I covered the subject of the new UCI bike rules on Monday. To summarise, new rules are coming that require anyone racing to have a frame that has been approved for use by the UCI. The manufacturer has to submit their wares to Switzerland for approval.
Anyone in a UCI-sanctioned road race, from the Tour de France right down to a midweek criterium in Australia – as every national federation adopts the UCI rules – has to take note. Especially since the rules apply now. I’ve spoken to the UCI about this and their response can be boiled down to one statement they gave me:
As a rider, you only have to check that you buy a frame that was manufactured before 2011 or that possess a label.
The rules exist to ensure standardisation, that the concept of a bicycle does not get too adventurous. I can live with this, although a risk is we look old-fashioned and let triathlon have all the innovation.
The matter came to a head when Alberto Contador saw his time trial bike banned last year during an early season race. He’d been training on it, only to see it taken away by the UCI commissaires, forcing him to adopt an older model frame from Specialized. For me this was a bit of a humiliation for Specialized, after all if they can’t read the basic rules on measurements and geometry laid down in the UCI rules then some might wonder if they can handle more sophisticated ideas like aerodynamics and torsional strain.
So some sort of UCI pre-approval could be a good idea. A manufacturer keen to avoid seeing their bike banned might well want to get the frame approved. A compliant frame then poses no problems for anyone.
Comply or die
But the UCI scheme applies to all road frames. If you buy any frame this year that’s not on the UCI’s list and go race on it then theoretically at least you risk being DQ’d.
Why does the the UCI need to approve every single frame being used? Instead I’d argue it should offer the approval and labelling service so manufacturers and consumers worried about a non-legal frame can eliminate the risk of a bike being banned. It’s very important for a big company that mass-produces something, considering the need to invest in moulds an plant.
But anyone else should be left free to ride whatever they like, so long as it complies with the rules. Rather than every frame builder in the world applying for a sticker, the onus is on them to build something and for a rider to get busy with a measuring tape.
This way the UCI simply does what it normally does and ensures that a rider and their bike comply with the rules on the day. This puts the onus on the individual to have the right bike but it doesn’t mean your local frame builder has to send CAD drawings and started sending sample frames for testing in Switzerland.
The labelling scheme should be optional, a way that allows risk-averse manufacturers assurance over compliance, thus avoiding embarrassment for the likes of Trek or Specialized. But the choice remains with frame builders. This will ensure a bigger choice of equipment for riders. Surely everyone wins?