The UCI, cycle sport’s world governing body, has revealed that manufacturers must pay over £8,000 to get the ‘Approved Frame’ sticker that’s needed for new-generation frames and forks to be eligible for use in competition in what looks to be an attempt to tax bicycle research and development and effectively add a small UCI sales levy to the sales of bikes the world over. Or you could just call it a blatant money-making scam.
We reported before Christmas that many manufacturers were unhappy with the timescale involved in the approval procedure. The UCI said in December that the new system would come into force on 1 January. This weekend courtesy of BikeBiz we found out that these are going to be pricey stickers indeed. News of the costs involved has done nothing to calm the situation and adds further weight to the charge that the UCI is using its technical regulations as a tool to cut itself a slice of the retail bike market in the same way it has attempted to muscle in on the promotion of major races.
Bike industry representatives will be meeting the UCI later this week to discuss the new arrangements, if what we've heard is true the UCI should prepare for a prickly reception, while the big players could swallow the costs of these stickers without too much problem they will also be keenly aware that this is the thin end of the wedge, the UCI also has plans for approval procedures for wheels, handlebars, saddles and clothing.
As we've reported on a number of occasions back in 2009 the UCI issued a set of"clarifications" to its Technical Regulations attempting to outlaw the use of prototypes by teams.
However, having your team fully test your new bikes before launching to the cycling public is one one of the benefits of being involved in the sport for most manufacturers and is an unresolved bone of contention - Mark Cavendish certainly rode a prototype bike during last year's Tour and he was undoubtedly not alone. These stickers mean that manufacturers will have to pay the UCI up front to be able to use their new designs and then, if they are found wanting by the harsh testing regime of the pro-peloton, pay again to change it. Even then they would still be breaking the rules if the frame or fork wasn't already freely available to buy.
Essentially, all new frames and forks now in development have to go through the UCI’s procedure to get onto the approved list. If it’s not on the approved list, you can’t race on it in a UCI-sanctioned event.
‘Tubular’ designs can go through a simplified approval process that costs 800 Swiss Francs (about £537 based on today’s exchange rate), but ‘one-piece’ models – any “which require a mould during the manufacturing process” – are subject to the full approval procedure that costs 12,000 Swiss Francs (approximately £8,057).
One of the primary aims is to ensure that all carbon frames conform to the UCI’s rules on tube shaping, which state that the length of the profile must be no more than three times the width.
The fee gets a manufacturer approval for a maximum of eight different sizes. They have to pay another 1,400 Swiss Francs (approximately £940) for “minor changes to one size or the addition of one size of a previously approved model of frame and forks.” So, presumably, if a manufacturer alters the frame angles slightly when up-sizing a frame – and they all do – that’s almost another grand. If this goes through will we see fewer frame sizes offered in a range and greater use of compact designs? We might.
Where is all the money coming from to pay for all of this? Well, from the bike manufacturers initially, but the buck will stop with the bike buying public, yes it is us that will be footing the bill.
We all agree that when it comes to competition, the UCI has to protect what they call “the primacy of man over machine” – it has to be the best athlete who wins, not just the athlete on the best bike. But £8,000 on each frame design? Plus, it’s a flat fee, so economies of scale mean smaller manufacturers selling a lower number of frames are going to be hit hardest.
If you think this all sounds over the top, just wait until you find out how the approval procedure works. There are several stages…
The manufacturer must first submit an application form that includes the product spec, and stump up the cash. Then they submit technical drawings for different sizes of the same model, up to their maximum of eight, and the UCI decides whether the design meets their conditions. If it doesn’t, the manufacturer has the opportunity to alter the design.
If the design does meet the regs, the UCI require a full-size prototype (or the finished product, if they want to risk going into production) – one example of each size – that they’ll check along with their “independent experts independent experts (in particular the Ecole Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne/EPFL).” The cost of shipping is picked up by the manufacturer.
Those experts will use a computerised measuring machine and computer-aided design to check that the prototype conforms to the approved technical drawings. The UCI say, “The measuring equipment will be also used at certain events on the UCI calendars in order to check that labelled frames and forks correspond to the registered models.”
If the model does not reflect the technical drawings, the manufacturer has six months to submit another prototype or they have to start the process over again. If the prototype is fine the manufacturer can apply the approval label… not just anywhere, though. The regulations say, “The location of the “UCI frame” label on the frame must be submitted to, and approved by, the UCI before it is applied to the model.”
Once done, “Only the manufacturer is permitted to re-enamel its frames and reapply the label in an identical manner and in the same location as that approved by the UCI. If the frame is re-enamelled by any party other than the manufacturer, it immediately loses its approval.”
Manufacturers won’t want to misuse the label by, for example, sticking it on unapproved bikes, because if they do the UCI could fine them 10,000-100,000 Swiss Francs (about £6,676 to £66,760).
The names of the approved models of frames and forks, together with the manufacturer’s name, the sizes checked and the date of the approval are added to the register of approved models, available from the UCI website. Simple, huh?
Tubular designs – ones which don’t involve any moulding – can bypass most of these steps. Manufacturers just need to submit an application form and give all the relevant dimensions.
None of this applies to models already manufactured and/or on the market, or already at the production stage. These existing models must still comply with the UCI regulations but they don’t need to be included on the list. The UCI say that any frame and fork already on the market in 2009 and 2010 can go through the procedure, though. A manufacturer might, for example, want UCI approval to help with marketing. The new procedure applies to road (including time trial), track and cyclocross bikes – not mountain bikes.
What’s the point of all this? The UCI give these benefits:
• Manufacturers are informed about the regulations in force before starting a production run of parts. The protocol facilitates and encourages the exchange of information between the manufacturer and the UCI, while guaranteeing the
confidentiality of information.
• The approval protocol offers an optimised approach and service to allow new equipment to be brought to market as quickly as possible.
• The labelling of frames and forks brings added value to the newly approved equipment.
• The approval offers reassurance to riders and future customers that the model complies with the regulations in force.
• The use of an approved frame authorises the licence holder to take part in any road, track or cyclo-cross event.
• The systematic verification of frames and forks during their development helps to reduce and facilitate the checks to be carried out by the commissaires before an event.
• The approval allows the manufacturer to avoid having his equipment rejected at the start of an event. Arguments about the compliance of new equipment are avoided.
Okay, those benefits are all fair enough, but what other consequences will this new approval procedure bring? We’ve not got a crystal ball (it’s just the way we walk) but what about this little lot of changes in the future?
• Will the bike companies just swallow those charges and take a hit on profits? No chance. The UCI’s charges will get passed straight on to the consumer.
• Will the charges be added to just the top-end frames that require UCI-approval? Nope, it's much more likely we’ll all end up paying.
• Big brands will be able to spread the cost over many thousands of different bikes. Smaller volume brands don’t have this option so their prices will increase more.
• Any brand producing monocoque frames will have to go through the full approval procedure on each one – that includes Specialized, Trek, Scott, Cervélo. But brands like Colnago and BMC who make their team bike frames from tubes will be able to go through the simplified procedure so the costs they pass on to the bike buying public could be lower.
• The possibility of using a bespoke frame will become more complicated. Pro riders sometimes use a made-to-measure frame that’s manufactured by a third party and made to look like a model from their official bike supplier’s range. Presumably, if they still want to do that, they’ll have to pay the 800 Swiss Francs to get a tubular design in their dimensions onto the approved list.
This one will run and run…
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a youthful 45-year-old Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.