Don’t buy that bike

Frame design

Having covered the bikes ridden by the pros and the subtle geometric differences on Monday comes the news from the UCI that it is pushing ahead with its approval scheme for bikes. It was first announced, then put on hold, the reviewed and now we have the third version. Third time lucky?

To summarise, every licence holder competing in a race will no longer have to have a bike that complies with the regulations, they’ll have to have a bike with a sticker to prove it complies with the rules. More detail is on a previous post, Is Your Bike Banned? In the meantime, don’t buy that new bike yet in case it doesn’t have a magic sticker.

Now the scheme is to go ahead, albeit with substantially reduced costs. I was concerned the scheme was a money spinner but the latest UCI press release states the fees are only to cover the costs. Good to see this point finally addressed but it’s not the end of the matter. For as things stand if a company wants to take an OEM or generic frame and spray it in its own colours then the frame will require approval by the ultimate re-seller as opposed to the original manufacturer. So a generic Taiwanese time trial frame could get approved ten separate times. Maybe no one gets rich but it’s bordering on bureaucracy.

UCI decal
Get a sticker or else you're stuck

Nevertheless, reduced costs or not, this is still a compulsory scheme. I don’t get why it has to be obligatory. Yes offer it to manufacturers so they can be sure their products conform to the regulations on frame design but saying to a racer that they can’t compete on their shiny new bike because it’s missing a sticker is a sure-fire way to send them straight into the world of cyclosportives, gran fondo rides and centuries.

With shrinking budgets, rising traffic and fast-growing substitutes for racing, surely the last thing the sport needs is an additional barrier?

28 thoughts on “Don’t buy that bike”

  1. A) I am awaiting to hear more from the smaller manufacturers (De Rosa, La Pierre, Kuota, and even new comers such as Cipollini and Boardman) who I would not expect to have the deepest of pockets. If bike manufacturers (okay – most are just designers buying form a few OEM’s) start to pull out of sponsoring teams or providing bikes to teams, then this is going be to the huge advantage of the big kids on the block. Think of it this way – if the smaller manufacturers finally pull out, then lower level and smaller teams are going to:

    A) Have to pay for bikes of their choice to be approved (not likely)
    B) Pay and purchase bikes from teams large manufacturers with pre-approved designs.

    What a bonus for Trek, Specialized, Giant etc… They pay to have certain stock designs approved, and then without having to provide or pay for a thing, get the free advertising (from teams they have decided not to sponsor) riding around on their pre-approved stock bikes.

    Secondly – this only applies to UCI races. Not sure that A) this would impact the average, amateur racer; b) those impacted are being paid to race, and are not in it to ride centuries.

    The fear is that this is going to drive money from the sport, and drain team budgets for those not one of the select few teams actually lucky enough to be sponsored. It is not going to drive racers from the urge and act of racing.

  2. “With shrinking budgets, rising traffic and fast-growing substitutes for racing, surely the last thing the sport needs is an additional barrier?”

    This is so spot on! In many countries cycling is getting more and more popular, but instead of capitalising on that and and get more people involved with the sport they seems to do everything to frighten them away.

  3. Colorado Goat: it’ll apply to any race under UCI rules, that includes all USA Cycling races. Under the rules “any licence holder” of a UCI-member federation will be bound. Whether this is enforced is another matter, and an equal concern because rules that can’t be enforced just make the rules a “pick and choose” zone.

    cthulhu: yes. I can’t see a single reason to apply this rule beyond World Tour races.

    beev: I’ve spoken to a few companies and an email poll reveals plenty can’t be bothered although I suspect some will be forced to take part.

  4. UCI is run by a bunch of old dudes that get all weird when watching Spartacus reruns… The rules in place for frames sizes is more to define their ideal sun drenched oiled up gladiator, than it is ensuring equality.

    And that’s just the tip of the “hasta”.


