The term “electrifying performance” has taken on a whole new meaning with rumours that Swiss ace Fabian Cancellara benefited from an electric motor assist in winning two of cycling’s celebrated classics, the Tour of Flanders and the “hell of the north”, Paris-Roubaix.
Cycling’s unfortunate (and long) association with performance-enhancing drugs immediately led to the phenomenon being dubbed “motorised doping”.
There’s been a flood of commentary since the rumours started. Italian ex-racer stars in a video purporting to show a bike with a hidden motor. (To watch the video, |click here|)
For some high-grade engineering analysis, |click here|
Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, has backed Cancellara, but hasn’t closed the door on more detailed equipment checks of the peloton in future.
Meanwhile, Austrian company Gruber is enjoying some free publicity: its Gruber Assist is designed to give riders a boost, say when going uphill. Or, perhaps, sprinting for the finish line?
Located in a bicycle’s seat-tube, the Assist transmits torque to the crankset via a 90-degree bevel gear, runs off a battery typically kept in a saddle bag and weighs a total about 2 kg. It is said to be capable of about 200 watts for up to 1 ½ hours.
Now, with a recreational cyclist capable of perhaps 150 watts peak, and a Tour de France climber churning out around 450 on a stiff climb, 200 watts would get most people’s attention. Cancellara himself was clocked at 550 watts average in the Tour’s 2007 time trial prologue.
Attractive as the idea may seem, in competition it’s simply too big a risk. You might be able to blame a medical condition for banned pharmaceuticals in your urine sample, but it’s rather more difficult to come up with a plausible explanation when scrutineers find an electric motor in your steed’s bottom bracket.
For his part, Cancellara has rubbished the whole thing.
Seemingly born to time trial – he’s won the world title three times and is current Olympic champion – Cancellara deals in that particular peculiar form of masochism that involves driving yourself to the brink… and then staying there for anything up to an hour. Not for nothing is time trialling known as the Race of Truth. Essentially a lone rider against the clock, it demands a greater than usual appreciation of one’s limits and a greater than usual ability to ignore those limits for extended periods. More than any other cycling discipline, time trials demand supreme mental strength. TT specialists may not be the fastest riders, they may not be the most twinkle-toed over the mountains, but they’re cycling’s hard men, with the priceless ability to take bloody-mindedness to extremes.
In the real world, news of a somewhat more legitimate combination of electricity and bicycles has come in the form of Nokia’s announcement of its bicycle-powered phone charger. Run off a dynamo (supplied), it begins charging a cellphone from a threshold speed of 6 km/h. According to Nokia, 10 minutes at 10 km/h will give you about half an hour of talk time.
The kit includes brackets for clipping the charger and a cellphone to the handlebars, and another bracket for attaching the generator to the fork. Besides providing sufficient energy to recharge a cellphone, said a Nokia executive, the device would also provide a business angle through giving buyers the opportunity to sell their services as informal recharge providers in areas not covered by electrical networks.
Priced at about R140, it will be available towards the end of the year.
* Video: Italian ex-racer Davide Cassani stars in a video purporting to show a bike with a hidden motor