Tech letters, November 16, 2004
Readers respond to 'How light is too light?'
Technical discussions always generate plenty of emails, so last week we invited comments on the UCI bike weight limit and braced for a deluge. You didn't disappoint us. John Stevenson summarises your comments and introduces a selection of your emails.
Last week's article on the UCI's 6.8kg weight limit generated a flurry of emails from readers expressing their opinions on the subject, and as you'd expect from a group as diverse as Cyclingnews readers. Opinion ranged right across the spectrum from 'abandon all limits and let technology run wild' to 'keep the limit - sport should be rider vs rider' and even 'increase the limit - 6.8kg is too light'!
Just about every reader who thought the limit should be abandoned was in favour or replacing it with a safety certification system, a tool that would perhaps be a far more precise way of ensuring that race bikes are safe, though it would also undoubtedly be more expensive. (As an example of the pitfalls of safety certification systems, look at the Australian helmet market. Some models of high-end helmet are just not available in Australia because Australian certification is expensive and the importers would not recoup the cost through the sales of a relatively small number of helmets.)
Other readers drew attention to the issue that a bike weight standard doesn't have any effect on how the weight is achieved - ultra-light components on a heavy frame might be more risky than a 'balanced' spec on a light but durable frame.
Nevertheless, many readers feel the weight limit is fundamentally a good thing. It keeps the focus in racing on the athletes not the technology, which many people feel is philosophically correct, however much bike makers might want to sell us the latest and greatest (and there was a definite undercurrent of resentment against the industry for constantly producing more and more expensive equipment that, some feel, puts the entry point for cycling higher and higher).
In support of the weight rule, many readers drew analogies with other sports including Formula 1, which has a huge technical rulebook; baseball with the banning of aluminium bats at pro level; yachting and others. We also got a few entertaining stories of how these rules get bent, or at least nullified. In Formula 1 especially, it seems every rule intended to keep cost and speeds under control just moves the focus of technology elsewhere.
Some readers, even if they approved of the weight rule in principal, thought it was unfair that the same limit applied to all riders, regardless of their size and weight. As it happens Cyclingnews diarist made exactly this point in his latest tale from the Moscow World Cup, where he tells of riders on small, light bikes dropping chains into their seat tubes to bring them up to spec.
Many of the most thoughtful responses didn't express a strong opinion either way, but brought some more analysis to the issue. Does it really make much difference anyway, was a common thread to these letters. Racing is racing and Lance Armstrong is going to be a victory chance whatever he and everyone else is riding; and great races of the past were no less exciting because the riders were on heavier bikes than today.
A popular suggestion among readers who didn't come down hard on one side or the other was that the UCI should re-assess the weight limit every so often. That way, new technologies and their costs could be accommodated without the rule being brought into disrepute by 3.8kg show specials or 6.5kg retail bikes.
My very rough assessment of the 114 emails we've received over the last few days shows them to be divided 52 against the limit, 30 in favour and 32 'on the fence'. Over the next few pages we've collected a selection of your thoughts on this subject. Given that everyone loves a light bike, we think this is one debate that will continue as long as bikes are still raced!