"Doping" in Cycling: Now with Motors

Professional cycling fans are far too accustomed to doping scandals. But while everyone is focused on the Floyd Landis confession, a far more unusual allegation first surfaced at this year's Giro d'Italia, when the media speculated that some riders riders may be practicing "motorized doping" -- or hiding motors on their bikes.

Obviously, in bicycle racing, motor equals cheating. But doping? Calling this "motorized doping" is like calling sex "penetrative celibacy." In any case, the UCI (cycling's governing body) has dismissed the accusations, but the newspaper behind the speculation, L'Avvenire, gave one example of a motor the riders could be using. It is a Hungarian product called the "Gruber Assist," and it comes complete with heavily-accented promotional video (above).

Not only that, but some now claim that Swiss cyclist Fabian Cancellara (one of the best riders in the world) has also used "motorized doping" this year to win two of the hardest races in pro cycling: the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix. Here's the compelling (and poorly edited) video "evidence."

All of this seems unlikely as the "whirring" sound alone would give the cheater away, but nobody likes conspiracy theories like pro cycling fans. Hopefully the riders will not take these accusations lying down. (H-Zontal video via All Hail the Black Market.)


  1. 1:11

    “Also works with the new listaunganmaugnojuan batteries.”

    Good to know.

  2. Over the 100 miles or so per stage I cannot beleive the power is worth the weight penalty, maybe if the can do it then ditch the weight but they spend thousands to loose a few hundred grammes of weight I cannot see that this is feasible.

    maybe for the team leader that is dragged allong or a solo rider going for king of the mountains.. but is still cant see it

    1. The minimum weight of cycles in the tour is quite high (7kg if my memory serves), in fact you can find many relatively cheap carbon cycles that are much lighter, like this one.

    2. If they’re just going to ditch the motor mid-race then why use electric at all? Strap some solid rocket boosters on that baby, then jettison them once they’re dry.

      1. Gaining 100W during even half an hour would be a huge advantage, I have a trouble producing that amount (sustained) for longer than 25 minutes on an exercise bike.

        More on the battery issue: Look at this example of a laptop battery and see the multiple cells, no large battery is a solid chunk of matter but they usually consist of multiple separate cells.

  3. If the allegations against Fabian Cancellara have merit, this could be a huge blow to cycling. I for one would not like to see doping integrated into the sport.

    1. ” I for one would not like to see doping integrated into the sport.”

      But then it would essentially be required that participants all take drugs with potential side effects and probably make the sporting officials in charge of the policy liable when things go bad.

  4. It finally makes sense now… all this time Lance Armstrong was actually riding a Harley.

  5. Hiya Snobbers, fancy meeting you here – my two favourite interwebs, together at last!

  6. That Cancellara video is jaw dropping. The sprint up the pave is incredible – I never saw climbing like it since…well I guess Contador, in TdF ’09…

  7. The more plausible explanations of this theory suggested that the moto-assist bike would be used in the early stages of the race. The Gruber-assist motor can add about 100 watts to a cyclist’s output. This would be better taken advantage of by allowing the rider to exert less effort in the early stages of the race, then switch to a legal bicycle before the key move is made. Both Cancellara and his teammate Matti Breschel made bike changes right before key action at Flanders. (Note that bike changes like this are an accepted practice and not evidence of cheating. Plus, the mechanics flubbed Breschel’s change, losing him time.)

  8. Dang, I want one of those motors. I live in a pretty hilly area and get so sweaty on them that I can’t really go for a bike ride to meet up with friends unless we stay outside. But a pudgy person on one of those e-bikes is a target for derision – get a real bike fatty, etc. Plus you don’t get the exercise of pedaling when the terrain is easier. With a little hidden motor, I could get a little help with the bigger hills on what appears to be – and otherwise works as – a normal bike.

  9. I dunno… a rider can tinker with his own chemistry without the knowledge of the team, but to hack the bike involves the techs and thus puts a lot more people and potential whistleblowers in the loop. This just seems unlikely. But maybe I misunderestimate the desperate lengths these teams will go to in order to win. I could imagine weekend lone-wolf racers doing this, though. (And heck, I wouldn’t mind having one of these units after a long day at work and a stop at the grocery store, with one more hill to go…)

    1. High stakes racing practically BEGS for high tech cheating bpratt… Look at the crazy cheats people have attempted in formula 1 or nascar. Why would you believe that a team supporting a multimillion dollar endorsed athlete would have any less reason to bolt some performance onto the bike. There is -big- money at stake.