  5. I was going to write unbelievable, but then I remembered we are talking about the UCI… the most inept sports administration in the history of all sports administrations led by the biggest Dud of a President any sport could possible hope for. They can’t be serious! They single handedly put a stop to artisan wheel builders buy putting similar completely unrealistic, very expensive and thoroughly badly thought out tests on all wheels. These wheel builders produced some of the finest wheels known to man, but because they couldn’t afford to provide a dozen sets of their wheels to the UCI for the drop concrete slabs on and pay the administration expenses, their wheels are no longer legal. The same thing is going to happen to small master craftsman who lovingly and expertly hand build frames where you can’t see the welds. Fair dinkum, you’d think the UCI would want to be promoting the sport and encouraging people to ride and to race instead of trying to line their pocket and prove the own worth (to themselves). I’ve got $1000 to start a fund to oust McDud from the UCI… maybe we kindnapp him and test his tolerances to see if we can put a UCI sticker on his ass!

  6. gildasd: interesting comparison!

    The Pelican: yes, the wheels has been something different but I’ve yet to see them stickered. It’s a rule that’s not enforced.

    Adrian: yes, another example but a swimsuit is what US$30? A bike is perhaps 30, maybe 300, times more expensive. Plus the swimsuit is there to ensure equal speed in the water. An approved frame is not necessarily faster or slower.

  7. The high swim suits are closer to $300.
    I don’t see a problem with bike approval it just seems the process is a bit silly. As you mentioned, a bike like my TT bike is available from at least half a dozen brands. It should get approved once. In a few years the UCI will figure out how to streamline the process. It is sad that it will take years.
    There are rules governing frames, now that frames come out of a mould it reasonable to approve the mould/design. In the long run this can save companies money. If cervelo had had the P4 checked before hand maybe the design wouldn’t have included an illegal bottle.

  8. Jratt: the rules say it has to be under the lacquer, so don’t forget a bottle of clearcoat too.

    Adrian: that’s a point I’ve made before ( namely we could let big firms pay for the testing. That way they get assurance that the design is ok and don’t suffer the embarrassment of seeing their new frames banned from competition. It makes financial sense for big companies in the spotlight of team sponsorship… but it’s not an issue for the small guys.

  9. I think you’re being a little hyperbolic in the 2nd paragraph – if you ride a (compliant) bike produced before 2011, you’re neither expected nor required to have a sticker, right?

    We already discussed this on Twitter, but if the approval scheme is optional, it may open another avenue for UCI corruption – pay for the sticker and get your questionable design approved, don’t pay and get harassed at races. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of room to do questionable things, but no one will be told race-day that their frame isn’t compliant like Astana was with the Shiv last year.

  10. Jeremy: yes, you’re right. See the summary I linked to ( where there’s more detail, including the exemption for older bikes but for the sake of brevity I left out all the rules. That’s why the headline’s “don’t buy that bike” and not “you need to buy a new bike”.

    The UCI tell me: “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”. Since people are buying frames right now but without stickers it creates a bit of a vacuum.

    As for the corruption issue, that’s true and you’d expect most big names to submit to the scheme not for negative reasons but just so they don’t get bad press. As I wrote on another piece about this, if a bike company can’t master the UCI rules on measurements, then it doesn’t say a lot about their ability to grasp more complex things like aerodynamics etc.

  11. I think in the case of Specialized, you had a conscious decision to probe the boundaries of what the race-day commissioners will and won’t declare illegal. That the Transition was also declared illegal (without mods) in 2010 when it had been raced the entirety of the previous year points to the problem – the rules are too complex to apply quickly in the field.

    I still don’t understand how some (seemingly) UCI green-lit frames got to be so.

  12. This hammers a little bit on your original post too…But I don’t think it was ever a humiliation for manufacturers to have their bike banned. It was a bunch of free publicity as they tried to skirt rules that up until that point were weakly enforced.

    As a commenter on another website pointed out concerning the costs involved: “The mere fact that you can cut the rate by more than half and still operate the program tends to fly in the face of any statements that the UCI wasn’t making a cash grab.”

    Also as some have pointed out, this really cuts out the small time frame builder and the custom frame market as a whole.

    I understand its usefulness for the professional field but it has no place in the amateur ranks. I can just imagine the jokes at the startline as guys ask each other if their bike is “approved”. But then at the finish when some moron gets sore for getting pipped at the line decides to cry because the other guy didn’t have a sticker.

