Sunday, 31 July 2022

Association of Professional Cycle Mechanics ... is it time?

 I've been thinking about penning (if that's appropriate to something that will appear in digital media) this piece for a while.

I've avoided doing so for a number of reasons - one, I don't like presenting a problem without at least having some kind of solution up my sleeve, two, I didn't want to give others an idea that I have been dwelling on for a very long time, three, I don't like going off half-cocked at anything I take on, I prefer to have a complete plan in my head of where I am going and how I am going to get there.

However, some circumstances have changed and with the gathering pace in the transformation of retail and looking at the ever-increasing volume of mail in my inbox on technical matters, now seems like a good time to talk about a wider view of technical training in the UK and wider markets.

I'd like to start with the premise that in the cycle industry at present, we are selling an increasingly complex technical product to a customer base with a decreasing appreciation of what they are buying.

Electronic shifting, hydraulic disc brakes, fully integrated handlebar and stem systems, more complex suspension systems and e-bike (which may also incorporate some, or all, of the above) have all made the technical landscape in recent years more complex.

At the same time, we have seen the rise and rise of both remote selling and of D2C retail models from manufacturer / assemblers.

As this has gone on, we have also seen an increasingly active market amongst what might be described as technically unskilled consumers, as distinct from more technically capable and interested hobbyists, which was more of the picture 20 years ago - there's been an exponential rise in the number of individuals who are buying a product that they themselves, for a variety of reasons, don't service or maintain themselves.

As these changes have taken place, bricks and mortar retail has come under increasing pressure on price and an early casualty of price pressure can be service and / or the quality of technicians that look at customer bikes.

What I believe is now needed, is an industry-driven Association dedicated to improving the quality and knowledge base of shop and independent technicians in a transparent way, whereby those wishing to enter that sector of the industry can see a career path and progression, whilst final customers can see and draw a distinction between recent entrants into that sector, recent entrants with a level of basic training (or who are engaged in training) and more experienced entrants, again with a proven level of ongoing technical training and crucially, proof of competence.

In the UK there are several training organisations, all of whom work on a broadly similar model - three levels of technical competence, from the entry at Level 1 to the (currently) most advanced at Level 3. The levels fall broadly within the structure defined by the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and an accreditation at each level can, in all cases, be attained via a series of short intensive courses, with varying levels of proof of competence at the end of each course.

The problem with this, is that it grossly underestimates the value of experience. In the industry, all of us on the technical side understand that the pieces of paper will only take you so far and that experience plus knowledge is the formula that creates the best results - but it's all too easy for a consumer (or an employer) to be seduced by a long list of course achievements, with no reference made to experience "on the tools".

As a training provider, we've had huge numbers of conversations with employers disillusioned with new employees with all the certifications under the sun but only very limited workshop time, as well as with final customers who are starting to see certifications as a kind of whitewash devised by clever marketeers, to lure them into spending their hard-earned cash with a shop that may and may not still have the technicians with the certifications that it claims, who may and may not be the people who actually do the job on their bike.

An industry-driven Association for professional cycle mechanics / technicians with proven accreditations and proven time-served in the workshop is one element of the solution to this hoary old problem. The other is to publicise where those technicians are working so that final customers can say that they want technician "x" to work on their bike - and to track their employment so that if a tech moves from one shop to another, the tech themselves inform the Association.

The techs themselves, I believe, need to invest in at least some of the technical education that underpins their membership. The Association could work on a subscription model, such that the annual subscription, paid by the technician, not the employer, provides not only the listing or directory but also pays for one or two days of CPD a year ... then, continuous employment and the acquisition of training / assessment credits builds to produce a career pathway for the tech - a move, if you will, from apprentice, to journeyman to master technician.

Of course, many employers will by now be shouting at the screen, saying "that gives my mechanic too much power, they can leverage that into salary or benefits!" Well - yes, it does. Is that such a bad thing, though?. If employers want to retain technicians, they will have to pay them commensurate with their skills and what they bring to the business - but, dear employer, if you were a technician with 20 years of hard-won experience with a brace of demanding accreditations to your name, would you not be asking for just that same recognition?

The final piece of the jigsaw is manufacturer buy-in. I've spoken to probably 30 manufacturers in the last few months and outlined a proposition, where they might access, at training centres around the UK already set up for teaching cycle mechanics, techs who are genuinely thirsty for knowledge - whether those manufacturers choose to cascade their courses down through established trainers such as ourselves, or just utilise the facilities we are able to provide and deliver the training themselves. I have heard not a single voice of dissent.

