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Ask Nick: The weight of steel, pro warm-ups, UCI rules and more

Editor’s Note: VeloNews tech editor Nick Legan is a former ProTour mechanic who most recently wrenched for Team RadioShack at the 2010 Tour de France and elsewhere. His column appears here every Thursday. You can submit questions to Nick at asknick@competitorgroup.com, and be sure to check out Nick’s previous columns.

Q. Nick, I enjoyed the photos of your steel Harvey bike. What’s the weight difference in comparison to the carbon bikes that are everywhere now?
— Gary Echert

A. Gary,
Thanks for checking out the Harvey. I couldn’t tell you the weight difference to be honest. I don’t weigh my personal bikes because I don’t really care about overall bike weight. What’s much more important to me is fit and ride quality. And the ride quality of a good steel bike (I own two of them and lust for more) is phenomenal.

Nick's Harvey

If steel is calling your name, I encourage you to listen. The best part about custom bikes is the interaction and relationship you develop with the builder. Kevin Harvey is a good friend of mine and it’s an honor to have a bike built by his hands. I feel the same way about Toby Stanton, of Hot Tubes fame. The name on the down tube is more than a brand, it’s the stamp of a craftsman. I like that a lot.

Q. Nick,
I am wondering if Tour de France competitors warm up before the start of each day’s (non TT) stage, or if they use the neutral zone from the start line for that.
— Richard Durishin

A. Richard,
Typically pros don’t warm up for road races at all, especially in Europe. The racing there typically starts off a bit slower (though not always) because the days are longer. The neutral start, as you mentioned, is a good opportunity for an easy spin, though.

The exception is when a stage climbs immediately from the gun. Then you’ll often see sprinters and flatlanders rolling around before the race. They want to be warm before the going gets tough to ensure they can make the grupetto.

Q. Nick,

In your piece entitled “Commissaires offer new surprise at the UCI bike check before stage 2” you stated:

“I think that everyone involved in the sport on the technical side agrees that we need regulations. But we need them to be clearly written and universally enforced. Last-minute escapades like Sunday’s make everyone look bad, from mechanics and directors who lose their cool and UCI commissaires who stand back and sulk after their rulings are questioned.”

Was this rule added within the last week? If not, (I’ll bet it’s been in the rules for ages) then the only people the directors should blame is themselves. The teams signed up to follow the rules, and it’s in the rules — constantly enforced or not.

Too bad they allow the teams to fix rule violations in tech inspection. Kick a few folks out of a grand tour and see if the bikes presented in tech follow the rules.

Reading (and understanding) the rulebook is something you do before any kind of racing — or is bike racing different?
— Brian Mullaney

A. Brian,
I have to disagree with you on this. The rule states “the saddle support shall be horizontal.” That is an extremely poorly written rule. It gives no indication on how to apply the rule. In fact, a “saddle support” is a seat post!

2011 Tour de France, stage 2, UCI saddle check, jig
Putting a level on a saddle doesn't measure whether that saddle is horizontal if the jig holding the bicycle isn't level to begin with. A dirt setting isn't a good start and a rock isn't a good solution. Nor is eyeballing a level instead of quantifying how far from level a saddle is. Photo: Nick Legan

Even if it was more precisely articulated, the application of the rule doesn’t take into account all the various saddles designs on the market. Those with cutouts and channels would throw off the measurement if it was taken along the center of the saddle. But obviously one isn’t sitting on a part of the saddle that doesn’t exist.

So yes, the “rule” (if it can be called that) has been on the books for some time. I’ve only heard of isolated checks on this ambiguous rule in Australia and never of it being checked before in professional races.

Teams do need to play by the rules, but then when a rule is so ambiguous you can’t blame directors for being upset when officials pull out a level (while the bike stands on dirt!) just before the start of one of the biggest time trials of the year.

In truth, I think it would be fabulous if the UCI did away with regulating time trial positions altogether. What do we care what a rider rides while alone (or tucked in among his teammates)? If someone wants to pedal around like a praying mantis or with his arms tucked under his chest, let him!

The UCI is starting to recognize its own technical blunders, at least internally. They realized that many of the technical rules are written in a philosophical manner, not an engineering one. This makes them ridiculously easy to misinterpret. This is also why the UCI replaced Jean Wauthier (one of the drafters of the Lugano Charter) with an engineer from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Julien Carron. So steps are being made in improving the situation.

But in the mean time, there is a very real disconnect between the measures the UCI is taking internally and the officials enforcing rules at the races. It has gotten to the point where the UCI has hired a public relations officer, Uwe Weissflog, to help them avoid future debacles.

Personally I hope that the rulebook is reviewed and rewritten. Even more important though is the education of officials. Without real time in a classroom it is impossible for them to uniformly enforce the rules.

Q. Nick,
When you measure the pro bikes for your galleries, like Cadel’s saddle height of 73.2, how are you measuring it? Center of crank along the seattube to where on the saddle? Would it be possible for the next pro bike article to show a picture of the ruler against the saddle for the measurement?
— Dan Repella

A. Dan,

2011 Tour of Qatar, Graeme Brown saddle
A Rabobank mechanic used a ball-point pen to mark the center of Graeme Brown's saddle.

Thanks for the email. The seat height measurement is usually from the mechanic. I sometimes take them myself, but pretty quickly as time with the bike is limited. So the measurement varies. But for the record: I measure from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the length of the saddle for seat height.

As you asutely point out, there is a lot of variation in measuring methods. It’s true that a tool is only as good as the hand that holds it. I find the best way is from the center of the length of the saddle (on a fi’zi:k Arione which is 30 cm long, I measure 15 cm back from the nose and often put a permanent marker dot there). This is especially helpful when measuring your seat height on bikes with different seat tube angles (which I have to do a lot).

But really, what does it matter? The idea is to give a rough idea of what the pros are riding. They are in no way to be taken as a recommendation for readers in their bike setups.

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