  13. Where this will really cause issues in racing is going to be in Cyclocross here in the states (if they decide to start mandating this for cyclocross in the future). Because of the nature of the sport and its participants, it has attracted quite a sizable number of competitive riders using customer built steel frames in USA Cycling sanctioned races. If INRNG is correct, and this would apply to NRC events, then this is going to basically end the ability of many, many customer builders to build frames for any consumer at all thinking about racing with that frame.

    In addition, because they are custom, each individual frame is going to require an individual inspection. See ya later the likes of Van Dessel, Richard Sachs, Vanilla (Speedvagen), Shamrock, Penguin, Independent Fabrications etc….

    And if this goes to the track…see you later Tiemeyer here in Colorado.

  14. Jesus: I meant custom builders…not customer builders. Now that would be scary… Builder to customer: “here ya go , take this here blow torch and have at it with these here steel tubes. Good luck with your frame!”

  15. Jeremy: those troubles are the genesis of the ruling.

    Gillis: I also asked on here if it was a “money spinner” ( But in their defence they more frames being tested and a simpler test means it gets done cheaper. At least we get confirmation that nobody’s getting rich.

    Colorado Goat: yes, the UCI tell me it will apply to every road and cross race. All member federations, eg US Cycling, Fédération Francaise de Cyclisme, Cycling Australia, RFEC etc are meant to uphold the UCI rules. I’ve discussed this with the UCI and they’ve stated it is for everyone. We’ll see whether it’s enforced at local levels. What’s weird is that it already applies to bikes but people can’t buy a 2011 bike with a UCI decal yet.

  16. Here is an angle I was mulling over. As a result of outsourcing, there are a growing number of smaller, start-up design shops pumping out frames from the Asian boys in Taiwan (Giant, Merida, Kinesis etc..), and selling them for much less than the branded guys (Trek, Specialized, Bianchi, Cannondale down the line).

    Companies such as Blue, Fezzari, Pedal Force, Ritte, Van Dessel, Masi hell, even BikesDirect) have jumped into the market based on the fact that most consumers are becoming more informed about how bikes are manufactured and designed. Save for the highest level bikes, most are pre-designed bikes with various carbon weave options, molding options etc…

    Consumers (especially most amatuer racers) are kind og catching onto the fact that there is a price premium for often very little if any benefit for spending the additional dollars for Frame A which comes out of the same factory as a frame from small, generic company B.

    Here I actually feel for the large companies somewhat, as they are the ones spearheading the R&D, spending money on sponsoring the sport, and along comes some small guy, basically piggy backing off of the backs of the bigger guys. It is harder and harder each year for the big guys to make enough advances in frame design to justify to consumers why they should pay a premium.

    Well – one thing the small guys do not have are deep pockets. Margins are thin, and any additional cost to manufacturer and put out a race qualified bike is going to have to be recouped through sales. If you are Trek, this fixed cost per frame can be spread over so many bikes as to dampen the blow. But if you are Blue, this could potentially add a hefty chunk to any given price of the frame, and potentially, eliminate or at least reduce some of this competitive advantage.

    If certain smaller manufacturers cannot afford to pre-approve their bikes for general public uyse in races, this is going to be a problem for many smaller manufacturers.

    Which leads me ultimately to my interest into the true feelings from the large manufacturers on this UCI fee? Was this entire idea originally brought to the forefront by the likes of Specialized, Trek, Dorel Industries? I can see them making the case to McQuaid that unless something changes, bikes will be commoditized, and the money from the manufacturers supporting many of the teams in the lower and upper levels of pro cycling will dry up. This is money that regardless of scandal, will remain in the sport because it is the ultimate method to get your name out for a cycling specific business. But if all that time and effort is being undercut by some guy with enough capital to pre-order 5,000 carbon stock frames from the same manufacturer you have your bikes built, then the ROI on any marketing decision is lowered, which reduces the incentive to support the sport at the pro competition level.