It seems to me that we are in a situation as an industry, where vast damage can be done to the reputation of brands all too easily - and one element of that is poor assembly and set up of bikes and or components.

If we can build an Association that addresses this, along with improving customer service in the round, gives technicians a meaningful career progression that is externally visible and that is properly rewarded, it seems to me that it's something that we should be doing.

Yes, there may be some dispute, some infighting amongst the vendors or purveyors of technical training - we are all competitors, after all. Some are large and have great financial resource, some are smaller and have more limited resources (but may have deep specialist knowledge that is missing from the larger generalists) but three things strike me:

First is that there is more demand for training than there has ever been and the market is bigger than all of the providers collectively can service.

Second is that if we work together, we don't need to lose our individual identities but we can maximise our worth to the industry that provides us with our customers.

Third, some level of cross-fertilisation will undoubtedly come about , meaning that all providers will improve from the propogation of best practice, which will be to the general benefit of the candidates, their customers and the credibility of the Professional Bicycle Mechanic in the market ... which has to be good for all concerned, from manufacturers all the way through to final customers.

So - is it time?

Saturday, 12 June 2021

UltraTorque BBs - the actual truth (I'm not trying to get a rise out of you, unlike some) ...

Some will know, we at Velotech and I in particular, have a very long-term association with Campagnolo - you only have to visit our website at to realise that, as a factory-appointed, trained and accredited Service Centre, we have a close working relationship with Campagnolo.

I have to say, though, that just because we have the association with Campagnolo that we do and just because I, as lead technician and MD of Velotech Cycling Ltd have worked with them in various capacities since 1987, I don't pretend that they've never made a mistake, nor that everything they make is perfect.

We are independent of Campagnolo, just as we are of the other companies with whom we work closely.

Which leads us to discussions of UltraTorque.

I've been having an "interesting" discussion with Hambini over on his (in my view, unnecessarily toxic and confrontational) YouTube channel about UltraTorque, in which he makes a number of, as far as I can see, unsupported assertions about the way that UT is designed.

When UT was introduced in late 2006 as part of the 2007 model year range, I wasn't actually working directly with Campagnolo - I saw it as a prototype product at the factory whilst there on a visit to discuss technical training in 2004 (I'm amazed to this day, that I was allowed to see it) - but by the time it was introduced into the market, the technical training business that I was a director of had foundered and I was "back on the tools" courtesy of a good friend with a generous heart, who made a job for me at this shop (he didn't really need another mechanic but having worked for him before, he had enough confidence in my skill and knowledge to take me on to look after some of the high-end jobs that came into his store).

UT interested me. At the factory, I had been privileged to speak to the design engineering team and to be given quite a lot of advance information that I found interesting - they'd adopted some fairly novel solutions to a range of problems, some of them a little unusual in the cycle industry.

The problems that they needed to solve were that in oversize axle, external cup bearing situations, a means needs to be found of compensating for bottom bracket shell widths (why that should be, we'll come to later), a set of strong patents held by Shimano (who had launched Hollowtech II a couple of years before, though their patents had been filed for some time) and a desire to keep the stance width of the rider (sometimes called Q factor) the same as that offered by their existing cranksets, as well as to improve, if possible, the ankle clearance.

Cost, of course, was a factor, as was ease of maintenance, the fact that they wanted most if not all the tooling used in assembly to be available freely in the market or from non-cycle specific sources, the design needed to be durable and it needed to be capable of modification to a variety of upcoming scenarios that were already on the horizon, in terms of frame interfaces.

In brief, the solution they devised was two cranks, each carrying a semi-axle, with a Hirth joint centrally placed. The bearings would be interference-mounted to the base of each semi-axle, with the right hand one retained by a circlip. The fact that the BB shell and therefore the cups that the assembly would be fitted to, might vary in width as a result of machining the mating surfaces of the BB shell parallel (in some materials, this parallel can drift as a result of the frame manufacturing process, as well as simple poor QC) was accommodated by the use of a sprung pre-load washer under the left-hand bearing, with the pre-load held within the tolerance required by the bearing manufacturer (SKF) by carefully controlled specification of that pre-load washer.

The BB cups themselves were to be simple recipients for the bearings, themselves a tight slip-fit into the cups. This allowed for future development of the cups for shells that might not be threaded ...

Any tendency for side-to-side motion of the crankset was controlled by an oddly-named "safety clip", which is basically a sprung semi-circular clip installed on the drive side, with two ends that penetrate the RH bearing cup and limit side-to-side movement. The placement of the drillings that take the clip allows for small variations in manufacturing tolerance, so there can be a tiny amount (+/-0.125mm) side-to-side play in the position of the chainrings relative to the BB shell and so the front mech.

