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Analysis: Eliminating the UCI bike weight limit is overdue

  • By Caley Fretz
  • Published Jul. 1, 2011
The "UCI Approved" label.

The UCI is taking a second look at the 6.8kg (14.99lb) weight limit currently inflicted on race bikes, with an eye towards relaxing it in the future. UCI technical coordinator Julien Carron suggested that changes could be in the works in a presentation made to journalists at UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland.

UK trade magazine BikeBiz’s Carlton Reid broke the news after attending the presentation.

According to Reid, Carron stated that the 6.8kg limit could be relaxed if companies can prove that their frames and components are safe. Such a designation would have to be proved in independent labs, stepping away from the in-house testing most manufacturers rely on now. Testing protocols would exceed the current CEN safety standards.

In theory, this testing could become part of the expensive UCI approval process already in place — possibly adding even more cost to that operation.

Up on the soapbox

It’s about time. The 6.8kg rule was poorly thought out to begin with, and is now outdated to the point of absurdity. That the UCI is considering changes is encouraging, providing a little hope that their new technical coordinator, Carron, may finally be able to add some sanity to the governing body’s creation and enforcement of technical regulations. We can only hope.

The original Rule 1.3.019 stems from concerns over rider safety, and was created in an era where a 6.8kg bike may have actually been dangerous. When frames were metal and a steady drill hand was prerequisite for a limit-busting bike, the rule made sense. The opportunity for failure of a one-off or customized component was a reality. Today, thanks to rapid advances in composite technology within the bike industry, that is no longer the case.

In fact, many of the 6.8kg machines that will be ridden in the Tour’s first stage Saturday roll off their respective show floors well under that limit. Go buy a Trek Madone 6.9 SSL, identical to the one used by Leopard-Trek this year, and it will add only about 6.5kg to your roof rack on the way home. Is it a dangerous bike? Certainly not. The build is expensive but ordinary — Dura-Ace, Bontrager carbon wheels, bar, and stem — all tried and true and ready to take punishment until the urge for something new wins its war on your wallet once again.

Consumers no longer have to yearn for the unattainable bikes of the pros — now, ours are better.

Even with completely normal components, parts that consumers ride every day without issue, team mechanics regularly have to add weight to their machines. Solid chainrings, chain catchers, or even a bit of chain down the seat tube do nothing to improve safety.

Further, the 6.8kg rule as it is currently written does not take into account a rider’s weight. So Fabian Cancellara, all 180 pounds of him, can ride a bike that weighs exactly that same as that of tiny Venezuelan climber Jose Rujano, who would be lucky to break 120 pounds. That same bike is less than 8 percent of Fabian’s body weight, and nearly 13 percent of Jose’s. So either Fabian’s bike is wildly unsafe, or poor Jose is riding a relative tank for no reason.

Of course, setting a weight limit that is relative to rider weight would be difficult to enforce. UCI commissares are too frequently confused by their own rules already.

And eliminating the weight limit completely would be foolish — there is still a border to which current technology can be pushed, where it begins to run up against the edge of safety. Today, that edge is closer to 12 or 13 pounds though, not 15.

Drop the limit to an even 6kg (13.22lbs). Bring the rule into the 21st century. Do it without adding more insane “testing” charges to get that pretty little UCI Approved sticker.

Can you do it, UCI?

FILED UNDER: Bikes and Tech TAGS:

Caley Fretz

Caley Fretz

Tech Editor Caley Fretz can usually be found chasing races along the backroads of Europe or testing bikes and gear in the mountains outside Boulder, Colorado. If you can't find him there, check the coffee shop across from VN World Headquarters.

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