The Return of Lightweight Bikes?

The UCI is slowly preparing to scrap the rule stipulating the minimum weight of a bike which says a road or track bike must weigh 6.8kg or more. It’s about time given some teams have resorted to dropping chains or lead weights down the seat tube to add weight but if the rule is scrapped there are more profound changes to consider.

The rule stood on two principles. First was safety and the arbitrary limit was set to deter noodley bikes and second was equality to ensure riders and particular developing nations, could compete with others with more resources.

Go back to 2000 when the rule was introduced and it was debatable but the passage of time has made it harder to defend. Ideally the 6.8kg rule could have tracked time and the limit adjusted down every few years. The UCI has been candid about this, see this presentation from 2012:

On safety the UCI is now into the business of equipment regulation and validation. It’s a little-known (but blogged about) rule that you have to use a UCI-approved frame in competition and the governing body has a list of approved wheels too. So once you’ve got UCI-approved wheels and a frame, perhaps in small, and add a Shimano Ultegra or Campagnolo Chorus groupset and you can easily come in below the weight limit. Yet there’s nothing risky about the build, indeed you’ve followed the UCI list. All this has reached the farce of team mechanics dropping chains down seat tubes in order to add weight to frame.

Lighter than 6.8kg?

However instead of adding deadweight to a bike it’s better to add items that have some use. As frames and components have got lighter it’s allowed weight to be added elsewhere, notably power meters, electronic gears with their battery packs and heavier rims. Which brings us to disc brakes. Arguably they’ve been part of this trend of adding weight. As frames and components get lighter discs are a good way to add weight. Instead of dropping a chain in the frame for deadweight you get a performance gain from superior braking which, if it comes with a weight penalty can nudge the bike back over 6.8kg or mean few chain links inside the seat tube. If the 6.8kg rule remains you might as well use discs.

Not that kind of weight

But once the rule has gone? We know the lengths riders go to save weight and how even small savings help the all important W/kg ratio. Swap a 7kg bike for a weightweenied race machine and the savings are important:

Rider Bike Total Weight Watts W/kg
 65kg  7kg  72kg  433W  6.0W/kg
 65kg  5kg  70kg  420W  6.0W/kg
 65kg  5kg  70kg  433W 6.2W/kg

As the table illustrates, save two kilos from the bike and, everything else being equal, a 65kg rider gets a gain equivalent to finding an extra 13W or put another way a 5kg bike takes them from 6W/kg to 6.2W/kg. Of course the “everything else being equal” line matters, better braking could help on a descent, a heavier but more aero frame could help save energy during a stage and so on, so the maths is reductive. The differences above are the difference between steps on the podium.

Would Trek’s Emonda make Mollema faster?

Given bikes with disc brakes have the added weight of the discs and hydraulic systems, not to mention the need for beefed-up attachment points on the forks and stays it points the possibility of racers having technical options in a race. To simplify we can imagine one aero frame with discs and deep section rims for fast flat days, or even segments of a stage, and lightweight climbing bikes designed to fight gravity with caliper brakes.

It all points to a future peloton where bike changes become more common. Many manufacturers already supply riders with two bikes, for example Cervelo, Canyon, Merida, Scott, Specialized, Trek and other World Tour team sponsors offer both an aero frame and a light weight one but with the weight limit in place the lighter version hasn’t been as beneficial if it’s had to have ballast added to meet the rule. This could all change, imagine a mountain stage where riders do cyclo-cross style rapid bike changes ahead of a climb in order to get their five kilo featherweight bike and once they reach the top they vault on to an aero frame complete with deep rims and powerful disc brakes that’s a porky 7.5kg. The rule change would make this more worthwhile; there are logistics like how to get the team car close since roadside bikes are not allowed but Alberto Contador is already keen on bike changes.

Better still from an industry perspective is the prospect of pro riders having two distinct road bikes. While you might think the bike industry is trying to force the sale of disc brakes on unsuspecting consumers, what if a whole new bike becomes the next sales push? No longer do you have one bike and maybe set of special wheels but replica “pro” bike is actually a package of two while machines. If this isn’t for you nor the industry then we could see more of a premium on light bikes and the associated marketing. We may read windtunnel claims but everyone can, and does, pick up a bike to feel its weight.

The rule is out of date, an arbitrary limit set years ago that’s stayed fixed while technology has changed. The UCI knows this and is considering how to scrap the rule. In many ways it has to, it can approving wheels and frames that are safe to race yet still require deadweight dropped inside to comply with the rules.

Abolish the rule and some will have lighter bikes to race on. Yet instead of a static change this could be the start of something bigger with teams making wider tactical equipment choices before and even during a race. If this happens it could spread to the consumer market. Many brands already have two models in their range but the differences could become more pronounced and certainly more visible on TV.

110 thoughts on “The Return of Lightweight Bikes?”

  1. The rule as long as it existed hasn’t stopped the industry from developping lighter bikes, frames or components. Not a single minute. And it also hasn’t kept cyclists all over the world from spending much money on and using bikes (out of UCI-sanctioned competitions) which were lighter than 6.8 kg.
    Yes, adding weight to a race bike looks strange but it serves a purpose. In most other sports where vehicles are involved there are weight limits for the equipment in place. And most of the time they will also add weight to achieve that weight limit. Sometimes the limit serves as a safety measure but most of the time it should somehow contribute to creating a level playing field. And that’s why I’m all for keeping up the weight limit. Your example shows which effect a difference of 2 kg will have. It’s the difference between winning the TdF and becoming third or fifth.
    From what I understand racers and most of the watching public absolutely want to have a competition on a level playing field. They want the abilities of the riders to decide who wins.
    So the UCI might lower the weight limit in small steps whenever it really does not affect the equality of opportunities but it won’t have any effect, not onto the racing and not onto the sales volume of the bike industry.
    With regards to the introduction of disc brakes lowering the weight limit would be a big obstacle. And it would contradict the desired development to increase rider safety by putting them all onto bikes with superior brakes as quickly as possible.

