New UCI rule 'clarification' spells trouble for British Cycling, bike makers and YOU!

And for pro teams, and bike shops

by Tony Farrelly   June 16, 2009  

UCI Technical Regulations (cover)

Yesterday, while the cycling world waited for it to come down hard on dopers, the UCI published its Technical Regulations for Bicycles – A Practical Guide To Implementation, which may end up coming down hard on the rest of us instead.

From January 2010 any bike used in road, time trial, cyclo-cross or track competiton has to be available to purchase.

This is what the regulations say: "It must be marketed (i.e. available for sale on the market) or marketable (i.e. available for sale directly from the manufacturer, by subscription or through an alternative distribution network). Prototypes and the use of equipment specially designed for a particular athlete, event or performance is prohibited. 'Special design' means a bicycle with a "technical added value when compared with other equipment."

At a stroke this would take out a fair chunk of the bikes and equipment currently being used in the pro road races and time trials – even those that meet the UCI's technical rules. Much of what is being raced now is the prototype of next year's, or even the year after's, production bike.

The upshot of this is that if manufacturers can't test new designs under race conditions there isn't much point of coming up with new designs - and race proven technology ends up being used on more than just race bikes. 

There would be numerous unintended consequnces too - one of which ironically might be that aero bikes get much more aero… but more on that later.

The intended consequences of the new regs are not just aimed at the road pro's bikes: unless they start selling them in Halford's some time soon, Team GB's track bikes will be illegal come January 1.

road.cc contacted British Cycling and a spokesperson told us that the organisation “won't be issuing a statement on this document until we are fully clear on how it will affect us, although we welcome the fact that we will be operating within far clearer rules.”

The implications for Team GB look to be potentially severe – they may be only diagrams in a rule book but if taken as gospel the UCI's interpretation of what a track bike should look like is something from the 1940s - which it may be.

Indeed, some in the industry believe that the new Technical Regulations are not aimed primarily at the pro peloton, or the big bike manufacturers, and by extension much of the cycling public, but are actually an attempt to put a spoke in the wheel of Team GB.

Sounds far-fetched? Well here's what Tyler Pilger, Road Product Manager for Trek, the man who headed up the re-birth of the Madone and who oversees all Trek's new road bikes, told us: "I think the main issue revolves around who the UCI's true constituents are – the National Federations (definitely not the average license holder). National cycling federations get a majority of their funding from their nation's overall sports federation which is mainly focused on the Olympics.  

"Some national federations have put significant resources into track cycling in recent years and updating the technologies their athletes have access to. Other National federations have cried foul and so the Aero topic has come to the UCI's attention. 

"This pushes the UCI to try and create a "level" playing field when it comes to technology for track events... it just so happens the rest of the road disciplines get to follow.  

"To me it is ironic that Olympic Track racing, which is having challenges even maintaining its place in the Olympics, is forcing the rest of the cycling world to live in decades past. I think cycling is different than most sports in that a much higher percentage of people that follow the sport take part in it. Because of that, the average spectator has a lot of interest in the equipment in addition to the riders. 

"I think significantly limiting the equipment at the Pro Tour level removes some of the excitement. The UCI has different rules for Pro Tour events in many ways, I think it would be more exciting if they considered this in their technical rules as well."

At the moment manufacturers use team to test equipment in real world race condtions – if it passes that test they sell it to us. If the UCI's rules were followed to the letter the big advance in next year's bike would be that it was blue instead of red.

"On prototypes, the rule is currently very vague and we are waiting on clarification," Tyler Pilger siad. "Does it have to be in production the moment it is raced? By end of calendar year? Same model year? Quantity....do we have to sell 1? 100? 100,000? 

"It is disappointing from an R&D perspective.  Regarding dimensional rules, we do our best to stretch the rules but actually stay within the limits.  We believe that our current production TTX and the Speed Concept ridden at the Dauphiné both meet the strict UCI dimensional rules.  I think this will be challenging for several brands who we believe are outside the current regulations. 

