Dawn of a new era
January 31, 2016 3:09 AM   Subscribe

For the first time, the UCI has discovered a motor in a cyclist's bike. Femke Van den Driessche dropped out of the under 23 Women's World Cyclo-Cross Championship race with apparent mechanical problems, the bike was taken away for investigations. The Clinic started speculating right away about a previous performance at Koppenberg Cross. I believe this is a video of that event.
posted by Chuckles (73 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's a sad commentary on cycling that doping is so wide-spread that this is referred to as 'technological doping'.

The video is dramatic not only for her lead but for how effortless she makes it look compared to the riders struggling to keep up.
posted by oheso at 3:16 AM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


“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. [Source]

That's just being stupid.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:34 AM on January 31, 2016


How do you cross that Rubicon? I mean...I can understand how people convince themselves about doping. How they tell themselves that it's still them doing the work and training, that everyone else is doing it, etc. I can see the slippery slope. But it takes a certain contempt for a sport you have devoted a fair portion of life to, to just agree to stick a motor in your bike. The sociology of these scandals would be fascinating, if we could get the data.
posted by howfar at 3:35 AM on January 31, 2016 [38 favorites]


I only included the video of Koppenberg Cross for completeness. I'm not convinced we can detect motor doping from videos.

As for commentary on cycling.. I think the only reasonable conclusion is that elite sport in general is more or less beyond hope. After all, we have match fixing in Tennis, and the NBA, human growth hormone in the NFL, and so on, and so on. Professional Wrestling, it turns out, is the most real of the lot!
posted by Chuckles at 3:36 AM on January 31, 2016 [10 favorites]


I logged a lot of miles training for that day. And I hid a lot of motors. Little Hidden Motors. They run good, and they've got the energy I need to get me going in the home stretch. That's why Little Hidden Motors have been on my tool bench since I was a kid.

Little Hidden Motors. The motors of champions.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:45 AM on January 31, 2016 [39 favorites]


I swear, it was just for the v-rroom sound!
posted by fairmettle at 3:47 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


This isn't new, I've been motorizing my bike since I was about 7.
posted by HuronBob at 4:04 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


But it takes a certain contempt for a sport you have devoted a fair portion of life to, to just agree to stick a motor in your bike.

Or just a desperate need for money. I gather the winnings for coming first rather dwarf those for coming, say, tenth or twelfth.
posted by Dysk at 4:09 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Where does the motor go and how does it work? If it's hidden inside the frame I don't understand how it connects to the chain or wheels. If it's not hidden inside the frame, I don't understand why it's not obvious to anyone who looks at the bike, even if it's tiny.
posted by ubiquity at 4:13 AM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's in the bottom bracket, apparently - where the axle connects the two pedals - so it assists with spinning the pedals.
posted by carter at 4:19 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Carter's got it right. There's even a commercial product.

The motor itself is in the seat tube, down near the bottom, and meshes with a bevel gear on the bottom bracket.

Hidden motors for road bikes exist — here’s how they work
posted by oheso at 4:30 AM on January 31, 2016 [31 favorites]


The Vivax motor seems like an off-the-shelf system that does everything to cheat in a race. Greg LeMond shows one off with a water bottle mounted battery. I imagine with a bit of creativity the batteries could be hidden in any of the frame tubes, and many bicycle raced these days need ballast added to bring them up to the minimum weights required. On preview, oheso beat me to it.
posted by glip at 4:32 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


The thing that strikes me is that this must be some really interesting and potentially useful technology. But instead of being used to make bicycles more attractive as transportation for a lot of people, it is being used to cheat. And that's just depressing.
posted by TedW at 4:33 AM on January 31, 2016 [31 favorites]


In that video she just zooms ahead while everyone else chugs way behind. Either she has a motor or she is operating at an entirely different physical level.

There appear to be cheating/doping issues in most sports, but cycling has taking it further than any other sport, to the point where the entire sport is a joke. I don't know what the solution is, whether it is legalizing doping or going full WWF and embracing anything that maximizes the spectacle.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:56 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yes, you can see everybody else slow down their cadence (pedaling rate) as they hit the slope, they get out of the seat, they wobble over the course, but Van den Driessche just keeps going as if nothing had happened. Which is like the Vivax demo that oheso posted above.
posted by carter at 5:05 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's a sad commentary on cycling that doping is so wide-spread that this is referred to as 'technological doping'.