    • The weight limit was primarily about safety though, and that concern has been overcome with technology. A modern bike can be safe at 5kg.
      If ultra light bikes are allowed, and riders can also drop their weight without losing power, could it be the death of the all-round rider?
      The skinny climbers on their skinny bikes will have long gone over that col…

        • But, where there is lots of climbing, there does become an incentive to be ultra-lean in weight also, as Spokey Dokey notes below.
          Put Sagan (73kg) on an ultra light bike, at 433 watts, he produces 5.4 w/kg.
          Put Quintana (59kg) on same, at 433 watts, he’s putting out 6.8 w/kg.
          The differential between weight is magnified somewhat with lighter bikes and lighter riders?

      • All-round rider has been dead for a while now. You’ve got odd balls like Wiggins but he didn’t do Tour & Classics in the same year. G Thomas, on the other hand, would have to pick between Grand Tour or classics starting next year. I personally think he should go to a more classics focused team rather than try his luck with Grand Tour racing.

          • Exactly DMC.
            Except if a 5kg bike is allowed, he’ll need to think very carefully about his optimum weight compared to eg Quintana, and the course set-up . Froome could lose more slightly more time on climbs or, put another way, Quintana could gain more (ergo, please Quintana make that break!).

        • I can’t agree with hoh. During the last 7-8 years we’re having more all-round riders making the podium in GTs than it used to happen in the previous decade. Naturally, so much depends on how we want to define an “all-round rider”, but I’d say that being able to make a fine GC in a GT thanks to decent skills both climbing and against the clock, while at the same time showing some Classics prowess could be a start point.
          Nibali is a good example, as it is Valverde. Both of them would probably be fairly good on the cobbles, too, even if that specific sector has gone hugely specialised and the risks involved advise those riders who might have further objectives against taking part. Evans was a top-class all-round, rider, too – and in his case, too, I suspect that he could manage difficult terrains (he didn’t try, either, but the Montalcino stage and his MTB successful career allow us to keep on dreaming about what-ifs). Wiggins isn’t such a climber, but he could cope with what he had too.
          Samuel Sánchez, Frank Schleck are one step below, but they were TdF podium or whereabout and were kind of all-round riders, too, even if I struggle a bit more to imagine Frank on the cobbles and he wasn’t that good ITT-wise 😉
          Urán with his couple of 2nd places in the Giro might fit the definition, too.
          I’d exclude Contador and Froome, who’re both strong climbing *and* against the clock because of their minor or major lack of one-day skills, I’d also exclude Purito (who’s great both in GTs and in Classics) since he really can’t come up with a decent ITT more than once in a century or so.
          If you look at it from the reverse perspective, you can also notice that both the Monuments we consider fit for GC riders (Lombardia and Liège) are being indeed won by many more actual GC contenders during the last ten years than in the previous ten.
          All the same, without entering in greater detail, I’d say that we’re being lucky enough to have some acceptable all-round riders on the top of the sport. Could it be better? Definitely. Could it be way worse? Yes, it was – just a few years ago. Vinokourov, Hamilton and Ullrich, in a sense, were the only ones who could be named.
          Ok, GC riders aren’t winning on the cobbles, but when did that really happen? More than 20 years ago… and, another thing… was it a different “era”, or was it just that the likes of Bugno, Kelly, Hinault, Merckx, Gimondi were sort of absolute champions, well above the “standard top-class” (paradoxical it may sound this phrase): athletes who may be born – or simply not – every many years.

  2. I totally agree with Inner Ring’s muses here ; we touched on this matter recently and it’s already happening to a degree.
    Disc brakes, to date, have appeared on endurance / Roubaix-type bikes and it will be interesting to see if they make a significant appearance in the Spring. I noted today a piece in CW about the development of self-inflating inner tubes which, if successful, could negate one of the main current drawbacks of swapping a punctured wheel on a disc bike.

    The ultra-light climbing bikes are already about too, under 5kg.
    I was lucky enough to see Chris Froome’s Pinarello TT bike recently and it is space-age modern ; a world away from a standard bike.

    It will be most interesting to see where the UCI draw the line on bike weight – the future possibilities of graphene may be just around the corner too.

  3. First let’s understand that ALL the rules are arbitrary, otherwise who could get around France the fastest on two wheels would result in a motorcycle race. What about all the TV telemetry stuff that’s been talked about? If they leave the current weight limit in place, the ballast teams currently add could be replaced by camera/battery/antenna, etc.
    Just as with disc brakes, I hate to see the UCI cave in to bike industry pressure in a way that would have ol’ Henri Desgrange doing 360’s in his grave. But before you start typing your attack accusing me of wanting to return to the days of fixed gear, wooden rims and tires slung over the shoulders, ask yourself where is the limit here? Major League Baseball still uses a wooden bat for example, while college players can slam home runs all day with the newest-latest models. If you advocate no limits on technology and “improvement” what’s to keep the TdF from being raced on fully-faired recumbent bikes? Keeping them out is just as arbitrary as a 6.8 Kg minimum bike weight requirement. Anything that challenges the “primacy of man over machine” needs to be looked at very carefully, with all effects considered before being allowed.

    • Conversely though, cricket has allowed larger, heavier bats as a consent to technology and batsmen are now whacking sixes all over the place. Fastest 100 runs in only 31 balls.
      This has modernised the game and proven popular with spectators and tv alike.

      Personally, I think that bike swaps in races could really bring a whole new tactical nuance to the approach – weather, terrain, riders in breaks etc.
      Why not? If a rider is brave enough to make a break, and there’s an ultra lightweight bike awaiting at the foot of the final climb, good on him I say.
      The possibilities of bike changes, and different bikes for different scenarios is not all negative – it could give a much needed kick start to team tactics.

      • Larry – I agree with the spirit of what you’re saying. The winner of the TdF should be the best rider, not the best guy who survived a mountain descent on a 3kg toothpick with wheels.

        As Inrng pointed out, the difference between 7kg and 5kg is massive in terms of climbing ability. It really does mean the difference between a rider of Quintana’s capabilities and that of let’s say Pinot (who is amazing, but is definitely a tier-2 GT contender, for now). So, now the arm’s race starts all over again, who can deliver the lightest bike by July 1st.

