Did a pro cyclist hide a motor inside her bike?

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The most interesting part of sports is the cheating.


I’m not into cyclocross so I haven’t followed this case closely, but the media here reported that she didn’t actually ride that particular bike during the race, and as far as I know that hasn’t been disputed. Although of course the fact that a motorized bike was found in her truck/among the bikes prepared for her was enough to raise a few eyebrows.


That must explain why I don’t watch much sports. I’d rather be out there doing something.


Somebody needs to put this on kickstarter.


I haven’t seen anything about not having ridden the specific bike, so that could turn out to be an interesting development.

However, like the proverbial “Canadian girlfriend”, I’d like to see someone actually come forward and claim to be this “friend who owns the bike”. Also, I’d like to find out who installed that motor and see them try to explain how it wasn’t meant to be a cheating device, just a completely innocent rider-assist that they didn’t want to advertise or take any credit for that was in a professional-level gravel bike.


Wow this was a beautiful, poignant story @frauenfelder – thanks for linking it in the article.


Here’s a 2010 video about the same hidden motor system in other bikes:
(There is some accusation thrown in, but it’s mainly interesting in terms of demonstrating these motor installations)

Less interesting from a technical perspective, in 2014 someone notices that when a cyclist crashes, the bike (stopped on the ground) seems to take off under its own power:

(Though perhaps a bike without a motor could possibly do this too? When the pedal on the ground is placed such that gravity pressing the frame down rotates the pedal so as to engage the wheel, a regular bike can start moving for a few seconds as if powered. With crash-wrecked frame geometry as a wildcard perhaps the effect could be unexpectedly pronounced?)


The article says:

“After one lap of the world championships, UCI took Femke’s bike in the pit area and tested it with some sort of tablet,” said Sporza journalist Maarten Vangramberen. “The bike was immediately sealed and taken. The UCI then called in the Belgian federation. When the saddle was removed, there were electrical cables in the seat tube. When they wanted to remove the bottom bracket, which is normally not difficult, they could not because the crank was stuck. Inside there was a motor.”
Read more at http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/uci_detains_bike_cyclocross_worlds_394233_394233#E1ZsFrjF2PHLz2Kh.99

Her father’s claim is:
“It’s not Femke’s bike,” he reportedly said. “Someone from her team, who sometimes trains with her, brought the bike to the pit. But it was never the intention that she would ride it. … Femke has absolutely not used that bike in the race. We are strongly affected by what’s happened. Femke is totally upside-down.
Read more at http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/01/news/uci_detains_bike_cyclocross_worlds_394233_394233#E1ZsFrjF2PHLz2Kh.99

So the authorities are saying they walked into the pit and picked up a bike that looks exactly like the one she was riding and found a motor. Her camp is saying “that was a friend’s, not the one she was riding.”

That is some weak excuse sauce. And highly coincidental to have a friend who happens to spend the money to install a highly secretive motor system in their bike for reasons, well, I guess I can think of only one reason such a bike might be in the pit at a race…


That said, I’ve seen these accusations for years. It seems really easy to randomly x-ray bikes and solve the issue.


but we don’t like porno scanners!


How much energy can you fit in lithium in the frame tube anyway? I can see that it would be enough to give an edge, but compared to the energy the cyclist puts into the bike over the course of a race it seems like it would just be a drop in the bucket.

Ok, back-of-napkin time. I’m estimating that if you were able to fill most of the frame fairly efficiently you’d get about 20 watt-hours of battery, probably less (unless really determined to saw up the frame and rebuild it), and a race is normally averaging about 300 watts over 4 hours (with high-energy bursts sometimes exceeding a kilowatt in top athletes), so let’s say 1200 watt-hours comes from the cyclist.

So the motor gives a less-than-two-percent improvement… and also adds weight.

