In the last year there has been only one woman caught red-handed during a race with a ‘doped’ racing bike. Her name was Femke Van den Driessche and she had her doped ebike confiscated by the UCI. What they found was a motor and battery hidden in the seat tube of her frame that was very similar to the Gruber assist system. While the bike racing world would have you believe that this is a rare and unusual thing to have happen, a recent 60 minutes report has blown that whole idea away when they interviewed Stefano Varjas who has been happily installing doping systems in road bikes for professional racers since 1998. He claims to have been paid as much as 2 million dollars to install this system discreetly for professional racers. Two million dollars, holy crap, it would seem that I’m in the wrong business (breaking my own ebikes for fame and heartache).
Although no names were named during the show, it does seem pretty strange that Lance Armstrong won a series of Tour de Frances from 1998 on while he was diagnosed with cancer. All the people I know that are diagnosed with cancer tend to end up looking pretty bad and just lay around in bed all day and are not going out and winning any World Class cycling races. Seeing as how Lance was found guilty of a series of incredibly sophisticated chemical doping charges, it’s not much of a stretch to think that he may have been riding a doped ebike to win those Tour De France titles as well. The reality is that we’ll probably never know what really happened.
What drives people to cheat? Why would they risk large fines and humiliation if they are caught? The answer is to win. For some people, nothing matters more than winning.
So how hard is it to dope a racing bike anyway?
If you want to install most mid drive systems on a bike frame you end up just pulling out the Bottom Bracket, front derailleur and front chainring and throwing them all away to replace them with the large and obvious mid drive system. For a fancy seat tube motor like the Gruber assist you will need to replace the bottom bracket with a custom axle that has interlocking teeth to mesh with the motor. The motor is then installed above the axle into the seat tube and then the batteries are generally installed above the motor or hidden somewhere else in the frame. The Gruber Assist will put out 200 Watts of peak power which might not sound like a lot for someone like me who rides 2500W ebikes every morning, but for a race like the Tour De France having 200 Watts of power for 20 minutes can easily be the difference between winning and not winning. Stephano said he generally would charge between $12,000-20,000 to install a motor and battery combo like this (his motor was not a Gruber but was similar). The reality is that the cost of the motor and battery is probably pretty inexpensive so Stephano is making a large chunk of change with every conversion (I’ll do it for $20 and a tube of superglue). This kind of mid-drive system can be pretty easy to detect with a heat sensor when the motor is being used as it generates a lot of heat and there is nowhere for that heat to go except out to the frame of the bike.
To install a Gruber you will need a seat tube that is at least 31.6mm wide and many carbon fiber frames may not be strong enough to use this kind of system unless the bottom bracket is reinforced. Carbon Fiber tends to fail pretty catastrophically which can be fun for the rider and any bystanders. For normal aluminum and steel framed bikes you will need to drill a hole through the top of the bottom bracket which can be a little tricky. I suggest that you use a normal titanium drill with a 2ft drill extension (check on ebay) and then something like a PVC pipe around the outside of the drill to keep it centered. Doing it this way you should be able to patiently drill through the top of the bottom bracket without destroying the frame too badly.
Eenie- Weenie Hub motors
Everyone knows what hub motors look like, but what about a hub motor that is so small that you can fit inside of a normal rear bicycle hub. For a system like that to work, the batteries would need to be located in the frame somewhere and there would have to be some electrical connection between the batteries and the motor. This size motor would only be capable of around 50 watts or so, but on the professional circuit 50 watts over 15-20 minutes can be a huge increase. The average professional cyclist can put out about 400 – 440 watts of power using their legs. While 50 watts might not seem like a lot, a little boost at the right time (like going up a hill) can allow you to pass other non-doped riders.
The Next Generation – Wheel Rim Doping Hub Motors
As the UCI wises up to the mid drive motors, a newer much harder to detect system is being integrated into the rear wheel. Coils are hidden in the wheel with magnets that add about 800g to the total weight of the rear wheel. When the rear rim is turned on (by wireless remote) then it will start to accelerate the tire forward by triggering the magnets sequentially inside the rim. This setup is totally silent and you could feasibly install it in a bike and give it to someone without that rider even knowing that the bike is motorized. If you actually weigh the racing bike first then it is pretty easy to tell if this system is in place because 800g on a racing road bike rim for an event like the Tour De France is like riding around with a brick strapped to your tire. It’s a huge amount of weight that clearly does not belong there.
So are people out there mechanically doping right now?
