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Technical FAQ with Lennard Zinn: Readers comment on the 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