If you’re reading this then you’re probably already aware of the controversy of hidden electric motors in high level bicycle racing.
The theory of hidden bike motors has been a widely discussed topic amongst fans for the last couple of years. The debate around their likely use culminated with a confirmed case of usage at a pro cyclo-cross race as well as multiple cases of them being discovered in amateur events in Europe.
Its not the technological advancement in the mechanics of electric motors themselves that has made this an issue, more the advancement in their power sources – the batteries that power these motors use have become smaller and more powerful than ever before, meaning their manner of concealment, has become so easy that it threatens to the purity of amateur sport and consequently your events.
We know perfornance enhancing drugs get used in national and regional events in the UK but we are lucky enough to have a well functioning UK Anti Doping authority that have caught some big domestic names. It’s important to note that some of these have been intelligence led and others have been as the result of random testing.
The anti-doping procedures in place in UK sport have grown over a period of years and are now reasonably robust. While they are not perfect they certainly act as a deterrent and help keep domestic cyclesport to be perceived as clean.
There is currently a new threat to the veracity of cycling events – hidden motors. We know for certain that they have been used internationally in Junior Belgain Cyclo Cross. We also know that a French third category masters rider has been using a hidden motor resulting in him recording some incredible race results as well as a 53 year old Italian amateur racer who was caught in the summer of 2017 in an event near Brescia.
In each case a combination of suspicions and intelligence from anonymous tip offs led to motor investigations with the bike being examined and the rider either confessing immdeiately or a motor being uncovered under close mechanical inspection.
If domestic riders, including juniors, are prepared to take the health risk of injecting EPO or ingesting other PEDs for the sake of winning bicycle races, how long until they see value in copying their overseas counterparts and adding a motor to their arsenal?
We’ve also seen Vivax systems for sale and consequently there are eports from Italy of numerous amounts of riders using motors under the radar in races and Gran Fondo events. Couple that with the buzz in the international cycling press about a cottage industry in electric motors along the French riviera and you can see that as the access to this technology marches on, the risk to our sport isn’t going to go away of it’s own accord.
So, what’s to stop riders fitting hidden motors to their bikes and using them selectively at key parts of an event when they feel an extra 50 watts will change the course of the competition?
At the moment, if you’re a race organiser, you’re probably trusting the camaraderie of fellow cyclists and your own keen eye for details that look a bit out of place.
While these are great, we think it would be helpful for those new to event organisation and UK cyclesport as a whole to have a blueprint for keeping hidden motors out of our events so we’ve pulled together colleagues with different areas of expertise to help us come up with some guidelines that should explain how to catch a motor cheat.
If you carry out whichever ones of these you feel comfortable with on a random sample of bikes at your event, this should inform potential motor cheats that you have the ability to catch them, and consquently act as a deterrent to anyone considering going down this route.
Expensive motor systems come with a hidden battery which can be harder to find, but the cheaper systems, or those requiring more energy for prolonged usage in longer events will have batteries mounted primarily in a bottle cage, saddle bag or bento box. Check for concealed wires or electrical contacts on the top tube behind the headset where a bento box would be strapped, behind the seatpost, under the saddle or wherever bottle cages are. This is going to catch only the most basic motor systems. If youre running a sportive, triathlon, road race or time trial you can do this before riders line up to start. Get the rider to take any bottles out of their cages and get them to unclick their seatpack or bento box. Its a 10 second check and will probably act as a deterrent to the most blatant cheating more than anything else.
You may recall the UCI employed a hastily constructed process to find motors using a proprietary system based on iPads after the cyclo-cross motor case.
The good news is that all modern Apple iPads have a built in EMF (Electo Magnetic Field) detector. Not something you’d use normally but great for detecting electrical devices concealed in carbon down tubes.
The good news is that there are plenty of apps that utilize this built in sensor and provide feedback on the iPad screen, we like Teslameter but your preferred choice may vary. The bad news is that this system isn’t infallible. In tests we’ve carried out we’ve found false readings from eTap components and minor readings when we’ve bundled batteries together and hidden them in bike frames.
We suggest practicing with the iPadon items around the house, especially small power tools with batteries or even the remote control for your TV and learning how to interpret the signals. Then try it on a bike with Di2 fitted to get use to finding batteries in bike tubes. As great as an EMF sensor is it’s not going to catch everything – these signals can be insulated. (see note)
A motor and substantial batteries is going to come in about 2KG, especially if it’s shielded. A generally competent bike mechanic or knowledgable fan of the sport is going to know when a high performance race bike is at the correct weight when they pick it up, and would be able to recognise an extra 2KG that shouldn’t be there. If we were to formalize this using a pair of workshop scales like the Park Tool DS-1 Digital Scale you can get an instant readout within seconds. Not sure of expected weights? We will shortly be putting together a table of common bike weights along with upgrade wheels to help, but trust us, when you’ve been weighing 20 or more carbon fibre high end bikes and getting a feel for expected sizes, one with a motor in will suddenly become quite apparent.
