The cycling industry’s new muscle: WFSGI and Robbert De Kock

You’ve probably never heard of Robbert De Kock or the World Federation for the Sporting Goods Industry, but pay attention. As the secretary general of the WFSGI, De Kock may be the man to unite the cycling industry and give it real power in its dealings with the UCI.

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You’ve probably never heard of Robbert De Kock or the World Federation for the Sporting Goods Industry, but pay attention. As the secretary general of the WFSGI, De Kock may be the man to unite the cycling industry and give it real power in its dealings with the UCI.

Many news sources have reported on the recent meetings regarding the upcoming mandatory approval process for frames and forks between the UCI and the cycling industry. What many don’t know is that many powerful manufacturers in the cycling industry are now united under the WFSGI banner. And this unification has already made a difference.

Robbert de Kock
Robbert de Kock. Courtesy WFSGI
The first recent attempt at unifying the industry occurred in July 2009 when 30 companies formed the Global Organization of Cycling Equipment Manufacturers. GOCEM’s founding members include Cervelo, FSA, Cannondale, Canyon, Hed, Mavic, Orbea, Specialized, SRAM, Zipp, Fuji, Giant, Felt and many others. It was a good start but wasn’t as globally recognized as was hoped.

In June 2010, the GOCEM essentially rolled its membership into the WFSGI to gain better International Olympic Committee and UCI recognition and effectively ended the GOCEM. Many more have followed suit.

So what is the WFSGI? According to its charter, it is an IOC-recognized association that represents the sporting goods industry at all international sports organizations and federations (FIFA, UCI, etc). It works to promote free and fair worldwide trade among sporting goods manufacturers. The WFSGI also works with its various member industries to establish manufacturing and safety standards. But until recently many in the cycling world had never heard of it.

Robbert De Kock explained that, “We haven’t made a lot of publicity yet as we wish to perform first and we have only just started to see some first results.”

The decision to join the WFSGI has already seen results. On January 20, 2011 the UCI announced that it was delaying the implementation of its new approval process for frames and forks. A press release from Julien Carron, the UCI’s technical coordinator, stated that the January 13-14 meeting between the UCI and manufacturers “led to some very constructive discussions and we would like to thank you for this. Given the pertinence of the questions, remarks and propositions that came up … the UCI has decided to modify certain points of the procedure.”

This delay may seem like a small matter, but it sets a new precedent for the UCI in its communication with the industry from the perspective of the manufacturers. In most press releases the UCI has stated that it has consulted the industry, but big players in the industry maintain that the UCI rarely, if ever, reaches out for input.

Below are some interesting comments made by Robbert De Kock, Secretary General of the WFSGI, in email responses to VeloNews questions.

Q. Do you feel the UCI-approval process will be manageable in terms of number of applicants and turn-around time?

A. That is a good question and it will be strongly related to the financing of the homologation process. We are at the moment checking with the brands the number of frames that they see for homologation now and in the future (estimation). This will tell us more if the UCI can realize and live up to their promise to have a guaranteed one-month reply for the drawings and two-month for the visual measuring process.

In the end we can tell you that the meeting last week was very promising and a unique experience for the industry. For the first time we have been able to dialogue as a group and to give inputs and our vision. Our inputs will hopefully contribute to a better explanation of the existing rules and will make the life of the engineers and R&D easier. At the moment the UCI is in the process of evaluating the comments that have been given and we therefore expect in the next 2-3 weeks more feedback from the UCI on these matters.

I see the developments as positive. Surely when you think that eight months ago there was a very hostile situation from the UCI to the industry and probably visa versa. Today there is a new wind and we are pleased that the WFSGI and its bicycle members have been able to establish this new situation together with the UCI. This is hopefully the beginning of a new relation between the UCI and the industry and we are ready to support. Our status as Olympic family organization (the sole sporting goods industry organization) has partly contributed to this.

Q. Many manufacturers are very upset about this process; especially the smaller ones that can only barely afford to sponsor a cycling team. With the cost of the approval process and any costs incurred by possible delays in the approval process, what chance does a smaller manufacturer have of sponsoring a team?

A. I guess several companies are upset and it is surely not easier with the new process (again, this is not our decision) and I see the problems that are connected with your question and sponsoring of teams. On the other hand we are working to see if the homologation process can be done in a cheaper way. Today it may be too early to give a reply (no experiences) but if we have more info from the brands on the quantity of the frames for homologation we may be able to go back to the UCI to discuss the process and possible reductions. We are also evaluating different steps in the process and note that tubular frames are only 800 Swiss francs for the homologation. Aren’t smaller companies mostly making tubular frames? If so, it is pretty affordable. If someone makes composite frames I suppose they have to make a few quantities to be able to amortize their frame. Again, it is clearly a cost increase and it will not be easier but we will continue to support the best possible solution for our industry.

Q. Will a manufacturer need to have every road, track and cyclocross model approved if those bicycles are going to be used in a UCI competition, whether by a sponsored athlete or not? You can see how quickly costs could skyrocket if even a manufacturer like Trek has to have every model approved.

A. Here you come to another point that we see as critical. So far it says that any athlete participating in the UCI WorldTour must have homologated bicycles (Unless 09/10 frames for which a homologation is not an obligation and the race commissioners will continue to make the controls before the races). The fear is when this is going to be for ALL UCI competitions. As this is what the UCI intends in the next two to three years this would go into “compulsory schemes” (Forbidden by EU law) and we should take action. As this is not the case today there is no need for immediate action but we shall monitor this carefully. In the end we shall see soon about how many models we really talking about. We also gave some ideas how to streamline the process but more to come when the UCI has evaluated and decided on some of our suggestion.

I do have to say that most brands present in Lausanne were all positive about the process (not necessary about the prices but they accepted). The bicycle industry will have some changes in the market. Composite is also a very young technology in bicycles and new brands became leaders in the last 15 years. The bicycle industry may be shuffled more in the next couple of years.

So, the cycling industry has entered a new era; that of unification and possibly, real political power. Working with the WFSGI and the UCI, the cycling industry can hopefully ensure a healthy financial future for itself. The UCI approval process has received great criticism from the industry, but at a certain point all the parties involved do need to come together. It seems that finally headway is being made.

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