The answer to this question is absolutely, unequivocally, yes. There is no doubt that there are plenty of people out there racing right now using electric doping systems. Just check out some of these videos and articles.
Check out this video where the rider crashes then the bike stops then starts moving again on its own. There is clearly an electric motor on that road bike.
During the first stage of the Volta a Valenciana, Ion Izagirre is shown in a video here, crashing his Canyon bike. After crashing his bike the bike rear wheel starts spinning on its own until he stands it up. Either it’s a ghost, or there’s a motor in there.
In this video here a bunch of racers are filmed in a race and you can see that are FLIR (thermal) videoed and probably have motors in them. As disturbing as this video is, I’m sure it’s worse if you can actually speak
French Italian (not me, I’m an Mon-no-ligual Ameri-kan-o).
In this final video with 4.5 million views, there is a bunch of what would I would call very suspicious behaviors from bike racers that I absolutely would have grabbed their bikes after their win and shaken them down looking for motors.
Stephano says that he knows for a fact that motorized doped ebikes were raced in the Tour De France with his interview with 60 minutes. Since it doesn’t really serve any purpose for him to lie about this (it’s actually better for him if he does lie) I would say that his statement is almost certainly true. It seems insane to me that people would go through that much trouble, cost and risk to win a bicycle race. I can’t see how the win would be very satisfying in the long term when you know that you had to cheat to win. It’s kind of like paying money for sex, if you have to pay someone to have sex with you, how is that going to affect your feelings of self-worth over the long haul. I can’t imagine that the sex is going to be so good that you’re going to forget about how much of pathetic loser you are for having to pay money for sex.
The whole “it’s oh so hard to catch mechanical dopers” thing is a total sham
The reality is that finding these seat tube motors is a pretty easy thing to do. You just pull the seat post out and shine a flashlight down the seat tube. If the UCI was serious about catching people cheating then as soon as the race was one the bike would be taken from the rider and inspected for motors. If they pulled the seat tube off and didn’t find any motor and pulled the back wheel off and weighed it and it didn’t weigh a whopping 800g more than it should then the winner gets their prize, if they find a motor then there is a heavy fine levied and they get kicked out of bicycle racing. Forever. Seems simple to me. Until the UCI gets serious about catching cheaters, let the best doper win.
The reality is that the UCI is clearly not that interested in catching cheaters. Mechanical doping is infinitely easier to detect that chemical doping and the reality is that there is absolutely NO excuse for them to not be able to quickly and easily find these motors and batteries. As their bike inspections got more throughout then inevitably people would start hiding the motors in other places like the downtubes and possibly even the chainstays. All motors generate heat, so setting up thermal cameras along the race at secret points along hills or other places people are likely to use their motors will help show if people are mechanically doping. If their bikes are showing heat where no heat belongs then they would confiscate the bike and tear it apart. Guilty until proven innocent.
As far as I’m concerned Dope belongs in one place and one place only … in the bowl of a bong. Mechanical doping is for posers, cheaters, and people who like to play with their Peters. That being said stealthy ebikes are really cool, and I love riding in places I’m NOT supposed to ride and getting away with it. In fact, the entire month I was in Vegas every single trail I rode was completely off-limits for ebikes and I loved every minute of it. I was passed by dozens of bikers who just smiled and grunted at me and didn’t even look down to see the giant udder of a motor hanging off my craptastic full suspension ‘My Little Bronie‘ mountain bike with a 3lb 6Ah 30Q 52v 30 Amps continuous minicube battery dangling under the seat in a scrotal seat bag. Because it’s so much better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission (unless you’re talking about sex, in which case it’s better to just get all the groveling over with up front, because nothing is sexier than a fully grown man groveling for sex).
I still don’t understand how marijuana was ever considered a performance enhancing drug, all it ever made me do was forget who I am and then suddenly have an epiphany that the video games are really just playing us … (true story)
… and that, boys and girls, is why you shouldn’t use drugs
I wrote this article after a 90-minute long phone conversation with Eric Hicks where we both got so excited about doping that we decided to have a competition to see who could write and article about it faster. I published mine first, a few hours later, but I still think that he wrote the better article. Go and read his and decide for yourself. Competition is good when it brings out the best in people. I think competition is bad when you’re stabbing the people you’re competing against in the back with an ebike.
