UCI Approval Labels

A recent topic of bike shop talk is the new UCI rule requiring approval labels issued by their technical committee for bike frames in races. Manufacturers are up in arms about the suddenness of the rule, which was announced last month and will be put into effect…like last week. So then, a bit sudden it is.


Damn them UCI bastards. Always holding us down with their obsession with 19th century aesthetics. If not for the shackles imposed by those Swiss autocrats, Specialized would be able to lead us all to the promised land aboard Cancellara-replica Shiv TT bikes, Trek road bikes would weigh less than a Big Mac for the price of a single with cheese, and AOL would stop bombarding me with so-called news stories involving Justin Bieber. It’s all been explained before…the UCI hates shiny bikes. End of story.


Or so goes the mainstream chatter. However, I see this not as a story of the evil Swiss technology-haters persecuting the people of the world, rather as an almost inevitable collision of 4 different groups. You have the UCI technical committee as one group, the manufacturers of cutting edge bikes, the consumers/potential athletes, and then the UCI commissaires at the races.

Unless you are one of those people trolling the web with frothing advocacy for recumbents in the Tour de France, then you implicitly agree that there should be some rules to regulate equipment in bike racing (apologies to frothing recumbent advocates). And if there are to be rules, someone needs to decide what they are and just as importantly, someone needs to apply them.

The problem has been that athletes have been stepping up to starting gates with equipment that the officials have never seen before. The officials are obligated to apply the rules consistently to all competitors, but that’s really hard to do on the spot. The technical rules might seem arbitrary to many, but some of that has been in an attempt to make them easier to implement (not always successful). The new approval labels will be issued on new equipment (ie the labels will not be necessary on models introduced prior to 2011) to enable race commissaires in the field to quickly and consistently approve bike frames for participation. With the system in place, race officials should be able to find a label on the bike with a code on it that can be referenced and verified. The rub is that the UCI is pushing the approval labels into play with very little warning, but the need has been necessary for a while.

Who should be most upset about this? Well, clearly the manufacturers are upset. Companies like Specialized spend a lot of money developing bikes that push the envelop of the rules to be used at the top levels of the sport. Last year was particularly frustrating for Specialized as their much vaunted Shiv TT bike was first ruled legal and then not. But is the UCI persecuting them? I think it’s worthy to keep in mind that manufacturers receive certain marketing benefits from introducing product during big races… a long-drawn out approval process robs them of marketing punch as well as gives competing manufacturers longer to respond. So no, the rule doesn’t really help manufacturers who are looking to have an edge on their industry competition, but once in place the new rule does give manufacturers reassurance that their product will get entry into sporting competition.

What about the potential customers, the athletes? Well, after the dust settles, I can’t see how this will hurt them. Sure, athletes are always looking for some advantage, but the new rule should go a long way to reducing the chance that an athlete might show up to the start of a race only to be denied participation at the last moment. Keep in mind that the label system alone will not guarantee participation. The frame will still need to be set up properly in regards to areas such as wheel gap distance (the infamous Cervelo incident) and aerobar extensions, but a rider with an approved frame won’t need to worry if the frame rules will be interpreted differently in Quebec vs California.

The one issue that would totally f’up the system is if the UCI changes the rules in such a way as to categorically eliminate a design, such as when they outlawed bikes with 2 different size wheels (aka funny bikes, low-pro). Perhaps though the labels will then act as a grandfather clause.


This new scheme is required purely because the UCI can’t train their commissaires to recognise equipment that meets the current rules. Once again Cycling pays for the UCI’s inability to enforce their own damn rules.

We need another Boardman that openly mocks the UCI, but if that happens, then he’ll get targeted for profiling and eating tainted meat.