I queried the name "safety clip" and the engineers looked a little puzzed and said - "Yes, safe - so, we don't really need it most of the time because most riders don't introduce a big lateral component when they pedal but for those who do, it's safe - it guarantees front derailleur function". Light dawned ... 

So - can this general design be improved upon? Well, yes, probably - although it's noticeable that others have used some of the solutions that Campagnolo did - BB30 uses a preload washer to control the preload on the bearings, Specialized OSBB is actually a close copy in mant respects, using both a Hirth joint and a spring washer (but no safety clip, because they, like Trek in BB90, maintain a close control over their BB shell widths).

The question is, can it be improved upon and the cost and patent considerations be accommodated?
Can weight be pared off it? Would a different solution carry a weight penalty? What about tooling?

Of course, it's a maxim in engineering that even I, with no formal engineering training know, that TIAMTOWTDI ... There Is Always More Than One Way To Do It ... (apparently, though, not being an engineer, I am not bright enough to read the books, talk to engineers or to have gained a lot of very direct, practical experience, so have no right to be commenting on such matters).

Despite what certain individuals see as my educational deficiencies, I was pretty intrigued by two central bits of the technology - the wavy washer and the safety clip. I've never been one to take too much for granted, so when the Rogue Bicycle Mechanic popped his nose over the horizon, proposing the use of shims to prevent creaking in UT bracket sets, I decided to brush up a bit on my knowledge of bearings, pre-load and wave washers and examine his solution to what I'd found to be a very rare problem indeed.

I contacted two suppliers that had nothing to do with Campagnolo - EZO, to gain as much information as I could about deep-groove cartridge bearings and Smalley, one of the world's leading makers of spring washers used to control bearing pre-load in a variety of situations from automotive, to aerospace, the food industry to earth-moving. I did, I must admit, also speak to SKF, as Campagnolo, for reasons of IP, didn't want to tell me the pre-load spec for their bearings ... but I spoke with a design engineer at SKF and gave him a general picture of the bearing use and the forces it was likely to be subject to - not a difficult calculation for anyone with a passing competence in geometry and resolution-of-vector calculations - and he was kind enough to give me a figure and tolerance range.

This had all gained a lot of relevance for me because by 2008, I'd been asked by the Campagnolo factory to take on their technical education role in the UK and to set up a new Service Centre for the UK. I'd been to the factory and I'd been put through my paces, along with my business partner, Jeff Beech, on a variety of their then-current technologies, slightly ironically, by the same (albeit extended by some new members) engineering team that had first shown me UT in 2004.

So having a deeper understanding of the system and how it worked or might fail had become of some importance to me.

Given access to the parts in quantity, I set about making my own tests of the spring rate and consistency of the wave washer and the dimensional tolerance of the spring clip placement as both of these factors were being questioned by the Rogue Bicycle Mechanic.

I tested 100 wave washers from 100 mixed BSC and Italian threaded BB cup sets and measured the same BBs floor-to-safety-clip-drilling dimensions, to test the physical dimensions of the wave washer and the spring rate in it's critical compression zone (i.e. the pre-load it would exert on the bearings when constrained within the cup, if the BB shell was within the 1.6mm overall width error envelope allowed by Campagnolo, for screw-in cups). I was interested in how much lateral movement the spring clip might allow.

I found that the pre-load exterted by the wave washers in all cases fell within the range recommended for the 3 types of 6805N deep-groove cartridge bearings supplied by SKF to Campagnolo for the application.

With new clips, I found that the side-to-side play in the cranks would fall within the +/-0.125mm range set by Campagnolo.

Field experience subsequently showed a small amount of wear could occur on the clip and the hole through which it passed could ovalise but that annual replacement of the spring clip removed significant problems from this area.

I also thought a bit about other ways the same effects could be achieved - could a fixed method of pre-load be used to both control any lateral movement, to preload the bearing? Of course,the answer is "yes", there are other ways.

Methods that immediately spring to mind are:

  • Two threaded rings, one inside the other, could be used to take up variations in BB shell width (as Campagnolo later did in the OverTorque design), but measuring the inter-ring torque in order to generate a known pre-load would be awkward and the actual pre-load generated would change as the bearings were subject to wear.
  • The bearings could be accommodated inside a casing with screwed-on covers, one of which could double as a pre-load cap, as Mavic did in their 631BB design in the 1990s but that would add significantly to weight and cost.
  • A series of shims at very fine gradations of width could be used to pre-load the bearings against the compression generated by the Hirth joint but that would require a level of measurement which would be beyond a good many mechanics and most consumers (even 0.1mm is a country mile in shimming-a-bearing of these dimensions, I was told by a senior design engineer at EZO, one of SKF's main competitors) ...

