I've been doing a lot of reading lately. Trust me when I say that the UCI approval process makes for some pretty dry material. It's also vague enough that it could be subject to considerable interpretation. Before I'd 100% convinced myself that the Wheelhouse was exempt from the program, being within the rules and having existed before 1/1/11, I decided I'd better seek comment from the appropriate person at USAC. On Sunday morning at oh-dark-thirty, I wrote an email to said appropriate person. Shocked was I when, before I'd finished that cup of coffee, the following response was in my in-box:
"Considering the UCI has sent no official info to us and everybody is going by a news article only, I have no idea how they or we will be dealing with the alleged sticker program yet. I am sure we will announce it as soon as we know."
Since this is such an important initiative in ensuring riders that they and their competitors are all riding compliant machines, it makes sense that the UCI would immediately make all of the details known to the national organizing bodies in beyond a timely matter. Or...
In as few words as I can, with as much bullet pointing as I can do (both of which are, to me, as mountain tt's are to Cavendish), here are some salient points about the rule:
- Frames and forks that were brought to market, in use, or in development prior to 1/1/11 are exempt from the program so long as they comply with the technical rules in the first place
- Any "technological innovation" has to be pre-approved by the UCI executive bureau before it can be implemented into a design. I think run of the mill acronym-worthy marketing "innovations" are exempt from this puppy (but it's subjective as get out), but something on the order of, say carbon construction, or BB30, or tapered head tubes, or index shifting, or clipless pedals, or electronic shifting - big stuff - would have to be pre-approved basically by executive fiat before it could be used. Does anyone have any faith that the political clout of the presenter might have something to do with the approval or not of the innovation?
- Nothing can be used in a race until it is approved, in production, and available on the market. Seemingly, this spells the end for product debuts at the Tour or anywhere else. Must be that sneaky Australian lobby that wanted to make TDU the significant shop window of the year. Given some previous things I've written about development, production, and launch cycles, this could be a cataclysmic change in the way things get done in bike world.
- Tubes can't have kinks in them. That freaky-looking Look tt bike is probably auf, and I have my doubts about the Tarmac's top tube. The illustration that basically creates the rule is vague, but basically a tube can't go one way and then another. Arcs need to be contained within a percentage of their length.
- It will be real easy to see what all frames are rebrands, as unless you want to put your own $14000 check in the pot, any frame that is a rebrand will be listed as an approved rebrand of the OEM frame/fork model number. We're fine with this - we'd love for people to have this kind of info. It makes us look awesome. Or it costs all of the people with something to hide $14k (the UCI will happily take your check if you want to keep your pants on and have your rebrand approved separately).
- In perhaps the most subjective litmus test I've ever read in my life, a model is considered needing re-approval if its modification for a model year subsequent to its original approval is more significant than what you might confuse with another size of the same frame. That one makes my head hurt. Does it mean if you marry the back end of one of your 56s to the front end of a 62, that's cool? Uggh.
- You can approve and sticker pre-existing frames. So Cannondale could go out and have their CAAD10 approved and stickered, even though it's exempt from the program.
I think those are the greatest hits, or the ones that stood out the most.
Some other big points to consider:
- Will a manufacturer like Specialized have their lower-tier road frames stickered in the future? If they're redesigned, they will have to be or they will be ineligible to race. Which means that anyone getting into racing will have to buy a bike that's at "sticker level" or above. Talk about price point support. College cyclists just took it in the pants on that one!
- My head hurts thinking about what custom builders are going to have to go through. It's $800 to authorize a frame made from tubes (i.e. not in a mold), but what does Richard Sachs now do when he sells a unique frame to a person with unique physiology? Or Leonard Zinn - customers with unique physiology are his core market!
- It takes about 2 months (predicted) to go from initial submission to approved and ready for stickers.
- What they are going to do about IP, realistically, is beyond me. They make nice noise about it, but cue Flavor Flav - DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE!
- All of the costs for this thing will be borne by amateur racers and, as we've considered before, the majority of the race bike market that will never ever pin a number on. Apart from one funny blog a while ago about a college kid who showed up to race with the better part of a discarded refrigerator as his frame, has anyone ever had an issue with a non-compliant road bike in an amateur race? Get ready to play the next round of "paying for problems you never had!!!" My favorite game show.
- Not surprisingly, there's a lot of resistance to this whole thing. The VAST majority of everything I've read on it is negative.
- A model, for the purposes of approval, consists of no more than 8 sizes. The big and small just got a little bit screwed on that one.
- The whole thing about technical innovations applies to anything "used, worn, or carried by a rider." So that rabbit hole is a deep and wide one, too.
Remember a couple of years ago when the R-Sys came out, and they started blowing up, and there was the thing about pre-approving wheels, and then as soon as you heard about it the first time you never heard about it again? This may turn out to be one of those. Or it might be one of those, like the 3:1 rule, where they ignored it for years and then all of a sudden decided to enforce it at the Tour or something like that. But even on that one, I think that may have been an elaborate rouse to concoct necessity for this program and thus guarantee UCI a hefty ransom every time a manufacturer makes a new model. And it doesn't get past me for a second that I think there are some players who are in bed with some others over this issue.
Our agent told me that the Cannondale people in Taiwan (they have product managers and stuff over there - guys like our agent only they work for one company) who knew basically bupkus about the program. Not saying that Cannondale is behind the curve at all. It's more likely that they are so far ahead of the curve that there is no reason to consider it at that level.
My prediction is that this is a really stupid initiative that will die from popular resistance/neglect after a short time. UCI leadership has shown time and time again that they are completely disinterested in a level playing field, and that their primary interest is in securing their income, and I think they've overplayed their hand even more than usual on this.
Since a lot of people are getting up to speed on this issue, it's likely that bits and pieces of arguments are going to wind up in different venues. If you repost all or any part of this post, please attribute it. You are welcome to use it as you wish but you must attribute.