And as a result of the prior scandals, this one is kind of hilarious. It's like, guys, cyclists, just stop cheating.
"But can I put tiny jet engines in my helmet?"
No.
"What about if the bike in front tows me with an invisible wire"
NO.
"How about if I sprinkle caltrops made of ice-"
STOP IT.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:25 AM on January 31, 2016 [40 favorites]


as a kid, while bike-riding against a headwind or up a hill, i would always fantasize about replacing the spokes of the rims with a blade assembly of an oscillating fan.
i still think it's a cool idea.
posted by bitteroldman at 5:28 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


evie richards absolutely rocked that. storming. amazing to see the uk doing so well in cx.
posted by andrewcooke at 5:39 AM on January 31, 2016


On the one hand you have Van den Driessche's father saying 'but my daughter would never even think of doing such a thing!!!' On the other hand, you not only have her caught racing on a proven-to-be motorized bike, there's also the fact that her brother Neils, a bike rider himself, is currently under suspension for doping.

Makes me think that not only is cheating, both with drugs and equipment, common in the sport, it's common in her family. (Was Dad a rider back in the day? I wonder....)
posted by easily confused at 5:57 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Damn, never thought any would be that brazen or dumb enough to think they wouldn't be caught.
posted by eriko at 6:04 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


I remember a couple years ago reading about some guy who just seemed to take off in a race in a very uncharacteristic and unrealistic way (there was a video too and it sure looked like it), and one of the racers suspected a hidden motor, but people didn't believe him.

Might be time for some kind of bike scanner to go along with the drug testing.
posted by eye of newt at 6:09 AM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


All of these scandals make me wonder whether part of the problem here is that biking is such a gear culture, so preciously focused on hacking hardware for individual maximum performance. Maybe like in swimming, where certain swimsuits can vastly enhance your performance to the point that they've been banned, there need to be stricter limits placed on the gear you're allowed to use in competition. It seems like a lot of people in the sport obsessively focus on hacking gear and their bodies to the detriment of athleticism.

Related: I get recall alerts, and apart from lamps, heaters, and battery chargers, bicycle components seem to be some of the most frequently recalled items. Just about once a week it seems like there is some faulty fork or other component that has just been discovered. There is such a huge market for this stuff, and while I too have enjoyed hacking a bike to make it do what I wanted, there seems to be a real negative side to all of this. We're getting shoddy parts being rushed out to market and the available technology being used to cheat in athletic competition.

These feel like different facets of the same thing, that hardware is so crucially important to this sport, and people are continually trying to create new products. That innovation isn't bad—until it's combined with greed. Then you get companies pushing out dangerous products to make a profit or racers using hidden motors to get ahead.
posted by limeonaire at 6:15 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Are there minimum weight limits on these bikes so everyone else is carrying inert ballast? Modern lithium ion is good, but it's still extra weight to lug around, and brushless motors add a little drag when they're switched off. It's interesting that electric drivetrains got good enough to be worth the trade off over race distances.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:15 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember a couple years ago reading about some guy who just seemed to take off in a race in a very uncharacteristic and unrealistic way (there was a video too and it sure looked like it), and one of the racers suspected a hidden motor, but people didn't believe him.

Was there maybe an FPP about it here? I remember reading about that also, and it seems like something that I would have encountered here since I don't follow bicycle racing at all.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:24 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


  many bicycle raced these days need ballast added to bring them up to the minimum weights required

wat? So designers sweat cobs to lose that last gram, and then you have to slap lumps of lead on to meet a minimum weight? Sheesh. Might as well say that all sport is cheating. Still, this motor could be one of those rare moments when a technology crossover (admittedly, a clandestine technology) from sport is useful in real life.
posted by scruss at 6:26 AM on January 31, 2016


What, no JATO?
posted by tommasz at 6:32 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Modern lithium ion is good, but it's still extra weight to lug around, and brushless motors add a little drag when they're switched off.

