You may call it plain cheating, much of cycling knows it as “motor doping”, the UCI has labelled it "technological fraud" but to mainstream consumers the news that electric motors can now be hidden in lightweight bicycles is something of a revelation, and one that could lead to increased sales of e-bikes. That’s the opinion of some bike industry experts.
While race fans fret that the discovery of a hidden motor in the bike of Belgian cyclist Femke Van den Driessche at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Heusden-Zolder in January is just the tip of a potential ice-berg electric-bike experts see the upsides. Mainstream US magazine Popular Mechanics described the lightweight motor in the 19-year-old's Wilier CX bike as “nifty”.
“This can be used as a positive,” said US industry veteran Jay Townley on the latest Spokesman industry podcast.
“Motor doping may seem ridiculous [to us], but in the bigger picture it’s promoting e-bikes. It broadens the topic.”
Pete Prebus, chief marketing officer of the Electric Bike Expo, a big-budget six-month, six-city e-bike road show in the US, said: “Any press is good press!”
Prebus is a former pro mountain biker, and is now the publisher and editor of ElectricBikeReport.com. He told BikeBiz: “It is unfortunate to see any kind of cheating in bicycle racing and I hope the governing bodies enforce the rules to fullest extent, but fact that this 'motor doping' story was posted in a lot of media outside of the traditional cycling press is a good way to raise awareness about how electric bike technology has progressed to become relatively lightweight and well integrated into the look of a bicycle.”
He added: “Most of the people that buy an electric bike will never get into competitive bicycle racing but with an e-bike they can get the sensation of what it would be like to ride at that level.”
The Electric Bike Expo started in Phoenix, Arizona, in January, and will also visit other bicycle-friendly cities such as Palo Alto, California, and Portland, Oregon, finishing in Denver in June. The road show is organised by Extra Energy Services North America, an off-shoot of Germany’s Extra Energy, which has been promoting e-bikes since 1992.
“Electric bikes are a great way to get more people into cycling as a form of transportation or recreation,” said Prebus. “It is important for people to experience what it is like to ride an electric bike so they can visualise how it can fit into their daily life.”
E-bikes are commonly perceived to be heavy, ugly and aimed at older people so the fact that a 19-year-old athlete was caught racing with a hidden motor on a lightweight bicycle will have done the e-bike sector the power of good, believes Prebus.