Mother of Invention: UCI Weight Limit Edition

Over on the excellent Inner Ring, they mention a report that perhaps the UCI is reconsidering the (notorious) 6.8kg rule. The rule, for those not keen to the inner workings of pro cycling (read: you can stop reading now if this kind of arcane crap holds no interest), is of course that bikes ridden by professionals in UCI-sanctioned races can weigh no LESS than 6.8kg (which is 14.99 pounds).

The rule came along at a time when a 15 pound road bike still seemed kind of far-fetched, albeit not an impossibility. The technological march of progress has continued, though, and now pro mechanics must often reach into the tacklebox before stages to ADD small weights to bikes in order to meet the minimum. And, Joe Consumer (with $7k to burn) can fairly easily buy an off-the-shelf bike these days that weighs less than the bike upon which
Alberto Contador will win/not win/win and then have taken away later this year this year’s Tour de France.

This is the kind of ruling around which all sorts of stupid debate will spring up (just look at the first few comments on that inrng post to get a taste) about innovation, safety, fairness and blah, blah, blah. Some have taken this so far as to create a t-shirt that Sammy Hagar could love:

I don’t care much about such debates. This is not merely because I am currently carrying around well more than a minimum UCI bike weight of human fat on my own personal body, although that is definitely a big part of my non-concern. I also don’t care because any such weight limit is, by definition, arbitrary and kind of hard to justify.

I do care, however, for one main reason. Yes, it gets us back to the BB fixation o’ the year: hydraulic disc brakes on a road bike. As one of my sons likes to say: what the?! The fantastic unintended consequence of the UCI minimum weight rule has been removing the immense pressure to constantly lighten bikes by taking things away. By removing this incentive – and by even encouraging teams to add things┬áto bikes – the UCI has indirectly expanded the market for reasonable and useful additions or extras. If you were going to have your mechanic literally add lead weights to your race bike, why not use that same amount of weight for a power meter while you race? Or, why worry about 250 extra grams for an electronic shifting system? Might as well test them out in competition, run them as prototypes, or just get more useful data that could never be collected in training conditions.

Thus, we return to the disc brakes. My slightly educated guess about hydraulic road disc brakes on road bikes is that you are looking at, let’s just say, about a half pound of additional weight once you get a workable system out there. This will come down significantly over time, of course. But, at the start, when the systems are more like modified mtb gear mounted on road frames not yet optimized for disc strengths/weaknesses, with first generation calipers and rotors, and with non-optimized wheels and rotor interfaces, there will definitely be a weight penalty. With the UCI 6.8kg rule in place, it is that much more likely that someone will start experimenting with hydraulic discs. The ultimate irony would be that, contrary to the protests of the “don’t limit innovation” crowd who oppose the 6.8 rule, the longer run necessity imposed by the weight limit would actually “mother” far more long-range, paradigmatic innovation in the cycling biz.