This article first appeared on BikeRadar.
Professional cycling's governing body is overhauling its wheel-testing program with new protocols and required stickers for all wheels that will be used in UCI races in 2014.
In 2011 the UCI began a frame-approval program that requires all framesets used in elite competition to be approved by the Switzerland-based organization. Under the auspices of safety and fair play, the UCI charges each company a fee for each bike submitted for approval. Combined with a rule that specifies that these stickers be placed under the frame's clearcoat, the end result for everyday riders is that many of our bikes these days have UCI stickers on them. The same could soon apply to wheels.
BikeRadar spoke with technical coordinator Matthieu Mottet and representatives from several wheel companies about what this still-developing new program could mean for the wheels ridden by professionals and those available for sale to enthusiasts.
"The new procedure is for January 2014 and this homologation will be mandatory for all wheels used in race only," Mottet told BikeRadar, explaining that this new procedure is an update of a current test. "All approved wheels will receive a label to confirm that they are allowed in races. The control for the commissaires will be easier."
And, to hear Reynolds Composites' Paul Lew tell it, the new protocol could actually have some merit, whereas the current test is not worth much, he says.
Consisting of UCI officials and wheel company representatives, the UCI wheel committee recently met in Aigle, Switzerland, to discuss a new testing standard.
"The UCI crash test that wheels are all required to pass now came about because of the old Spinergy," Lew said of the eight-spoke carbon wheels that could shatter and send shards flying in a hard crash. The current test seeks to determine whether pieces could explode out from a crashed wheel, but does not really test for the safety or construction of a functioning wheel, Lew said.
"We as wheel companies asked, is this appropriate? A group of manufacturers recommended that the test be modified. UCI has been very accepting and even cooperative, asking for input," he said. "We understand that, as manufacturers, a stiff wheel is a good wheel. But the UCI could make something out of newspaper and it would be a good wheel, according to the current test."
"One other thing discussed was the loophole for handbuilt wheels," Lew said. "If you're a brand, you’re required to pass this test. However, if you are a wheelbuilder, you can assemble wheels and give them to a team, and the team can ride the wheels. Production models have to be tested, but not custom wheels. That regulation is likely changing."
Finally, the committee decided to deal with all spokes the same way, Lew said, instead of having two different standards for metal and carbon fiber.
Representatives from other wheel companies say they hope the UCI will not hinder new technology with any new regulations.
"Mavic has a good relationship with the UCI. They're just across the border, 40 or 50km from the Annecy Design Center, so it's easy for Mavic product developers to visit with the UCI and discuss regulations or potential issues," said Zack Vestal, Mavic's communication manager. "If anything, a UCI approval sticker can only be good for Mavic, because our products are already heavily tested to withstand significant abuse. Like any other manufacturer, we would hope the UCI's technical regulations foster innovation, rather than stifling development of new ideas."
A Shimano representative who wished anonymity said that the Japanese company was involved in the UCI discussions, which were "headed in the right direction."
At Campagnolo, press manager Joshua Riddle echoed Mavic's sentiment on UCI testing. "As was stated in the meeting by most all of the industry’s wheel producers, the need for wheel testing isn’t immediately apparent as data regarding wheel failure hasn’t shown problems in the market," Riddle said. "It won’t affect the way Campagnolo produces wheels as we hold ourselves to very strict standards. We have invested heavily in our own testing facility and take painstaking effort into testing each and every aspect of both current wheels as well as new wheels that we plan to release. We also test heavily in real world circumstances well before products are even tested with our athletes. With such a heavy emphasis on quality control and product integrity it is difficult to foresee how an outside agency could improve on what we are already dedicated on guaranteeing: safety, quality and performance."
Still, Reynolds' Lew remains hopeful about the new regulations, based on the fact that the UCI is requesting input instead of just handing down mandates from on high.
"We don’t want arbitrary decisions from the UCI," Lew said. "We want them to be based in real-world safety concerns. Now the UCI is listening to us, and this is a big change."