June 01, 2010

Cyclist Accused of Using Motorized Bike: A YouTube video with more than 400,000 views accuses Olympic time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara of using a motorized bike when he won this season's Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix races. The video shows how an engine could be hidden in a bike, then shows what it calls suspicious hand movements and acceleration by Cancellara. "It's so stupid I'm speechless," he said in response to the claims.

posted by rcade to other at 03:58 PM - 21 comments

I find the case that he was cheating very convincing. The fact that he was able to accelerate so quickly -- especially up a hill in the Tour of Flanders race -- without appearing to even try hard definitely makes it look fishy. I suppose it won't be long before it will become like NASCAR and every bike has to have a post-race inspection.

I guess if you can't dope the riders, you have to dope the rides.

posted by TheQatarian at 05:13 PM on June 01, 2010

It would be bizarre if it was actually used as suggested in a major race. However, wouldn't you be able to hear the engine, despite the other sounds within a bike race? Electric motors and gearing still makes a bit of noise.

posted by owlhouse at 05:21 PM on June 01, 2010

This video is a joke - maybe not literally, but to anyone knowledgable in bike racing, the things it points out are obvious. He moves his hands to the brake levers to shift gears - that's how you change gears - duh! Anad after doing it he accelerates because he shifted to a bigger gear - big mystery!

If you want to know how he accelerates so fast, take a look at his quadriceps. The guy has been the best time trial rider in the world for the last 3 or 4 years.

posted by BikeNut at 05:25 PM on June 01, 2010

Once you've maxed out the edge given to you by putting steroids in your body, it only makes sense to start doing the equivalent to your bike.

j/k - the video doesn't really look especially suspicious to me. Of course, I'm a layman.

posted by Joey Michaels at 06:43 PM on June 01, 2010

The guy has been the best time trial rider in the world for the last 3 or 4 years.

Maybe so, but in all three cases shown, he passed people with a sudden acceleration that literally made them look like they stopped their bikes. Huge quadriceps or not, the speed with which he passes or extends a lead looks like he had a JATO unit attached. Sounds like a job for Mythbusters.

But aren't these bikes inspected, weighed, before and after the ride?

posted by irunfromclones at 06:47 PM on June 01, 2010

There's also the part about how he doesn't even appear to exert himself when he shifts up. When I ride and shift up, I have to push harder. He almost seems more relaxed. I'll grant that he's a pro rider and I'm not, but you watch the other riders and see them standing on their bikes and pushing while he just sits there -- I don't think the guy is *that* much stronger than everyone else in the race.

Admittedly, I'm no expert on either bicycles or cycling in general. I wouldn't definitively say he was cheating, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised.

posted by TheQatarian at 07:17 PM on June 01, 2010

The one thing that seems clear from the video is that you can add the powered drive system to a bike. Then the question is only: did Cancellara have a modified bike?

Devising the system must have taken a certain measure of money and effort. Engineering and technical ingenuity. I wonder who underwrote that project?

You would think that if someone came up with a system like that, their goal would be to make it available to competitive riders, not casual weekend pedal pushers or paperboys.

It's not clear from watching the techs holding up the powered bike while it freewheels how much real torque is involved. I don't picture it delivering a lot of power.

If that's the case, maybe the advantages of "knowing that you have an extra gear" are as much psychological as mechanical.

Unfortunately for Cancellara, in the post-Landis world, no amount of vehement denial will ever be fully believed again.

posted by beaverboard at 07:20 PM on June 01, 2010

I just finished a 20 mile bike ride and I don't think you can shift up while going up a hill without pushing a whole lot harder. He just pulls away from the other rider (a pro cyclist, not someone like me) without any extra effort.

The other break-away seemed too fast as well.

That little motor probably doesn't help too much, but any advantage is just that, an advantage

posted by dviking at 08:27 PM on June 01, 2010

It looks to me like the video of his breakaways, at least in the long straightaways, is sped up to make his quick acceleration look faster than it was. Those camera motorbikes don't go that fast, the flags flapping in the wind and crowd look strange too. Also, pro cyclists accelerate up hills without getting out of their saddles all the time. If only it were as easy as they make it look!

Lay-woman here, who watches a lot of professional cycling (and probably saw the Flanders and Paris-Roubaix stages in question this year, although I can't swear I saw those exact moments) and rides ~100-150 miles/week.

posted by misskaz at 08:52 PM on June 01, 2010

You would think that if someone came up with a system like that, their goal would be to make it available to competitive riders, not casual weekend pedal pushers or paperboys.

...and they wouldn't be deterred by the fact that a system like that is very very much against the rules in a competitive bike race...and very very easy to detect, the second you know that you need to look for it...and that it's perfectly fine for non-competitive riders? Creating something like this and trying to sell to competitive riders would seem like a colossal waste of time to me.