  17. Colorado Goat: I agree although I don’t see a conspiracy. But I do see large companies being happy with the scheme, being able to use staff to navigate the rules, to fund the compliance work – not just the fees but the design, correspondence, hand-holding etc – out of small change, whilst others find this a real hike in costs and a big distraction in time spent. That said, if there’s no conspiracy the largest companies are not going to lobby against this and if they call the UCI, someone picks up the phone.

  18. Here is my biased opinion*:

    Feeder series: The lower you go, the more limits there should be:

    Beginner: Alloy frame and wheels – bike must not cost more than 1000 Euros – No tubulars- no ceramic bearings – no titanium pedals – 1 team car – 2 triangles frame shape.
    TT = Clip ons on standard bike.
    Minimum weight 9 Kilos

    Amateur: Alloy wheels – bike must NOT cost more than 2000 Euros – 1 team car – 2 triangles frame shape.
    TT = Clip ons + Aero helmet on standard bike.
    Minimum weight 8 Kilos

    Advanced amateurs: Bikes must not cost more than 2500 Euros – 1 team car.
    TT = TT bike must not cost more than 2500 Euros.
    Minimum weight 7,5 Kilos

    Elite: Bikes must not cost more than 4000 Euros – 2 team cars.
    TT = TT bike must not cost more than 4000 Euros.
    Minimum weight 6,8 Kilos

    Pro: No limit.
    TT: No limit
    Minimum weight 6,8 Kilos

    Remember that even if the limit is 1000 Euros, once you add in the spare bike and wheels, you are still looking at a fair bit of cash… Yet a poor yet talented kid should be able to compete “on par” with a 3rd hand bike he bought doing paper rounds/walking dogs against richer kids.

    – Frame with NO ballast must weigh a minimum of 1Kg (actually there should be minimums on handle bars, fork, stem and seat tube).
    – Invoices must be provided and will be checked if a claim is done by another team.
    – Frame geometry rules must not be advantageous to a certain body type (as the present ones are). And checked if a claim by another team is made.
    – As long as the rider and the wheels are in the “right” place, freedom to experiment.
    – Production frames tested for security, custom frames given a waiver dependent on materials and methods used (you can’t have the same rules for a 30 bikes/year builder and GIANT).
    – 3/1 Rule (the UCI got that one right).
    – Disk brakes allowed. Safety checks on the ability of the riders ability to brake ( some carbon + cork combos are stupid dangerous – yet used – notice i did not say “bikes”).
    – The cost limit does not include “safety parts”: brake cable, housings, pads, tyres or innertubes. BUT restriction if someone start using silk tubulars in a feeder series… Checked if a claim is made by another team.

    Other cost/safety aspects:
    – A rider can get “red carded” for being dangerous – and must forfeit the next race of the same level he was entered in.
    – No car in the peleton, if the rider wants something he or a team mate goes back to the car.
    – Jersey difference rules (N°1 team get to chose then N°2 etc – to stop the SKY, GARMIN, LEOPARD fiasco…).
    – No Radios.

    “but I can’t race my 9000 euro bike in a feeder series, and beat kids on 9Kg un-aero beaters! Waiiiil!
    First, you are a minority and you can afford a 1000 euro training bike.
    Secondly, you can’t drive a Bugatti Veyron or a C62 in endurance FIA endurance races – too much power, traction control, ABS, active suspenstions, active diffs that are race illegal.
    Thirdly even if you bought a pretty expensive bike, odds on that the training wheels and saddle that came with it would fit even in the lowest cat. And then you get for 150/200 euros a 2 year old second hand bike that when sold fitted the 1000 Euros rule… Hell, the total expenditure would be less than a Zipp front rim (not even a full wheel).

    The basic idea is to get people to spend more on training and more people to start competing while providing a great show even in the feeder series (like FFord/F3/F2/F1 in the glory days of autoracing). Manufacturer make less profit per bike, but sell more of them. And every time you go UP a category, most people will change up.

    A lot of the UCI rules makes sense (fairings, structural rules, gearing for juniors etc) and should be carried over as is. It’s not because the UCI is run by old men that have seen too many “Spartacus” reruns that they always get it wrong.