Can be used to recharge the batteries though?
posted by Dysk at 6:37 AM on January 31, 2016


This very famous video explains more or less how it works, and this was almost 6 years ago. It was also the reason some top competitions now get the bikes of the top riders + randoms past a x-ray scanner.
posted by lmfsilva at 6:48 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just an itsy-bitsy motor? In the 1904 Tour de France, nine riders were excluded because of illegal use of cars or trains and that was the tamest incident of that particular race (riders cheated by taking trains in later Tours too).
posted by elgilito at 6:57 AM on January 31, 2016 [8 favorites]


I don't understand the mental leap that allows people to do this.

"I've been training really hard to win on my bike but I'm not totally confident I can win. BUT I bet if I ran the course in a CAR I'd be the fastest one!"

I mean yes sure, but that's not winning a bike race; that is winning a car race with no other competitors. That is just about being obsessed with winning.

Which is, I guess, the mentality of competitors which allows them to do this.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:04 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


In 2010 Fabian Cancellara was accused of motor doping after he won Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders (previously), as was Ryder Hesjedal in 2014 after some suspicious wheel-spinning after a crash. Current regulation road bikes need to weigh at least 6.8kg, but that may be changing soon.

E-bikes with motors are already pretty common if you want one to make transportation easier (although they are usually limited in some way to comply with regulations about allowable speed and power for pedal bikes). They usually have giant batteries and it's super obvious it is motor assisted, unlike the hidden motors and batteries involved in this case.
posted by penguinliz at 7:05 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


This very famous video explains more or less how it works, and this was almost 6 years ago. It was also the reason some top competitions now get the bikes of the top riders + randoms past a x-ray scanner.

That's the video I remember. The only thing missing as he pulls away uphill is a "vroom vroom" sound and an exhaust plume. Since then I am sure the cheaters have learned to be more subtle and dial in just a bit of turbo boost, rather than rocketing away.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:08 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Since then I am sure the cheaters have learned to be more subtle and dial in just a bit of turbo boost, rather than rocketing away.

If you look at Femke's video and then Cancellara at De Ronde, both are very similar, so.... I don't think they have.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:41 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Why not issue the competitors with the same standard bike at the start of the race? The point of the exercise is to find the best cyclist, isn't it, not the best cycle? Do javelin throwers and shot-putters bring their own missiles?

I suppose there are all sorts of meshed commercial interests between bike manufacturers, the racers and the organisers that mean you 'need' to have differentiation in the bikes, but don't people who enjoy watching sport get disenchanted when this sort of nonsese goes on? And doesn't that do commercial damage?
posted by Devonian at 8:09 AM on January 31, 2016 [20 favorites]


In 2010 Fabian Cancellara was accused of motor doping

I am filled with irrational rage at the phrase "motor doping." I get--and have no problem with--the fact that language evolves and words mean what we agree to use them to mean, but "motor doping" or "mechanical doping" or "tech doping" make no actual sense.

I mean, unless the word "doping" has evolved from meaning "drugging" to being generically synonymous with "cheating," which I really don't think it has. Do cycling enthusiasts actually say things like "Don't let that dude be the banker when you play Monopoly with him because he always dopes by sneaking a few hundred extra" or "I'm getting a divorce because my wife caught me doping on her with her sister" or whatever?
posted by dersins at 8:29 AM on January 31, 2016 [12 favorites]


Why not issue the competitors with the same standard bike at the start of the race? The point of the exercise is to find the best cyclist, isn't it, not the best cycle?

The point is to move merchandise. More bike brands = more merchandise that you can move to credulous roadies to shave that extra 5 seconds off their Tuesday evening ride. You can't genuinely innovate in this space to move merchandise because it's a *bicycle*, the basic design of which is simple and hasn't changed much since the early '90s. So you market, and races are a part of that marketing.
posted by indubitable at 8:37 AM on January 31, 2016 [7 favorites]


Since then I am sure the cheaters have learned to be more subtle and dial in just a bit of turbo boost, rather than rocketing away.

I mean really have none of these fools seen The Incredibles? You stick to second place the entire time, so no one suspects! And then of course you do what Dash wasn't allowed to do and take first place at the very last moment.

honestly their unbelievable stupidity and arrogance are the real crimes
posted by poffin boffin at 8:41 AM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


lmfsilva: "If you look at Femke's video and then Cancellara at De Ronde, both are very similar, so.... I don't think they have."