(btw, it's not so much recreational riders who go for power-assisted bikes, it's more transportation cyclists)

posted by lil_brown_bat at 10:05 PM on June 01, 2010

SRAM shifters, people. (Some full-on bike engineering geekery on the topic here.)

posted by etagloh at 11:40 PM on June 01, 2010

I love this unintentional line from the geekery link etagloh posted: To the lame man, more important questions, however, are the following :

How'd he know I was reading that?

posted by dviking at 12:02 AM on June 02, 2010

Why do you think it was unintentional?

posted by BoKnows at 01:38 AM on June 02, 2010

I can't really tell one way or the other, but I want one of those things for my bike.

posted by lampshade at 02:47 AM on June 02, 2010

I have a couple issues with this- 1. That motor (and especially the batteries) isn't going to be light. Dragging all that weight around for over 100 miles so you can use it over a couple hundred yards at a few critical spots in the race may be counterproductive. 2. It would take quite a few batteries to power the engine for any significant period of time, thus limiting how often the engine can be used. I would argue he would expend more energy transporting the engine than it would benefit him for those few moments of use.

Quick bursts, where you pass people quickly happens all the time in bike racing. Doing so going uphill is especially punishing to the morale of the competition.

posted by trapskiff at 06:15 AM on June 02, 2010

When you hear the noise the thing makes in etagloh's link, and consider the question the cheating video doesn't answer -- where did he put the battery? -- this accusation is completely ridiculous.

posted by rcade at 08:49 AM on June 02, 2010

Worth remembering that the visual impression of increased speed is created not only by the guy pulling away speeding up, but also by the guys behind trying to react, failing and (in my very limited cycle racing experience) slowing down (or tanking). Possibly. All of which is to ignore the more obvious probability: that this is daft nonsense.

posted by JJ at 09:47 AM on June 02, 2010

I always thought they were powered by a goblin or small troll and magic.

posted by Spitztengle at 10:13 AM on June 02, 2010

The device shown has a diameter of 31.4 mm. Cancellara's bike has a seat tube diameter of 27.2 mm. It wouldn't fit, even if he wanted to use it. Plus the device weighs about 900 g according to company literature, which would effectively double the weight of his frame. UCI inspects bikes prior to pro races, and the obvious weight discrepancy of a bike with this device in the seat tube would be easy to notice.

Rumor is the company making these created this video as a marketing tool, hoping that it would go viral. Looks like they succeeded.

posted by BikeNut at 10:18 AM on June 02, 2010

Pretty silly accusation given what we know about Cancellara. The guy has been dominant in time trials and one-day races for the last two years with some ridiculously strong performances. He was favored to take out the double of time-trial and road race world championships last year - pretty much unheard of - and nearly pulled it off.

Right now if Cancellara wants to ride someone into the ground can get to the front the race is done. This goes back to Paris-Roubaix in 2006 where he killed it, well before these accusations.

If you wanted to apply Occam's Razor to his dominance if you don't believe its legit it would be far easier for him to be doping - microdosing EPO, some new program that spoofs the biopassport triggers - than to hide a motor in his bike frame.

posted by deflated at 03:45 PM on June 02, 2010

trapskiff: Dragging all that weight around for over 100 miles so you can use it over a couple hundred yards at a few critical spots in the race may be counterproductive

The conspiracy theorists who believe in the "bike doping" stuff would point out that Cancellara changed bike in both Flanders and Roubaix, both times a few kilometres before he launched the winning attack.

But put me firmly in the skeptics camp. I can't believe people are actually taking it seriously. Most of it has been covered already, but :-

- Cancellara is the best one-day racer in the world. His victories in the Spring were dominant, but not surprising. He'd been building up to that for years. Not only is he strong, but he is also smart. If you watch the winning attack in Flanders, you will notice that he attacks while Boonen (his only real rival) is eating and resting at the rear of the group. When Cancellara attacks, everyone hesitates and waits for Boonen to chase - that's why it appears that Cancellara "motors away" and leaves everyone standing.

- The race is on live TV for hours at a time with millions of people watching. The bikes are on display outside the team buses at the start and finish. No-one would notice the mechanism or the buttons? Or the noise? Not even the other riders in the peloton?

- To my eyes, the original Rai video looks like a practical joke. The cameraman is careful not to show the whole bike, and the presenters look like they're on the verge of laughing. One of them, David Cassani, a former pro, was the guy who blew the whistle on Michael Rasmussen's lies in the Tour de France. Now he has a "doped bike" and won't say who used it or where he got it from? Really?

So yeah... in my opinion, this is a joke that the gullible English-language press have fallen for hook, line and sinker.

posted by afx237vi at 05:47 PM on June 02, 2010

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