UPDATE added below at 18:00 CET
I read about the scheme for UCI approval of bikes soon after it was announced and my first thought was that it sounded like an excessive procedure, that a governing body doesn’t need to validate equipment. After all, manufacturers can face prodigious law suits from customers if the product is defective. It’s not like high end equipment keeps getting released and defects are discovered.
Now there are some arguments in favour of the scheme, for example Alberto Contador’s Specialized time trial bike was “banned” because the geometry and dimensions of the tubing did not meet the UCI rules. Getting the frame approved in advance means no last minute worries, no longer will a rider see their machine confiscated at the starting house of a target time trial. But that is a humiliation for the manufacturer. A company that can’t read a rulebook and measure their own frame looks stupid enough already.
In short, the scheme looks like the answer for a question that few were asking. Worse, it appears to pose several serious issues for the sport and the manufacturers. It could thwart small companies and penalise racers from poor countries.
A dream come true for Giant, Specialized and Trek?
Far from levelling the playing field, the scheme risks handing power to big business at the expense of artisans and start-ups. Why? The bigger the company, the more it afford the costs associated, the more likely it has in-house lawyers, designers and CAD design teams who will be able to walk the frame through the UCI approval process. A smaller producer wanting to supply an U-23 team will find the hurdles to hard to overcome. Would an early-stage Cervélo or Cannondale have succeeded?
Is Your Bike Approved?
You might think this is all about special time trial bikes but no, it covers standard road bikes too. You might also think it’s something for the pros teams. But no, if you have a racing licence then these rules apply:
1.3.001 bis Each licence holder shall ensure that the equipment he uses on the occasion of road, track or cyclo cross events shall be approved by the UCI according to the specifications of the Approval Protocols in force and available on the UCI Website.
Note the reference to “each licence holder”. In theory anyone taking part in a race that falls under the UCI regulations now has to have a bike that complies with the regulations.
Or imagine a UCI race like the Junior Peace Race, an event held in the Czech republic. Is a 17 year-old Czech boy now obliged to get himself an approved bike in order to comply with the rules? What about the upcoming race in Gabon, La Tropicale Amissa Bongo? Will the teams from Kenya, Ivory Coast and Rwanda have to use approved bikes?
UPDATE – 18:00 Central European Time
I’ve got some answers to the questions above. If you want to race then you must:
a) use a frame or bike made before 2011 or;
b) if you buy a frame or bike in 2011 then it must be UCI-approved.
These are the rules and they apply to anyone taking part in a race held under UCI rules, ie any race run by a governing body that is a member of the UCI. Obviously the UCI does not imagine checking every race, especially your local amateur race, just as the minimum weight of 6.8kg is not enforced everywhere.
But if you race at a high level and get an unapproved team bike or if you buy your own bike this year from a company not on the list then you could get in trouble. Like I say, not for every small race but imagine race were something is at stake, for example a big U-23 race in Italy or the US Masters Road National Championships. If the winner was found to have used an unapproved frame then second placed rider would have grounds under the rules to get their rival disqualified.