Well the people not getting caught.
posted by Mitheral at 8:47 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


I mean, unless the word "doping" has evolved from meaning "drugging" to being generically synonymous with "cheating," which I really don't think it has.

I don't think this is doping as a synonym for cheating so much as doping meaning to cheat specifically by increasing some dimension. So, you can blood dope by increasing your red blood cell count to increase performance and you can motor dope by increasing the power transmitted to the chain with a motor. You dope by adding something to what is normally present, in the same way as you dope a semiconductor.

It makes me a little itchy too, FWIW.
posted by ssg at 8:50 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Hesjedal footage was hilariously suspect.
The only funnier would have been him chasing his bike down the road.

At least the tell-all confessionals are going to be more palatable and interesting than the "we had to exercise every two hours or our hearts would stop" insanity you get with more traditional doping.
posted by fullerine at 8:57 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Somewhere Fabian Cancellara is chuckling.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:58 AM on January 31, 2016


lmfsilva: "This very famous video explains more or less how it works"

That is amazingly unsophisticated. I would have guessed that there would have been some sort of proportional control where the motor gives a little boost (say 1%) allowing for an easier ride which would allow for increased performance at the end of races because you haven't been working as hard. Coupled with a minimum cadence before engagement and you wouldn't need any wires/switches external to the frame.

And it would look natural rather than the odd looking at best engagement of this system.

Xraying is pretty cheap (I mean my dentist charges me ~$100); I'm surprised that any race of any import doesn't just xray all the bikes rather than just a sample. Is there some sort of presumed innocence factor in play such that they need some sort of probable cause?
posted by Mitheral at 9:09 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ban money from sport.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 9:15 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


fairly good article here. also, according to posts on reddit there's now a dutch language quote from the officials saying it's a motor.

(they're saying it's a team member or friend's bike; her brother is currently banned for epo use)
posted by andrewcooke at 9:24 AM on January 31, 2016


I'm actually super impressed that the tech exists to squeeze a sizable battery, a motor, and the necessary power electronics and gears into the tube. Those must be very high-end batteries to support that discharge rate, and a specialty motor that doesn't require much cooling, and custom-made mesh gears to interface with the existing crank. Consumer e-bikes have about 50 lbs of equipment to do the same thing.
posted by miyabo at 9:32 AM on January 31, 2016


You probably don't need very much boost at all to gain an edge in competition, which may go some way toward explaining how they're able to package it like that.
posted by indubitable at 9:48 AM on January 31, 2016


Ban money from sport.

Yes, keep out the riff-raff.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:50 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


Why not issue the competitors with the same standard bike at the start of the race? The point of the exercise is to find the best cyclist, isn't it, not the best cycle?

People have there own preferences. Giving everyone the same cycle wouldn't actually put everyone on an even footing.

re chuckles: I think the only reasonable conclusion is that elite sport in general is more or less beyond hope.

I became sort of ambivalent about cheating-via-drugs when I realized how the intense training in elite sports is actually unhealthy. It's not just football players who spend the rest of their lives with joint and back pain, and apparently Olympic levels of training lead to measurable declines in health (e.g., more days of respiratory illness.) If the competition is who can do the most abuse while still functioning, why not allow drugs? It's just different abuse, not more abuse.

Unfortunately this laissez faire philosophy provides no guidance for how to react when someone hides a motor in a bike.
posted by mark k at 9:58 AM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


Those must be very high-end batteries to support that discharge rate

Lithium batteries designed for power tools can put out 25-40 amps from a single 18650 cell (not much bigger than an AA), which at a nominal 3.7 volts is over 100 watts. Cyclist power output is typically measured in the few hundreds of watts (e.g. Wiggins' hour record output apparently averaged 440 watts), so even the power from a single one of those cells is going to give you an edge.

The reason the leisure e-bike batteries are so large is for range. The cells above will be flat in a few minutes at full output.
posted by grahamparks at 10:00 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick: Ban money from sport.

