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Seven questions with Jim Felt at the Cote d’Azur Airport in Nice, France
By Matt Pacocha
We recently bumped into Jim Felt, head bike designer of his namesake company Felt Bicycles, in the Cote d’Azur airport. He is in the middle of a three-week trip that first took him to Aigle, Switzerland, to visit the UCI, where he met with Jean Wauthier, the organization’s technical director and Phillippe Chevallier, the road coordinator.
Felt was on his way to the start of the Tour de France in Monaco where he’ll be embedded with the Garmin team for the first 10 days of the race. Felt was happy to talk about his meeting with the UCI while waiting for his traveling companions.
VeloNews: What prompted the trip to UCI headquarters?
Jim Felt: With everything that had surfaced since the Tour of California, we needed, as a company, clarity on the direction of what they would enforce, and clarity as to what they were talking about. I got to tell you, I don’t know if you got the latest clarification letter, but there’s stuff in there that wasn’t talked about in January.
They’re really clamping down, especially on the Olympic federations. I honestly believe that one of the highest UCI objectives is to become the governing body over the rules of the Olympics. And so, it’s their job to regulate what (equipment) the federations can use. You know those gold medals are priceless to some countries, that being said, the budgets to build high-tech bikes, one-offs, has gotten kind of out of hand. That’s where I think all this is coming from.
We went to 100 percent make sure that there isn’t an issue with current bikes we’ve been using. We went for approval of those bikes and new models. We have a new time trial bike coming out that we’re ready to release to tooling and the last thing that we wanted to do was to cut tools then find out that we’ve got a problem because of the clarification.
VN: Did you go alone?
JF: I brought over a couple of engineers, I’ve got a French engineer (Jan Dias) that works for me full time, so we brought him over to translate. We wanted to make sure that we were 100 percent understanding it right. It was really good and I think it helped show our commitment.
VN: How deep will the effect of the latest rule clarification be?
JF: Kind of in a nutshell, I think what happens is that if a guy is going into next year with an illegal frameset which he spent $100,000 on tooling for that bike, you know, so if you’re sponsoring a team, you’re going to build a new mold, so you’ve got that investment, but what are you going to do with the bikes that you’ve already sold to club level racers that are no longer legal? They’re going to be enforcing to that level — that’s the impression we got.
So what do you do about the guy coming back to the manufacturer, that says, ‘hey, I bought this bike for $7,000 and it’s not UCI legal.’ These are the things that I don’t think the UCI was thinking about when they came down with the clamps. I think that the majority of the rule enforcement right now is going to be on handlebars.
VN: Did you learn anything more about how they’re going to enforce the rules surrounding handlebars at the Tour?
JF: I think that they are really looking to clamp down on what they’re calling the Double Decker position. (Basically the situation where you can have an upper and lower arm position where you can get into a ‘preying mantis’ position with a flat bar.) I asked, what they are going to do, because you can’t put everyone on a pad that’s right up against the extension, you’re going to have to adjust that height. They said that — it’s not in the rules right now, but they did say — that they’re going to make a limitation as to how far the distance can be that separates the arm pad from the extension, as well as the base bar to the aero bar. The other thing is that they consider the teams and riders warned, so the feeling is that there won’t be any second chances, they’re just going to disqualify the riders from the race.
VN: What was the general feeling about the UCI that you came away from the meeting with?
JF: After (the equipment) meeting we went up stairs and met with Pat McQuaid; he was super cool. He just said,’guys this really needed to happen for a long time, not because we wanted too, but because we never really looked to the bike industry before for advice, help and direction.’
One of the things I can tell you is that they don’t want the sport — I think because of the Olympics — to be technologically driven. Another thing I think that the UCI is trying to prevent is like the whole disaster with F1 racing this last week. Their rules changed and everyone threatened to pull out because of their committee.
The UCI brought that up, saying, hey, we don’t want that kind of disaster. I think that they’re looking for help. The reason why is that they know nothing about the way we build bicycles. They are more concerned with what’s good for the sport. What’s interesting too, we asked them about mountain bike and the rules for mountain bike (equipment) and they commented that, they don’t have any problems in mountain bike; they can do whatever they want. I think you’re going to have that with any kind of racing: if you’ve got rules, you’re going to take it to the limit and as long as you’re within that limit then so be it.
VN: What’s your take on manufactures alliance in response to the new rule clarifications?
JF: Personally I feel the benefit of the manufacturers association and being a part of that is that we’re going to the UCI as an industry, versus (going it alone and letting them play favorites). That’s the positive of that association. I feel like our meeting went very well and that we have started a relationship with them and that’s something that I would recommend for all of the manufacturers out there to do.
VN: What happens next for Felt in regards to the UCI rules?
JF: I’ll be back (at UCI headquarters) before end of year, certainly around Eurobike. It’s one thing to have a drawing approved, but I think that it’s necessary to have the actual bike that you’re trying to get approved, and then let them give the green light to it. I know that’s the feeling that I got, so we’ll go back with our samples.
Editor’s Note: Technical editor Zack Vestal’s article on the interpretation of UCI rules at the Tour de France will be published tomorrow on VeloNews.com.