        • DMC I wanted to keep my diatribe short, but you make good points. To me this all plays into something I complained about earlier – too much emphasis on watts vs kg! We already have riders shaved down to skeleton-like weights, now the bikes must be skeletal as well? I fail to see this as progress.
          Every summer I work with clients who bring their own bikes or rent bikes from us. Ours are “boat-anchors” by modern TdF standards, but the only time I notice any difference between them (including my own, all steel machine) is when it comes time to hoist them up onto the roof rack. THEN I can tell the light ones from the not-so-light. But watching them being ridden, including over the Passo Stelvio, the weight of the bike seems to make no difference in the rate at which the client goes up the hill or his/her enjoyment in doing so. As a result, when I hear someone going on about how this bike makes cycling somehow “better” my question is always “Hpw?” and “Why?” I fully understand the bike industry’s interest here and how a pro can’t risk having a bike 400 grams heavier than his rival, having been in bike retail for many years, but other than sales/profits from making the punter who wants a bike “just like my hero’s” anxious to replace his current, perfectly good machine with the newest-latest, I fail to see benefits. I think the UCI should be wary of doing whatever the bike industry desires, just like Desgrange was. The sport’s not that far away from the pre-Extra Sportif days (ended by Magni and his Nivea sponsorship) that were dominated by the bike makers – in a negative way.

          • I agree with Larry. I’ve never understood why the 6.8 kg rule has become such a object of villification. While some may see the benefit in a lower limit I can’t see how it would make the racing – as entertainment – any better. If a manufacturer makes a bike so light that it needs ballast then that was their choice.

            Mid-stage bike swaps might be fun to watch but it’s additional stress for the rider and support crew, the only time I’ve seen it possibly contribute to the excitement for TV viewers was the hilly TT in the 2013 Tour.

            In the end I think the UCI, teams and bike manufacturers should have more important issues to discuss if they really want to improve or benefit the sport. There are lots of things that can be improved e.g. more consistent hotel standards, rider safety (motos?) and of course more and better dope tests. I’m sure there are many others.

        • I think the reason the 6.8kg rule is so criticised is because many of us ride bikes that are lighter and it seems so ridiculous that the pros have to weight-up their bikes to compete, or do not use what amateur riders regard as “better”, i.e. lighter equipment. It used to be that pros went ape on weight-saving, with Ti and Al bolts used for mountain stages. It was quite interesting and fun seeing what they did for an advantage. Then suddenly they’re all using totally stock parts and not the best available.

          On the disc brake issue – if braking on carbon rims is so awful, and bikes are already under the weight limit, then why don’t we see pros use aluminium rims on occasion (such as hilly rainy days)? Wouldn’t a rider be better with 200g on his rims but far better braking, rather than a weight in his seat-tube and “pull….wait for it….wait for it….wait for it….skid” braking of carbon.

          • The primary reason for using carbon rims is not the weight saving, it’s aerodynamic. If you build aluminum rims with the same aerodynamic profile as a 50 mm carbon rim they become very heavy. Nearly impossible to get them below 600 grams each. And this has a certain effect also onto the steering of the bike since the gyroscopic effect is created by the weight at the outer circumference of the wheel. But aluminum rims that tall also ride horribly stiff whereas you can make even tall carbon rims roll relatively smooth with the right lay-up.
            Pros also believe in the myth that rotational mass counts twice when saving energy through weight-savings. That’s why they would rather use the lightest wheels that are strong and aerodynamic enough and then put 300 g of weight into the seat tube.
            While it’s true that pro bikes could be lighter than 6.8 kg, it’s not like they could go down to 5 kg without some crazy light and mostly not very reliable stuff. That’s why even now you still have a lot of pros riding bikes that weigh considerably more than the weight limit. Simply because they found out that lighter frames, wheels, and components don’t hold up to their power and abuse. Jens Voigt was only one of a lot of examples that immediately comes to my mind. His bikes always weighted more than 7 kgs whenever some journalist checked one.
            It’s one thing to ride a very light bike alone or in a small group up a climb. But it’s a completely different story riding a bike at more than 50 kph in the peloton where you don’t see where you are going and run through potholes and stuff which might not only cause flats but also mechanicals on super light stuff.

          • Rotational weight is bad. Not only is it heavy, but you have to make it spin, which takes part of your power away. In a sport where a few watts can mean you get dropped on a steep climb, rotational mass is very significant.

          • No, it’s not, but you’re not alone in believing this. It’s a very wide-spread error. Unfortunately it takes some means and lengths to explain that I can’t and don’t want to use in this forum.
            The only situation in cycling where it would really hava any (albeit very small) influence at all would be the finish line sprint. But even there given the speeds they are reaching the effect of less rotational mass is so small compared to aerodynamics and the energy required to accelerate the whole mass that it simply doesn’t matter.

          • STS: this solidity matters a lot to the pros. A consumer can built a lightweight bike to suit but the typical pro demands a stiff frame and strong wheels knowing they have to push hard in corners and on the descents, encounter potholes and more. Of course light is good but this seems more appealing to consumers than pros.

          • STS, I’d be interested in hearing more. As you say this isn’t the forum. Perhaps you could blog it or write an article? I would like to understand your thoughts on rotational weight.

          • Will,
            you can either do the (not too complicated) math and calculate the whole energy – thats what I did at some point when we (for a German tire manufacturer) were debating the pros and cons of 29″-wheels for mountain bike racing – and find out the differences are minuscule even if you assume that the whole system of rider, bike with wheels gets heavier when using bigger (=heavier) wheels. Which is NOT the exact case we’re discussing here where the total weight should stay the same (b/c of the weight limit) but only its distribution on wheels (rotational mass) and non-rotational mass is a variable.
            Under that prerequisite you will need a very tiny little bit more energy to accelerate a bike with heavier wheels and a lighter frame compared to a heavier bike with lighter wheels to the same speed. But then this little bit more energy is stored in the rotational kinetic energy of the wheels and no matter if you ride up a climb or on the flats it helps you (also only that same very tiny little bit) against the resisting forces (gravity or aerodynamic drag) since none of these forces depends on the rotational inertia of your wheels, but only your total weight (gravity) and your aerodynamic efficiency. So as long as you don’t transform your kinetic energy into heat by braking heading into a turn IMMEDIATELY after your acceleration this little bit of energy you invested more during the acceleration process is not lost. When you first accelerate out of a turn during a climb and then ride along with a constant speed before you maybe stop or ease your pedaling for a second going into the next turn it will be during that phase of (nearly) constant speed that the higher momentum of the heavier wheels will require a litte less energy to keep the speed up. You can either ride through that turn with a little more speed than on lighter wheels or you could stop pedaling a second earlier because the bike with the heavier wheels looses its speed a little less quickly because of the higher amount of rotational kinetic energy in the wheels. So in total you don’t need more energy going up a climb no matter how the weight is distributed between frame, components and wheels.
            During a sprint though, if we assume that it’s an acceleration for its whole length until the winner raises his arms you will not reach the exact same speed with the heavier wheels if everything else is exactly the same. BUT, first, even during the fastest sprint the sprinters will reach a plateau of speed and not accelerate until the line, and second since the heavier wheels are most often more aerodynamic than lighter wheels quite the opposite result can be expected in reality. Namely that the rider will ride a faster sprint on the heavier, more aerodynamic wheels.
            As a side note to this debate – DMC said “rotational mass is bad” – one should maybe also mention that it’s only the rotational inertia of the wheels what keeps your bike upright. Make the wheels very light and your bike’s ride stability will suffer. On a real road with its imperfections, with wind and with the often unwanted input of the rider a bike with very light wheels can become a handful requiring more attention than necessary and not inspiring confidence in fast descents.

