They call it “mechanical doping,” but the name simply doesn’t do it justice. Cycling is not a sport celebrated for honesty amongst even its top riders, but following several very high-profile doping cases in recent years, it seems as though the cheats have been trying a different route: hiding motors in their seat posts that help push them to superhuman feats of endurance.
The technique has been known since at least 2010; commercial versions of the motors can put out 200 steady watts of power, nearly doubling a typical pro-cyclist’s output. An onboard motor can help riders go faster, and can keep their pedalling cadence—the number of revolutions through the crank per minute—up while energy dips in endurance stages.
With the biggest cycling event in the world, the Tour de France, set to begin on July 2, mechanical doping is a serious concern—one that has moved France’s sports minister Thierry Braillard to tell the French press: “This problem is worse than doping; this is the future of cycling that’s at stake.”