So in all, although a more complex solution to hit a very specific set of pre-load requirements and lateral play limitation "can" be devised, given that the system has now been in trouble free use for 17 years, one does have to ask "why" ...

If anyone is interested I still have my lab books (of course ...) and am quite happy to share my test data and my test protocol. I will remove the actual pre-load values for the bearings as that is subject to IPR that I don't own - but the graphs I was able to create for each spring, based on five loading data points for each spring clearly show a much higher consistency than the +/-25% that some commentators, who don't appear to have done any n>1 testing, suggest.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Why Stick to Manufacturer's Spec?

Just had a dude on the phone, asking about Shimano / Campag hybridisation ...

Our advice is always simple - stick to the manufacturer spec. Yes, there are cases where you *can* make allowances for performance shortcomings (and they will crop up sooner or later), there are times where you'll run a Shimano cassette with a Campag system, or a Campag cassette with a SRAM system and it'll *work* but *working* is one thing, working reliably, for the service life of the parts, on all frame sizes and compatible geometries and without constant "tinkering" ... that's something else.

All manufacturers who make groupsets test and test and test - and even then, sometimes there are mistakes made as all the three main component makers will testify - Shimano have had disc brake issues, ditto SRAM and Campag have had to change production techniques a couple of times to fix problems that occurred in the field but that didn't show up in testing.
So to take two things that were never designed to work with each other and expect them to work on a consistent basis, from the beginning to the end of their service lives, is already optimistic.

If you then look at those parts and say, "well, it's only a couple of tenths of a mm", in the case of 11s cassettes, perhaps - that may be within manufacturing tolerances when the system is new but what happens with wear and tear - it's entirely possible that the operating tolerances in production are there to account for wear and tear, in part - if the parts are marginal when new, apply a feww 100 km to them and wear might already have them outside the normal manufacturing tolerance.

Back in the day, you could merrily mix six and seven speed, then seven and eight (if you were careful with the chains) ... life started to get more complicated and touchy with 9s, then more so with 10 - and now with 11s, accuracy of manufacture and set up is everything. We see many, many bikes that don't work well, not because the componentry can't but becaue of poor preparation and poor set up - mix mis-matched components into that and you have something that is never going to be "quite right".

"My mate's done it and his works" ... well, first, what do you mean by "works" and second - in road bike terms, if your mate happens to ride, say, a 53, 54, 55 or 56 cm road frame of pretty standard geometry, then his or her chances of getting a marginally mismatched system to work are quite high. If you are also in that mid-range, you might get the same result, it's true. On the other hand, if you are at the very margins of frame sizing (and therefore geometry), say a 49, 51 cm, or a 61 or 63 cm, you shouldn't take it for granted that you'll get the same result. The same applies the other way around of course. If you are riding, say, a TT rig, you might also see differences - short chainstays, different BB height and therefore seat tube-to-chainstay angles, front mech placement, all have an effect on shifting. Again, the reverse is also true. What can sometimes be "made to" work on a TT rig might be lousy on a road bike ...

What spec you are running makes a difference, too - where a system is running easily in it's comfort zone - so, say, a Deore RD on an 11-27 cassette, with maybe a 22-32-42 combo "up front" on an MTB, then monkeying around with a "compatible" chain, cable set, cassette or chainrings might be OK. On the other hand, just as with frames, if you start to work right out at the limits of what a transmission can do, you might start to see serious degradation of performance - add to that a frame at the margins, or maybe a full sus with lots of compression / extension range, then the whole shebang can go from "works like a dream" to "total nightmare" pretty quickly.

Manufacturers, SRAM, Campagnolo, Shimano, all say stick to the spec and yes, of course there is a commercial imperative in this - they want you to buy "their" kit because if you don't, for one thing, they can't afford to develop new kit, for another, they can't afford trickle-down from, say, the "Red" level to the "Rival" level, SR to Veloce or DA to Sora ... plus of course no-one in the trade does it for fun - we all want a return on investment - yes, shock horror, we all want to make a profit!

Having said that though, there is also a mechanical requirement and as we demand more and more in terms of how our equipment performs, it becomes more and more important to heed the advice - "systems are designed to work as systems".

