By Vernon Felton
The headline should have read, “UCI considering being less dickish, but will not commit to timeline for becoming cool”. That would have been a precise summary of the article. Instead the bikeradar piece was titled, “UCI’s ‘outdated’ 6.8kg minimum bike weight rule to be replaced?”
It amounts to the same thing.
As you may know, the members of the UCI arose from their coffins during a full moon back in 1999 and decided that the world didn’t hate them nearly enough, so they might as well try a little harder by effectively bringing technological innovation to a halt with a ruling that stipulated that bikes could not get any lighter than 6.8 kilograms (or 15 pounds). Little known fact: the members of the UCI coven had initially hoped to bring polio and the Black Death back in a big way, but after a good round of cackling and gleeful hand rubbing, wiser heads prevailed, noting that completing the paperwork would have been hell…consequently, the UCI just took the easy route and focused on killing innovation in cycling. They are, however, still really hot on the polio comeback idea.
Wait—you don’t know who the UCI is? My apologies. For those of you whose life does not revolve around chamois butter and interval training, the UCI is the Union Cycliste Internationale and they are competitive cycling’s governing body. Ostensibly, the UCI ensures that racing is alive and well around the world and that races are conducted in as fair and equitable a fashion as possible.
The reality, however, is more like this: once a year the members of the UCI gather in their bat cave outside of Aigle, Switzerland and ask themselves, “Just how can we prove this year that we are completely out of touch with this whole bicycle-riding thing?” They then retire to smoke cigars, plot ways to bring back the Betamax recorder and maybe enjoy a good cockfight or two. When they’re feeling particularly frisky, they gather around a cauldron and cook up new regulations that no one understands, but which might make sense when played backwards on a phonograph, in Russian.
Let’s consider the bicycle minimum-weight rule that’s been giving engineers and racers headaches since 1999. Ostensibly the goal of the mandate was to keep bikes safe, but that’s a bit like saying everyone should live in a safe house, so all houses must now be painted hot pink. Painting your house pink will not make it earthquake proof. Likewise, making your bike heavy does not make it safe.
You can make a very strong and safe bike that weighs less than 15 pounds. You can also make a bike that weighs twice that much and which will snap in half the moment you stand on the pedals and attempt to sprint. Weight, in and of itself, is not an indicator of strength. This is so painfully obvious, that it actually hurts to even type it.
What this has meant, amazingly, is that professional racers have been riding bikes with weights strapped to their frames or lodged in their seattubes for more than a decade—simply so that they could be heavy enough to satisfy UCI rule 1.3.019. In other words, you could theoretically take a bike that was “illegal” to race and make it legal by strapping a tuna sandwich to the top tube, so long as the sandwich was heavy enough. Shit really doesn’t get any dumber than that.
So how do you actually make a bike “safe”. Manufacturers develop bikes to (among other things) withstand a certain amount of stress or a number of load repetitions. The UCI could have done what everyone who develops bikes already does by simply defining a quantifiable safety level for bikes based on fatigue and strength testing. I’m not naïve enough to suggest that this would be a walk through the park—they’d have to get out some protractors, a calculator and then talk to someone who actually rides bikes, but you know, they could have squeezed that in between a round of golf sometime in the past decade.
But, no, instead, they picked a minimum weight and then stuck to their guns for more than 13 years. As the excellent article by Sam Dansie pointed out, the UCI is finally brushing the puke off the front of their shirt, climbing out of the wreckage of their ruined Camaro and admitting that maybe they blacked out for awhile there and did something really stupid.
Maybe. They might do it in six months. They might do it in two years….
They aren’t, however, going to get all decisive and actually commit to a timeline for acting intelligently.
Wow. You know, I don’t normally offer advice to organizations, but I’m going to make an exception here. Guys—everyone in the secret cave back in Switzerland—if you’ve been making an idiotic mistake for years, you should probably just go ahead and stop making that mistake, then announce to the world that you fixed the problem, that you’re sorry and that you’ll never do it again. Don’t tell us that you’ve been wrong, but that, you know, you might get around to doing your job competently one of these days. Maybe.
If you think I’m being a little hard on the UCI, remember that this is the organization that kept disc brakes off of road bikes for years and which banned skin suits from downhill racing (in which the goal is to be fast) because skinsuits just aren’t flattering when worn with full-face helmets. This is the organization which has stated in its regulations that “the UCI has decided to no longer tolerate the presentation of technical innovations in competitions as faits accomplis” and “Technical innovations have to be submitted and approved by the UCI in advance to be allowed in competition.”
In other words, the UCI has cornered the market on being assholes by outright stating that they, and they alone, will be the judge of how bikes can evolve. They won’t tolerate innovation? Really? I hate to break it to the UCI, but there are hundreds of people who earn a paycheck by making products better and there are millions of us riders who actually want our bikes to get lighter, stronger, safer and more functional. Innovation, in other words, is good. It is essentially the same basic motivation that has given mankind clothing, flushing toilets and that pesky cure for polio. Innovation is the rationale for human beings having thumbs and big brains.
Sure, technological leaps can be used to create an unfair advantage in racing, but taking the stance that your key role is to stall and stymie progress simply boggles the mind. But, hey, to be fair, the UCI has its hands full these days just investigating themselves to see how corrupt or incompetent they were back when they might have been aiding and abetting dopers. Clearly, the UCI has a full schedule.
Does anyone out there feel like starting an international racing union? I’ve been watching the UCI for about 30 years and I have a feeling it can’t be that hard.