(Perhaps not always a lot of additional weight though since modern bikes can be made lighter than the regulatory minimum and thus need ballast weights anyway)

At the top level, athletes will be getting so closely matched that the difference between them is presumably often less than 20 watt-hours in energy output, but I’d think once you get below that level, an extra 20-watts probably just makes you a slightly-better mid-level nobody :slight_smile:
(I’m not a racer. so my expectations may be off)

(Hmm, I’ve been assuming rechargeable battery chemistry, and that still seems like a safe assumption, but if every race they needed to take the bike apart and physically replace all the batteries, they could probably cram in enough to get the advantage up to a full 2 or 2.5 percent)


Someone was in fact named from the beginning and made a very brief statement – little more than “yeah, the bike’s mine, my bad”. They claim it’s one of her old competition bikes that he bought from her and surreptitiously fitted with the device. He then used it to go around the track before the race started.

Again, this is just what I picked up from the papers without really following the case, so more information may have surfaced in the mean time.

Cyclocross is huge in some parts of Belgium, both competitively and recreationally. It’s not unthinkable, I guess, that someone would willing to spend that kind of money just to beat his friends… Would be really petty, of course – almost worse than cheating in competition! And all in all it’s a very unlikely story.


I’m not a sports-fan by any means - I actively avoid it most of the time - I generally can’t stand it in large part because of the culture that surrounds it, and the big money and the corruption and everything, and because the popular sports in the US are just not to my taste.

But, I do enjoy top-level, world-class competition, like the olympics (and world-cup football/soccer). I mean, I am bored to tears by sports otherwise (including regular soccer games), but world-class athletics has sort of an instinctual attraction.

The thing that ruins it? Cheating - no matter how small. The draw to begin with is the spirit of fair competition - people striving, for their whole lives, to be the best they can be, and going all-out in competition.

That’s the whole point of the olympics, really… bringing the best athletes from around the world together for what is really a friendly - and fair - competition. Despite all of the corruption and outrageous stuff that happens surrounding the olympics, to the athletes it is an idealistic, almost utopic event meant to uplift people. And they treat it that way - so if you can ignore the other stuff, the actual competition is good, and uplifting in a way.

Except when people cheat. It’s extraordinarily cynical and it taints the entire competition, which, again, is comprised entirely of people who have trained their whole lives to compete in this event and have done so fairly and honorably. One cheater ruins it for everybody, and it becomes insidious - over time, we’ve come to expect cheating. So, over time the athletes come to expect that they need to cheat to win - if nothing else, they likely wonder if the people at the top are all cheating, which becomes a temptation that I imagine is hard to resist.

I haven’t been as eloquent as the thoughts seem to be in my mind, but it’s something I feel strongly about. Theres’s something so pure and intrinsically human about sport. It’s already tainted by the often-repulsive (in many different ways) culture that surrounds it (not just in the US, but worldwide). I may be an unrealistic idealist but I can’t abide cheating, especially when it becomes casual and common.


Plausible deniability.

I guess when the biggest name in the sport can dope for like a decade and constantly win and it is kept more or less a secret, I guess I don’t trust someone who says, “Oh I didn’t know.” or “It wasn’t my bike.”

It’s like on Cops where they pull a guy over and there is a bag of weed and the guy is like, “OH man, this is my cousins car. I didn’t know he had that in here.”

(Though I had a friend get a driving with open container at 17 because his dad did leave an empty bottle of booze in the back seat.)

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this is an offence?

Well, if you’re going to all that trouble to cheat, you might as well go down denying. It’s not like confessing is going to make it go away. Righteous denial worked for Lance Armstrong for many years.

As for cultures of cheating, welcome to modern times. We idolize billionaire hedge funders who have institutionalized insider trading, and the “flop” is a soccer artform.


On the contrary, I’d say that the cheating brings the sports from the boring, repetitive and largely uninteresting physical activity into the fascinating fields of medicine, engineering, human enhancement technologies, and competing laboratories.

Maybe we even could get some breakthrough in gene therapies from there.


In most states, yes.


Land of the Free, indeed.