If either the iPad or scales have raised some concern or you have suspicion or intelligence to warrant a further investigation then its time to a take a look inside. There are two ways to do this. Both require tools and a person with a degree of mechanical competency. And both will require some sort of consent – see notes.
Legally you, as a race organiser, have no rights to dismantle somebody’s bike. You don’t even have the right to weigh it, to scan it or even to remove the water bottles and seatpack. Just as an anti-doping agency has no legal rights to demand a urine or blood test, all they can do is move to apply a sanction if a rider doesn’t comply. Most riders probably won’t object to having their bike inspected under a random check – it wasn’t that long ago that all bikes in amateur road races in the UK had to pass a scrutineer’s check to make sure they were race worthy. If you make it clear in the terms of entry you that you reserve the right to dismantle bikes to look for hidden motors then should find riders more accepting, and also add in creating a deterrent against cheats entering your event.
The quickest and most simplest way to check inside a bike is to remove the seatpost and use a dowling road down the seat tube to see if there are any obstructions that shouldn’t be there.
To do this you’ll need an allen key to remove the seatpost, and a way of measuring torque to enable the bolt to be tightened up to the correct amount. Undo the seatpost bolt, remove the seatpost and slide a soft wooden rod down the seat tube to measure the depth. If there’s a motor or battery pack obstructing it you’ll know.
It’s important to note you MUST watch out for Di2 packs. This isn’t a zero risk procedure, you don’t know what internal wiring scenarios or junction boxes may be concealed somewhere you aren’t expecting.
Additionally, the seatpost needs to be re-inserted into the bike frame and this isn’t a zero risk procedure either. We’d recommend giving it back to the owner with the torque wrench to do unless you have a fully qualified and insured mechanic on hand. Its possible to overtighten seat post bolts causing catastrophic failure in both the seatpost and even the bike frame which is going to be very expensive to rectify.
If you want to be absolutely certain as to whether a hidden motor is being used in a bike there is one bit of kit that will tell you straight away – the bottom bracket axle.
Any motor will have to interface with the bottom bracket axle in order to spin the cranks round and drive the rear wheel. This means there has to be a gearing cog that picks up the rotation from a motor in the seat tube. If you remove the crankset from the bike you can inspect it immediately. Its a simple job, you simple undo the bolts on the left hand crank side, drop the chain and slide the whole chainset and bottom bracket axle out. You’ll know immediately if the bike you’re looking at has been running a motor.
There’s been a lot of chatter about wheel based motors having been used in the pro peloton. Whether that’s true or not we don’t know, our hunch is that they haven’t but it’s not impossible.
The theory behind them is that they work like a maglev train that gets pulled along a monorail by a sequence of magnets being activated.
In this case the magnets would be hidden in intervals throughout the wheel rim and would work against a magnetic charge in either the chainstays, seatstays or in an aero foil behind the seat tube. Because of the very nature of magnetic propulsion systems there will be a very definite electro magnetic field present, which means that you can spot it extremely easily with the EMF iPad tool mentioned in step 1. We don’t think you’ll find one of these in amateur racing, purely because their cost, if they exist, would be extremely prohibitive.
If you’re unlucky enough to have had a rider bring a hidden motor to your event and you discover it, immediately start video recording from a mobile phone and take as many photos as possible. You’ll have no right to seize the bike and this isn’t a matter for the police so collect as much evidence as you can. Notify your governing body that has sanctioned your event immediately and supply them with all of the documentary proof. Ensure you do not post up any allegations on social media in the heat of the moment, and do not upload videos to YouTube. If you really feel a need to post on event forums because of the gossip around the event, just explain that the national body have been informed and say no more. Bodies like Cycling Time Trials, British Triathlon Association and British Cycling have legal teams in place that can ensure correct procedures are followed.
Due to the threat of drug testing the use of performance enhancing drugs is relatively low in UK cycle sport. If we as organisers bring in routine motor testing we should see the same deterrent in place. Even basic testing with an iPad and scales immediately lets prospective cheats know that measures are in place and there is a very high chance they will be caught. Events run under national governing bodies will have systems in place for due process and sanctions in the event of a cheat being uncovered. Sportive organisers will have to work out the correct level of procedure and sanction. In writing this guide it is our hope that potential cheats recognise that they will easily be caught and motor cheating will not take off in the UK.