      • XNight, I don’t think cycling is so struggling for tactical nuance that it’s going to be improved by riders leaping on and off bikes.
        Also, how do you envisage this happening? How are the teams going to support it?
        And what happens when 200 of them get to the bottom of a climb together – mass dismount? – team car pile-up? – soigneurs hurling bikes around?
        Or, if it’s only the rider in the break who is able to do this, we could see a rider winning, say, a grand tour because he had a special bike waiting. Terrific.
        As for neutral service, with all the different frame/wheel/brakes/etc. combinations what are they going to be driving, a lorry?

          • Bike swaps are already happening to a degree, Tinkoff seem to be on it with Sagan and Contador. See Shawn’s point below.
            That was the type of scenario I was envisaging, though race strategy can be a moving entity depending on weather and what’s happening with other riders and bike changes could just be another layer for Team DS’ to consider.

            The 6.8kg rule *for the pro’s* is out-dated ; a good custom builder can make a steel frame bike with modern components that weighs less than that.
            It’s just at what point the UCI would draw the line.
            It’s all good fun, to me.
            I love modern bikes, it’s like art meets technology and I could gaze for hours at them.

            Having said that, I absolutely agree with Larry T’s points about ripping off us punters.
            Joe Bloggs is better off getting in shape and eating less pies 🙂

      • “Conversely though, cricket has allowed larger, heavier bats as a consent to technology and batsmen are now whacking sixes all over the place. Fastest 100 runs in only 31 balls.
        This has modernised the game and proven popular with spectators and tv alike.”

        It’s not modernised the entire game though – just one part of it. The fastest Test Hundred is 56 balls by Viv Richards in the 80s (and Misbah last season), and the previous fastest was 67 in the 1920s. Road Cycling is currently akin to Test Cricket – Track Cycling has allowed a little more progress in terms of equipment, so could be compared to an ODI. Mountain biking, where they basically do what they like in terms of gear, could be like 20:20.

    • I totally agree. Having the same weight limit for an XL frame as for an XS is unfair to the featherweights and illogical from the view of safety. A weight limit relative to rider weight would be much better. Then again, I also understand the rule has to be easy to judge by the commissaires, especially in the smaller races, this is a valid argument for the blanket 6.8 kg rule.

  4. This is a positive development in my view. The 6.8kg rule foolishly applies across the board – including women’s racing. To get my wife’s bike to 6.8kg I’ve had to use a lot more than a chain. It ended up being a big hunk of steel wrapped in hockey tape (and don’t forget the string for retrieval). For normal (non-racing) days, the light weight was much appreciated, for example when going for strava records.

    • And across the board also means track bikes, with no brakes, derailleurs, or multiple cogs. It’s insane that this rule applied to track bikes to begin with. It also applies to National amateur races as well as UCI races, including juniors with 24″ wheels and tiny frames.

  5. Another Statler moment from me and yet another bright idea that isn’t going to improve cycle racing.
    The result of this would be that it’s less about the rider.
    And it’s far more about W/kg – once again.
    Technology obsessives will love it, of course. Those who gain most will be the bike industry – but there are no pluses for cycling. So, once again money is taking precedence over sport.
    Lighter bikes will also help the skinny malinkies more than heavier riders (because the percentage difference is greater for the lighter rider). And they already have a greater advantage than they did historically with there being far fewer TT kms (mind you, at least some of that is compensated by TT bike aero positions making being a big bloke less of an aerodynamic hindrance).
    Personally, I’d rather see them all on as standard a bike as possible (including in TTs) – whatever weight that may be. I’m less thrilled by the prospect of riders leaping on and off different bikes throughout stages (and await the inevitable complaints about ungentlemanly conduct unless everyone waits for them, as they erroneously claim to have had a puncture).
    As the Inner Ring says: ‘The differences […] are the difference between steps on the podium.’

    • But is it money? A reader can go and buy a 6kg bike tomorrow for €3,000 when back in 2000 this would have either cost a lot more and then themselves adding weight to the bike only to find themselves on the start line next to someone with an aero frame, deeper wheels, a power meter, aero bars, potentially disc brakes and other aids added to it, all because they’ve got the money to buy these things and add them on but they don’t so they have to use deadweight.

        • I totally agree with J Evans – if cycling wasn’t so dependant on bike sponsorship and bike sales to survive, i’d say that each guy has to ride the same bike, and that it’s weight has to be pro-rated to your height.

  6. While I agree with the idea of lowering the weight limit I’m not so sure more mid-race bike changes are the way to go. Seeing riders already change from a TT bike to a road bike during a hilly TT detracts from the race against the clock for me. I would much prefer bike changes only allowed on the same type of bike during a stage.

    This should also apply to road stages. Either chose the light climbing bike for the advantage on the climb or the heavier, more aero bike for the advantage on the flat and descents. Let the rider make the decision before the stage based on their strengths and then stick to it for the whole stage/race.

    • Agreed – and to make it easier to police this rule. Each team member has to have the same frame-type.

      I hope Brian Cookson is reading this blog… and following comment sections.

      I think we’ve solved cycling.

  7. Nothing new there INRNG. The need for another bike is a well known phenomenon amongst all bike riders.

    As the saying goes – ‘A bike rider always just needs one more bike’ !

