Tech letters, November 16, 2004
Readers respond to 'How light is too light?'
Here's a sample of letters from readers who feel that the UCI bike weight limit needs to be dropped.
Small bikes & track
A rider I coach is a national team track rider who has competed at the World Championships and World Cups for the past 6 years. She is just over 5 feet tall and with the UCI now enforcing the 6.8 kg rule for track bikes I do not see how this follows any charter on the philosophy of sport. A 46 cm bike should not have to be the same weight as a 58cm bike. On a track bike, with single speed, no brakes or gears and shifters this weight minimum is beyond ridiculous when compared with road or cyclocross bikes.
At the recent World Cup in Moscow, this rider had to add over two pounds of lead weights in the seat tube. Other countries not aware of the rule "borrowed" cutlery from the dining room to drop down the seat tube. How a 6.8 kg mass start race bike is any safer than a 5.8 kg one is beyond me. Adding these weights is potentially unsafe which again contradicts another intent of this rule.
Track bikes, especially mass start ones are perhaps technologically advanced in terms of materials but in my opinion they are the purest form of bicycle still raced and closest to the original idea and intent of what a bike should be.
The UCI's technical consultant Mr. Wauthier should really re-examine this rule as it in no way allows for a fair competition or perhaps even a safe one. The rule is not even properly enforced in that bikes are weighed well in advance of each race and riders can in fact take ballast out and risk getting caught with the only repercussion of having to put the weight back in.
This rule needs to be changed.
A pro opinion
I´ve been a pro rider for the last 12 years. I have a Fondriest TF1, weight 5.8 kg and I train normally every day. I think I'm safe, without doubt. Anyway UCI misunderstanding is always like this. Trying to confuse everybody. My question is, why 6.8? What kind of scientific people are there in the UCI to decide 6.8 and not 6.7 or 5.8?
[David Plaza is a professional rider with the Cafés Baqué team - Ed]
I actually sent a letter to UCI regarding the weight rule. Not only is 15 lb an arbitrary weight, it applies to all cyclists. It seems to me that someone the size of Eros Poli or Magnus Backstedt would put a lot more stress on a bike than someone the size of Heras or Simoni. I see two ways to revise the standard: one is suggested by Gerard Vroomen, in which a safety group would test the bicycles; the second would have a weight ratio, such as the bicycle weighing no less than 10% of the rider's weight. If they have weight limits for wheels and pedals, why not for entire bicycles?
First off, very good article. I think the two biggest factors when deciding what should or shouldn't be done with regards to modifying the minimum weight rule are cost and safety. The safety aspect is pretty easy to enforce in that it could be accomplished by an independent testing agency. I actually think this should be done anyway for all bikes that make up the equipment of a professional team as defined by the UCI. It doesn't mean that all frames from that company have to go through the expense of a standards test, but ones that did could be labeled as such and this would be a marketing tool. I could see some company with a lot of money and crappy bikes sponsoring a team a giving them really light bikes that are not safe and this would prevent that.
Money becomes an issue in that I don't think it would be good for only a few of the really big budget manufacturers to be able to supply their team with super-light bikes. I think this would not be good for a lot of the smaller companies.
As a consumer and a cyclist of light proportions a like the idea of there being some freedom for the manufacturers to develop lighter bikes because they would eventually become affordable as the processes are refined. Rules seldom are kept the same forever in sports which involve technology so this should be no different. Perhaps taking the average weight of the frames in the Division 1 teams and allowing the lightest to be 10% less than the average might work. No manufacturer would want to have the heaviest bike so they would progress to a lighter bike and the average would lower and so on but without huge steps and they would all have to pass the safety test. This would let technology progress but I don't think it would cause a big spike in spending.
Tucson, AZ, USA
Apply design principles
Very interesting article on weight limits etc. I spent many years in the engineering industry before taking up my current occupation of software developer. As any person in the technical/engineering field will testify, the consideration with safety should be based on sound design/construction principles. To this end a safety certification system is a much fairer way of dealing with weight considerations that a strictly imposed upper weight limit. Your article quotes manufacturers Scott and Cervelo as both producing bikes considerable below the UCI weight limit, which the professional peloton is unable to use. Surely this situation must change so that progress in technology is not limited by an arbitrarily imposed weight restriction. If a frame can meet certain design/test parameters, then it should be permitted.
It will be interesting to see what other readers think. Thanks for the article and a great website. I read it daily!!
Truth be told, the 6.8 kg weight limit was ill-conceived to start with, as a 6.8 kg bike makes up a much larger percentage of the total system weight for a 55 kg rider than is does for a more average 73 kg rider. It is also much easier to build a lighter bike for a small rider (48 cm frame, 170 mm cranks, etc) than for a large rider.