"In addition, several of the morphologically related rules are far too strict requiring a significant number of smaller and larger riders to ask for exemptions.  Take the 5cm saddle setback rule.  That setback will place a larger rider into a Tri type forward position but for a smaller rider they are forced to maintain a much more traditional position.  Similar results for opposite reasons with the 75cm rule on bar position.  So this type of rule actually creates inequality… the opposite of the goal.”

The new rules now take us to a point where the clarification needs clarification.

“Many of the rules are vague, they do not discuss how or where to measure (especially at tube intersections).  There are mentions of 3:1 ratios but boxes shown are 2.5:8, says Pilger.

And then there's enforcement which may or may not be everybody's 'get out of jail' card:

“Many of the rules have been in place," he said. "Fortunately the UCI had one too many balls in the air and did not focus on aero requirements for a significant period of time.  Unfortunately, once they decided to take interest, the notifications come very quickly compared to manufacturer's ability to respond. 

“I understand they should be able to enforce any current rule at a moment's notice (fortunately our bikes and components comply), but the new rules regarding handle bar "pad stack" and "prototype" wording. Lastly, how are they going to measure the bikes at the races? There have never been any fixtures or description of measurement method. Formula 1 and Nascar have very strict dimensional rules.”

So where do we go from here? Well, if the rules are as starkly black and white as they appear to be, the future looks bleak for the future development of the road racing bike. 'Disappointing from an R&D perspective' would be something of an understatement.

Ironically things don't look so bleak for time trial bikes: “If current and suggested rules end up being enforced, I think Tri athletes are going to definitely end up with more technology than UCI based riders.… I do see some level of divergence and I think product will reflect that at some point,” commented Pilger.

Luckily most of the world's time triallists don't race under the auspices of the UCI. Those that do race under UCI rules will have to do so on aero bikes that aren't especially aero and those that make their bikes will have to find a market for an “aero” bike that isn't, or else that bike will be illegal too  - a situation the UCI will no doubt have to clarify at some point.

11 user comments

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Quote:
Some national federations have put significant resources into track cycling in recent years and updating the technologies their athletes have access to. Other National federations have cried foul...

so this is basically about knocking BC off its track perch then? talk about a sledgehammer to crack a nut Thinking

cactuscat's picture

posted by cactuscat [303 posts]
16th June 2009 - 17:11

4 Likes

What makes this all particularly pointless is that given the limitations of the diamond frame bicycles – whatever you do it can only be made to a finite point of aerodynamic efficiency (the Lotus bike is still the most aero competition bike) and pretty soon a true level playing field would be established again.

The laws of physics being immutable once the point of maximum aerodynamic efficiency has been reached that's it… assuming of course that we all want to stick with the diamond frame - otherwise we could have the pros whizzing around in faired recumbents (there was a fella on an unfaired one towing people around Castle Combe tonight with ease) which would be fun but in which case they'd either have to make the Tour a two week race or possibly do a couple of laps.

I have heard a couple of pro riders supporting the UCI's position on the basis that otherwise the teams with the biggest budgets would be able to buy an advantage and win - which rather flies in the face of the reality that the teams with the biggest budgets win now by the simple method of buying all the best riders, mechanics, managers etc etc

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4144 posts]
16th June 2009 - 23:03

2 Likes

Actually that's wrong, although innovation is severely limited in terms of double diamond for aerodynamics, it still is a fantastic platform in terms of stiffness and ride characteristics. Not only that, but bikes like the Lotus Boardman bike are now being surpassed by the next generation of aero bikes like the Cervelo P4. Yes, the P4 is more aero than the Lotus.

posted by EternalShadowAW [1 posts]
17th June 2009 - 1:00

3 Likes

Quote:
Yes, the P4 is more aero than the Lotus.

well, according to cervelo it is. they've never gone head to head in a controlled test, so far as i'm aware?

