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The Shiv, P4, and the UCI

Road Bike 12 1984

Specialized Shiv stem and headtube detailThe UCI’s  Approval Program of Frames and Forks “sees strong demand by the industry.” At least that is what the subject line of a press release that the UCI sent out a couple months ago stated. If you have read any of my past posts about the UCI, you can probably guess that I don’t completly buy that statement. To be fair though, it might really depend on whom in the industry that you ask. Big companies like Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, Giant, etc. may be able to afford the frame approval process for each new model, but the fear is that the policy will effectively eliminate the opportunity for smaller companies to sponsor a pro team. Sure there is the recent agreement with The Framebuilders’ Collective, to reduce the approval costs for that group, but I don’t really see that as a solution for all the companies in between the small framebuilders and the few large global bicycle corporations.

As I walked around looking at pro team time trial bikes this past weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the equipment sponsors (if any) really do welcome the UCI frame approval process. Tejay Van Garderen’s HTC Highroad Specialized Shiv was the first bike I spotted that brought the new approval process to mind. As you probably remember, that bike was a high profile example of a frameset that was outlawed by the UCI after it went into production because the front of the headtube was deemed to be a fairing. The engineers at Specialized had to scramble, but the third generation of the Shiv was finally considered to be legal by the UCI, after considerable additional development expense by the company.

Cervelo P4 waterbottle cutoutThe Cervelo P4 was another frame that the UCI decided was not in compliance with their equipment guidelines after it went into production. In the case of the P4, the integrated aero waterbottle and cage was the offending detail that supposedly gave an unfair advantage, so Gamin Cervelo riders had to race with a standard bottle cage on the frame leaving the cutout in the downtube wide open.

Looking at those two bikes last Saturday, I couldn’t help but wonder; could the new UCI frame and fork approval program actually have saved these companies time and money in the development of these bikes? If the Shiv had been officially ‘stickered’ from the beginning, it would have saved Specialized the considerable expense of a series of redesigns to make the bike UCI legal, right? I guess that is one way to look at it, but I still have a hard time justifying the stickering program based on that argument. A better way to ensure that companies don’t waste money developing non-compliant bikes would be to simply make sure the equipment guidelines are clear and easy to understand. If the UCI wants to regulate rider position, basic frame shape, and even weight…fine. My big problem with their equipment restrictions is that they seem to be arbitrary and interpreted differently whenever something new comes along. If the UCI’s goal really is to make competition fair, a few simple to understand rules regarding equipment should suffice. On the other hand, if the goal is to stifle innovation and make some money along the way…then I’d say the boys in Switzerland are on the right track.

So what do you think? Are there any industry people out there who strongly support the UCI frame and fork approval process? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Likewise, I’d love to hear from any of you in the industry who have some reservations about the policy (you can even comment anonymously if you prefer to stay on the UCI’s good side).

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  1. Champs June 2, 2011 at 2:57 pm -  Reply

    If the sticker protects equipment from the capricious UCI, then it’s extortion.
    If approval is still conditional, then it’s pointless.

    How do you win that one?

    • James Thomas June 3, 2011 at 8:33 am -  Reply

      I used the word extortion in my original draft, but I decided to tone it back a little…but yeah, that is pretty much what this is.

  2. Ted Lewandowski June 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm -  Reply

    In reference to the actual frame design – any company should know in advance that anytime they design something integral to the frame that acts as an airfoil or is overly aerodynamic – case in point – the water bottle assembly – then you know you’re in position that will warrant a UCI ruling.

    Do these companies actually submit the blueprints in advance to the UCI or just the finished bike? I would think you can get everything resolved in pre-production by having the UCI approve the blueprint 1st.

  3. epicyclo June 3, 2011 at 7:08 pm -  Reply

    UCI – holding cycle development firmly in the 19th century.

  4. Johann Rissik June 5, 2011 at 2:53 pm -  Reply

    Maybe the UCI can just go shiv their heads up the R’s. They are to cycling what FIFA is to soccer, a millstone around the neck…at best.

