Have professional racing cyclists used hidden motors in the past?
It’s a question that has done the rounds on social media since the “mechanical fraud” incident at the Cyclocross World Championships last weekend when the UCI detected a concealed motor in Femke Van den Driessche’s Wilier race bike. Has this been going on much longer than any of us can imagine?
Fabian Cancellara has faced questions as recently in 2010, but a video unearthed by Sporza reveals that hidden motors have existed since the 1970s. The short film from 1979 demonstrates a steel racing bicycle fitted with a hidden motor and batteries, revealing that such technology has existed for far longer than some of us might have realised.
The system works by powering a special set of cranks, rather than spinning the bottom bracket axle as with the more modern systems we’ve seen recently. The cranks appear to have a ratchet device that allows the cyclist to stop pedalling when in power assist mode. Bit of a giveaway, that.
It’s powered by two batteries tucked away inside the tubes of the frame. It’s said to provide about 45 minutes of assistance and a top speed of 45kph. So apart from the strange looking cranks, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about its appearance.
The motor is operated by a small button located on the drops, just behind the brake lever. You don’t even have to change hand position to turn the power on.
But just like the Vivax Assist and other similarly available devices, it was never intended for professional cyclists, instead for leisure and recreational cyclists seeking a bit of power assist on longer rides or steep climbs.
"I think this bike would be suited above all to a woman who wants to go for a ride with her husband, or disabled people or those with heart conditions,” says the engineer.
Of course, as we’ve seen in the past week, such technology can fall into the wrong hands.
So were any racing cyclists using this system in the 1980s? We doubt it. As you can tell from watching the video, it makes quite a racket. Modern systems are said to be much quieter. And we can’t imagine the primitive technology, especially those cranks, would have been light. But, as the events of last weekend proved, anything is possible.
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.