OK, rant over - I'm going to lay down in a darkened room for a bit now ... then I can start a new diatribe about "compatible" brake blocks and fried carbon rims ...

Monday, 21 November 2011

I make no apologies for the length of the following post. It's the text of an email I sent to, in response to one of the shoddiest PRs I have ever seen, which, ironically, was accompanied by quite a good video about a motorised commuter who tried cycle commuting for a week.

I'd recommend reading's PR, watching the video, then setting your blood pressure to "simmer" ...

Here is the link:

Maybe if enough people read the page, it'll crash their web site - justice, I'd say!


This is probably just one of many tens or possibly hundreds of mails that you'll get from both sides of this debate, so I'll not expect a response to it, but I would like to make a few points ... perhaps having seen fit to enter the debate, might like to publish a digest of reaction from those touched by it?

First, I'll set my stall out - I am a cyclist and have ridden on the road for 35 years or more, covering 12,000 plus miles a year on a bicycle in training for and participation in, road racing events, for at least 10 of those years. That's more annual mileage than the "average" motorist clocks up, even in these car-hungry days. Annually now, I suppose I ride more like 8,000 miles a year, not for "training" as such, but for the pleasure of maintaining something like good physical condition - so I still ride around the average annual mileage that most drivers cover in a car. I'm also a motorist, licencing a car. Note "licencing", not "taxing" ... one error in your PR that needs correction.

Most adult cyclists are, incidentally, also motorists - so it's not quite all "them'n'us".

In the course of running Velotech Cycling Ltd, and providing the services it offers, I drive my own vehicle and others under basically normal travel circumstances (i.e. excluding what we do in race convoys and the like) upwards of 40,000 miles a year predominantly in the UK, but also in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands - so I see a lot of road, a lot of cyclists, in a lot of countries, from both the saddle and from behind the wheel.

The essential problem I'm afraid, is that many drivers in the UK (by no means all - I think your article is unnecessarily inflammatory on this point) see motor vehicles as having some inherent hegemony over the road. What must be understood is that this is a misconception both in law and in reason.

In other countries, the laws vary, as does the general view of cyclists, but even in the Netherlands, where there is far higher population density than here, the general European attitude is one of greater tolerance. In terms of the other countries that I have direct experience of, only in Switzerland are cyclists licensed & registered and only in Switzerland do they pay any form of permit fee to use the road ... and if motorists here think they have it rough, they should try life under Swiss rules of car or especially goods vehicle ownership, operation and taxation.

In the UK, private motorists pay "car tax" or, more accurately "vehicle excise duty (VED)". This is also true of commercial operators. This has not been a tax levied for the maintenance of the roads since 1937. Roads are paid for by general taxation, to which everyone who buys anything bar raw foodstuffs, children's clothing and some safety equipment is inherently contributing via VAT. Even then it can be argued that they still are as VAT is levied on raw materials, fuel, delivery charges and the like - so cyclists are already taxed, even if they are unemployed and not paying income tax or any form of National Insurance, or are being paid at below the threshold of those particular payments.

This is an important point in two ways - if the amount of VED paid has any influence over a "right" of usage, then older cars that cover less miles might have less right on the road than more recent, bigger cars that do more miles, more fuel-efficient and cleaner cars might have less right than less efficient and dirtier ones, HGVs would beat everyone hands down ... but that's not the case & it would be unlikely to win support that it should be made so by the motoring fraternity.

The second way in which the "Motorists pay tax, cyclists don't" argument comes unglued is different, but related - because pedestrians, horse-riders and cyclists are free in law to use the roads without paying VED, motorists are not ... but the roads themselves have no relation to VED other than where the revenues raised can be considered as "general taxation". Following this argument through, if the payment of a marginally higher rate of general taxation (be it direct or indirect - say, as in the note above, via VAT for instance) can be considered as conferring extra "rights" in some way, then someone earning £200k a year and paying perhaps three times as much tax or more as someone earning £60k a year should have 3 times or more as much "right" to use the roads, the NHS, education services ... everything that is paid for out of general taxation. That is contrary to the whole idea of redistribution of wealth ... and so the vast majority wouldn't subscribe to it as a sensible view, if not least because the vast majority (in fact, all bar one) would therefore be "behind" someone paying more tax in the "queue".

So to turn to your two leader points in the article:

# A quarter of drivers say cyclists should pay road tax
# More than one in eight cyclists have been knocked off their bike by a motorist

I think we've dealt with the first one pretty comprehensively above.

