You shouldn’t laugh at motorised doping, says the Doc, but it’s very hard not to


Word reaches me of a friend of a friend who was on holiday in Majorca, and was overtaken on a climb by a fully kitted up rider on a nice-looking road bike. It’s happened to all of us, I suppose. The normal feeling is one of slight deflation.

On this occasion the deflation had a rapid reversal, and exploded into outrage when he noticed the rider’s bike was making a distinct whine. The sort of whine that had little to do with badly adjusted bits of bicycle. To be blunt, it was an electric motor sort of whine.

To be clear, I have no truck with electric motors in races. It is the same thing as doping, as taking a short cut, as checking the durability of the door handle of the team car as it does 40kph up a climb. (“Yes, Mr Vinokourov, it’s really well attached. My compliments to the man who bolts on your door handles.”)

>>> Dr Hutch’s Guide to Waving

The problem is… it’s a little bit comical. A concealed motor is how Dick Dastardly would cheat in a bike race. If I wanted to get into the business, I’d start the Acme Covert Electric Motor Company.

It’s a form of cheating that’s a bit too on-the-nose. The amount of pharmacology I’ve tried to explain to people over years of discussing doping makes me actually rather grateful for the chance to just say, “You hide a motor inside the bike, and press a button on the handlebars to turn it on.”

add-e motor

It tempts you into making jokes that are, in the context, unwise. “He’s charging,” is an expression that has made a seamless move from pharmaceutical doping to motorised doping, doing nothing along the way except become a lot more literal. It’s funny, except that it’s not.

There is a second issue, rather closer to home for most of us. Is it cheating if you use an electric motor outside the context of a race? The pedantic answer is clearly ‘no’. But does it feel like cheating? I don’t think it’s easy to accept that someone has power they didn’t sweat to get.

>>> Dr Hutch’s guide to the noises your bike makes, and how to stop them

If your wife left you because you insisted on turbo-training for three hours every evening, demanded freshly squeezed spinach juice the instant you finished, and made the children wear surgical masks whenever they had a cold, you don’t want someone coming along and rubbing your nose in 100 watts he ordered off the internet.

To put it another way, if you’ve ridden to the top of Alpe d’Huez, you will feel you earned it, that it reflects upon some nobility that resides within your soul. You don’t want someone standing beside you who only earned 75 per cent of it, and pressed a button to get the rest.

What’s odd, in some ways, is that even if you know full well there’s a motor involved, it still feels wrong. My friend’s friend was irate in a way he wouldn’t have been if someone had ridden past him on a motorbike. What clearly upset him was that the other rider had the effrontery to look like something he wasn’t.

Watch: Dr Hutch’s guide to waving

An onlooker might have thought that he was a better bike rider than my friend’s friend. Although when I stop to think about it, I’m not sure that Majorca is really full of spectators who watch amateur cyclists training, and keep score in little notebooks.

Let me tell you how to stop caring. If cycling is full of covert motors, then you should perhaps consider the possibility that every single bike rider who appears better than you has a motor in their bike. If it weren’t for motors, you’d be the best cyclist in the world. You are, my friend, the true heir to Fausto Coppi.

I tell you, it’s just a question of your attitude, and as always, bitter and mean-spirited will win the day.

  • Bob

    if you want to ride a bike, pedal – it you don’t, then get a motorbike – simples !!!

  • disqus_6PES2CnwIh

    Very very very very few people actually race under regs, a bicycle. Has been said , ride what you want , whatever is in the downtube.. I ve heard Brian Robinson .. in his 80s ..? needs one to get up them dales… when I’m fooked later on in life of course I might have elec assist. So much feckin shoite said about this and other total bollox about cycling.. I’ve given up racing because of the whingers who think its a foofin club run half the time.. and get pissed off with a couple of sharp moves at the sharp end .. where the whingers dont belong… but as you know whingers get heard.

  • Stevo

    Maybe you are taking the article more seriously than it was intended to be taken?

  • Adam Beevers

    What utter tosh. As long as it’s not a race then let people ride what they want. You have no idea of their circumstances, so don’t judge them and get in your high horse about it.

  • David Bassett

    Are you saying it is OK to cheat in sport.

  • David Bassett

    I don’t quite see what you mean here.
    If you had been on a proper club run, not a weekend warrior run then you would have club mates waiting for you. I am not calling you a weekend warrior by the way, I do not know you. The bigger clubs out there will have a wide range of ages and abilities and it is not always possible to do separate runs.

  • David Bassett

    So say I

  • Slightly off topic but… it seems to be there is a demand for electric bikes (not in professional cycling obviously). However electric bikes all look ridiculous. If someone productised this solution they could make a lot of money.

  • I know an older chap who has a ~5 mile ride to work, he uses a motorised bike to help him get over the hills on his route. I don’t have anything against this, it just makes sense.

  • Alan

    I cannot begin to imagine the level of urine-taking abuse to be enjoyed by such a rider on any club run I have ever done. There really are club riders who would willingly put themselves into this position? Perhaps the explanation lies in different interpretations of the expression ‘club run’?

  • But this Doctor can not understand that racers have always had extra method to win. UCI does not care what go on behind the mask of the sport, only for them to make money. This is one of the reason we make motors, when your friend die from drog in sport we decide to engineer what you see at – no more heart attack, no more embolisme, when you need to show courage at the end of the race, you show courage, not ventriculare destruction.
    When the system change, maybe the sport change also.

  • Sutton Atkins

    I’m totally against the idea of a motor in a bicycle. BUT, in certain circumstances they are very useful… as David Basset say; “when you can’t keep up on the club run and your club mates have to wait at the top of all the climbs”, this can really help you fit in to the group, prevent over-reaching and make your training more effective (and theirs!). Also for “coming back from injury”, if you can’t keep up with the group, it’s pretty de-motivating to ride alone after getting dropped if you’ve been out for a few months with a broken leg or something similar. … But in neither of these cases does the motor need to be HIDDEN or WIRELESS! Actually, I can’t think of a single situation whee the motor needs to be hidden, except for CHEATING.

  • David Bassett

    The only place for a motor on a bike (and I have seen this done loads of times) is when you can’t keep up on the club run and your club mates have to wait at the top of all the climbs. Or with a few friends of mine their wives wish to join them without spoiling their ride. If in anything competitive then it is cheating.