  8. Also remember that ultra lightweight bikes don’t descend as well as heavier, stiffer bikes, so the climber would want to change back at the top of every climb. Imagine a 5 col day with a summit finish: Heavy, light, heavy, light, heavy, light, heavy, light, heavy, heavy, light.

    Since there is no guarantee that once the race breaks up the team car will be close behind the rider, the UCI has to change the rules so that a Soigneur can be stationed at the base of every climb with a fresh bidon (two on summits) in the bottle cage of a new bike to hand off to the rider as they pass. This would only be fair.

    • Fair? Ridiculous is more like it. Our sport would look silly is if the top 15 GC riders switched their bikes 10 times a day.

      I’d rather they were all wearing multi-coloured tights…. oh wait, they already do.

  9. Some people – including a number on here – seem to prefer bikes to bike racing.
    A lot of it seems to stem from the overarching belief in our societies – much like there is with money – that more technology is inherently better.
    With both money and technology – including if you look at other sports (and sticking to sports here) – it can be seen that this is not the case.
    The goals are wrong: we should be trying to make it a better sport – or at least not making it worse.
    I don’t see why fans of bike racing would care that ASO make less money than their counterparts in other sports. Similarly, I don’t see why these same fans would get excited by bike A being 100g lighter than bike B.

  10. My understanding is that Contador switches for what he feels are better climbing wheels and tires but he only does it on a few stages where the change can be done at minimal risk and where he judges the benefits of the less durable tires is worth the gamble. As a viewer of the race, this is another layer of strategy that adds a twist to the day of racing. I seriously doubt that we’ll be seeing multiple switches by any riders who want to win. If people are seriously concerned about the disruption to the flow of racing, then perhaps a rule to make riders choose their bike-frame before every stage? Bottom line is that equipment choices are strategic ones (in most, if not all sports) and cycling shouldn’t shy away from this.

    • Agree with Shawn and a few others, bike choice is strategy! Lets not diminish the importance of that.
      He/She who makes the correct equipment choice and delivers the quickest time should be the winner.
      Not the team that can pull off the most expensive set of logistics! Complicates the sport as Larry T is so adamant in maintaining. IMV

    • Nice idea, Shawn! It would spice up several “ambiguous” stages… and maybe it would force bike brands to look ALSO for *really* balanced options – which are the ones more suited for most amateur riders, by the way 🙂
      It’s all about personal choices, but I find it quite sad (no offence intended) when I see people on Sunday rides with VERY expensive bicycles which nevertheless happen to show some relevant weakness. Well, with “relevant weakness” I mean something that’s more often than not just annoying, like troubles with sidewinds for aerobikes, dire straits descending with ultrastiff/ultralight bikes (uhmmm, and I’ll add, as a side note, that sometimes ultralight bicycle or components can and do even BREAK, despite supernew technology and big big brands; and that’s not sad – it’s dangerous; no life warranty is a life insurance).

      However, people are spending a lot of money for bikes who can offer them …marginal… performance gains (very, very reduced when you weigh 85 kgs or when you struggle to go faster than 35 km/h on a flat terrain), along with a not-so-satisfactory riding experience. But are we riding for the experience or for the performance? This looks like more judgmental than I intend it to be: no, I need to state this again, I feel that anyone shall do as he or she pleases, more or less whatever the consequences, but what’s important is that we speak of *conscious choice*, not market pressure and slight omissions or misinformation by the industry.

      • Gabriele, start worrying when your 85kg punter on his aero bike meets his Mrs waiting in the car at the foot of Dingly Dell, to unload the ultra lightweight machine off the roof rack for his final climb to the Sunday Lunch awaiting at the top!

  11. My concern with removing the weight limit is that it becomes a race to the bottom with skyrocketed costs. OK, every component is approved, but what about the cost of getting there? I would loath for the sport to lose its variety of manufacturing, and also potentially see smaller teams priced out of competitive kit. Back onto costs, we’re not exactly living in an era of a glut of sponsorship money.

    • Right! The weight limit not only served as a rudimentary safety measure – there are certainly more adapt rules for this now – and to ensure the equality of opportunities. It also helps to keep the entry costs to this sport in check. Being able to buy a production bike race-ready for €3000 which comes close to or matches the weight limit still means you have to put down a lot of cash but you won’t be at a disadvantage to those with much deeper pockets. While this might be of lesser importance in the World Tour it certainly has a meaning for the juniour and U23 ranks where you certainly want to enable the very best riders to emerge on top and not those with the wealthiest family / sponsors.

    • Andrew,

      All teams get there, more or less, at the same time. So, there’s no benefit to the UCI changing the rule other than to change the rule. In this case, it’s sensible in that carbon layups get lighter as other equipment gets lighter too.

      A crazy idea for the UCI: set a standard for 10 years, planning the next 10 year standard several years out with manufacturer’s help. IMO, this is how hour attempt bikes should be done so all the quants can stop having to accommodate variations.

    • This is the big positive of radios, which is often ignored. Without them, necessary mechanical assistance could be greatly delayed. Of course, they could be one-way only – rider to team.

  12. J Evans doesn’t see why some fans get excited about a lighter bike:
    I think it is about engagement, not simply watching others bike racing. Part of the dream is that you could have such a bike yourself: the industry and UCI following Armstrong’s initiatives with Trek (one of his few positives for which he should be thanked) have meant such race bikes are at least pretty much available to the general public.

    Notwithstanding, I think TT bikes should not be used in Stage Races.
    I also agree that bike-frame types should remain the same during any race.

    On the incidence of bike swaps – if I recall Cancellara’s motorbike-like wins at Flanders and Roubaix both saw him finish on a different bike to the one on which he started. I think Shawn is right about Contador and wheels – Contador is, by a street, the most savvy of all the riders in the peleton in my view.

    Gabrielle mentions the development of a bike of balanced options – I am lucky enough to have the model type on which Sastre won his Tour: that is an all round bike frame and still a world beater several years on.

    But, coming back to Contador, it is about frame and wheels. Gabrielle is also right that such a light bike as mine is tricky to ride when you get blown about – and when most of us do not ride on closed roads one gets blown about quite a lot of the time by passing trucks and fast vans. (It is not all about accelerating into the dead air left by a passing truck.) Neither is it quite like Thomas on his Pinarello being blown off the road but for me it means that if the prevailing wind conditions are above 15 mph (24 k/h) one is wise to seriously consider changing at least the front wheel to low profile before going out on public roads. Perhaps it is the law of selection but it seems one often gets blown about just at the moment when one might need to make a hand signal and brake with only one hand on the bars.

