Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Sorry, bitching about UCI again, but they have reached new heights (or plumbed new depths) ...

OK, I recognise this really isn't that interesting on the face of it - but I have a bee in my bonnet, and when that happens I need to let of steam ...

But hang on a minute - yes, it IS that interesting, as what the UCI is currently trying to put into place will have a long-term effect on the price that every consumer pays for every item of cycling kit that they buy ...

How so, I hear you all ask (well, at least one person did - I heard him ... or maybe her ...)

UCI is seeking to impose homologation onto the cycles, the equipment and the clothing that is used in cycle competition (see entries passim).

Part of this homologation, long term, will involve manufacturers having independant tests done on all items that they want to be useable in UCI-sanctioned events. The key thing here is independant testing ... in-house testing for conformity to, say, the new CEN standards will not be acceptable according to Julien Carron, who heads the UCI's new technical commission.

So, year on year, every time a manufacturer produces a new part, if they want it to be legal on the road, track, cyclo-cross or mountain bike circuit, where the events being participated in are governed by the rules of the UCI, they'll have to first, comply with the current interpretation of the UCI's rules (and that can be pretty fluid - Julien Carron on at least three occasions during this video shot by Carlton Reid, has to freestyle his way out of a consideration that clearly hasn't been fully thought through in the frame approval regulations). Second, they then have to do some in-house testing - well, OK, they don't have to, but it'd be wise to do so - and last they have to go "outside" to a third party, whose tests according to M. Carron, "may have to equal or exceed" the existing test protocols (although UCI hasn't figured out yet what these tests will be).

And who, dear reader, is going to foot the bill for this? You are - as part of the retail price of whatever you buy ... because the factory-gate price of an item will include a component of the cost of this testing, whether what you are actually buying is the item tested or not. And that component will then be marked up successively through the supply chain, and right at the end, will of course also have VAT added to it.

And does any of this make any kind of sense at all?

Not really, no.

The effects will be varied across the industry, but things that I can see immediately raising their heads are:

The wide availability and use in, say, domestic calendar events that carry UCI categorisation of frames bought from respected manufacturers and then sprayed as models by retailers or wholesalers will come to an end - because say distributor "x" is buying a frame from another distributor of product "y" ... not an uncommon arrangement ... and having it sprayed in his colours. According to the rules as they are written, the only people who can apply the "UCI Approved" decal, required for competitive use in UCI-sanctioned events, are the makers of the frame. M. Carron modified this verbally (but it's not in the written rule) to say that the manufacturer may "nominate" others to respray their frames ... but that doesn't get around frames made by a company and sent down the supply chain "raw", or without paint - and how many makers in the Far East are going to know about & be bothered to approve a paint shop in Belgium, say, doing paintwork for a UK company? I'd say the chances of that happening are about one in infinity squared ....

OK, now expand that out to a commonplace item like a handlebar stem. I know of some manufacturers who buy their stems in from a third party, relabel it as their own and bring it to market - nowt wrong with that, it happens to a multitude of things in life - but how is that type approval going to feed down the supply chain? I know of one commonly sold Far Eastern stem that is own labelled by at least five manufacturers I can think of ... d'you think all of them are going to pay for homologisation? And if they do - who will pay the costs - go figure, as they say.

The net effect a few years down the line is that we'll end up with less choice, from bigger, global organisations who can afford the initial investment in the costs of testing and homologisation, and we'll pay more for it as those organistions seek a return on that investment - for no good reason other than a misguided and misinformed set of rules drawn up by a self-appointed set of officials based in Aigle, Switzerland.

What needs to happen is that UCI needs to understand better how the industry really works - so as to stop the likes of Pat McQuaid making ridiculously mis-informed statements like (to paraphrase) "many of the composite frames out there are made in two or three factories in the far east for $30 or $40" ... out by a factor of about 10, there, Pat on both the number of major makers AND the factory gate price ... and then they need to go back to the rules, simplify them (not do as they are at the moment and make them still more obscure) - but first they need to understand what it is that they are really trying to do.

To say, as UCI do, and both Pat McQuaid and Julien Carron have re-iterated in Carlton Reid's videos, here and here, that they are are trying to ensure the ascendancy of the athlete over the equipment is an untenable position. If that ideal had been followed in the past, we'd all still be punting our Draisiennes along with the soles of our feet, with no tyres, wearing plus-fours and top hats ....

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