Addicted to Motors and Magnets

With Tiny Motors and Electromagnetic Wheels, Cheating Is On the Rise in Pro Cycling

April 19, 2016 Sports and Outdoors : Sports By Photo by Corriere della Sera

Professional cycling can’t seem to shake its reputation as a sport of cheaters — and that’s because a handful of pros continue to cheat in increasingly mind-boggling ways. The method of deceit de rigueur is so-called mechanical or motorized doping, in which a rider benefits from hidden motors or magnet systems that help propel him or her forward. Once just a theory, a cyclist at the UCI Cyclocross World Championship in January was caught with a motor in her seatpost. Now, in a joint investigation, the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera and the French sports television channel Télévisions Stade 2 claim to have discovered that seven cyclists cheated at two Italian bike races, Strade Bianche and Coppi de Bartali.

The investigation used thermal cameras to detect heat coming from several parts of the bikes — seat tube, rear hub, cassette — that shouldn’t otherwise have been generating such substantial amounts of heat. Outside experts in thermal imaging confirmed that it was suspicious. Reporters also spoke with Istvan Varjas, a Hungarian engineer, and Alessandro Bartoli, an Italian engineer, who make motors and electromagnetic wheels for mechanical doping; both suggested that cheating was both possible and likely beyond the grasp of current UCI detection methods.

The names of the accused cyclists remain secret, and the evidence of cheating isn’t 100 percent conclusive since the bikes were never dismantled. But the damage is done to a sport that seems to be mired in scandal. And although most people are probably not cheating — and we’ll be glued to the television during the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France — cycling does seem to attract cheaters at all levels of the sport, even in Gran Fondos, where the first prize is a bike, and on Strava, where the prize is nothing at all.



The first confirmed instance of so-called mechanical doping took place earlier this year at the UCI Cyclocross World Championship in Zolder, Belgium. Read the story