January 29, 2010

TT Chronicles Pt. 2/5: Is That Bike UCI-Legal? Who Knows?


While reviewing TT bike in Part 1, I came across the rumour that the latest and greatest time trial bikes from some of the biggest manufacturers in the business are not UCI legal.
Trek, Specialized, Scott and Giant, the biggest of them all. Some of these bikes will be horrendously expensive. Only the Giant is actually available to purchase it seems and Giant does have (relatively) cheaper versions.
So the anti-UCI argument is based on the theme that the UCI are luddites, are stifling innovation, are driving us back to the dark ages of steel bikes with 1 speed and wing nuts for quick releases. Bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Proponents of this argument want the right (at least theoretically if not financially) to buy whatever the engineers can come up with. In this way, bike science will progress.
The pro-UCI argument is that the athletes should be competing, not the bikes. The best-funded athlete should not have an advantage. Winning should be determined by strength, fitness, mental toughness, etc. This becomes an even bigger issue in the local racing ranks where not everyone can afford that fancy TT machine that gives you 1 or 2 minutes in a 40K race. 
I have to side with the UCI. Bike designs should be kept reasonably simple and it shouldn't cost >$10K for a top time trial bike. Define a design box that keeps the sport affordable to be competitive at the highest level (relatively). Without the UCI, a $10K pro bike (frame) would be cheap. It has happened before. Keep it cheap! (Yeah, I know, $5K isn't cheap either, but it's closer). Then let the athletes decide who wins.

If you take the anti-UCI arguments to their extreme, we should allow doping too. The UCI is stifling athletic potential and the evolution of the sport by banning performance-enhancing drugs. You can see that we need boundaries to ensure the competition is fair and the winner is determined by athleticism and not how deep your pockets are (or how willing you are to forego future health for money/fame). I think the UCI is in the right ballpark from this perspective.

The UCI does suck badly in one very important regard. They need to enforce all the rules all the time. Otherwise poor average Joe gets stuck with an illegal bike when the UCI suddenly starts to enforce a rule they ignored for years. And bike manufacturers waste R&D and set up of production facilities. Arbitrary UCI decisions on when, and when not to, enforce the rules are a significant problem for the bike industry and bike buyers. The uncertainty is unacceptable. The inconsistency is arrogant.

Oh yeah. Don't forget this is just a rumour, although it seems the manufacturers are participating in the forums too. That makes it credible unfortunately. Hope it gets cleared up soon. I expect this uncertainty will hit sales of certain TT bikes soon. Let's have an official ruling please. Now.

Late breaking news: Just noticed that Felt is now the official supplier of bikes to the UCI World Cycling Centre. Bodes well for Felt bike sales as I imagine their TT frames have to be deemed UCI-legal now. Clever.

Check out the next edition of the TT Chronicles.

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