The second one - you don't quote a statistic to define whether the cyclists or the motorists were found to be in breach of road use law or good practice at the time of the incident - so it is a meaningless statement in the context of the debate, other than serving to make it clear that a level of mutual respect needs to exist & the current level, for at least one in eight cyclists, whether the failure was on their side or that of the motorist, is insufficient.

To quote from your PR further -

A survey of 1,000 motorists and 1,000 cyclists carried out by identifies what sends cyclists into a ‘two-wheel tantrum’ and turns car drivers ‘cyclo-pathic’:
72% of drivers have experienced one or more of the following incidents involving a cyclist during the last two years, broken down as follows:

* A cyclist caused me to swerve in my car [31%]
* A cyclist slowed down my journey and made me late [22%]
* A cyclist caused an accident which I was involved in [5%]
* Someone I know was involved in an accident involving a cyclist [11%]
* A cyclist went through red lights [39%]
* Cyclists riding on the pavement or in an area with a 'no cycling' sign [26%]

To deal with them in order -

* a cyclist might "cause you to swerve your car" ... if (s)he did something unexpected - but then by any reasonable argument, in the event of a collision with a cyclist, the likelihood is that the motorist will come off a good deal better than the cyclist so a duty of care exists on the motorist to bear in mind the vulnerability of the other road user and to act accordingly - in many cases, meaning that the motorist should slow down and wait. Leads us neatly into point 2:
* "A cyclist slowed down my journey and made me late" - sorry, that just doesn't stand up. In a 30 mph zone, for instance, a car traveling at 30 mph takes 2 minutes to do a mile. A cyclist at a (fairly typical) 12mph takes 5 minutes. So even if a motorist sat behind a cyclist for a whole mile, the difference in arrival times between the two journey times is three minutes. So what these respondents meant was, I didn't allow myself anything like adequate time for my journey and cyclists make a convenient scapegoat ...
* Point 3 is an interesting statistic if you add it to your "one in 8 cyclists have been knocked off their bike by a motorist" ... we don't of course know what form the accidents in question took ...
* The same points could be made about your fourth statistic.
* Cyclists and red lights - no debate from most cyclists that I know and ride with - it's stupid and it only weakens the credibility of the cycling fraternity - in addition to which & most importantly it's illegal, so we shouldn't do it, in just the same way as motorists should not speed - two wrongs don't make a right.
* Cyclists on the pavement is a red herring in the context of this debate - if they are on the pavement (which is actually illegal anyway & cyclists are prosecuted for it from time to time) a motorist would struggle to collide with one, be delayed by one or be otherwise affected by one, unless he or she of course was not driving at the time - unless the cyclist in question were to leave the pavement into the path of the car - in which case the cyclist might well be at fault.

46% of drivers say that they are sometimes annoyed by cyclists being on the road and they have suggested some ways to handle them (drivers were permitted to choose more than one solution):

A quarter (25%) of these drivers are keen to see cyclists pay road tax meanwhile 14% of angry drivers want to see cyclists displaying number plates on their bikes.
>>Neither of these measures would actually affect the relative positions of the two groups of road users - in fact, motorists might be further inconvenienced - if cyclists were asked to pay a fee to use the roads, many would just pay the fee (status quo ante retained) and those that didn't might well take to making the same journey by bus or car, so increasing the very congestion about which the motorists making the suggestion are complaining about. This is about envy, not reason.

Getting cyclists to pass a version of the driving test before they can ride on the road is a popular idea with 44% of annoyed motorists
>> Well, since a good number of motorists don't appear to know the rules of the road, the width of their own vehicles or indeed whether they pay tax or VED or not, I can't see how this would help much as it's clearly not helping the motoring fraternity :-)

while 43% say that they would like to see cyclists taking out a form of insurance in case they cause a collision.
>> Many of us do, and for myself and practically every cyclist I know who has, via our memberships of an assortment of associations and federations, I have never had cause to use it. It's a red herring again - it's along the same lines as "if we make it cost them, there will be fewer of them" - well, that's as maybe, but those same journeys are in most cases still going to be made, increasing traffic loadings and so slowing traffic down.

Catching those who cycle through red lights was seen as the top solution with 59% of car drivers saying they’d like to see cyclists caught for doing this.
>> I agree with 'em.

Almost one third of motorists (31%) feel that cycling on the pavement (which the Highway Code states is illegal) should be stopped.
>> see the earlier point with regard to this issue ..