    And yeah, reinstate Obree’s records – until then, they are a bunch old men that have seen too many “Spartacus” reruns.


    *I was hit by the UCI’s hour record temper tandrum. What a bunch of tossers.

  19. Dear gildasd, so who’s going to officiate this kind of setup. Even at the highest levels of the sport, getting competent commissaires is a challenge. There’s plenty of work for the officials already without adding hours – will you turn up to a race 2 or 3 hours earlier so your invoices can be checked? – of inspecting prior to racing. And when a young amateur moves to advanced then elite, a new bike for each jump? I’m a Commissaire and you’re dreamin’. I’m a father of twins who’ve moved from amateur to Elite in less than 2 years and, again, you’re dreamin’.

  20. In fact, I’d make the rules so riders police themselves. Basically, you race what you what you want in good faith. BUT, the other teams have the possibility of of making a protest on your equipement if it seems out of order. Plus a few random checks… A kind of “win win” enforcing must be thought up.
    But most of the stuff is easy to enforce and other riders can scan visually for anything weird. If I can weed out cheaters, my eyes will be a scanning!

    This works in auto racing – most notably in Lemon Racing – where the threat of public shaming and losing your car works wonders (to the point people replace parts that look too flash with ones that look cheap and old just to be able to focus on racing – and not sweating to have to get throu notoriously overly strict commisaires).

    Have your twins keept the same bike from Amateur to Elite? And if you look at my method, the higher you go, the less limits there are… And apart from the price, most of the present UCI regulation is carried over? Do you comply with that regulation? Are your kids saddle far back enough? Are none of your components over 3/1?.. So it would not be a big change, except the first step would be cheaper.

    I do triathlon, and the fastest relative bike split I ever did was on a 10Kg all alloy bike that cost a 1000 Euros with no aero anything… I blowing past people on 8000 Euro uber bikes. It was just I had done everything perfect that day and the month before – and if you know anything about racing, that’s worth more than the theorical few percent that the best equipement could give you.
    In fact for an elite rider, once the bike is under 9kg, weight does not really matter anymore. Getting it to fit, turn, brake, change gears “just like I want” is way more important.

    Disclaimer, I have since graduated to a ex protour Felt DA and F1, but I still enjoy beating cappucino tossers on flash bikes with my 11kg, 28mm tyres, 48 big ring cyclocross bike…

  21. “In fact, I’d make the rules so riders police themselves”

    That would be wonderful, but unfortunately my experience of 43 years of racing and officiating suggests that very few riders or team managers either know, or care to know the rules, unless a rule goes against them. Then they become experts, even in the face of the documentation. More often they are expert at stretching everthing, particularly so at junior level, when enthusiastic (new to cycling) parents become instant coaches and equipment specialists.

    Chasing up bikes after the fact is impossible, except for the place getters. How then do we ensure all the team members – the breakaways, the team pacers, the blockers – working for the winner, are all compliant?

    The rules the UCI have now would be OK if they were written in English first and then translated to French – not the other way. The language of love is very poor for technical and legal documents. The intent is good, but the language is dreadfully ambiguous – are aero bars meant to be horizontal, or just the arms which rest on them?; how deep can the frame gussetting actually be?; what’s the difference between a “standard” wheel and a “traditional” wheel? And they must stop making rules that are unenforceable.

  22. That’s why rules have to simple and easy to enforce – some of the rules of the UCI might look good on paper, but how to do force a 1m65 woman to have her saddle 5cm behind the BB? The angle method proposed on Slowtwitch woulb be easier to enforce and fairer for example. But before the UCI admits that the rule needs to be modified…

    So limiting the “normal” check for the most basic level, to clicking your nail on the frame, a quick look if the groupo is nothing better than 105, the wheels are alloy and the bike no less than 9kg… The whole process could be done with a foldable rig…

    A more “in detail” check would be done only if a protest is done by another team.

  23. Zach: yes. It’s just someone might say “that’s a 2011 model” if they point to the paint scheme etc.

    But that’s why I’m so wary of the scheme. It seem unenforceable, you can sidestep it. Rules that don’t work devalue the entire rulebook.

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