    My overall view is that for consistency a weight limit should obtain and that for handling 6.8kg is fine for road racing and should not be changed. To be fair, weight limit changes have been mooted for a long time, it has not been about making way for disc brakes, though it may be right now. Track stuff I do not know about but clearly road and track rules should differ appropriately.

    • Good points, but genuine question: do people believe the Cancellara motor-in-bike rumours? The videos are completely inconclusive (there is nothing in the movements of his fingers) and I don’t see anything that unusual in his performances either. I also find it unlikely that he’d be able to keep it a secret either – he’d open himself up to consistent blackmail from his mechanics.

      • Yes you are quite right, I think the videos are inconclusive because they do not show any change in cadence. While I can understand Gruber/Vivax Assist would help you pedal softer without losing power output I cannot see how motors to the bottom bracket would make you go faster unless the motor revs faster than your existing muscular cadence: otherwise it cannot add speed can it? And the films of Cancellara do not clearly show his cadence increasing ‘when the button is pushed’. So it seems he was simply putting his foot through the pedal a bit more to accelerate. Although initially I found the films persuasive, (given the way Cancellara moved seamlessly away from the rest –and from an out of the saddle Boonen at Flanders) without clear cadence change I cannot quite rationalise it mechanically.

        • Cancellara also rode away from Sagan on the Paterberg seated in the 2013 Ronde.
          And in the Paris-Roubaix footage, the other riders don’t seem to be going very quickly when he attacks – unsurprisingly as it was 50k out – and no-one reacts, possibly waiting to see what Boonen would do.
          (I don’t understand the mechanics, so I don’t know if your cadence would have to increase when the motor was in use.)

          • I don’t believe the motors rumours either… all of cancellara’s mechanics he’s ever had would know about it, and there’s no way something wouldn’t have leaked.

          • Think of it as dropping down a gear: if you’re pedalling with a certain power, and the resistance lowers, then the pedals should go round more quickly. (I think that’s the effect anyway, not tried it personally.)

  13. Up to DMC’s comment, I can’t imagine being Cookson and trying to follow the passionate vicissitudes of blogs and comments. What a thankless job. Seemingly “everyone” disparages rules intended for safety or fair play saddling you with that responsibility only to see the “other half” come out of the woodworks excoriating you every time a change is made in the name of progress insisting you have no business in these affairs. And I’m in agreement never having a problem with the weight limit preferring riders be on generally consistent, and safe, equipment. Make some nuanced tech decisions prior and get on with the racing.

  14. Loathe as I am to quote the Texan, but he was right about one thing: “It’s Not About the Bike.”

    At least, it shouldn’t be.

    I’m not a Luddite, but I don’t want pro cycling to descend into a technological arms race where a bike’s relative weight – or lack of it – can give a rider a significant advantage over an equally fit, powerful and skilled competitor. The idea of a GC contest being materially influenced by bike weight is clearly not right.

    Also VERY against the idea of mid-stage bike changes. I don’t have a problem with teams offering riders the choice of an aero or lighter weight frame – it’s important for a rider to feel comfortable on their bike and I guess it also adds an element of strategy in choosing which frame to ride on a given stage. But riders certainly shouldn’t be allowed to switch from one to the other within a stage or one-day race. They should be forced to choose their frame before each day’s racing and stick with it.

    • The bike change is something that already abuses a rule put in simply to negate a mechanical misfortune. The idea of a follow-car equipped with a quiver of bikes for the star, like a caddy with golf clubs, goes too far. At the risk of being accused of channeling the ghost of Henri Desgrange, I’d write the rules to require the team to provide ONE (marked by UCI inspectors as such) bike (as in Big T sponsored riders use their Madone or Domane, etc.) for each rider on their team. A spare of the same type could be swapped in ONLY in the event of damage making the original bike unable to be used and the damaged bike would have to be turned in to the inspectors no later than the end of the stage. Wheel changes during the race (stage) only in the case of failure/flat tire, though for any given stage various wheels could be fitted (slab-sided for chrono, etc) at the start, but no swapping (except for failure) and the wheel must be replaced with the same type (no faking a flat and putting on slab-sided “aero” wheels for a flat run-in to the finish or vice-versa) as fitted at the race (stage) start. You could ride any model in your sponsor’s quiver, but you’d be forced to use it for all the stages (the entire race) rather than swap between chrono, aero-road, cobble, etc. machines.
      Benefits would be a lot more interest in making the best all-around bike rather than ever more (expensive) specialization. Ditch the trout-head helmets and triathlon handlebars as well.
      The bike industry would HATE these ideas, just as they hated so many of Desgrange’ arguably draconian rules, so it’ll never happen…. but to me the “primacy of man over machine” is under threat.

      • +1 on this.

        If the bike manufacturers want to turn bike racing into a technology war, then let it be one that requires them to produce the most *durable* high-performance bicycle. Durable enough to be highly unlikely to fail over the 3000+ km of a 3-week stage race at least. (Modern 10/11 speed chains and chain rings already are too weak for this).

        Course, the bike manufacturers would hate the idea of having to make bicycles and components that last longer.

        • Admittedly I’m kinder and gentler towards my chains than pro riders or, for that matter, anyone who can put out seriously big watts, but there’s no way the 11-speed chain on my road bike would have to be replaced before the 3000 km mark. On my cyclocross bike or on my winter salt and grime bike, perhaps or quite possibly indeed, but in those kind of condition my 9-speed chain (there is a big gap in my cycling history and I cannot tell about 7- or 8-speed chain) didn’t have a much longer lifespan, either.

          But don’t get me started how tyre manufacturers manage to make us amateur rides to buy racing (or racing-quality) tires on our group rides when we all would be much happier riding on more durable and puncture-proof training tires. Well, I would rahter ride the latter, but since everyone else rides the former, I cannot, lest I get dropped too easily…

  15. It does appear that the sport is in danger of being driven solely by the financial interests of bike manufacturers, who have been rather more successful in organizing themselves into an effective lobby than the unfortunate Tinkov.

