Technical FAQ with Lennard Zinn: Readers comment on the UCI

Readers chime in on the UCI's technical rules — would the world be better off with no UCI?

UCI Commissaire Randy Shafer with the UCI bike-measurement jig. Photo: Brad Kaminski © VeloNews
UCI Commissaire Randy Shafer with the UCI bike-measurement jig at the 2011 Tirreno-Adriatico. Photo: Brad Kaminski © VeloNews

Dear readers,
On the eve of the Tour de France when the UCI seems to inevitably come to center stage again, I thought I’d share with you some of the commentary I’ve received about my recent articles on the UCI.
— Lennard

Regarding the UCI bicycle technical rules and masters world championship regulations:

Dear Lennard,
A great piece on the ridiculousness of the UCI.

A couple of notes – one – masters have taken a step in response to the UCI proposed “money from masters” world champs reorganization scheme.

World Masters Cycling Federation has been created and the WMCF road and time trial worlds will be held in Austria – masters do not need the UCI for us to award jerseys, medals and a title and unlike the gran fondo scene – we will have doping tests and reasonable accommodation for tall and short riders.

As for the tall riders and the UCI bike rule, I have always wondered how it could be enforced here in the U.S. due to laws that would require “reasonable accommodation” for a disability so if someone being tall means that they can’t fit on a UCI legal bike why is that legal in the U.S.?

Another point of potential UCI illegal rules – mandating an average age for Continental Pro team riders – allowing teams to flat out tell riders that they are too old when they turn 27 since they will raise the average age. I keep trying to get Steve Tilford to file suit since he is over 40 and he fits the federal age discrimination laws perfectly. But, my guess is that no state would permit any company to hire and fire based upon age – at any rate – that is my rant to add to yours.

Going back to the bike measurements – challenge it here in the U.S. – as some of my tall master lawyer friends tell me – they are just itching to be told they can’t race a bike that fits them …
— Tracy

From a UCI commissaire regarding recent conflicting rulings on SRAM and Campagnolo bar-end shifters:

Dear Lennard,
I was just sent to look at your recent piece after some Facebook exchanges regarding the measurement of bikes at the Giro (which based on photos was done with a device clearly set up incorrectly). I was one of the international commissaires in attendance at Tirreno-Adriatico. While I must preface that the regulations regarding the majority of all bike measurement and weight have been on the books since 1997, I can assure you that my experience tells me that it is mostly in North America that this is strictly adhered to. I encounter numerous riders who, at the ProTour level, appear to have never had a bicycle measured or their position restricted by the regulations. I had riders and managers baffled at the morphological exceptions tests for bikes outside of the regulation limits, questioning, “when was this regulation passed”?

First, as an international commissaire for the UCI, I am not employed directly by them, I am assigned by them and required to enforce the regulations, no matter when and how they are put into place.

That being said, had you followed your experts’ sources, you will find that the letter from the UCI regarding shifters returning to horizontal position in NO way discusses a vendor or brand. This letter was received by commissaires in mid-February with no further information, although USA Cycling, on behalf of the US-based UCI Commissaires, asked for clarifications. None were received.

Now to Tirreno. On the first day was a team time trial of relatively short distance and we began to verify the bicycles. In general, compliance was good, except there were a number of tall riders clearly outside the legal range. Some changes were requested. A few riders were outside the regulation in the “millimeters” range and we asked that they fix this before the final time trial. I was approached by a mechanic insistent that we were doing the bike checks wrong. It was in this tense discussion that I discovered that the SRAM shifters were those that returned to horizontal position. As a commissaire, I don’t purchase the latest equipment, nor does the new SRAM lever appear different than the old one (which doesn’t return to horizontal). I would never have known if this lever returned to horizontal or not if the mechanic had not shown them to me. At that point in time, we had indeed allowed some of the old SRAM shifters and some of the new SRAM shifters (returning to the horizontal position) to be used. In fairness and not to create chaos before the approaching start, we allowed all bars that met the distance requirements of the pre-February interpretation to be utilized (measuring the ultimate length of the bar to the axis of the shifter).

Seeing how commissaires are universally reported to be arbitrary, capricious and myopic, how did we try to resolve this?

1. We recognized the interpretation had been recently issued without clarification and decided that it would be best to be less aggressive in enforcing the regulation that day.
2. We contacted our colleagues at Paris-Nice to see what issues they had dealt with.
3. We talked directly with the mechanics of the affected teams to see if they could set up the bars any other way — what were the limitations of position with them?
Regarding 3., the mechanic referred to above insisted that there was no way possible to change the position and we accepted that statement. It would appear that this regulation was written to specifically affect a particular manufacturer. (Much like the U.S.-based Scott Drop-ins being banned while the Italian Spinacis were allowed for two years! I don’t get to vote on those decisions; I am just asked to enforce them!)

The jury announced after the stage and every day on radio tour and in communiques, that we would strictly apply the UCI regulation (and interpretation) for the final time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico. Amazingly, we still had people show up with illegal bikes (excessive bar length regardless of shifters). However, the RadioShack team immediately appeared and showed us that they could mount the SRAM shifters to return to a 45-degree angle-up or down. The jury looked at this and decided, that indeed the shifters no longer returned to horizontal (that general plane parallel to the ground), and we would pass the shifter measured to the axis point of the lever, as previously allowed by the UCI. A twist to this depends on the handlebars used. For bars that are flat and relatively parallel to the ground, this solution works well. When you throw an upturned bar end into the equation, setting all team levers the same, the new position may indeed be much closer to parallel, thus restricting it terms of this new position.