Barry Fry-up's picture

posted by Barry Fry-up [187 posts]
17th June 2009 - 9:18

3 Likes

True, but we are talking aerodynamics here. I've spoken to some of the people who design these bikes and off the record they will say that there is only so much that can be done to aero optimise a double diamond frame - it's no coincidence that so many top end TT bikes are starting to look the same (much, I should imagine, to the horror of bike company marketing departments). Once that point is reached everything else in terms of aero optimisation is just hype.

As to ride optimisation and stiffness no argument that bikes can still get better not only can ride characteristics still be improved but so can durability. But in terms of anyone getting a decisive advantage their are only a few sources of top end carbon fibre and they are available to anyone who can pay for it, ditto the means of production, aside from Giant which actually builds bikes - pretty much everyone else has a Taiwanese or Chinese factory do it for them. So again, I see no-one gaining a a massive edge in this because the expertise is outside their hands.

Even if the rules were relaxed and one manufacturer was able to make a bike so much better than everyone else that it would give them a significant advantage, that advantage would last a season before it was copied. At the end of the day a better rider will always count more than a better bike. The only bike that will give an average rider an advantage over a good one is a recumbent and it's very likely we are going there.

I'm sure you are right about the P4, I based that comment on a conversation with Jim Felt who when he was designing his time trial bike a few years back took all the most "aero" bikes up until that point and tested them in the wind tunnel at that point the Lotus still came out on top.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4144 posts]
17th June 2009 - 9:44

3 Likes

I wonder if this is going to be applied to the likes of Graeme Obree's hour record attempt, and the bike he has built for it?

If so it would appear that the UCI will again crap on him at the last minute for his impertinence at being creative and innovative.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
17th June 2009 - 12:55

1 Like

so what happens to the custom frame builders? and does it mean you cant race a custom built bike,, best keep an eye in the classifieds for the glut of illeagle bikes

i have been in motorsport for too long and we always have hologmation specials where you sign a promise to build x number of motorbikes etc to race in superbike,,

how many does the uci want people to sell?

lets hope they dont get their claws into mountainbikes? imagine that,, all on late 80's hardtails

posted by ade ward [4 posts]
17th June 2009 - 18:24

4 Likes

I don't think it will affect custom builders that much, except possibly those that build re-badged specials. If you're not racing under UCI rules this won't affect you.

The big problem as I see it is that this would seen not only removes the incentive for the big companies to spend money on R&D, it actively makes it harder to develop new bikes because the pro scene is the ultimate test bed for these products.

In the long run that has a detrimental effect on the bikes available for us to buy, whether you race or not, and even, given the trickle down of technology, whether you even ride a race bike.

Whether the UCI can pull this off remains to be seen - I doubt it, but if they could roll the clock back they would I'm sure. Let's not forget that they tried to ban the compact not long ago, and they effectively stopped development of the recumbent for 50 years when they banned such machines in the 30s after a fairly middling French rider started kicking serious arse using one on the track.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4144 posts]
17th June 2009 - 18:39

1 Like

does the bcf have to adopt the uci regulations for british events ?

posted by ade ward [4 posts]
17th June 2009 - 20:54

3 Likes

I stand to be corrected but I think that it would only be national championship level races that would be affected over here.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4144 posts]
17th June 2009 - 21:40

2 Likes

Update: We're currently working on a follow up to this story we're speaking to other bike manufacturers and have also contacted the UCI for a response, so far we've heard nothing back from them, but we will keep on trying. As to whether the UCI changes will affect those taking part in the domestic race scene here's what British Cycling told road.cc:

"All UCI events including National Championships will fall in line with the Technical Regulations in question from the dates the UCI have notified. British Cycling will take a view on when or if the regulations will be enforced in domestic events via relevant commissions. Usually such changes are gradually phased in to domestic events so as not to place an unnecessary financial burden on members."

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4144 posts]
30th June 2009 - 9:06

3 Likes