The Union Cycliste Internationale have today said that a year after its inception, the frame and fork approval process has been 'a successful process'. All frames and forks introduced from January 2011 used in UCI-sanctioned events – in road cycling, track and cyclocross events – must sport the UCI's approval in sticker form. The UCI Technical Coordinator Julien Carron said, “This approval procedure benefits at the same time the cycling industry, riders, their teams and the commissaires. It is a service provided by the UCI which does not generate any profit. The aim is to guarantee a better equity between the riders, informing them which models to choose to be sure that they can take the start of races.”
Scroll back to early January last year and there was widespread incredulity when cycling's governing body announced that the approval process would cost £8,000 for a frame, when all the process really entailed was checking the frame against a previously published set of rules, available to everyone in chapter 3 of the UCI's regulations. Industry sources reacted to the news with choice quotes such as, “The UCI is out of their collective mind. I could never imagine that a governing body could be so disrespectful.”
At the end of January 2011 the UCI had a rethink on the costs of the approvals, and slashed the price of a standard frame approval from 12,000 Swiss Francs to just 5,000 (£3,300). This news was greeted positively but cautiously by the industry, with many vocally wondering where the original figure had come from. 'Contingency margin' was a much-used phrase.
Since then… well, it's all gone a bit quiet. The major manufacturers have been busily submitting whichever frames they deem necessary for review, and the stickers have been forthcoming. To date, 57 manufacturers have bikes on the 'approved' list and 96 models are represented on the current list, with 43 currently being scrutinised. There's still plenty of bikes in the pro peloton – the Lapierre Xelius frames of the FDJ-BigMat team, for example – that pre-date the approval process and they don't require stickers, although they can be applied for for older frames. Obviously they still need to comply. Anything new, though and it's no sticker, no race.
So has it been a positive or negative influence on the peloton over the last year? Well, opinion is still divided on that. On the one hand, it's ensured that the UCI's own rules are rigorously and consistently applied to new designs, which wasn't really something that was happening before: bikes that had raced in UCI events before would be suddenly deemed non-compliant for a subsequent event, and rules would appear to be applied inconsistently at different times to different frames. The standardisation and pre-approval process takes out a lot of that guesswork and removes the decision-making from the race commissaires, so that's a good thing.
On the other hand, there's plenty of stuff in the UCI's rulebook that many would argue is at best anachronistic; cycling's governing body has long been at odds with the technological innovators within the industry. The 6.8kg weight limit is an obvious starting point for that argument; with UCI-approved framesets weighing as little as 695g for the Cannondale SuperSix Evo, it's pretty easy to build up a bike with stock parts to come in way under that, leading many pro riders to add ballast to their bikes. If the UCI is good to its word and branches out the approval process into components then it's only a matter of time before the weight limit will be have to be scrapped, as the de facto weight limit will be the lightest approved frame and parts.
Extending the stickering comes with its own problems, though. For a start there would be a frankly enormous workload for the UCI ruler-meisters to keep up with every new component. The plan is to start with wheelsets and move on from there; wheels wouldn't be too bad but there's an awful lot of stems, saddles, handlebars, seatposts and brakes out there. The other issue is that enforcing the current rules might mean that large swathes of kit suddenly become unusable, especially if clothing gets included. The Bont Crono shoe debacle gave us an insight into how woefully out of touch some of the UCI's rules are with the reality of modern racing. The rule invoked was section 1.3.033 of the UCI's technical regulations, which states:
"It is forbidden to wear non-essential items of clothing or items designed to influence the performances of a rider such as reducing air resistance or modifying the body of the rider (compression, stretching, support)."
That rule could be said to apply to skinsuits, compression fabrics (including lycra), aero helmets, overshoes… the list goes on. In its current state it's unenforceable, and it's pointless and counter-productive to single out one shoe as having crossed an arbitrary line.
So, what have we learned from all this? Well, the bike manufacturers are getting on with the process of developing and ratifying new frames, and for the last ten months we haven't heard much by way of complaint, so that could be considered a success. Assuming that the UCI rules are a sensible reflection of the state of technology and are focused on equity and rider safety, there's no reason why that process couldn't be rolled out into componentry. That's a big assumption though, and currently the UCI's rules are often vague and intermittently applied. The stickering process might help with the latter, but the former needs to be addressed first.
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.