Bikes lighter than 6.8 kilograms can be safe, and finally, the UCI seems to recognize that. Mark Barfield, UCI technical manager, said that the antiquated 6.8kg bike weight regulation is likely on the chopping block, speaking at the Cyclitech Conference in Brussels earlier this December. The timing is notable as the UCI also recently announced its expansion of disc brake trials in the pro peloton.
At first glance, the two developments seem to offset each other: Will teams invest in disc brakes if it means they’re riding a heavier bike than their competitors? Pros already seem to be lukewarm on disc brakes, so a relaxed bike weight regulation could spell the end of discs in the peloton — before they even have a chance.
But Barfield disagrees. Based on his boots-on-the-ground approach — meeting with teams, mechanics, and riders at races — he thinks there’s room for innovation in both directions.
“I would challenge the assumption about discs not being popular with riders,” says Barfield. “The riders that like discs are not the ones that go onto websites and go, ‘Yes, I think disc brakes are okay.’ The riders that don’t like discs are the ones that make noise about them. From my experience, that’s relatively few. Most riders are interested in bikes and technology, and trying new things.”
Disc brakes may have a bit of time to gain traction before the 6.8kg rule is changed. Barfield says it’s not likely we’ll see any changes to the weight limit rule in 2016, and it could be a stretch to see it move in 2017. So teams won’t likely abandon disc brakes altogether, especially if manufacturers have time to develop disc brake-ready bicycles at or around the current weight limit.
“If we move beyond the trial year in 2017, then you may see the products evolving,” says Barfield. “But I have no information that suggests if we move the weight limit, riders will stop riding discs. There is a different need for different kinds of riders and different kinds of events, so I think there is still a market for it.”
Product manufacturing schedules are a key factor in the long run-up to any rule change: Barfield acknowledges the UCI does not want to rush manufacturers into dramatic changes. The primary focus, he says, should be on designing and manufacturing bicycles that are safe. The UCI isn’t concerned with performance advantages like riders are. The rule was originally implemented to ensure manufacturers weren’t compromising structural integrity for the sake of light weight. But the rule was made nearly two decades ago; manufacturing processes have changed considerably since then. If anything, the rule has stifled advancements that could lead to performance gains.
However, the UCI could also take a totally new approach to bike safety, one that isn’t contingent on bike weight. “At this stage in the discussion, there has been no other number suggested,” Barfield continued. “And there are some parties that I’ve spoken to that have advocated for the number to be changed by a kilo down, or kilo the year after. I have had some conversations with some stakeholders who have argued that the weight should go up. There are some very different views on this at the moment, but I think using a weight limit to guarantee the safety of a bicycle is not necessarily the most accurate way of doing it.”