I must however admit that I am still more troubled by the UCI's policy regarding other innovations such as Softride frames, Spinacci-type handlebars, and the Obree 'superman' position than by the weight limit. Especially banning the use of a specific position on the bike, which made much more difference than the actual equipment used, goes against the UCI's stated intention of levelling the playing field. And bikes are still often prohibitively expensive, regardless of whether they weigh under or over the legal limit.
That said, I am in a position where I am unable to use my favourite set of pedals (M2Racer) because my bike comes in under the legal limit when built up with them. But I still believe that there are more pressing matters that the UCI should be confronted on before we worry about the weight limit.
... but well-meaning
Nice article on the UCI weight rule. From its inception I felt it (the rule, not the article) was ill-conceived, yet well-meaning. Given the rapid advances in the bike industry, it's not surprising that there is already pressure to make changes.
The effect of the UCI weight restriction is to limit technological advance in the sport, whether intended or not. If the intent was to promote safety then the restriction would be related to performance characteristics regardless of weight. If the intent was to "level the playing field" then every rider would be on identical bikes.
The UCI weight limit takes a global view of a component-based problem. While all of the focus has been on the bicycle manufacturers, the actual frame accounts for only about 15% of the total weight of a typical bike in the pro peloton. A handlebar snapping or a super thin tire blowing can have just as devastating a consequence as a frame failure. Simply putting a weight limit on the complete bike ignores the relevance of component strength and performance.
Pro cycling, like any other athletic endeavor, relies on the physical and mental capabilities of the individual combined with proper training, and optimally developed equipment. Given the money involved and the stakes at play in pro cycling, it stands to reason that athletes, teams and sponsors all have a vested interest in maximizing performance.
Don't deny opportunities to achieve improvements through technological means. Its good for the sport, the industry and it is a much more desirable method of enhancing performance than what we have been faced with all too often recently.
Podium Imports Canada
What's the obstacle?
If one can build a bike, only from parts manufactured under labels of the most popular brands, which are highly used by pros, that weights about 6 kilo's total, I can't truly see any technical obstacle to lower the UCI. Just with, for instance, Deda, ITM, Zipp and FSA parts together with any widely known top-end frames (Scott CR-1, Trek Madone, Orbea Orca, Cervélo etc - to mention those known from the peloton) you can easily shave the weight down to the 6 kilo level. The issue can be pro teams budgets, but as long as manufacturers are the ones interested in lowering, there shouldn't be much troubles with sponsors providing nice stuff for riders.
Legalise aero bikes too
I think it needs to be changed. Technology progresses slowly but it still progresses. The weight of a bike should be tested by it's strength. There should be some sort of testing done like cars to see if a bicycle's strength meets certain requirements and there should not be a blanket policy on weight limit. I would also like to see the ban lifted on the ultra-aerodynamic carbon beam bikes that were eliminated back in 1999, for example the Lotus Bike, the Hotta frame and other frames that are not "Double Diamond" in shape.
The UCI weight limit should be revised downward in light of increasing numbers of off-the-shelf bikes now testing the current limit. Actually, a durability & strength test would make greater sense. This type of 'limit' would encourage improvements in design & construction methods which would benefit racers & eventually the public. But for now, a reduction of 10% in the weight limit seems easily justifiable & necessary. The pursuit of high-end lightweight bike parts is ultimately a consumer choice, and many of us can afford to indulge in the latest & lightest; it helps the economy, doesn't it? So step aside, UCI!
Test - and publish
I would support a reduction in weight limits provided there was rigorous independent testing of all components and that such test results were available on the internet to the general public. In 2004 we have seen many, many product recalls of cycling products so this is not an unreasonable demand.
Gympie, Qld, Australia
Don't restrict the pros
I ride a 5.9kg bike centered around a Giant TCR frame--it is very expensive, and incredibly strong. I say abandon all limits and see what happens--I believe pros won't ride bikes that break, and each individual other than pros are allowed to ride bikes like mine, or even lighter, at their own risk. Surely the UCI is not paternalistic when it comes to rider's safety--it makes no sense. Not that the rule on weight has hampered innovation--the ease with which you can buy a 13lb bike is proof of that. Let the market, and consumers, have the last word on this--and don't restrict the professional peloton from keeping up with the rest of us.
Too many cocktail parties
My understanding is that this all started because the IOC thought it was dreadful that the average sub-Saharan villager couldn't afford a new Colnago. That's what happens when you move to Lausanne and go to those cocktail parties. Mix this with the NASCAR concept of marketing drivers rather than V8s and a bunch of UCI officials who grew up in the era when men wore wool and bikes were steel and: "Heavens, Lord Farquenoquer, those don't look like the REAL bikes we rode as lads, now do they?"
The idea that a peasant like myself can have a daily ride lighter (and possibly better) than that of the top pros. trivializes bike racing to the level of reality TV shows. If they want to eliminate the tech aspect, let everyone ride stationary trainers. See how that sells on primetime.
Eureka, CA, USA