25 thoughts on “It’s Dope, Yo : A Cheater’s Guide To Mechanical Race Bike Doping”
impressive 😉 well done karl 😉
I Wish Luna would engeneer and sell a 1000W (or even just 500 or 350W) version of the Stealthy Gruber assist. Superstealthy so I could ride in in upper east side manhattan, and then lock up my old fugly 100$ 10-speed, 20 years old road bike without being worried about any heroin addict or methhead knowing what it’s really worth (considering it’s an eBike) and trying to cut my kryptonite lock to steal my bike and get their bag of dope. A 750W Gruber in an 20-years old bland 10-speed road bike would be the perfect crime in Manhattan, considering eBikes there are illegal (as i you get your bike seized up and receive a 1000 US$ on top of that). NYPD cops wouldn’t understand anything. Anybody who would maket those motor at a decent price would certainly make a lot of money…. After all, who want’s to grab the attention of stealers with a very conspicous motored eBike you lock up in big cities (where there’s a whole big market segment for eBikes) ?
I also wish this. It seems like it would be pretty easy to do. The hardest part would be drilling through the bottom of the seat tube. You’re going to need a really long bit to pull it off. Doing a stealthly 300W rear hub motor would be a whole lot easier and then you could just throw a minicube in a saddlebag.
Yeah the drilling par would most likely require special equipment. The other challenge I see with this Grubber is going “bigger Watts” in this very narrow and closed environnement space. I mean the seat post tube could be aluminium (helping heat dissipation), but I think duckted fans at each ends of the tube could really help the cooling of the motor (warming your butt too in the winter time). Finally, such a small space would mean very small gears and freewill (almost horlogerie-like). What metal is best suited to resist such pouwers ? Titanium ?
One things for sure, it would be awesome to be able to use all 3 front chainering plates with this enhanced Grubber concealed mid-drive. I’d personnaly gets a 4 or 6P pack in a backpack, with wiring entering through the seatpost via the saddle. Lot’s of range.
Easier solution Johnathan. I have a small hub motor (Q100) on a road bike that I commute on, and no one* can tell its electric. Its a $79 motor, so theft isn’t a big issue.
* anyone who is a bike or e-bike fanatic could tell its electric if they were in 10ft of the bike, but much farther away than that, it looks like its just an internally geared hub bike.
Intersting point. I’ll check out the QS100. But still, with a totally invisible motor hidden in the seat tube, wandering opportunistic thieves craving for dope would quickly overlook an old and bland 10 speed road bike… the would go for the next best one the could sell easily. Even from a foot they woulndn’t expect the bike to be of any resale value… I can pedal faster than 20 mph. From times to times, I also like to go over 20 mph on a eBike (of course I adapt my roding depending on many variable like people, traffic, road, weather, winds, my level of alertness, distances in front and sides… keeping good safety margins, just like any pilot… judgment call here)… But it’s not fair that I can pass a cops at 27 mph on my pedal bike but get arrested a 21 mph on an I bike. With an invisible motor, problem solved… No thieves, no cops…
Just put a sticker on it that says something like, “12 Speed Unihub”, and everybody will ignore it, or want to ask about. In which case you can make up your own story, “Yea, I bought that off a street vender on my last trip to China ….”.
Do cops in NYC give a dam about e-bikes? I probably see 20+ in my daily commute (mostly delivery men). I ride responsibly, respect other riders/pedestrians and never had a problem (yet) with my highly illegal bike
What do you rise ? As of now, I personally use a BBSHD. Love those 120 ft.lbs of tork ! Do you think NYPD would lease me alone with a bbshd ?
Jonathan, I ride a 48v DIY throttle only rear geared hub bike. I put my battery in a topeak rear trunk bag. It is certainly not the fastest but it can go almost 30mph without pedaling on the flat.
I really want a bbshd or bafang maxdrive but I am broke haha
I watched about 1/2 of that french video, but it seemed pretty similar to the 60 minutes one (same guy, Stephano, in Budapest explaining his stuff).
Shows you how ignorant I am … and proud of it!
I think it’s such a sham to leave drug testing or mechanical doping till after a race is over. Even if a doper is caught after the fact and stripped of their first place, this means the poor sshmuck who comes in second place that was clean, has been robbed of their feeling of triumph by the cheater as the first place doper should not have qualified to begin with.
Also the duped spectators who like to get all in a frenzy about things like cheering on their favourite hero’s don’t really know if the results will stand until after some dumb testing. I say do all the testing before the contest. Once the race starts you know everyone that is in the race has qualified. What could be more simple!
I remember way back cheering on our Canadian favourite Ben Johnson in the 100 yard dash, Olympic Gold, my wife crying she was so happy. The poor bastard that came in second on that one, what a joke! How hard can it be to make everyone pee in a dam bottle before the show and stip down a few bikes and then get on with it after all the messy stuff is dealt with. Once in the higher levels of sport all this stuff has to be dealt with before the race or event starts or it’s all a farce and waste of time. ………….wayne
wayne that is really good point.
