Over the weekend, Belgian cyclist Femke van den Driessche had her bike impounded at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships—and it was discovered that there was a motor hidden inside.
Femke van den Driessche
"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. "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."
"For the UCI, this is the first time we have established a technical fraud and for us that's a downer," said Peter Van den Abeele, a manager for the UCI (that's International Cycling Union, in English). "Most people are bewildered [by this]."
As someone unfamiliar with racing bikes, I am totally bewildered by this. How do you hide a motor inside a bicycle, such that it requires a tablet to detect it? Where is the UI hidden, such that it cannot be seen by visual inspection? And wouldn't a motor make some kind of noise? Let's look at these points one by one:
How the UI and UX Works
In an article in Cycling Tips called "Hidden motors for road bikes exist — here's how they work," editor Matt de Neef reveals German company Vivax's Assist concealed bicycle motor. (There's no confirmation that this is the system van den Driessche used, but it's an example of how it's done.) Here he shows you how the UI works:
Activating the Vivax Assist motor is a simple case of turning the pedals and then pressing the start/stop button. The motor kicks in after roughly a second or so.
The motor doesn't create any extra resistance in the drivechain when you're riding with the motor disengaged; it feels just like you're riding a normal bike. But when you press the button, the power that you're pushing through the bike is supplemented by what feels like roughly 100 watts.
To disengage the motor you simply stop pedalling. You get a little bit of a jolt forwards from the pedals, similar to what you might get when you're riding a fixed-gear bike for the first time and you forget you shouldn't stop pedalling. Except in the case of the Vivax Assist, the impetus from the motor stops immediately after that initial jolt, and you can then freewheel as normal.
"The motor does make a little bit of noise but it's not as loud as the end of the above video might suggest — in that case the microphone was placed close to the bottom bracket," de Neef explains. "When riding along it is only slightly audible over road and wind noise."
Where the Motor is Hidden
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The cylindrical motor of Vivax's Assist tucks away inside the seat tube, and at the bottom is a gear arrangement that then drives the crankshaft. The system can be purchased in an Invisible Performance Package option that renders the button wireless, which could be hidden anywhere, like under the saddle or even on the cyclist's body. What's not clear is where or how the battery was concealed in the Van den Dreissche incident.
Why Does Vivax Make Such a Thing?
A bicycle-assisting motor is actually a fantastic idea, and the company's original goal was to increase a recreational rider's range and/or even out "the performance difference between riding partners;" imagine a married couple, for instance, where one is a triathlete and the other is a desk jockey, but they enjoy riding together on the weekends.
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What's less clear, however, is why they make an "Invisible" option; all we can assume is it's for aesthetics.
Says She's Innocent
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Van den Dreissche, for her part, claims she's innocent. Here's her version of the story, according to Velo News:
The 19-year-old denied that she had used a bike with a concealed motor on purpose, saying that it was identical to her own but belonged to a friend and that a team mechanic had given it to her by mistake before the race.
"It wasn't my bike, it was that of a friend and was identical to mine," a tearful Van den Driessche told Belgian TV channel Sporza. "This friend went around the course Saturday before dropping off the bike in the truck. A mechanic, thinking it was my bike, cleaned it and prepared it for my race," she added, insisting that she was "totally unaware" it was fitted with a hidden motor.
Tell It to the Judge?
Wilier Triestina, the Italian bike manufacturer that built Van den Dreissche's ride, isn't pleased with being associated with the event. Here's a statement released by CEO Andrea Gastaldello on the company's website:
"We are literally shocked, as the main technical partner, we want to distance [ourselves] from this act absolutely contrary to the basic values ??of our company, and with the principles of each sporting competition. Really unacceptable that the photos of our bike is making the rounds of the international media due to this unpleasant fact. We work every day to bring worldwide the quality of our products and when we know that a Wilier Triestina's bike is meanly tampered we're very sad. Our Company will take legal action against the athlete and against any responsible for this very serious matter, in order to safeguard the good name and image of the company, marked by professionalism and seriousness in 110 years of history".
The UCI is currently conducting an investigation. If Van den Dreissche is found guilty, she faces a six-month suspension and a fine of up to 200,000 Swiss francs (US $195,000).
Via Velo News