£4000 composite road bikes made with frames worth just $30, says UCI chief. And as not made in Europe, they may be unsafe.

Light composite bikes made in China slammed by UCI execs

At last week’s homologation presentation to journalists at the HQ of the Union Cycliste Internationale in Aigle, Switzerland, the UCI president Pat McQuaid was critical of lightweight pro-level frames made in China.

He said: "Most of the bikes available today, in the professional peloton, the frames are made in China, by a just a couple of plants. 

"And they’re turning out thousands and thousands of these carbon fibre or Kevlar or whatever frames, at a cost of maybe $30 or $40 a piece, and that same bike is ultimately being sold as a bike on the market for four or five or six thousand Euros. 

"Our problem is, this initial frame, of twenty or thirty or forty dollars, where are the safety aspects? Where are the safety parameters in the making [of that frame]? That’s something we’re going to have to address with the industry as we move on. We have to bear in mind the safety aspect of the sport. There’s a whole change that has happened which is making racing less safe and causing more crashes."

On the cost of high-end road frames sourced in China, McQuaid is out by a factor of at least ten.

A US specifier told BikeBiz.com: "It costs about $375 for the naked frame out of the mold and about $75 for the fork. Once painted and ready, the frameset cost is closer to $500 for frame and fork. Frames with multiple colours and complicated paint masking will cost more."

McQuaid also said lightweight road bike frames made from composites were less safe than bikes made from steel:

"Bikes have become too light. They’re hopping all over the place; they jump when they hit potholes or whatever. They don’t have the same reactions as when we had the old steel bikes. If we continue to reduce the weight [of bikes, these problems] will increase.

"We have a concern that when bikes are involved in crashes, frames are splitting into two and three, and there will be lengths of carbon sticking into people."

The UCI’s technical coordinator Julien Carron – appointed in October 2010 – echoed the UCI’s president’s fears about bikes made in China:

"Production is all in Asia, manufacturers have no control over the work there."

In fact, China has some of the most advanced composite factories in the world, employing highly-skilled, well-paid technicians and – at the top-end – producing frames of the highest quality. The carbon fibres used in the manufacture of composite products are all sourced in Asia.

The UCI’s fear that Chinese composite factories produce questionable quality frames at low prices but which get huge mark-ups when made available as complete bikes in the West is totally wrong, US and UK specifiers have told BikeBiz.com.

After watching Pat McQuaid in the ‘homologation for beginners’ video below, Tim Jackson of the US said: "The UCI is heading ramrod into a wall of denial and arrogance."

The UCI’s minimum weight of 6.8kg for complete road bikes can now be breached easily, thanks to widespread use of composites, a scenario not considered when the weight limit was put in place.

The UCI has intimated it would consider reducing the weight limit if manufacturers were able to certify that their lightweight frames and components were safe. When BikeBiz.com reported this last week, websites such as VeloNews.com followed up on the story and the UCI was on the receiving end of positive write-ups for a change. 

The certification program would have to be independent, said Carron (seen in this video of his presentation to journalists last week). 

"We need to define what are the tests and then ask manufacturers to follow these tests. After they send us a report, we will know the equipment is safe, then we will be able to remove the [weight] rule."

The current EU and American standards are not tough enough, claims Carron. He would want independent lab testing at DIN Plus standards as a bare minimum. Labs such as Velotech in Germany have been "bicycle torture chambers" for many years and can test to well above DIN Plus standards. 

But the UCI won’t be rushing into reducing the famous 6.8kg weight limit and still seems philosophically opposed to lighter bikes.

Carron feels the desire for lightweight bikes isn’t engineer-led, it’s marketing driven: "If we talk to engineers at manufacturers they don’t want to change [the weight limit] at all, but if we talk to the marketing side [at manufacturers] they want to reduce the weight. It’s a marketing thing. Customers want lighter frames. Engineers say ‘don’t change [the weight limit], it’s too dangerous." 

At the beginning of the Tour de France the UCI was embroiled in yet another regulations battle. UCI commissaires at the team time trial on the second day of the Tour de France used a measuring jig to check that bike saddles were compliant with UCI rule 1.3.012 which states that “the saddle support shall be horizontal”. This rule is rarely enforced because riders usually have personal preferences on saddle angles, for safety and for comfort. 

On Velonews.com, former pro team mechanic Nick Legan said: "Does the UCI flip through its rulebook, searching for poorly written rules, and decide to enforce them randomly at events? It does seem to be a case of bullying, asserting authority simply because it can.”

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