rules about geometry about where your saddle stops relative to cranks* but I was just at Aviles and the focus was on the handlebars. The main issue is about bike handling in a bunch, not aero advantage.

    There were lots of deep rims and aero frames out there with no issues from the officials.


    * check out the rules on teh ITU or British Triathlon website.

Fezzef 3/06/2016

What’s the rules re disc brakes. If I’m buying a ‘draft legal’ bike should I go disc or caliper?

Beth 8/06/2016

Mark it depends what distance you want to qualify for… Standard distance you can still use TT bike, and for now sprint for the European AG champs. At present it is just ITU AG champs/qualifiers.

If they change the rule for standard distance in the future I’ll have to start doing middle distance races so I can still race with my TT bike!

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