Monday, 9 May 2011

UCI craziness and all that

Back in the dim mists of time, the UCI was responsible for making the rules under which we all race, and by and large, it did an OK job - alright, there were shortcomings in it's control of doping, and some of it's rules looked a bit bizarre, but at least it wasn't, as Leonnard Zinn is now pointing out, placing a tax on bike builders.

Innovation suffered, some might say, with the ban on the riding positions of Obree and Boardman, and the mad rules about frame shape which paid little regard to rider morphology showed that the rules were being written by beaurocrats not people that actually knew anything much about bicycles (and yes, I am aware that Pat McQuaid used to be a rider - check David Walsh's excellent book on Sean Kelly - "Kelly" for further info about Mr McQuaid and his doings ahead of the '76 Olympics) ...

So now we have a new situation - the UCI announced some while ago that it was getting into the business of "approving" this, that and the other - most in the industry barely noticed, but some of us did and wondered what they might be up to - and in January this year, we found out.

Here is the text of the rules:

Here's what I wrote on LinkedIn at the time:

As usual, the UCI have come up with a set of regulations designed to make life commercially more difficult, provide an income stream for the UCI, and stifle small producers' ability to innovate. You have to hand it to them, doing all of that in one document is impressive.

All that a set of regulations like this really do is to drive the manufacture of frames and forks further and further towards mass production and "innovation" that is generally a matter of marketing leading engineering, rather than the engineering supplying a solution to an acknowledged problem.

It makes it all the more difficult for small framebuilders based local to their markets whose USP against the big mass production framebuilders is the fact that they can tune their production to their local market or to the specific needs or requirements of athletes, to sell their wares. The flip side of the UCI coin, where they talk about enhanced value of a product carrying UCI type-approval is that products NOT carrying that type-approval are devalued.

There is already a problem in many markets with different "manufacturers" (many of whom in reality are simply assemblers) effectively trying to pull the wool over consumers' eyes by taking an off-the shelf product, rebranding it, and selling it in some way as new and innovative ... this type of regulation will only serve to exacerbate that problem.

There are endless practical problems that arise with these regulations, too - has anyone seen that interesting point about the type-approval decal being applied at the painting stage & if a frame is re-painted by anyone other than the manufacturer, the frame looses it's type-approval? Well that stuffs (if the regulations are taken "to the letter") several frame makers I know of in the UK and Europe who send their frames out to a third party for painting, and who offer a refinishing service.

How do small producers and prototypers feel about these regulations now that they have seen them "in the flesh"? We've known that they were on the cards for some time, but these rules as we now see them in final form seem to me to have been thought out with an eye too much towards mass manufacturers ...

Then, off the back of that, I had some further thoughts:

This type of regulation really annoys me because it's heavy handed, un-neccesary and smacks of commercial cynicism on a grand scale.

There is another piece of spin here that is really irritating, too - in attempting to justify this regulation, the UCI state that it is a way for a competitor to "know" before arriving at the start line that his or her machine conforms to the rules. Well, call me an old traditionalist, but it also says elsewhere in the regulations that it is the responsibility of the competitor to ensure that her / his machine conforms to the rules laid down for the event (s)he is entering ... so what if competitor trusts the decal, but the decal has been "illegally" applied (and you know it's going to happen ...)? The competitor still looses out, so the prudent competitor is going to check anyway, or their federation are ... so what's the point?

On the same basis, as the rider is responsible for anything that may be in his or her bloodstream, perhaps the UCI might like to take a more robust attitude on that score - perhaps we need UCI approved foods, or hotels, or chefs, or farms, or, or, or ....

I think that those who have commented on the application of "approval" to other components are close to the mark - the 3:1 dimension ratio rule already applies to bars, stems, seatposts ... it wouldn't surprise me if it was all just a matter of time.

The thing of it is, a lot of the debates that we have had, and I sincerely hope that we continue to have in cycle design & manufacture, have been opened up and driven by technical innovations from individuals and small niche companies that thought outside the box somewhat ... The Mosers, Obrees and Boardmans, Kestrels and Hottas who initiated debates about bicycle design would have been stifled by this regulation ... unless they were able to persuade a bigger manufacturer to back them to take a concept to the UCI.

Of course it is arguable that it was the Mosers, Obrees and Boardmans of this world who so put the UCI's nose out of joint that they started off down this route, but maybe that's special pleading from one who was excited by Moser's approach and whose nationalist pride was bolstered by Obree and Boardman :-)

Well, now I have let off steam, I'll mail this link to Carlton Reid and maybe to Leonnard Zinn, too :-)


  1. Can I send a copy of this too. I just fail to see what they hope to achieve? Anyone serious about competing in any sort of event is going tot urn up on a bike safe and probably almost standard. As you say this will only affect the innovative small firms who the industry depends upon for new ideas. We do not need homogenised bikes. At what point will they stop???

  2. Hi FMIL,
    yes, please feel free to use the above in whatever way you'd like!