They actually did this, once upon a time. Long-distance cycling, and running, were gambled upon more heavily than boxing or horse racing back in the day. Organized crime was everywhere, abuse of athletes, doping, you name it. The velodromes were popular hang-outs for people of "low moral fiber" and it wasn't just the athletes who were using, or selling, or both. Public outcry led to banning many forms of the sports, closing the velodromes, and the formation of amateur athletics clubs to try to "clean up" these sports, putting limitations on the severity of the events to try to prevent abuse of athletes (e.g. no more old-style six-day races).
posted by traveler_ at 10:09 AM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


Is there some sort of presumed innocence factor in play such that they need some sort of probable cause?

I'm guessing time is the main factor. On a major tour like the TdF, there would be slightly under 200 riders at the start, and anything between 150-170 in Paris, this not accounting for backup bicycles that may or may not have been used. Mechanics need to make sure the frame and components are in good working condition and tuned for the requirements of the next stage, less than half a day away. Until the UCI comes up with a mobile airport-style scanner riders just put them on a conveyor belt and get them on the other side 15 seconds later, it's just a major inconvenience for what's probably a rare (or at least uncommon) occurrence.
posted by lmfsilva at 10:15 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


So designers sweat cobs to lose that last gram, and then you have to slap lumps of lead on to meet a minimum weight? Sheesh.

The 6.8kg minimum mass rule was implemented because designers would sweat so much weight off the bike that it would be too fragile. You still engineer for at least a couple of kilos under the weight limit because of components, but once you put it all together, you have to ballast to get it up to the minimum. This used to mean "taping a bit of lead foil to the downtube.

Note that in the weigh in, if you're under, they'll just add ballast right there and check to make sure it's there at the end of the stage/race. It's not an instant DQ if you're close, but if you brought up a 3kg bike, they're going to reject it, period. The problem was the carbon fibre revolution, and it's trivial to make bikes that are more than strong enough that are kilos under the minimum weight, and you can make a 3kg bike that's stronger than what they ride today. Nowadays, you see them using steel components just to get the mass close enough to the minimum that you're not getting rejected at tech.

They have been talking about changing the 6.8kg rule, either to a lower number or getting rid of the mass rule and going to a strength testing rule, which means you'd have to be riding a certified frame and certified components. That opens a lot of other issues, whereas a minimum mass rule is pretty easy to implement, and people will rapidly find out if you can't make a solid bike at that limit and stop riding you.
posted by eriko at 10:33 AM on January 31, 2016 [8 favorites]


Femke Van den Driessche
Lance Armstrong

Thanks for all the jokes, you fucking cheaters.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:03 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


You still engineer for at least a couple of kilos under the weight limit because of components

I'm puzzled by this sentence. Carbon road bike framesets weigh 1100-1500g, so almost all of the weight of a bike is components (chiefly the wheels/tyres).
posted by grahamparks at 11:25 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Why not embrace the tech? Whatever you can get onto your bike under the weight limit. Allow no servicing of components on the route itself. Bike must be capable of stopping from whatever your top speed is measured at within charted safe distance, including downhill. Accidents caused by negligence ban you for two years.

This is all super-high-tech, heavily funded stuff. If racers are using it, some very cool stuff might fall down to street cyclists that would make more people take up the activity.
posted by maxwelton at 12:39 PM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


I have some friends with a pair of Faraday electric bikes where the motor and batteries are built into the frame. (Though I gather when the power runs out it can be a bit of a problem...)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:53 PM on January 31, 2016


For years, the pro-competition argument was that competition developed and built real, valuable skills, and that's why it was such a good, wholesome thing. Now we've reached the point where we consider lying successfully to be a valuable enough skill to legitimize in competition I guess. It's not really about competition but money and spectacle at this point. The original arguments for valuing competition in the first place have been undermined completely by this point but we still want to go through the motions, I guess out of habit? Well, no, it's about the money, that universal alibi. It's so sad it's gotten to this point though. What a hollowed out sham of life we've made for ourselves.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:22 PM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


That is amazingly unsophisticated. I would have guessed that there would have been some sort of proportional control where the motor gives a little boost (say 1%) allowing for an easier ride which would allow for increased performance at the end of races because you haven't been working as hard. Coupled with a minimum cadence before engagement and you wouldn't need any wires/switches external to the frame.

