UCI fights with Motorcycle Federation over who gets ebikes

by Caley Fretz


If a two-wheeled vehicle has a motor, but you have to pedal it, is it a bike or a motorcycle?

This existential debate is currently being contested by the International Motorcycle Federation (FIM) and the Union Cycliste International (UCI). The two entities both lay claim to the new sport, and they don’t want to share.

The UCI added ebike regulations to its rulebook at the start of 2019, and will sanction the first ebike world championships this fall in Mont Saint Anne, Canada. FIM just announced it will sanction an event called the E-Bike Enduro World Cup in France in early June. FIM will also sanction an ebike event along with the MXGP in Imola, Italy in August, under a slightly different format.

At stake are sanctioning and regulatory control of the fastest growing category of two-wheeled movement, as well as future media rights deals and the ability to define a discipline in its infancy.

The UCI described FIM’s sanctioning of ebike events as having “no regulatory basis,” and marked the FIM events as “banned events,” meaning any UCI-licensed rider who participates will risk disciplinary measures.

“The UCI had already notified the FIM in September 2017 that it considered E-mountain bike events to come exclusively under its jurisdiction and that the respective roles of the two International Federations (UCI and FIM) were clear and would not be called into question,” the UCI wrote in a statement released Friday.

FIM argues “power assisted bicycles” are not recent products, and have been long been, as FIM president Jorge Viegas put it, “part of the history of FIM, as the vintage Indian motorcycle on display in our headquarters confirms.”

Ebikes are still primarily manufactured by companies broadly considered to be part of the cycling industry, not the motorcycle industry. But there are notable exceptions. Yamaha recently released a gravel-oriented ebike, and even Harley Davidson has a line of ebikes. Major automotive manufacturers are increasingly viewing themselves as mobility companies, not car companies, and ebikes are seen as part of that expansion.

In a statement released Friday, the UCI laid out its case for regulatory control over ebike racing. It already has rules in place, defining an ebike as producing a maximum of 250 watts and that pedalling assistance is permitted up to 25kph. That puts its definition in line with European regulations, which define an ebike in the same way. From a regulatory standpoint, within the EU, these vehicles are bicycles, not motorcycles.

FIM’s planned ebike Enduro World Cup in June will have two categories, including one that allows for more power than the EU’s ebike regulations. Enduro 1 (E1) is for the more powerful ebikes, equipped with a motor with a maximum continuous power of more than 250 watts, with assistance over 25kph and up to 45kph. Enduro 2 (E1) is for ebikes with 250 watts or less, and who assistance cuts out at 25kph. The E1 category is far more powerful than anything allowed by the UCI, or EU.

Duelling statements came out of each governing body, as they both seek to grab control over the technology and to define what a brand new sport will look like. Humorously, both use similar language and sit on roughly the same argument: We had them first.

The UCI’s David Lappartient: “I am delighted by the boom currently enjoyed by E-mountain bike, a specialty that enables a new public to take up mountain biking – a demanding discipline – and which is also appreciated by high-level riders. The UCI means to develop this activity which, as with other forms of cycling, comes under its exclusive jurisdiction.”

And FIM’s president Jorge Viegas: “I am particularly proud to announce the launch of our first E-Bike competition. Power-assisted bicycles and electric powered cycles are not recent products and have long been part of the history of the FIM, as the vintage Indian motorcycle on display in our headquarters confirms. In fact the early motorcycles were much based on a bicycle frame with the addition of an engine, so the story has really returned back to the beginning of our evolution. We are convinced that E-Bike competitions have great potential and will allow young riders to participate in exciting new races. Also, we will soon announce another E-Bike competition to take place later this year.”

It’s unclear, at this point, who can or will settle the dispute. The International Olympic Committee recognizes the UCI, but the FIM is not currently part of the Olympic Games (though it did recently propose the inclusion of E-Trial, a trials competition on electric motorcycles, for 2024). The IOC is, therefore, an unlikely arbitrator. The UCI or FIM could perhaps take a case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Both the UCI and FIM are under the jurisdiction of CAS.

More likely is that the two governing bodies will simply have to fight it out, VHS vs. Betamax style, in the courts of capitalism and public opinion. Race organizers will choose which calendar to join, ebike racers will choose which races to attend. FIM is already pushing for bigger, faster, more powerful ebikes while the UCI, under current rules, is intent on limiting the influence of motors. Two different mindsets; perhaps two different sports.

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