Apology accepted. :)

dude, you’re mixing up your UK riders.  you’re thinking of Obree rather than Boardman, who was the poster boy for the British Cycling Federation as the guy who re-established the “official hour record” on a traditional bike with regular dropbars.  Obree, God save his soul, is the Scot who ate jam sandwiches, built bikes out of rubbish, and rode like the devil in pursuits and against the hour.  the UCI ruled against his “egg” riding position, so he created the even faster “superman”-position to stuff one up them.  then Boardman copied him before the UCI ruled against aerowheels and aerobars for the hour record when the retro-rules came into effect.

Obree rode bikes that any reasoably skilled steel framebuilder could make today for less than $1500…Boardman rode the carbon Lotus Superbike ($$$$) and the Italians who were the top competition at the time rode carbon Pinarello Espadas ($$$$).  the difference was positioning and geometry.  to be honest, it has always seemed as if the UCI’s rules were purposefully designed to eliminate Obree’s innovations.  or at least, the “interpretations” of the rules seemed rather fickle.  Obree showed up to a world class event (mighta been the world championships, actually) only to be told on the line that the bike he’d used all season wasn’t legal. hypotheically speaking, an approval label would have prevented such a clusterf’k.

(the UCI argument that Obree’s bikes were unsafe at least seemed to have some substance when the bottom bracket shell with cranks FELL OFF his bike in a race, but apparently that particular frame was supplied by sponsor….come to think of it, I think Specialized built it for him. if someone has a reputable info resource for this, link me)

i do believe that rules are necessary, but i gotta side with the solitary genius who outsmarted the UCI, national cycling federations, and the carbon bike designers. we are probably long past the times when an athlete can make a world championship time trial bike in between training sessions and part-time jobs.  Obree wasn’t selling bikes.  today’s manufacturers could reasonably stop whining about how their silly airflow vanes are being picked on by the UCI and just accept the approval labels. 

pro tour riders don’t care in reality what they ride, just so long as they can get used to riding it and won’t be forced to change set-ups race to race.  the approval label is nothing that they’ll complain about. the riders who get bent about these rules are the upper level amateur TT gits who spend all day arguing about the merits of hidden spoke nipples on slowtwitch.com.

You’re right. I mean Obree, [the Flying Scotsman](http://www.obree.com/), a great movie.

I disagree that riders don’t care about their equipment. Say you’re a famous Grand Tour winner with a personal sponsorship deal from some bike company in California, and you’ve gotten everything dialed in on a particular bike, then the UCI comes in midseason to say it’s illegal. Not that it ever happens…

As a component manufacturer, I would just as soon risk rejection than be extorted by the UCI for a certification that likely means nothing. Then there’s the whole matter of prototype and pros-only components (bad example: the steel cage Red derailleur that works, not the gram & performance shaving Ti consumer model). How much can these products change between field tests and general availability?

I disagree that riders don’t care about their equipment. Say you’re a famous Grand Tour winner with a personal sponsorship deal from some bike company in California, and you’ve gotten everything dialed in on a particular bike, then the UCI comes in midseason to say it’s illegal. Not that it ever happens…

As a component manufacturer, I would just as soon risk rejection than be extorted by the UCI for a certification that likely means nothing. Then there’s the whole matter of prototype and pros-only components (bad example: the steel cage Red derailleur that works, not the gram & performance shaving Ti consumer model). How much can these products change between field tests and general availability?


Quick aside as we work through the site’s issue—what happened after you saved your comment? Took a long time and then what? Did you hit refresh? Submit again? We got a double comment and trying to figure out what’s happening on the client side.



note that i qualified the “riders don’t care what they ride” comment with “as long as they can get used to riding it”.  it’s exactly as you said.  thus if the approval label system had been in place and the bike had had an approval label, it would be guaranteed use in all races (provided it had been set up properly in regards to seat setback, extension, etc). 

in the modern era of carbon race bikes being geometrically identical to consumer product due to use of the same moulds, the pro riders ride whatever they are paid to ride and are probably contractually obligated to extoll the current team bike’s virtues.  pure uncorrupted personal preference of bike frames from a rider currently under contract is something 10-20 times less likely to happen than a non-doped TdF overall win.

