How the UCI bike rules should work

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.

The solution
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?

8 thoughts on “How the UCI bike rules should work”

  1. Frames constructed using tubes, are permitted to apply for up to 8 sizes, per application.
    Anything above this, requires additional applications to cover the qty & sizing.

    So for example : 52 – 62cm (in 1cm increments) in non sloping geometry = 11 "std" sizes.
    = 2 applications & fees.

    However, if you add custom sizes eg 53,5 seat tube, then each would require a new application to remain within the Qty/ UCI Application Approval Guidelines….

  2. Anonymous 1: yes, it is a sort of tax. Thinking aloud, has the UCI said where the revenue raised will go?

    Anonymous 2: I wonder if they have planned for this, how quick they can test every frame? Or whether most won't bother.

    Anonymous 3: it's complicated then. I don't see why a standard road frame needs pre-approval for use. Who benefits?

  3. A further point that hasn't been addressed is how long will the certification be valid for. The UCI has been known to change rules significantly from year to year. What is acceptable today may be out tomorrow. While these changes don't affect road bikes as much as TT bikes, you have to wonder.

    If I was a small TT bike manufacturer (like Guru), I'd probably say screw the UCI, and focus entirely on the tri market. They buy far more TT equipment than road racers.

    With the model you suggest, though it is far easier on the small & mid level manufacturers, you are putting the onus on the consumer. These things typically don't fly. When one purchases items, one expects compliance, be it for electrical safety, suitability, or legality; this is what regulatory bodies and certifications are for. If it doesn't have the mark, than it is buyer beware.

    Of course the UCI isn't really a regulatory agency, and as pointed out, they will be sorry they've started this rats nest once they have to administer it.

    But back to the point, hundreds of thousands of individuals (world wide racers) should not need to pour through the rules, break out measuring tapes, calipers, and protractors. The rules will most likely not be that clearly understood by the layman, and in some cases may not be so easy to accurately measure.

    Without a sticker, the individual then has the risk of getting hassled by the local race officials each and every time they go to a race. And what are the chances that the officials will properly understand and apply the rules?

    So, in essence even the smaller players will need to apply for certification, because otherwise it puts the onus on the consumer, so they need the sticker for purposes of sales and marketing. Otherwise many of these consumers will say why bother/why risk my investment and will purchase a known quantity rather than risk it.

    This is a hobby for most people, who are most likely to follow the course of least resistance.

    This whole UCI program, no matter how you apply it, is total BS.

  4. I can see complications for a TT frame but a normal road frame should be easy enough to check if it is compliant.

    This is indeed a very strange thing. Worse, it has been introduced without consultation and almost overnight.

  5. At what point do the race organizers, team sponsors, bike manufacturers, and riders just say screw the UCI and form their own professional league? What is going to push them over the edge? Race radios, bike design regulations, inspection fees, ProTour, mandatory participation, bribery, Pat McQuaid, approved apparel, world expansion?

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