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Wheel makers negotiate with UCI

Published March 26, 2013

TAIPEI, Taiwan (BRAIN) — Wheelmakers are preparing to take on cycling competition's governing body, the UCI, over testing the Swiss body requires for wheels used in sanctioned competition.

At a meeting here last week, manufacturers left little doubt of their opinion of UCI's wheel testing protocol, which is intended to ensure racers are safe.

"It's complete and utter nonsense," said Mad Fiber's Ric Hjertberg.

Most wheel makers already certify that their products pass EN, ISO and other standards. But the wheels must pass the UCI's impact test to be used in competition. Even companies like Mad Fiber that don't sponsor UCI-registered teams often have their wheels certified for marketing reasons.

Wheelmakers say the UCI test protocol is unrealistic, subjective, hard to reproduce, secretive and expensive.  The test simulates an impact against a wheel and then assesses the damage. The rule requires in part that rims "not present any shattered or broken off elements, or any sharp or serrated surfaces that could harm the user, other riders and/or third parties." Currently the UCI has approved just one lab, in Liège, Belgium, to perform the test.

The World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry is taking up the wheel industry's concerns. The Swiss-based group, which began representing bike industry manufacturers in 2010, was successful last year in negotiating with the UCI and the IOC to relax rules on logo use on Olympic bikes and parts. 

WFSGI's bike wheel committee is now negotiating with the UCI about the wheel standard and hopes to reach an agreement by the end of this year. The committee, formed last March, has met eight or nine times and some of its members attended a public WFSGI meeting during the Taipei Cycle Show last week. Hjertberg attended the public meeting; Mad Fiber is not yet a member of the WFSGI but he said the company plans to join. Most major wheel makers, including Mavic, Reynolds, Zipp, Specialized, Scott, Easton, Ritchey and FSA, are represented on the committe. (Seelist of committee members)

The committee's members' preferred outcome would be for the UCI to adopt the EN and/or ISO standards and round-file its own standard. 

"We are really quite convinced that the UCI test should be handled by ISO or EN because those are the best international bodies to create safety norms," said committee member Dirk Bruynseraede, who is operations manager for the Belgian bike brand Ridley.

At the same time, the committee is listening to the UCI's concerns about wheel crash safety and developing its own crash test, in part as a negotiating tool.

"We want to be prepared, so we have values," Bruynseraede said. "The UCI has asked us, 'what do you see as a good crash test?' and so we need to have something. And as they have a test now, they may want to continue to insist on a test, so we want to be prepared with a test that we know."

Aside from developing a more realistic crash test protocol, the committee is discussing standards for wheel height and braking performance. 

And the committee wants to make sure that any standards that come out of the negotiations with the UCI apply to all mass-start race wheels, regardless of material or construction method. Currently the rule applies to "non-standard" wheels, which the UCI defines as having something other than at least 16 metal spokes and rims taller than 2.5 cm. (See: UCI list of approved wheels and test protocol)

Committee members would like to be able to use other independent labs to certify their wheels.

The committee will meet with a UCI representative again in May and Bruynseraede said he hoped to reach an agreement on a revised wheel approval rule with the UCI by the end of the year, or perhaps as early as the Eurobike show in August.

"We are making progress, but as always, not fast enough for the industry," he said.

Related: Profile of WFSGI Secretary General Robbert de Kock in BRAIN's Taipei Cycle Show Day 2 newsletter.


A drawing of the wheel test protocol from the UCI website.
Topics associated with this article: Racing & Sponsorship, Taipei Cycle Show

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