    I tend to agree with the majority view of posters, that the sport will be in danger of losing its character of best man wins, if the present unremitting trend continues. That there has to be technological change is self evident, but changes should not be to the possible detriment of the sport, nor introduced with such apparent haste.

  16. Call Me cynical, the industries selling disc brakes for road bikes, deep rim wheels, power meters of all sorts, 25mm tires instead of 23mm with wider rims to match, etc. all benefit from the weight limit of 15 lbs. or what ever.

    It’s artificial. It tweaks the entire pro road race scene from what racers would do, to being placed in a kind of circus exhibition. I’m sure the riders appreciate that the UCI doesn’t demand they ride with brake pads rubbing their rims. (I know; if they all had to do it, it would be a level playing field)

    If one racer decides to forego riding around France with a power meter along with another associated 3 pounds of metal, carbon etc.,… does anyone believe another racer will opt to keep carrying that ballast? Unnecessary baggage, read crap?

    They get ride of an empty water bottle, fast on a climb… They’ll get ride of all sorts of unnecessary stuff if they aren’t forced to carry up the mountain. -And with the weight limit of 15 pounds, THEY ARE FORCED TO CARRY THAT EXTRA LUGGAGE.

  17. -0- bikes w/o pedals. Pictures of bikes w/o pedals.

    And while I’m at it; Let’s look at another thing bike industry marketers do. How many of Us have seen an ad or even a magazine bike review type thing where weight is revealed? They actually state the weight with out pedals. Sometimes stating that it doesn’t include pedals… The point is, I’m pretty tired of seeing pictures of bikes in ads or even in bike reviews that do not have pedals.

    As far as I’m concerned, if the object of this subject doesn’t have wheels, it’s not a bike. If it doesn’t have a seat, it’s not a bike; same thing with pedals. It’s almost all of a bike but it’s not a bike.

    -And I am a bike enthusiast. I imagine someone getting into this sport sees this as being played also. People don’t like the thought of an industry making market decisions blatantly designed to get into their pocket. Sure, there’s the explanation that people choose different pedals for what ever reason but at some point it makes sense to show Shimano pedals on a full Shimano bike etc.

    It’s considered as a long thought out process that consumers trust is done because it increases bike industry profits, or surely it would not be taking place.

    When a magazine does a review and shows a picture of the reviewer riding the bike, leave the pedals on when photographing the bike after the rider gets off the saddle. Huh?

    Bike porn is not bike porn if the bikes isn’t wearing pedals.

  18. I’m with Larry T. on these issues. I don’t like to see them, they add no value, and they make the sport repeatedly colder and easier.
    In this case, two main things worry me:
    – Unequal advantage: 2kg less advantage more, uphill, a lighter rider (say, a 60 kg guy + bike, gains 3,33%; whereas a big 80kg guy + bike, gains only 2,5%).
    – Faster climbing. This worries me A LOT. If drafting has become increasingly significant when climbing over the last 25 years, to the point when even classic climbs like the Tourmalet get climbed in large pelotons, and to the point when successful attacks become more and more difficult, hence forcing organisers to look for ever steeper ramps, thus making weight loss ever more important. When you arrive to the conclusion that one of the main problems of present-day cycling is speed, because the faster they go the more drafting you see.

    If you ask me: just one bike, the same one, for the whole season, TTs included, strictly limited in weight, braking, and everything. Or else allow organisers freedom to introduce “Eroica” elements into their races, forcing riders to use dated material.

  19. I think Inring alluded to a simple solution. If the UCI is in the certification business, then any combination of a certified frame and components should be legal. Let them decide the future of disc brakes, but otherwise there is no reason why weight should be added to a approved combination of road components.

      • Odd? Maybe, but that judgement is highly subjective.
        When even in motor sports – where typically it’s not all about the driver but there’s also a competition of the participating brands – a minimum weight (which is easy to achieve) is proven to be necessary and typically weights are added to bring the vehicle up to that minimum weight I can’t see any objective reason even after reading many contributions to this discussion why this should not be good for cycling.

      • Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m almost certain the UCI-approved sticker/decal has nothing to do with safety and is purely based on an inspection of the frames geometry. Frames will have to conform to the particular safety standards of the location they are being sold in (ISO, EN etc.) but this currently has nothing to do with the UCI. They are not saying it is safe to use, they are just saying that the geometry and measurements (3 to 1 rule etc.) are met.

  20. Interestingly, on another forum where comments can be posted, yours truly’s diatribe against technological “improvements” such as a much lower minimum bike weight was met with almost universal, vehement, pro-industry scorn. INRNG is a treasured place for civilized, though passionate discussion of these issues and may it ever be so!!!

  21. I have an interesting question/consideration. Perhaps someone can correct or enlighten me.

    What if Shimano developed a proprietary carbon compound which lightened their chain to such and extent that it gave all Shimano teams a clear advantage over WT race distances.

    Should it be allowed? What might the UCI do in this case?

    • All “modifications” need UCI approval so this could fall under that rule. But the saving would be, what, 100g? Handy but not game changing, it’d be hard to see the clear advantage. Certainly small compared to the saving on a pair of rims or a frame and forks.

    • That’s one of the great parts of cycling. At least so far, the winner of the TdF could have won the race using the bike of the last place finisher, despite what the bike industry would like us to believe. When head, heart, legs and lungs are no match for superior machinery, the sport becomes like F1 or MOTOGP.

        • Don’t get me started on “aero” handlebars, which I’ve railed against since they showed up on the pro scene, but poor Laurent Fignon WAS suffering from the mother-of-all-saddle-sores on the final day of TdF 1989. I was there.
          Even though everyone uses them now I still feel they’re unfair, making the “big engine/big chassis” guys as aerodynamically efficient as “smaller engine/smaller chassis” types who used to be able to win (Charly Mottet for example) in the chrono stages.

          • Fignon used amphetamines, not EPO/HGH/etc…. the aero handlebars had a way bigger advantage. All amphetamines did was reduce your feelings of pain, it didn’t make you go faster.

          • Cortisone as well. Whether or not these would equate to the aero advantages is moot – and not the point I was making.
            Normally, I’d be dead against someone getting an advantage from their equipment, but this would be the one exception.

  22. Maybe, we should put them all on exactly the same bike, gruppo and tyres. There could be a season long secondary drama where each manufacturer competes through a selection process. The winners are announced in November.