  5. Hunter June 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm -  Reply

    The only ones who like the sticker are the biggest companies. Building a new TT model for a company like specialized is 40% market research, 10% R&D and 50% marketing. Paying for the sticker is an investment in the marketing of that frame that eventually pays back dividends.

  6. Andraz June 6, 2011 at 9:48 pm -  Reply

    If the competition is about human power all riders should ride exactly same bikes, and for historical comparison they should ride bikes of same design, materials and weight as the pioneers… penny farthings if necessary. We could also give the riders same amount of food and drinks and so on.
    On the other hand different people face the same challenge differently. Some primarily use physical force, some use skills or tactics, other construct and use tools, others evade, take drugs, etc…
    Since one is not as strong as the others he will try to compensate for it with some other attribute, perhaps build a bike that is lighter and more aerodynamic and improve his chances in the race. But than where is the limit, why shouldn’t someone put a wing or kite on his bike… even some engine that stores braking power on descents…
    I guess this would gradually turn in completely different sport with different rules and some sort of UCI.
    That is why I only compete under SCR rules:

  7. station44025 June 7, 2011 at 12:30 am -  Reply

    Sailing has the two extremes: match racing, where everyone sails the same exact boat, and events like America’s Cup or some of the standing challenges where the engineering is pushed as far as possible. I think the bicycle industry would probably like to have new-looking flashy looking things like Trek’s trunk/fairing to market, but still be able to crush upstart innovators like Softride with rules and regulations. Personally, I think simplified but more general rules for things like size and strictly human-power combined with the physical demands of a given course and race tactics would yield the most interesting technical advancements and racing. Bicycle technology is pretty primitive compared to many other fields like aerospace or motor-sports, and it’s really too bad, IMO.

    • art June 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm -  Reply

      The thing about one design boat racing is that while the standards are very strict, the boats are not identical. It’s still up to the builder to make the fastest boat inside the rules, and some really are better at it than others. The only real difference with the America’s Cup is that the rules change almost every challenge. That’s great for innovation if you can afford $100m per boat.

      What the UCI has been trying to do (quite badly it seems) is to comprehensively define what is a “bicycle”. As heavy handed and arbitrary as this seems, it should benefit smaller builders in the long run because they know that the products they’re developing now are going to be race legal in the future. They won’t need to re-invest development and tooling every year.

  8. Andy June 8, 2011 at 9:02 am -  Reply

    Not knowing a whole lot about how to run/promote/manage bike races, I just wonder why these teams don’t combine their efforts and just ditch UCI. Can’t they just create a new Tour, and don’t invite the UCI? It seems like UCI only exists to limit the potential of cycling, and that there would be a great benefit to starting over again.

    Ideally I’d love to see as few rules as possible, and races that spark innovation. Have a stage race with a flat day, and watch faired recumbents zip along at 50mph. The next day could be crazy hills, and possibly we’d see innovative energy capturing systems or superlight 10lb bikes. As long as the rules always include that it must be human powered, starting from zero stored mechanical energy at the race start, then I’d love to watch the races evolve.

    • cwcushman June 13, 2011 at 3:39 pm -  Reply

      The UCI (and subsequently the USCF) gains its power because it is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the governing body of our sport. If a person wants to compete in the Olympics –and because cycling is an impacted sport (too many riders for the room available)– they must meet the minimum requirements set forth by the UCI. They have to have a UCI race license, reached a certain level, and have earned a minimum of UCI or National Race Calendar (NRC) points. If a rider jumped ship and joined a different league it is very possible and quite probable that the UCI would regulate them, ending any olympic dreams.

      On a side note, by participating in USCF races we are part of the system that creates pros and olympic champions, even down at the Cat. 4 level were I live my humble existence.

  9. Mechanics Matter February 20, 2012 at 11:49 pm -  Reply

    UCI – “Dear cyclists, you should all be riding 80’s Gitanes with friction shifters”
    Cyclists – “But we can have better bikes than Fignon and Hinault had”
    UCI – “Oh dear God! Max, Zeuss (UCI’s Dobermans)… attack!! Bike their legs!!!”

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