Meanwhile, almost a quarter of cyclists have been beeped at or sworn at by a motorist and more than one in eight have been knocked off their bike by a motorist. Over the last 2 years cyclists had the following unpleasant experiences:

* 13% have been knocked off their bike by a motorist
* 24% have been sworn at or beeped at by a motorist
* 14% say they have been run off the road by a motorist
* 11% were hit by a car door being opened
* 4% were CHASED by a motorist
* Luckily for half of those interviewed they had not experienced any of those incidents

I can sympathise with the above - on average, whilst I have "only" been knocked off once every ten years over the last 35 (thankfully never in a way that has caused significant injury), I get sworn at, abused or beeped most days (as does my wife who rides as much as I do - probably more often in her case), I have been run off the road a couple of times, the last time I was knocked off was a car door being opened and I have twice been physically assulted by a motorist, in fact once, having been run off the road by the same, particularly disagreeable, individual.

I've been lucky - I have several friends who have been knocked off and suffered significant injuries, and one team-mate killed by a motorist ...

I think the guy from Sustrans has the right attitude - it is all about mutual respect - and that is something that needs to be instilled from birth - not just within the narrow confines of the motorist vs cyclist debate, but across the board.

As a motorist I try to be courteous and accommodating to all road users, and appreciative of the hazards that they face ... as a cyclist I expect the same - I don't expect to be treated as a hazard - cyclists are not "hazards", "obstacles" or "delays" they are people, to whom the motoring (and all other fraternities) owe the same duty of care and the same respect as they would expect themselves were circumstances reversed. It is for that reason that all road traffic should be & remain integrated - don't even start me on segregation & cycle paths or we'll start having the "HGVs shouldn't be on the same roads as cars / motorbikes" debate ....

Regards, etc"

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 ....

Monday, 9 May 2011

UCI craziness and all that

Back in the dim mists of time, the UCI was responsible for making the rules under which we all race, and by and large, it did an OK job - alright, there were shortcomings in it's control of doping, and some of it's rules looked a bit bizarre, but at least it wasn't, as Leonnard Zinn is now pointing out, placing a tax on bike builders.

Innovation suffered, some might say, with the ban on the riding positions of Obree and Boardman, and the mad rules about frame shape which paid little regard to rider morphology showed that the rules were being written by beaurocrats not people that actually knew anything much about bicycles (and yes, I am aware that Pat McQuaid used to be a rider - check David Walsh's excellent book on Sean Kelly - "Kelly" for further info about Mr McQuaid and his doings ahead of the '76 Olympics) ...

So now we have a new situation - the UCI announced some while ago that it was getting into the business of "approving" this, that and the other - most in the industry barely noticed, but some of us did and wondered what they might be up to - and in January this year, we found out.

Here is the text of the rules:

Here's what I wrote on LinkedIn at the time:

As usual, the UCI have come up with a set of regulations designed to make life commercially more difficult, provide an income stream for the UCI, and stifle small producers' ability to innovate. You have to hand it to them, doing all of that in one document is impressive.

All that a set of regulations like this really do is to drive the manufacture of frames and forks further and further towards mass production and "innovation" that is generally a matter of marketing leading engineering, rather than the engineering supplying a solution to an acknowledged problem.

It makes it all the more difficult for small framebuilders based local to their markets whose USP against the big mass production framebuilders is the fact that they can tune their production to their local market or to the specific needs or requirements of athletes, to sell their wares. The flip side of the UCI coin, where they talk about enhanced value of a product carrying UCI type-approval is that products NOT carrying that type-approval are devalued.

There is already a problem in many markets with different "manufacturers" (many of whom in reality are simply assemblers) effectively trying to pull the wool over consumers' eyes by taking an off-the shelf product, rebranding it, and selling it in some way as new and innovative ... this type of regulation will only serve to exacerbate that problem.

There are endless practical problems that arise with these regulations, too - has anyone seen that interesting point about the type-approval decal being applied at the painting stage & if a frame is re-painted by anyone other than the manufacturer, the frame looses it's type-approval? Well that stuffs (if the regulations are taken "to the letter") several frame makers I know of in the UK and Europe who send their frames out to a third party for painting, and who offer a refinishing service.

How do small producers and prototypers feel about these regulations now that they have seen them "in the flesh"? We've known that they were on the cards for some time, but these rules as we now see them in final form seem to me to have been thought out with an eye too much towards mass manufacturers ...

Then, off the back of that, I had some further thoughts:

This type of regulation really annoys me because it's heavy handed, un-neccesary and smacks of commercial cynicism on a grand scale.

