UCI Could Deal “Crushing Blow” to Bicycle Manufacturers
In the ongoing saga of what constitutes a “legal” bicycle according to UCI rules, UCI president Pat McQuaid said components must comply with standards by July 1.
This date is a push back from an earlier attempt (in the middle of the Tour of California of all times!) to begin immediate bans on equipment, including complete bikes. Ã‚Â Given that teams are already fit, training and racing on their bikes…and that manufacturers have filled bike shop racks and inventory pipelines…could deal a “crushing” blow to the industry, according to Cervelo’s co-founder Phil White.
In a NY Times article, White was quoted as saying “I’m quite concerned” after reviewing the the UCI announcement.Ã‚Â He said even recreational cyclists tend to shy away from technology that’s banned in racing, even if they never race, which can kill small brands or niche products (remember when everyone had aero bars on their road bikes?)
WHAT’S THE DEAL?
Most of the controversy centers around a seemingly rarely enforced 3:1 ratio rule that concerns the shape of bicycle frames and components. Ã‚Â That rule states that the shape of something can’t exceed a ratio of 3-to-1. Ã‚Â For perspective, a basic round bicycle tube is 1:1. Ã‚Â Create a more aero the shape, and one cross section becomes longer than the perpendicular cross section, increasing the ratio.
Think about what this means…can you imagine limiting crank arms to a 3:1 ratio rule? Ã‚Â While many probably fall within that guideline, there are some aero versions that are awfully thin. Ã‚Â Or what about flat-top road bars…some of them have some pretty wide areas.
Time trial bikes in particular could face some problems. Ã‚Â With the now omnipresent carbon fiber frames, the shapes are clearly able to provide a technological advantage (Scott Plasma, shown in prototype form is a perfectÃ‚Â example).
Read ‘more‘ for lots of discussion and info, like WHY RAISE A FUSS? and Ã‚Â the ACTUAL UCI RULES complete with pictures and diagrams of legal frame measurements, and some BIKES THAT PUSH THE LIMITS…
WHY IS THE UCI SUDDENLY RAISING A FUSS?
Apparently, some of the less well funded teams are crying foul over the advantages that bigger teams can afford during the off season, like wind tunnel testing. Ã‚Â The UCI developed the current warning letter after discussions, presumably with different teams, late in 2008. Ã‚Â Upon sending out the recent notice, McQuaid had this to say:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We decided to bring both the sport and the manufacturers back to reality,Ã¢â‚¬Â McQuaid said in the NYT article. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The sport needs to be a sport of athletic ability, not technical ability.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Believe it or not, some of the top riders on big teams agree. Ã‚Â NYT claims that Marco Pinotti (Columbia-Highroad), the current Italian time trial champion said he wishes riders would have to ride regular road bikes and wheels in time trials.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
We spoke to a few people and pulled together some diagrams to help sort this mess out.
Tyler Pilger, Road Product Manager for Trek Bicycles, said all of their products, including the TTX time trial bike and all Bontrager components fall within UCI guidelines. Ã‚Â Beyond just the 3:1 ratio rule, he said there are also rules about the curvature of tubes and the placement of that could affect some manufacturers. Ã‚Â
Looking at the center section of this diagram, which came straight from the UCI rule book, actually shows a ratio of 8cm to 2.5cm, or 3.2:1. Ã‚Â (Incidentally, contains 10 pages of rules regarding bicycle design…starts on page 56 if you’re interested)
For those of you unfamiliar with the metric system, 8cm is about 3-3/8 inches.
The shape of the tubes are allowed to be oval, round, tear drop or whatever, however they must fall inside the rectangular guidelines shown above, and they can’t really have multiple bends.
Let’s look at some bikes:
At first glance, one would think the Look 596 breaks two rules just with the top tube: It’s not straight, and my hunch is it’s pushing the limits of the 8cm “rectangle.” Ã‚Â However, I spoke with Chris Wehan at Look Cycles, and he said that they’ve discussed this bike with the UCI and it is within their guidelines. Ã‚Â Further, he said that all of their frame designs discussed with the UCI prior to production to ensure they’re within spec.
Trek’s Equinox TTX time trial / triathlon bike.
…and Cervelo’s piece de resistance, the P4. Ã‚Â A culmination of three years of aero design, wind tunnel testing and expensive R&D. Ã‚Â No wonder they are now “quite concerned.” Ã‚Â Unless my interpretation of the UCI rules is way off, there’s no possible way this falls within the guidelines. Ã‚Â It is pretty bad ass, though.
Another gray area is the use of the aerodynamic shapes on the fronts of forks that look like external steerer tubes. Ã‚Â The UCI specifically prohibits any device “added or blended into the structure that is destined to decrease, or which has the effect of decreasing, resistance to air penetration or artificially to accelerate propulsion, such as a protective screen, feselage form fairing or the like.” Ã‚Â Exhibit B (click to enlarge):
LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD?
My opinion, if you want it, is they should leave technology free to develop better, faster bikes. Ã‚Â Some limits and guidelines are good for safety’s sake and what not, but I don’t agree with the argument that the best funded teams benefit solely from the advanced technology they can afford. Ã‚Â Last time I checked, it was largely the bike manufacturers footing the bills for the wind tunnel time to develop their frames…not the teams.
And if you think the bikes are the reason some teams aren’t performing as well in the time trials, just compare times for the TT stage of the Tour of California. Ã‚Â The difference between 1st and 5th in the Stage 6 time trial was 30 seconds. By 12th place, the gap was 1:09. Last place was a whopping 5:49 off the pace.
Most companies discuss aerodynamic advantages in terms of seconds, as in 5 or 6 seconds, off a 40km time trial when discussing their frames or wheels. Ã‚Â At that rate, every major part on the bike would have to offer that type of advantage to justify the difference between a podium finish and being ignored by the flower girls. Ã‚Â For the record, ToC Stage 6 was only 24km.
So let’s get down to it. Ã‚Â The teams that are bemoaning the seemingly lax enforcement of bicycle legalities should just argue for salary caps for the teams. Ã‚Â Then no single team can have too much top talent. Ã‚Â Obviously that works for other pro sports, right?
OTHER REASONS WHY THIS IS TOTAL CRAP:
1) You’re never going to balance the power to weight of athletes that are 6’0″ / 160 lbs versus one that’s 5’5′ / 130 lbs with technological limits on the bike.
2) Some coaches and Director Sportifs are just better than others, and they’re not going to start rotating teams every year.
3) Because aero bikes and shapely tubes are sexy and they sell better.
4) They also make you appear to be a better cyclist.