The UCI has been testing bikes for hidden motors for a number of years, but it has only been in 2016 that the sport’s governing body has really stepped up its efforts to deter and detect so-called technological fraud, achieving some “success” with the discovery of a motor in Femke Van den Driessche’s bike at the women’s under-23 cyclo-cross world championships in January.
The UCI tests for motors in three ways: using a magnetic resistance test, thermal imaging cameras, and an x-ray machine. The methodologies behind the last are pretty obvious, but the magnetic resistance test might need a explaining.
Electric motors contain magnets, because they work using electromagnetic induction. The UCI has developed a way of spotting these magnets when concealed within bike frames, irrespective of whether they are energised (turned on) or not.
The test is performed using an iPad Mini which is fitted with an adaptor that creates a structured magnetic field around the device. Special software is then used to detect any changes in magnetic flux density of this field. This data is then passed on to the person conducting the test using an app that creates a graph that turns red if it detects a significant change in the magnetic field.
Changes in the magnetic flux density would be caused by the presence of magnets in the bike, which possibly suggests the presence of a motor. If the app detects a significant change in the magnetic field, the commissaries could order a bike to be taken apart so they could inspect it properly.
According to the UCI the only way around this test is to shield a motor with a significant amount of a heavy metal such as lead, and then the extra weight of the shield would cancel out the effect of the motor anyway.
Overall the UCI is confident that by using this magnetic resistance test and other methods of detection it will be able to both deter any potential cheaters and detect anyone prepared to run the gauntlet. We’ll have to wait and see if this is the case, but if there aren’t any more cases of motorised doping, let’s hope it’s because no one is doing it rather than any holes in the tests.