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Jonathan, the problem with developing a drive like the Gruber is that the current version puts out as much power as it is capable of. They were detected because the seat-tube was so hot. It is possible to make the motor longer, but to keep it hidden in the seat-tube means it must be the same diameter as before.
The small diameter limits the torque, and even if you raise the Kv (RPMs per volt) there is no room inside the bottom bracket to use a bigger reduction. Since the battery doesn’t need to be hidden, you “could” use a higher voltage, and as stated, you can make the motor longer. There are a few bike frames that have a larger diameter round tube as the downtube, which is straight. That could be a viable candidate, but that is only one model of frame. If the battery of the system is in a backpack, it can be any voltage and as large as you want (for range).
The hidden doped system looked like it was only 4S / 1P LiPo, and that was so it could fit inside the frame too. It only provided 20 minutes of 200W, so the cheater had to be very careful to only use it when he needed it most, and to turn it off as soon as he was past the rough spot
If you increased the motor diameter 60%, it would double the torque, and if you made the motor 3 times longer (which is possible) then….the two of those changes would make it near 1000W,
Look at the Cevedale and Evation drives: https://www.electricbike.com/2014-mid-drive/
Thanks for sharing this link (so 3 examples of invisible mid-drives known now) :
1 – Gruber/Vivax assist : 1.8kg – 3.09 diam x 22 cm – rated 200W@30V? (@crank output = 110W) 15-90 rpm (crank).
2 – Cevedale : 4.2 kg – 5.6 diam x 28 cm – 250W@36V – tork 35N.m ; controller 350W,
2 – Evation : 3.7 kg 3.7 kg, 250W/36V, 25 N.m
Indeed building the motor I was mentionning in my previous post would be very challenging, but a great seller IMHO.. The dowtube would be a difficult place to install/service a motor (cannot access downtube, unlike seatpost tube for which we can just remove saddle)…
True, to increase tork we generally need more motor diameter, unless….
I was thinking : if we make the motor let’s say 44 cm length instead of 22 cm and if we could maybe also increase diameter to from 3.09 cm to 5.6 cm we could reach around 500-750 Watts, but the tork would be very looooowwww at the cranck (beacause of small diameter motor, albeight long)… So by using a set of internal gears, maybe we could decrease RPM at crank, at the profit of increased tork at crank ! Once again it seems to be cutting edge technology… Quite an engenerring challenge IMHO. But more volts, not more amps for the same great 750W power… and then instead of more amps for more tork, we’d use more reducing gears to increase tork (at the cost of little less top speed)… in the same logic as planetary gear hub with low power uses gears to have a lot of tork.
So for the same power, the motor spins faster at higher motor rpm instead of pulling more amps (amps = heat : P=R.I^2 … P also = V.I). Since it spins fast it’s more efficient (less heat). One of the challenge is to CONVERT 750W-low tork & high rpm @Motor shaft TO 750W-high tork but low/médium rpm @ pedal crank…. Or let’s say 700W at pedal shaft (to account for frictionnal lost throught gears). Using gears to change ratios (just like the motor embedded set of gears of the Vivax assist) is what will enable a kit that has a good balance between tork and top speed, even though the natural shape og motor would favor top speed rather than tork…
What do you think ? An invisible motor propelling e-bikes in NYC land !!!
Hi Jonathan and Ron,
Assuming one has the 44cm (500-750W) motor Jonathan described, what would the reduction ratios and gears have to look like? Could they fit in the available space? Clearly it would not be a monster hill climber, but I would think the stealth, speed, and range support would represent a good value proposition to certain rider profiles/demographics.
Aint nothin’ to it but to do it. I don’t think there’s enough customers to make it worth me investing in that product, but…who knows?
I love your enthusiasm but for NYC I would just use a 3lb mini cube in a saddle bag and a small 350W rear hub motor. No one is going to notice it hiding behind the rear cassette. You can probably build the whole thing on any bike for around $500 or less. Way cheaper than a inside the frame system.
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NYC Cops will seize your bike and give you a 1000.00 fine no joke!
in the video Fabretti and Cassani clearly speak italian, not french. I didn’t see any Stephano
In the racing videos the commentator speaks french.
Are these motors the reason we have seen large diameter tubing on new race type bikes? All those giant aero shaped down tubes have lots of room for batteries and also for bigger motors…..