  23. I think some people are getting a little carried away with this one. I’m sure the UCI won’t remove the weight limit in general, so the paranoia about superlight bikes is perhaps pessimistic. Sensibly, the weight limit could be lowered to reflect something more in line with today’s machines and technology (safety), say 6.0kg or so. Not a massive change, but enough to remove the need for ballast. And still leaving no more safety concerns than exist already. And you would have pro’s competing on the best and most modern equipment, which is not a negative in my opinion – it won’t change results. Pro tennis players use the most modern racquets, not wooden ones from years ago, with no impact on who’s the better player.

    The talk of a technology arms race/machines winning and not the men is bordering on ridiculous, it’s not like the same technological race is not at play right now with the 6.8kg limit. Manufacturers are striving for aero/weight gains all the time, even with the 6.8kg limit. That wouldn’t change by lowering the limit, but may remove the need for ballast for a while. Does anyone seriously think the riders bike is determining the result, ever? Having a weight limit more in line with the modern machine’s is sensible, and perfectly justified on safety grounds, and won’t change who’s winning races one iota.

    Similarly, the bike change paranoia is unjustified, because again it’s not happening today with 6.8kg. Why would reducing the limit to 6.0kg change that? Right now a rider can have his climbing rig right on the limit at 6.8kg, but you don’t see them swapping for the 7.5kg aero machine at the summit for the descent/flat, do you? Why not? Simply because the advantage is not there (except rarely in ITT’s), otherwise they would do it. The time lost on the change isn’t made up on the even perhaps 20k descent, despite what the manufacturers would have us believe. The risk in getting the swap wrong/poor handoff/clip in/can’t find soigneur etc is all not worth the risk. And won’t change at a lower weight limit. Remember aero bikes will get lighter also.

    It seems to me that weight of machine is possibly not as important to pro’s as we may think. A certain bike magazine here in Aus weighs all team machines each year as part of their TDU feature and a surprising number are well above the minimum limit, right up to 7.5kg. Certainly there’s no climbs of note in the TDU, so weight may not be as big an issue to the riders in that particular race, but I think that still speaks to weight not being as all encompassing as we think. Calm down folks 😉

        • Nicktarios – have to say I’m with you on this one. I do want to see the top pro’s on the top machines, I do want the manufacturers to use the pro ranks as a test bed with the benefits trickling down to little old me eventually, I don’t care if there is the odd bike-swap (as happens already) and I doubt it’ll become widespread because of the complications ( assuming the uci continue to only allow bikes to be swapped with those on team cars, rather than have employees up the road with a bike or two) and I agree with you that there is already an inevitable arms race between the bike manufacturers and there always will be – that’s called progress isn’t it?

    • That’s all if your assumption that there will be a new minimum weight applied is correct.
      And Contador already changes bikes, so it’s reasonable to assume that with different weight limits more riders might do the same.
      At the moment, the bike is not determining the result. Depending on what the new rules are, it might. As inrng shows, the advantages can be significant.

      • Agreed, but I think it would be folly to have no minimum weight. I’d bet it won’t happen. Bike changes would definitely increase in likelihood with no minimum weight, which would make for poor viewing and add triviality to the event, we’d be discussing transitions…like triathletes 🙁

    • Please dispute the assertion “old-time equipment allows for better, more agonistic and individual, more unpredictable, racing”. If you can, of course.

    • Interesting, well thought out points but nothing in the rules currently REQUIRES ballast. It’s the choice of the team once they’ve assembled a machine with lightweight stuff instead of something more durable (weightier). Why? Industry sponsor pressure I believe. Marketing mavens want the punters to buy the bike the star uses, usually by touting it’s lack of weight, despite the fact anyone paying attention knows they all must weigh at least 6.8 kg. I remember a few years ago (Basso I think it was) had a failure of saddle/seat post and had to swap bikes. I think he was using some sort of mono-railed carbon-fiber setup and I wondered why the team would use flimsy stuff like that when the bikes usually needed ballast anyway? I think at the time the Cannondale’s had a heavy steel sleeve inserted into the seattube and secured by the bottle cage screws. Sponsor marketing pressure could be the only reason to justify using this setup – one that failed. Changing the rules to eliminate the need to add ballast is folly – the marketing-mavens will still have their teams on the newest-lightest things they make… with ballast added to make the minimum if needed.

  24. Here’s a whole nother facet to the weight situation;

    If bike weight limit is lowered to the point where racers decide to stop using power meters, then power data will not be available. That brings up different motives and scenarios.

    While there’s been mention of other riders divulging info like Froome’s recent release, Physiological data from power meters may become less available. (I didn’t pay attention to Froome’s physiological data and don’t know if it involved power meters…)

    Is any of this related? Are power meters a tool to use to help stop or reduce doping? Could power meters become mandatory?

  25. There seem to be two very separate things here, homologation for:

    – Safety
    – Sporting “fairness”

    There’s plenty of constraints within the rules, regarding riding position etc, that places limits on what can be done in terms of technological advancements. It’s clear that the way to really advance cycling performance is through changes in geometry to make them more aerodynamic; the various other rules prevent that. Tinkering with weight is relatively insignificant, and doesn’t really push the costs up (at least in the developed world). Most “keen” amateurs can easily afford a bike which already falls below the lower weight limit.

    In the peloton we already have following cars with bikes and bike changes are frequent. There are already enough permutations for equipment: wheels, gears, tyres, in-frame suspension that you could get a competitive advantage already by making bike changes (a nice large cassette on a bike at the bottom of the hill, electronic gears automatically trimming for the choice, switch to smaller sprocket, grippier tyres at the top. The frame is probably something you would keep the same. But you could do this already if it was worth it.

    My contention is that we won’t really notice the difference.. Now that homologated components have been introduced (and are already available in the mass market), dropping the weight limit isn’t really going to do anything other than remove an annoyance. The real limits are in the position rules; the real advances are electronic gears, disk brakes, power meters, tyre compounds, wheel profile/shape, and are already with us.

  26. If the justification for the minimum weight rule it to somehow level the playing field between rich and poor teams and manufacturers, how about not beating around the bush and regulating it directly instead: Require all equipment to be commercially available (sort of already in the rules but far from enforced, for example plenty of pro-only tires in the peloton and perhaps wheels too) and sum up the MSRP of all components on the bike with an upper limit of say $10K USD!

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