In all honesty, I would say the commissaires here did as much as possible to implement the regulations fairly. The mechanic that was so angry early in the race was suffering from the fact that he had actually modified (read: sawn off) all of the team’s equipment because of his interpretation of the only way to apply the new regulation (UCI interpretation). His riders were now at a disadvantage by five or more centimeters on their time trial position and were more than angry with him when they saw other teams not at the same disadvantage.

What I do know as a former racer myself, friction/position select type shifters on the bar end are easily held in a TT position, adding some length to one’s reach. As the mechanics showed me, the new SRAM shifters, if one tries to hold them, will easily shift gears, limiting their usefulness if held to find a few more cm of reach. I completely sympathize with the assertion that the regulation seems to be directed at a specific model or brand, but that is the rule and interpretation and that is what I will enforce.

— Randy Shafer, USA

Dear Lennard,
I don’t know if you’re familiar with women’s cycling on the East Coast. There is a racer in the Northeast by the name of Kerry Litka who stands about 4-foot-10 who writes on her blogs occasionally about her travails with the UCI rules. She has a nice blog about her experience at Fitchburg last summer.
You might enjoy reading about the troubles the UCI rule is imposing on women racers.
— Dan

Dear Lennard,

UCI Commissaire Randy Shafer, right, with a Quick Step team mechanic discussing the shifter measurements. Photo: Brad Kaminski © VeloNew
UCI Commissaire Randy Shafer, right, with a Quick Step team mechanic discussing the shifter measurements at Tirreno-Adriatico. Photo: Brad Kaminski © VeloNews

As a tall guy I echo your complaints. As a racer, promoter, and faculty advisor to collegiate cyclists I feel the need to point out that the UCI seems to be worrying about these little details and missing the big ones. Even if a deeper fork blade saves seconds it pales in comparison to the rampant doping that’s out there. It’s hard for me to enjoy watching pro cycling anymore and now the UCI is doing everything it can to keep me from racing. What a bunch of BS.

Stay on their case.
— Adam

Dear Lennard,
I am in full agreement with you against the overreaching of the UCI and their damage to the sport by putting money ahead of sporting interests.

Please keep the articles coming, and I would also be in favor of seeing some sort of petition/ultimatum crafted by those in the press, those in the industry, and from the professional teams and race promoters.

We need to stand up against the UCI as it operates currently.

I am not always opposed to the UCI mandate, but it is most often controversial, and more importantly, as you mention, is immune to outside criticism.

Race radios, domestic racing (U.S. especially), the Olympic Track program, the frame certification program, and the newly unveiled “points” system are all examples where the UCI could have benefited greatly from outside feedback.

Even the Hour Record, which, as soon as the UCI tamped out any technology newer than 1970, lost all of its allure. What used to be a hallmark event is now too obscure to care about. There used to be several top professionals vying for the title at any given time. Now the record is challenged once in a blue moon and is currently held by … who? (No lack of respect for the achievement. Just sayin’)

I’m not a big fan of technology per se. TT bikes are really “out there” in my opinion. But the mandate of the UCI should be one of guidance, not governance. Governance should administered by all of the shareholders, so to speak. The Industry, the Participants, and the Press who can do their part to remind us how this sport is supposed to be.
— Olivier

Dear Lennard,
I agree the UCI is ridiculous. I look at it going even further back. Imagine if instead of banning the recumbent because it was faster, they had allowed progress in the design of the human powered vehicle we call the bike. Although I like riding a standard bike, it was a huge disservice to fix the standard to the early 1900’s. If the UCI had just said it has to be human powered with no energy storage, I think that most of us, and most people living in cities and suburbs, would be riding fast, comfortable, low cost, light weight, fully faired recumbent bikes rather than driving cars. Instead the bicycle is a relic and we all ride at great risk in automobile traffic. The world would be a better place if the UCI never existed.
— Rick

Dear Lennard,
Is it really wrong for the UCI to impose rules regarding bikes? I know this sentiment is unpopular, especially among those who are interested in the equipment side of cycling, but I can’t see what’s wrong with rules governing what cyclists ride. In auto racing there are very strict rules regarding weight, aerodynamics, tire size, fuel used, engine type and size. This still doesn’t make things entirely equal from car to car, but the playing field is a bit more level than it would be otherwise.

Regulating bikes for the hour record gives us a little better idea of the actual athletic performance of riders whose efforts are separated by years (I recall the heated arguments between my friends after Moser’s rides in the eighties). Personally, it doesn’t really bother me that the technology was reigned in, as I like to think of racing and record performances as more of a function of physical strength and conditioning than technology. The thing that I find irritating is changing rules back and forth or variably enforcing the rules (like the praying mantis TT position controversy).
— Mark

Dear Mark,
As you say, a rule is a lot easier to deal with if it is enforced consistently, which has not been the case with bike rules. A moving target is just cause for irritation, as when a rider is told he cannot ride a bike with which he has been passing the UCI checks all season and now suddenly, with no change in rules, it is now declared non-compliant.
— Lennard