In the third part of our exclusive interview with Pat McQuaid, the UCI President talks about technical innovation in cycle sport and the regulations that surround it.
The UCI sets the rules regarding the bikes and equipment used in UCI-sanctioned events, the best known of which is the minimum weight limit of 6.8kg for a road bike. At the start of last year, they introduced a new frame approval programme. Since then, for a new frame to be race-legal, the manufacturer has to submit it to the UCI for prior approval. If it complies with the rules, the frame gets an ‘approved’ sticker and it’s included on a list of approved products on the UCI’s website.
The UCI have also stated that they intend to extend this programme out to other equipment over time.
How do you respond to those in the bike industry who say that the UCI approved bike frame sticker programme stifles innovation, will deny smaller companies entry to the market, is bad for the cycle industry and is bad for the wider cycling community? I should add that these sentiments are expressed by senior people in companies taking part in the programme.
You may be hearing that from some senior people in the industry but we’re hearing the opposite. I’m hearing from senior people in the industry that they understand the UCI’s decision, they understand why the UCI is doing what it does, and why the UCI regulates the sport of cycling.
We only regulate the sport of cycling. Manufacturers are free to make what they want for leisure cyclists whenever they want, in whatever shape they want. We regulate the sport, and we have a philosophy behind the reasons for regulating the sport. That philosophy is that the sport is for athletes against athletes. and we therefore have to control a lot of the innovations, particularly innovations in relation to aerodynamics.
Other innovations – like electric gears – we’ve allowed because they don’t affect the athlete on the bike. Innovations that materially affect and give advantage to the athlete, we won’t allow. The industry understands that and is prepared to work with us on that, and we’ve a good relationship with the industry.
I’m not close enough to be able to give a really strong opinion but I don’t believe anything we have done is a negative towards small manufacturers.
Would you accept that continuous technical innovation in all aspects of bikes and kit is part and parcel of cycling and is a key part of what interests many people about cycle sport?
It still goes back to the philosophy of the sport of cycling. Technical innovations are certainly important but if we were to allow the sport to be driven by the market, goodness knows what sort of a bike guys would be racing on in 10 years’ time.
We understand there is a commercial market out there. The manufacturers are competing against each other and they’re looking for a technical advantage all the time, and that’s normal. But we can’t be the ones that suffer as a result of that.
So, what we’re trying to do is to globalise the sport and create new markets for the sport, and the industry understands this. Mike Sinyard at Specialized [founder and chairman] spoke to me on the phone a couple of weeks ago and he said, “Pat, we are completely behind what the UCI is doing at the moment” – in terms of [developing the sport in] Asia, places like that – “because that’s where we want to be and that’s where our markets are.”
So we’re working to develop the sport worldwide. That’s to the commercial advantage of the manufacturers. In return they must understand that we’ve a philosophy that the sport is about athletes. And they understand that this philosophy forces us to restrict the development of bikes to a certain extent.
A lot of brands in the bike industry started off as guy in workshop having an idea. Does the UCI’s sticker programme risk stifling that?
Not necessarily, no. I think that if a small manufacturer has a light bulb moment and [the product] can aid the bike in its forward movement without affecting the aerodynamics or the athlete, then there’s no reason it wouldn’t be allowed.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.