UCI reveals cost of its "approved" frame stickers… How much?!!

How much does it cost for a Swiss bloke to get his precision tape measure out? Quite a lot says the UCI

by Mat Brett   January 10, 2011  

UCI logo on white

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…

18 user comments

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uci+fifa = out of control, do what they want robber barons

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [224 posts]
10th January 2011 - 22:43

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Is this a case of the UCI needs cycling, but cycling doesn't need the UCI!

posted by jimc101 [58 posts]
11th January 2011 - 8:48

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> 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.

Who is "we". I do not agree !!

If you want a pure competition between athletes then why allow any machines ? Why not stick to athletics ? Or issue a standard bike to all competitors (just allowing for different fitting: frame tube and stem lengths and different saddles).

Does not the UCI try to tread a line between what they want (mid-20th Century style track/road racing) and what the bike manufactures and sponsors want (wins/distinguishing products) and what the public wants (hence the inclusion of mountain biking).

posted by zoxed [62 posts]
11th January 2011 - 10:26

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Fair point zoxed, I don't particularly agree either but also partly because cycling as a sport is more than simply about physical prowess, it's about tactics, reading the conditions, making alliances and a load of other variables some of which might be mechanical (a puncture) others natural, rain, wind, etc etc… some of which fall somewhere in between - the state of the road.

Also given, that the laws of physics are immutable and that bike designers can only find out the same things in a wind tunnel or on a CAAD program the playing field in terms of mechanical advantage will always pretty much be level and certainly in a constant process of levelling.

The UCI should stick to sorting out the "man" side of this particular equation.

To be honest though I don't see why professional cycling and the bike industry need the UCI at all. What would they lose? The Olympics? Big deal. You could still have the world champs and the UCI could even run them the way they'd like too: everyone on round tubed bikes wearing wooly kit - be a nice novelty ending to the season.

Apart from that the bike industry, teams and promoters should just get together and tell the UCI blazers to swivel on the fat one… of an aspect ratio of their choosing of course.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4135 posts]
11th January 2011 - 10:45

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This is such classic UCI.

Step 1: Cause a problem by making vague and arbitrary rules aimed at making sure bike technology stays about a constant 20 years behind what it could be. (40 in the case of the hour record)

Step 2: Exacerbate the problem by making last minute rejections and changes but refuse to conduct any pre-production homologation.

Step 3: Solve the problem for the good of the sport (while ensuring that your nest gets plenty of feathers at the same time) but make it totally cack-handed just so they all remember who is in charge.

Why not have some sort of percentage based fee based on numbers of models sold, so that smaller manufacturers are not hit too hard unless they sell large numbers, and the cost is subsidised more by the larger manufacturers.

And does this extends through to all official events ? So anyone riding a race organised by a local federation would have to use a bike that has been through this process.
If so it could be death for a lot of small bike makers who won't have the time, money or resource to go through this.
Might that be the quid pro quo between the UCI and the big manufacturers - helping them to shut down the independent competition ?

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [516 posts]
11th January 2011 - 11:01

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Cycling doesn't need the UCI, but the UCI needs cycling. Indeed, the tracks and roads where cycling events are held are not owned by the UCI, they have no jurisdiction over them, nor do they over the manufacturers.

Restriction means containment of pressure and all pressure requires release. The only viable solution is equilibrium but that's not going to happen with stickers.

posted by 5339 [21 posts]
11th January 2011 - 11:51

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You don't believe in the primacy of man over machine? Really? You want an engineering competition, go and have an engineering competition in a lab somewhere - but that's not what bike racing is. What makes bike racing great is strength, fitness, tactics, guts, passion... not who is on the bike with the most effective down tube height: width ratio.

You want to watch a scientist in fully-fared recumbent beat Mark Cavendish on a flat stage of the Tour de France? Sounds wild!

Allowing manufacturers to innovate within the rules is all part of the fun and colour of bike racing, but you have to have parameters. Whether the UCI sets the right parameters is another matter.

The primacy of man over machine is at the heart of bike racing.

posted by Mat Brett [1862 posts]
11th January 2011 - 12:18

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Shame, on the surface of it that reads more like the UCI looking after itself more than cycling. I can see the sentiment, but poor implementation.

Where does it leave the little guys like Cy at Cotic and Kate Potter - is that the UCI's domain?

posted by stever [51 posts]
11th January 2011 - 12:46

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"A scientist on a recumbent beat Mark Cavendish on a flat stage of the Tour de France…" not very likely is it. I'd certainly be up for watching Cavendish in a recumbent taking on Andre Greipel in a recumbent - cos that's the way it would actually be. You really telling me that it would be less exciting - don't think so.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4135 posts]
11th January 2011 - 16:48

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Um, what I said was, bike racing has to be the primacy of man over machine. It has to be the best athlete who wins, not just the athlete on the best bike.

You can watch recumbent or HPV racing if that's your thing. Nothing stopping you.

But whatever you go for, someone has to set the parameters. Otherwise there's nothing to stop someone showing up at a cricket match with a 2ft wide bat, or a shot putter deciding to go with a shot that's a kilo lighter than everyone else's.

posted by Mat Brett [1862 posts]
11th January 2011 - 20:27

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UCI.......Bunch of t*ss*rs Big Grin

posted by BikerBob [115 posts]
11th January 2011 - 21:32

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If everyone's on upright bikes of vaguely the same shape and they have to pedal them, that's surely parameters enough. It's hard to imagine a technical improvement that would seriously dent the chances of the strongest/smartest rider winning. It's not as if someone's suddenly going to manage to make a bike that's half the weight of any of the others.

posted by David Portland [88 posts]
11th January 2011 - 23:17

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Sigh!.....................And we wonder why there is little growth in cycling.............

posted by Fatrider [3 posts]
12th January 2011 - 1:33

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If primacy of man over machine is the basic definition then any human powered vehicle is acceptable.

Otherwise you would have to eliminate all gears and other mechanical advantage.

The analogy to a bat is actually a good one - there's a maximum size and a maximum width and up to 10% of the materials can be something other than wood.

The manufacturers do their own certification and there are random checks. The rules are simple and easily interpreted.

The mistake here is that instead of making simple parameters and letting people innovate within them, the UCI is attempting to certify and regulate the actual innovations.

That's not asserting the primacy of man, it's asserting the primacy of the UCI.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [516 posts]
12th January 2011 - 4:56

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Er, no-one said the UCI get it right (see above). Said that someone has to state the parameters on equipment so no-one gets an unfair advantage. It's the same in every sport that involves equipment.

Simple, really.

posted by Mat Brett [1862 posts]
12th January 2011 - 8:35

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Ha ha ha ha, The sports on a level playing field because the tubes on the bikes are the same shape, aaaaaaaahahahahahaha.

The UCI, the most effective governing body in the world at missing the point.

Honestly, I call for mutiny.

posted by cheersbigears [8 posts]
12th January 2011 - 8:56

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So far as I can see, everyone agrees that there's a line and the only argument is over where it gets drawn. The UCI are much too stringent IMO, but i don't think completely derestricting the sport would necessarily be an improvement. I'm with DP: upright human-powered bikes and some basic rules about size and shape would do the trick for me.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7317 posts]
12th January 2011 - 10:24

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“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.”

It's a shame if this makes it too expensive to do little flair things like one-off "jersey bikes" for classification leaders in the Grand Tours...

posted by msw [125 posts]
12th January 2011 - 15:18

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