    2. I would argue differently, it is not uncommon for the organisation to know about (or even actively sponsor) doping. At least the team doctor would suspect something, they know more about the athlete´s body than the athlete. A few examples:

      • Totally Juiced
      • Austria Fined $1M For Olympic Doping
      • Doping Disaster for Finnish Ski Team: a Turning Point for Drug Testing?
      • Forgotten victims of East German doping take their battle to court
      • Operación Puerto doping case

      1. I agree that with doping there’s probably complicity at various levels on various teams, or at least a willingness to look away. But when you’re involving the guys that handle the bikes, there can’t be a single person in the entire organization that doesn’t know about the cheating, which just seems unrealistic for secret-keeping.

    1. #13,

      There are still the top and seat tubes. I had the batteries for my lighting system in the seat tube for a while. If you are willing to cut and weld it should be possible. Also a motor wouldn’t take all of the down tube.

      I competitive bike rider told me that Lance Armstrong had his own doctor all the time he was at the top. I have no doubt that doctor was involved in doping.

  10. Not only are his finger movements compelling evidence that he is activating the device, his position on the seat makes it fairly obvious to the astute observer that he is concealing a 1000 gram lithium ion battery in his anal cavity.

  11. Calling this “motorized doping” is like calling sex “penetrative celibacy.”

    Love it.

  12. That uphill sprint does look pretty -cheaty-, look at the guy behind him struggling to even attempt to keep pace (he has to come off his seat to pump harder while the leader stays seated and pulls away incredibly fast. Somebody has a turbo button :).

  13. I don’t think the Swiss cycling team is using something as noisy as that gruber consumer model. I bet if the Swiss were cheating, it would be a intricate, smooth, quiet mechanism packed into a small space, much like their watches. Heck, the swatch people (Swiss) cooked up the smart car idea, why not hidden bike motors years later?

    Also, I’m plussed, BSNYC on BB! I didn’t realize it was such a small blogosphere.

  14. what they captured as “evidence” is just him upshifting. it’s normally done by a smaller lever just behind the brake lever. the accuser has obviously never ridden a modern bike.

    attacks on hills or even flats like this happen all the time, and have for many, many years.

  15. lol, i love how all the defenses just say “he’s really fast” or even more stupid, “he doesn’t need a machine, he IS a machine.”

    Maybe the premise of the video is stupid, but the defenses are just as lame.

  16. I’ve always assumed that doping must be very common in sports generally.

    In almost any large competition (Olympics, Tour de France, etc), a small number of athletes are found to be doping and/or get in trouble for failing to submit to tests. So it’s widely known that the tests work at least some of the time, and that the consequences for failing tests are harsh and strictly enforced.

    Given this, there seem to be only two possibilities:

    1) Doping is rare; most people who use it are caught and suffer the consequences. So only a complete idiot would try it.

    2) Doping is common; most people who use it are NOT caught. So sensible athletes will see it as another controllable risk in their training regime. The small number of people caught each year are simply those stupid, incautious or unlucky enough to fail to avoid detection.

    Given the resources that get poured into athletes and the extensive health coaching and monitoring they undergo, I find it hard to believe that there’s a sufficiently steady supply of morons (both athletes and their support teams) for (1) to be true. If we assume that these teams of well-paid professionals are mostly quite bright, then (2) seems a far more likely explanation for the pattern we see.

  17. For those that don’t know the world of cycling, if your winning and you are not French, then you must be cheating.

  18. Nice publicity stunt for the manufacturers of the device.

    Completely ridiculous, but any publicity is good publicity.

  19. The whole story is a diversion to keep the Landis story out of the headlines. I expect the organizers will have much better success catching these kinds of cheats than they do catching real dopers.

    Also, welcome to BB RTMS! It’s been a slow week what with the hiatus and all.

  20. yeah, I want one of these for my bike. REally, these things should come standard and charge from breaking while they are at it.

  21. Yow, check out the “lying down” link in the original post. It’s a promotional video for a “prone bike”, like a recumbent but you’re face down and have to wear crazy mirror goggles to see the road ahead. Just skip right to 0:19 for a really icky design detail…

  22. What the hell? You got BoingBoing all over my BikeSnob…

    That’s the sound of worlds colliding.

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