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

And for pro teams, and bike shops

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. 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? 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.

Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.

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