The people behind a website called Doped Bikes that launched last year purporting to sell motors specifically designed to be hidden within bikes during races have revealed that it was a ‘honeypot’ operation aimed at finding out who was prepared to cheat – and they claim that among those expressing interest was the manager of a UK-based cycling team.
When the website launched in June 2016, we wrote: “At times it reads like an elaborate spoof or perhaps an off-the-wall marketing exercise. If it is, fair play! Well done. But the balance of opinion seems to be that these guys are for real, just.”
The website was extensively covered in the specialist cycling press and beyond, and today its founders, Moreno Grazioli and Roberto Bassi, revealed that they were part of a “group of concerned racers and industry insiders” who “set up a honeypot website claiming to have made hidden electric motors for bicycles.”
“We did it find out who was prepared to cheat our sport and to make organisers and competitors aware of what to watch out for over the coming months,” they added.
The idea came to them after a hidden motor was found in a bike prepared for Belgian under-23 rider Femke van den Driessche at the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships.
“We were aghast at this,” said the Doped Bikes team. “We knew technology was advancing at such a rate that this was going to be inevitable as some point but we hadn't expected it to be now, and certainly not in a junior race.
“We don't know much about pharmacology or sports science but between us all we do know about electrical engineering and websites, so we put our thinking hats on and came up with the idea to set up a dummy site that would offer a seemingly too good to be true motor that someone lacking in any type of moral scruples would want to use to help win bike races.”
With the help of a computer games designer, they produced a CGI video showing how the motor, hidden in the seat tube and powered by four batteries also placed there, helped turn the cranks, its use activated by a hidden button – similar, in short, to the device found on van den Driessche’s bike.
They said they intended the website to be “as brazen as possible” – there’s the name for a start – so it would reach the widest possible audience, raise awareness of the issue, alert race organisers and governing bodies and not least, tempt would-be cheats to take the bait.
Promoting the site through social media as well as approaching consumer and trade press directly as well as cycling clubs in the UK and Australia, much of the response they got was highly critical of their apparent attempts to encourage people to cheat – “this is despicable” being one of the more printable comments.
“Reassuringly, the response from grass roots cyclists has been one of disdain towards being able to cheat in cycle races,” they said. “We received hundreds of emails overwhelmingly against hidden motors.
“Unfortunately we also received emails from trade publications keen to take our money to promote these motors, team managers interested to find out more, overseas retailers wanting to stock them and individuals eager to be able to purchase a system that would allow them to cheat their fellow competitors.”
One of those emails, they say, was from “a UK team boss,” with the following email exchange said to have taken place:
Thank you for your email regarding in-bike motors. We would be interested in hearing more
We wrote back to say we didn't have pricing details so couldn't sell now
If you contact me then when you have exact prices
Speak to you then
And then again, same team boss
We would interested in hearing when you have price information
Revealing the results of the honeypot operation on the Doped Bikes website, they wrote: “The technology to build these systems is very real.
“We realised during the course of this project that what we were imagining could indeed be produced and sold by a small team with a solid electrical engineering background.
“With the parts all easily available from China these are probably being built by someone with very few scruples as you are reading this.”
After outlining steps that event organisers could take to catch cheats, they added: “We hope we have opened the cycling public's eyes to the methods of cheating that threaten our sport in the immediate future.
“There will always be unscrupulous people determined to cheat honest riders and others further up the chain prepared to facilitate and profit from it.
“The overwhelming response from grass roots cyclists was so incredibly strongly against the ideas of motors being used secretly in cycle sport that the sport is in a healthy condition as long as we are all vigilant against those who would cheat.
“For numerous reasons cycling is one of the greatest sports in the world and we believe grass roots riders and organisers will keep it as such.”
In conclusion, they said: “Got butthurt because you emailed us asking for a motor?
“Email your local federation/ADA [anti-doping agency] and explain it to them. They'll be waiting to speak to you.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.