At the moment, there has been no mention of instituting an approval label system for components such as derailleurs, though i have heard rumours of a similar proposal for wheels with a focus not on leveling the playing field so much as safety concerns. the same sources tell me that the wheel approval program was rejected as unenforceable.  for the same reason, i would speculate that we won’t see approval programs for derailleurs.  after all, the reason for the approval label is to make on-the-spot verification at the races quicker and uniform, not to morph a TT start gate into a supermarket checkout with the commissaire scanning 40 bar codes on the bike. 

as for extortion, the pockets of Specialized, Trek, Colnago, and the like are so deep that the $15k for testing is nothing.  what i need to get some clarification on from my sources is if this approval label applies to all disciplines, not just TT.  if it applies to all UCI mass start disciplines including cx, track, and road, then there are a lot of small guy enterprises for whom $15k would be prohibitively expensive.  in that case, i disagree with the approval labels for bikes outside TT.  i suspect that the labels will not be necessary for non-TT races, because if they were then Trek and Specialized would logically have everything to gain from the labels since they would essentially eliminate any threat from smaller manufacturing companies.

as for the Red front derailleur with the steel cage, there IS a consumer version and it does in fact have a label…the label reads “FORCE”.

Cut to this [Masters Cross Racer](http://www.flickr.com/photos/huggerindustries/5237916031/in/set-72157625542432240/) and his pit setup—two bikes, 4 wheels, tires, and a strong will to win his age group. He’s going to want to know that when he lines up to the next race, he’s bike is legal, tires, and equipment and doesn’t want to argue with an USCF official at one race while another blue shirt doesn’t know a keirin from a bike change.

I just ride my bikes, I don’t follow the races. So I don’t really care what happens in regards to this issue.

This is similar to the issues sailboat racing faced, and continues to face. The only way to have a true test of the ability of the crew (in cycling’s case, the rider), is if the equipment is equal. In sailing, there are one design races, where all competitors comply with the class rules, and all sail the same model boat. The idea is that if you can win your boat, you can win in the loser’s boat.

All other races are handicapped based on calculations, and each vessel is assigned what is called a PHRF rating, which is a certificate that is issued by the race authority. 

In one design racing, a winner is the first one across the line. In PHRF, the winner is determined by applying the handicap against the finish times.

You’d expect margins are wider in Yacht racing then the bike industry and they probably don’t have capricious drug laws where a star can go out and take a bike line with him.


wow, i hadn’t thought about sailing in forever, but now that i think about it the comparisons and contrasts of the 2 sports in terms of class origins, shared technology (see Parlee), role of litigation, yada-yada….much fodder for bike shop chatter as i overhaul hubs. 

sailing/yatch racing is such an incredibly broad topic that i can’t reasonably introduce an argumentative point and simultaneously buttress its logical supports before i make my customarily late appearance at the bike shop, but as a randomly fired gun over the shoulder, one wouldn’t think that anyone would want a repeat of the technological clusterf’k of America’s Cup 1988…oh, wait, i guess that would be America’s Cup 2010. also, aside from things like sailboards, athlete physiology plays less of a role in ergonomics of sailing (thus one-design classes have conceptually less relevance to bicycles), though at 130lbs dripping wet i was never gonna be on the winches for the big boats.

mister masters CX racer just needs to make sure his tyres are narrow enough. the race commissaires have quick gauges to check and none of that even matters if he ain’t racing UCI-level.

I am one of the frothing recumbent riders.  I think the entire make it all about the athlete rules thing annoys me.  This is not a weight lifting competition or formula one racing.  Teamwork, gear, strategy and tactics all play a part.  I don’t think the attempts to make it all about the athletes regardless of engineers is helping a damn thing.  The engineers are still making their presence felt and so we have gear and techniques that are forced into pretzel positions to fit the current state of the state with UCI rules.  And UCI seems to delight in last minute changes.  Or even retroactive changes as they did with recumbents.

There is a lot of money in cycling, I think it would be better for us all if it wasn’t channeled into such odd limited advancements by the UCI.

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