The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

UCI rainbow stripes

Irish legend says you’ll find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Only more rational people know you can never reach the end of a rainbow because it is an optical effect dependent on the viewer’s standpoint.

But there’s an exception to the rule: the UCI has trademarked the rainbow colours associated with the world championships. Any use of these colours on bicycle parts, clothing and more has to be licenced. Payment must be made to the UCI. A genuine way to find gold at the end of the rainbow stripes.

Here’s the official wording from the UCI:

According to the UCI Rules and Regulations, all rights relating to the World Championships, in particular the right to the rainbow colours, belong exclusively to the UCI…
…Any equipment bearing the rainbow piping shall be submitted to the UCI for approval before production…
…The UCI has registered the colours blue/red/black/yellow/green/white (‘rainbow stripes’) as a trademark

That is the trademarking which affects any goods in the world. In addition there are  UCI rules which govern riders and teams in competition:

1.3.060 The right to the «rainbow colours» is the exclusive property of the UCI. Any commercial use of the rainbow colours is strictly prohibited.
1.3.064 Without prejudice to paragraph 2 below, only the current world champion rider may wear rainbowpiping on his equipment (such as bike, helmet, shoes)…
…Any equipment bearing the rainbow piping shall be submitted to UCI for approval before production.

I noted yesterday that Le Coq Sportif has a “world champion” range where each garment is a colour of the world champ rainbow but nothing was featuring prominent rainbow banding. That’s because only one company in the world is allowed to use the rainbow bands on clothing and it’s not Le Coq Sportif. Instead the UCI has granted Italian clothing company (and UCI sponsor) Santini a monopoly on the use of the rainbow jersey.

Ritchey stem
UCI approved?

Indeed as the rules state, it’s not just clothing. “Any commercial use” is out of the question. In theory things such as the bands on your shoes, a helmet and even a sticker on your seatpost or stem has to be licenced by the UCI. The trademarking also extends to fields such as film and print, meaning if a magazine wanted to run a special feature on the World Championships it would have to check twice before running the rainbow stripes across the page. Even a former world champion can’t use the bands, except for the sleeves of their jersey.

Pirate material

It makes sense to protect the image, this is something unique to cycling heritage. And the UCI “owns” the World Championships, the Men’s Road Race is already the single largest source of income for the organisation thanks to TV broadcast rights.

But there’s a large amount of gear featuring the famous stripes as at one point or another – the Worlds were first run in 1927 – someone has won a title wearing the shoes, using the saddle or pushing the pedals of almost every major company in the cycle trade. The UCI’s move to secure the trademark is one thing but it’s hard to imagine hundreds of companies falling into line.

23 thoughts on “The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”

  1. The rule 1.3.064 seem to imply that cyclists like Boonen, Freire, Ballan and Evans can’t wear rainbow bands on their sleeves to indicate they are former world champions?

  2. The moment I see “made under licence from the UCI” on a cycling cap will be the moment I switch to an alternative. Any idea where the money goes?

  3. Patrick: the full rules allow for ex-riders to use the bands on the sleeves: “When he no longer holds the title of world champion, a rider may wear rainbow piping on the collar and cuffs of his jersey, to the exclusion of any other equipment”. But note they’re not allowed the stripes on signature model shoes or even a small band around the seat tube on their bike.

    Stilton: presumably it is part of the UCI’s income from the World Championships, this goes into the general pot and funds most of the UCI’s operations. This race is UCI’s single largest source of revenue, see for more on the money.

  4. This is similar to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which has trademarked the five olympic rings logo. This type of Intellectual Property is worth millions in licensing deals.

  5. I have just put up a rainbow windsock/spinner on the top of a tree at the bottom of my garden, should have ok’d this with the UCI first perhaps. Ah, just double checked, my rainbow has no black band in the middle so I am in the clear. 🙂

  6. Nice article here, the kind that InnerRing hits well. I’m not sure when the UCI trademarked rainbow stripes, but if it’s recent than those who used it previously may retain rights to use — this varies according to trademark laws of each country. Of course, the trademark would have to be registered in a country for the UCI to have any rights there.

  7. For years the colors have been used in a different order by many, many manufacturers, I presume to avoid UCI’s wrath? Most people don’t seem to notice that they are not in blue/red/black/yellow/green/white order.

  8. Do I understand it correctly: UCI is claiming royalties from every producer in the world who is using the rainbow band on his products? It seems like a lot of admin and legal fees.

  9. I guess from the UCI’s point of view, if a cyclist wins the World Championships on your frame or components, bringing the same parts out the following year with a rainbow band is a advertising/marketing gold mine. Manufacturers are already cashing in on this big time, why should UCI be denied their pound of flesh!!

  10. GM: I agree but its not just Euro roadies who use the rainbow: remember that it covers BMX, MTB etc too. Plenty of mtb’s (or bits of kit) have the rainbow if they’ve somehow been implicated in a world title win.

  11. How did the rainbow stripes come about, does anyone know? They’ve always struck me as a flattened form of the olympic rings – certainly the colours are the same – but maybe that is wrong.

    The real challenge for designers would be to create something that simultaneously infringes both the olympic and uci trademarks.

  12. The UCI has also holds the rights the term “World Record”

    3.5.002 The World Record is the exclusive property of the UCI.
    The UCI is the exclusive holder of all audio-visual, marketing and other rights relating to any attempt
    to set a world or any other record. The UCI may surrender those rights on any conditions that it may
    (text modified on 1.01.02).
    3.5.003 Only the UCI may recognise and confirm a world record.

    I wonder how the Guinness Book feels about that?

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