This exactly. Some comments in the Clinic thread I linked question whether a rider would even have to know. The coaches and mechanics could easily engineer a 'good day' once in a while. Sport is, in large part, about amplifying tiny differences (see this discussion about dumbing down eSports), so 1% is more than enough to swing a result. Not enough to make a donkey into a race horse though, of course.
posted by Chuckles at 1:23 PM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


But it takes a certain contempt for a sport you have devoted a fair portion of life to, to just agree to stick a motor in your bike.

I was a sportswriter for many years ... and I say this as respectfully as possible ... athletes can be really, really fucking off. They can surprise you with their lack of awareness, curiosity and reflection.

I consider that a kind of backhanded compliment, actually. To be at the pinnacle of this kind of an achievement takes a certain kind of brain. The kind of brain that facilitates pinnacle athletic achievement is often also the kind of brain that often lacks all kinds of executive functions.

So, it wouldn't surprise me at all if this cyclist didn't know this was wrong.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:02 PM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


I don't know the mechanical details, but the unsophisticated interface -- on/off switch, making the rider set cadence by holding down the button instead of the system just measuring it -- suggests that there's a non-zero mechanical cost (extra friction?) to activating the thing in the first place, so it's better suited to large, obvious speed boosts as opposed to incremental assistance.
posted by neckro23 at 2:39 PM on January 31, 2016


Recumbent bikes/trikes have their own racing association - the Human Powered Vehicle Association - because they were banned by the UCI back in 1934 as an "unfair technological advantage."

Doping doesn't seem to be a problem for HPVA races for two reasons. First, it's too small for winnings to be a major factor (unfortunately, this probably makes it inaccessible to many people). Second, whenever someone comes up with a substantial technological advantage the question isn't "Should we ban it?" but "Should we create a new class?" There are separate classes based on number of wheels, use of fairings, and other factors. Recently, tilting tricycles have sparked discussion about creating a new class, since they consistently beat everything else with three wheels.

I think it's unfortunate that the UCI has focused on creating a single vision of what bike racing looks like, rather than embracing new technologies and encouraging innovation along many parallel paths.
posted by sibilatorix at 5:13 PM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


I loved her excuse about the mythical "friend" who had an identical bike that for some weird reason had a secret motor, and hasn't been named,that got switched over. So improbable.
posted by smoke at 6:57 PM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


You can't genuinely innovate in this space to move merchandise because it's a *bicycle*, the basic design of which is simple and hasn't changed much since the early '90s.

Yeah. 1890s

Which is true and not true. If we look at just road bikes and compare today from 20 years ago, you've got carbon fiber used for not just the frames, but for almost any component you can think of; you have power meters that are off the shelf; you have disk brakes rather than rim brakes; you have electronic shifting with a much wider and finer gear range; you have bike computers that can display, record that power meter data, as well as cadence, heart rate, position via GPS - and all the tool to analyze it; bike weight has also dramatically gone down - a bike could have weight 21-23lbs in the Pro Tour at the absolute minimum; now 16lbs is easy to attain.

These are all incremental things, but they do make a difference, at some elite level. All this technology also means the bikes costs many times what they used to, which is madness, if you were to actually pay for these things.

My bike? The bike I log thousands upon thousands of miles on? Essentially the same tech. from 20 years ago, give or take some gimme tech that doesn't require a second mortgage, and has trickled down from the bleeding edge. I'm happy with it.

I also live in a town where masters riders are caught for EPO doping. if you've got the money, all this type of stuff seems "obvious" to, "invest" in. These uber expernsive bikes is all wang measuring, honestly.
posted by alex_skazat at 7:57 PM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


Until the UCI comes up with a mobile airport-style scanner riders just put them on a conveyor belt and get them on the other side 15 seconds later, it's just a major inconvenience for what's probably a rare (or at least uncommon) occurrence.

They just need to repurpose one, they don't have to build it from scratch: I bet you could fit a bike through the bigger models, the ones they use for suitcases rather than cabin luggage.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:20 PM on January 31, 2016


They only really have to x-ray the bottom brackets and hubs; a common as dirt dental x-ray machine would probably do the job.
posted by Mitheral at 9:47 PM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


You don't need an X-ray machine, just "an app" on "an iPad" according to this hastily thrown-together GCN video.

* cringe *
posted by grahamparks at 4:32 AM on February 1, 2016


Why not issue the competitors with the same standard bike at the start of the race? The point of the exercise is to find the best cyclist, isn't it, not the best cycle?