There is another piece of spin here that is really irritating, too - in attempting to justify this regulation, the UCI state that it is a way for a competitor to "know" before arriving at the start line that his or her machine conforms to the rules. Well, call me an old traditionalist, but it also says elsewhere in the regulations that it is the responsibility of the competitor to ensure that her / his machine conforms to the rules laid down for the event (s)he is entering ... so what if competitor trusts the decal, but the decal has been "illegally" applied (and you know it's going to happen ...)? The competitor still looses out, so the prudent competitor is going to check anyway, or their federation are ... so what's the point?

On the same basis, as the rider is responsible for anything that may be in his or her bloodstream, perhaps the UCI might like to take a more robust attitude on that score - perhaps we need UCI approved foods, or hotels, or chefs, or farms, or, or, or ....

I think that those who have commented on the application of "approval" to other components are close to the mark - the 3:1 dimension ratio rule already applies to bars, stems, seatposts ... it wouldn't surprise me if it was all just a matter of time.

The thing of it is, a lot of the debates that we have had, and I sincerely hope that we continue to have in cycle design & manufacture, have been opened up and driven by technical innovations from individuals and small niche companies that thought outside the box somewhat ... The Mosers, Obrees and Boardmans, Kestrels and Hottas who initiated debates about bicycle design would have been stifled by this regulation ... unless they were able to persuade a bigger manufacturer to back them to take a concept to the UCI.

Of course it is arguable that it was the Mosers, Obrees and Boardmans of this world who so put the UCI's nose out of joint that they started off down this route, but maybe that's special pleading from one who was excited by Moser's approach and whose nationalist pride was bolstered by Obree and Boardman :-)

Well, now I have let off steam, I'll mail this link to Carlton Reid and maybe to Leonnard Zinn, too :-)

Sunday, 10 April 2011

It's all too damn' rigid ...

I've decided I'm going to start a campaign to get us back to the days when we had some choice in the matter of "rigidity"!

What has sparked this off? Well, I am doing a Mondiale bike build for a very small, petite young lady. We can get around the problems caused by her low body mass by using a small-diameter tubed frame to some extent, but it's at the frame and forks level that the problems start ...

Virtually all the forks available in carbon use a 1 1/8" diameter steerer - there is only one half-way decent fork made in 1", the Columbus Minimal, and that only seems to exist because of the current interest in "retro" and pseudo-retro, so once these go out of production, we'll be stuffed - we'll have to go 1 1/8", or perhaps by then the powers-that-be will have decreed that we all need integrated headsets (why?) and 1 1/4 or 1 1/22 lower head races ... in the name of rigidity.

Actually this has nothing whatever to do with what we need in bicycles, and everything to do with marketing and the need to keep re-inventing the wheel to keep all of those factories in China churning out tat.

On a small frame like the one that we are building, for a light rider, 1" is fine ... she's no Thor Hushovd, she'll not be putting huge torsional loads on the frame, so building something with even a 1 1/8" head is just uneccesary, it is heavier, it uses more material and it's out of proportion to the rest of the frame ...

Then, bars and stem - can I find a decent short reach, shallow bar with a 26mm ferrule? Can I hell. Apparently we need 31.8mm ferrules now - heavier, but giving greater rigidity - lousy idea if you view a bike as a suspension system with the rider as the damping. Again, rigid front ends designed for top-end competitive use are of no flaming relevance at all to the majority of riders.

Seatpost - well, thank goodness there are still some 27.2 posts about and hopefully that may continue as Cervelo, one of the more enlightened designers around with sway in the industry have realised that oversize in this department is probably not such a good idea.

Then we get to the real headache area - bottom brackets. BB30, BBright (a misnomer if ever there was one) and all the rest - great for OEs and bike builders who want to flop bikes together in no time flat, lousy for the end user. No standardisation yet, no concencus - all so that we can have stiffer frames and crank bb interface (which most users neither notice nor need), higher rates of wear and tear, and actually we get less choice, not more, as making the tooling for complex systems (in manufacturing terms) like these means that we loose things like 165mm cranks, 177.5 & 180mm cranks, triple chainsets - this has nothing to do with what bicycle riders might actually want, everything to do with what we are told that we want (and we believe it ...)!

I know I am in danger of becoming a cross between a grumpy old man and a luddite, but we have to start asking fundamental questions about what is needed, not about what we think we can write a clever marketing spiel for - before our choices are limited to bikes designed for 6 foot male racing cyclists or nothing ... OK for me (though I don't actually like the feel of the bike I have with oversize bars and stem), not so good if you are a small, light rider looking for comfort ...