Pro Cycling's New Worry: Secret Bike Motors

As if professional bicycling didn't have enough image problems with all the doping scandals, now come fears that some riders may be trying to hook up secret motors to their bikes. When the Tour de France starts next weekend, officials will be scanning bikes for the devices. Guest host Audie Cornish speaks to Loren Mooney, editor-in-chief of Bicycling magazine, about the International Cycling Union's new testing of Tour de France riders for motors hidden in their bike frames.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

As if professional bicycling didn't have enough image problems with all the doping scandals, now come fears that some riders may be trying to hook up secret motors to their bikes. When the Tour de France starts next weekend, officials will be scanning bikes for the devices.

Loren Mooney is editor-in-chief of Bicycling magazine. She's in our New York bureau. Loren Mooney, welcome.

Ms. LOREN MOONEY (Editor-in-Chief, Bicycling Magazine): Thank you very much. It's great to be here.

CORNISH: So, what's prompting this effort? Has anyone actually been caught using a secret motor on their bicycle?

Ms. MOONEY: No one has been caught using a motor. Chatter started rising about this topic a few months ago. There is a company in Austria called Gruber that makes the Gruber assist device, which is a small motor that you can put inside a bicycle to help get a little bit of mechanical assistance. And the chatter has arisen that perhaps its being used in professional cycling. And then, just recently, the UCI, cycling's international governing body, has decided to step up screening for such devices.

CORNISH: Explain how this would work, because when I picture these sort of professional bikes, they're lightweight and where could you possibly hide something like a motor on those skeletal bike frames?

Ms. MOONEY: These Gruber assist devices sit in the tube that runs from the seat down to between a rider's feet. It's a little tiny motor that would attach to the spindle that would help move the cranks of the bicycle. There's a battery that would fit into that tube.

CORNISH: So, we're not sure if anyone's actually been caught using a secret motor. But what do the cyclists say?

Ms. MOONEY: Well, there's a feeling in the peloton that it's actually possible that some sort of modified mechanical device has been used at some point or at least experimented with. But among the racers, they're happy that there is a screening system. I think, you know, someone would have to be quite bold to attempt it at this point, knowing that theres screening. So, among the racers they're happy to know that it's being screened for and it's not likely to be an issue in the Tour de France or any race going forward.

CORNISH: Now, really, can professional cycling absorb another performance-enhancing controversy? Because I've seen this online described as doped bikes. I mean, it just seems like, can this industry take another hit?

Ms. MOONEY: Well, it's funny because cycling and doping have been synonymous in the mainstream public. And to an extent, this would be more serious than any sort of pharmacological doping scandal that we've heard of at this point. I don't think that any fans are surprised anymore to hear that a cyclist has been doping, using performance-enhancing drugs.

But there is sort of a code of honor line that this would cross, making your bicycle mechanical, where I think that it would actually be more damaging to the sport than pharmacological doping.

CORNISH: Loren Mooney is editor-in-chief of Bicycling magazine. Loren, thank you for joining us.

Ms. MOONEY: Thank you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.