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The UCI and Me

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The UCI and Me 

The UCI’s recent publishing of “conforming” bicycle wheels has placed me in a difficult moral position. As is the case with most moral dilemmas, I feel pressure from two sides. For whatever reason, I feel a certain amount of obligation to my former employer in the bicycle wheel industry; they simply want to put the whole UCI wheel decision behind them. This company gave me many opportunities and I don’t really want to cause problems for their business or the relationships I developed there. On the other hand, I feel that the public should be made aware of certain events and facts that led up to and surround the institution of the UCI’s rupture test of bicycle wheels.

Call me a crackpot, an anarchist, or whatever you like. The fact remains that I have developed many unique performance and structural tests of bicycle wheels. Furthermore, I have tested to failure (fatigue and ultimate strength) hundreds of bicycle wheels of many different designs. I would consider myself well versed in the scope of bicycle wheel performance and safety. In the end, though, the importance of writing this article is that it has made things right with myself. I will be able to sleep well after I get done with this one.

Some people have interpreted the UCI rule (any wheel deemed nonstandard – i.e, rim deeper than 25mm, fewer than 16 spokes or any spoke cross section dimension greater than 2.4 mm - must pass a rupture test) as a matter of limiting the affects of technology in the sport. They feel that the UCI is trying to preserve tradition and increase access to the sport by reducing the equipment costs of all necessary components. If the UCI had indeed made the wheel rule as simple as their “traditional” frame design rules I wouldn’t be writing this.

The technology/cost interpretations of the wheel rule are misplaced. The wheel rule has always been about rider safety. According to Jean Wauthier (UCI technical consultant during the development of the wheel rupture test), “The rule is in correspondence with different accidents with injuries. We have received some complaints and from a legal point of view it was not possible to stand with folded arms doing nothing.” Wauthier would not cite specific incidents when pressed for this information. The new wheel rule is about the safety of racing cyclists, nothing more.

Safety of the cyclists is a noble goal, one that I agree with 100%. However, the real question in this whole topic is an age-old one: How does one determine exactly how safe, is safe enough? According to Wauthier, the UCI feels confident that it has developed a test protocol and rule that “is reasonable and objective” in determining a safety standard for bicycle wheels.

Wauthier also feels that the UCI is justified in its implementation of the rule because it has a mandate from the wheel industry: “The world construction body has completely supported our action and has encouraged us having measured its span in a common concern of quality and security for the cyclists”. Public statements by the wheel manufacturer Zipp, such as “We have found the UCI helpful and professional in their communication”, seem to support what Wauthier claims. However, personal experience, anonymous conversations with multiple manufacturers, and anonymous sources associated with the UCI itself, suggest that there is significant dissent over the rule and the validity of the rupture test protocol itself.

I have given the wheel industry, and my former employer, plenty of opportunity to publicly state their views about the new rule. Unfortunately, the industry remains reluctant to make public statements, primarily because the omnipotent power of the UCI has them scared into submission.

I hope everyone can understand the industry’s reasons for keeping silent – the future of their business may be severely impacted by the whims of cycling’s international governing body – just ask Cinelli about their experiences with the UCI during the Spinacci handlebar extension days. Along these lines, I feel obligated to remind those reading, that this article is a result of my personal experience, and does not necessarily reflect the views of any of my current or former employers.

To publicly disagree with the UCI is akin to poking a grizzly bear with a short stick; there are no real long-term benefits and there is the significant risk of a good old-fashioned butt whoopin’ in the short-term. So, here I am standing next to this big ol’ bear holding a very short stick…