1) Marketing.

2) Bikes are fitted to the rider, and this is *not* trivial at these levels. So you can't just deal them out just before the race. It's even more complicated on time trial bikes.
posted by eriko at 5:51 AM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm staggered at the fact that the UCI actually found a bike with a motor in it. After the absurd, conspiracy-theory-esque videos about Cancellara (who was dominant long before motors could fit in seat tubes) and Hesjedal (whose bike was exhibiting basic, easily-reproduced physics), the UCI began checking bikes just to get out in front of it...

That the only person they've found to have a motor in a bike is a teenager struggling to go pro in one of cycling's more niche disciplines is, I think, a testament to the unlikeliness of "motor doping" much more so than to endemic corruption.

Every since the filthy nineties and aughts, cycling has struggled to change, but it has changed. Catching cheaters is just one of many encouraging signs.
posted by entropone at 6:01 AM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think it's unfortunate that the UCI has focused on creating a single vision of what bike racing looks like, rather than embracing new technologies and encouraging innovation along many parallel paths.

While some of the bike setup rules have been poorly worded, hard-to-follow, and a general pain in the ass, I appreciate that the UCI has tried to ensure that bike racing stays bike racing.

Imagine, for a moment, the rulemakers of basketball saying, "Well, the purpose is to get the ball into a thing; what if we let people kick it? And what if the thing was bigger, and there was one person who stood near it and blocked it?" and all of a sudden you have a very different sport.

Bike racing isn't about who can go the fastest based on legs and gears. It's about who rides a bicycle to the finish line first. Turning the complex, dynamic, pack-oriented chaos symphony of mass-start racing into individual recumbent time trials would be a very dumb move indeed.
posted by entropone at 6:05 AM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I own an electric bicycle. It's silent and unobtrusive. But if anyone looks closely it's clear that the rear hub is unusually large. The battery is a box on the rear rack.

I cannot ride a bicycle unassisted, but with this one I can explore the local rail trails with my friends. I am on my best behavior in the parks, carefully keeping my speed down to match any other cyclists in my vicinity - I don't want to be the one who triggers a prohibition of e-bikes in the park. I spin the pedals even though I don't need to, both for verisimilitude and because it's good for me to move even though I have little strength.

My bike's speed is software limited to around 20mph. I suppose that it would be possible to hack it and make it go a whole lot faster, but you'd pay a price in range. My bike is supposed to have a range of 35 miles though I have never gone that far.

It's VERY heavy, and there is mechanical drag. Hard to pedal it without the motor assist. If you ran out of power you'd be in trouble. If the race is long enough to use it up, the person with the motor might have to work harder overall than if they'd done without.
posted by elizilla at 7:37 AM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Second, whenever someone comes up with a substantial technological advantage the question isn't "Should we ban it?" but "Should we create a new class?"

You could build a bike around these, with built in batteries that didn't even need recharging. Still human powered, in the absolute sense. If it ever made it to a pelleton people would be drafting like mad going downhill, to maximize the regenerative braking/speed of descent trade off. You'd have domestiques leading the packs down who didn't care about recharging, because they aren't trying to win anyway.
posted by Chuckles at 10:07 AM on February 1, 2016


Just remove any concept of cheating. Let people use drugs, build insane bikes with hypergolic fuel cells, the whole nine yards. The only rules: two wheels, and not more than X grams.

...it'll make for substantially more exciting viewing, earning more precious ad dollars, easily outpacing any additional mortuary expenditures.

"Oohhh, and Johnson bursts into flames on the outside! That's got to be a disappointment for his team, eh Bob?"
"You bet Reginald, that's definitely going to hurt their chances on the next time trial."
"...aaaannd the track squad is putting out the fire. WAIT! It looks like Johnson was using a fluorine compound in his fuel cell, it's setting the pavement on fire! The surviving track squad is running for safety ... what's this? It looks like Velasquez has managed to go airborne, right over the flames!"
"Well, Reginald, don't forget that fluorine fires produce extremely nasty fumes, Velasquez will probably regret that decision in a few kilometers."
posted by aramaic at 10:59 AM on February 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


(favorited for use of the word "hypergolic")
posted by TedW at 11:44 AM on February 1, 2016


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