Tour de France officials will use thermal imaging to catch ‘bike dopers’

bike doping tour de france go pro
Thermal imaging cameras will be the next great thing at the Tour de France, but they won’t be used to record spectacular images of racers. Instead, the cutting-edge camera technology is being installed as a screening tool to detect bike doping, a new form of mechanical cheating in which riders install tiny but powerful motors inside their bikes to improve their performance.

Bike doping, also known as mechanical doping, is a growing problem in the sport of cycling. It involves the installation of a small motor weighing less than 2 kilograms in the seat tube or rear hub of a bike. Though small and quiet, a seat tube motor is capable of providing more than 250 watts of extra power to a typical racing bicycle. This output is sufficient to match a cyclist’s average power output during a four-hour stage race.

The alternative hub mount is smaller and produces only 25 watts, which is still enough to give them a boost over their competition. Most available drive systems use an on/off switch that is hidden at the end of the handlebar, while others use a sensor that will turn on the motor when a racer’s cadence falls below a certain level.

The motor is used to power the bike’s drivetrain and allows the rider to simulate pedaling while the motor does all the work. The drive systems were designed initially for disabled or elderly riders but recently have been optimized for racing. In their competitive form, the drives are silent and light enough that bikes with the system remain under the cycling union’s minimum weight and can evade a race official’s watchful eye … until now.

Race officials previously had to rely on visual inspections to try to identify bikes with hidden motors. Officials scan race footage, looking for finger movements that suggest a rider is pushing a button, and also look for unusual tire movements, such as a continuously spinning tire after a fall. These subtle clues only hinted at the presence of a motor and, in most cases, were not definitive enough to warrant a bike inspection.

To combat this form of cheating, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has developed a magnetic resonance scanning system that currently is being used and a recently introduced thermal imaging camera system, which can detect hidden bike motors throughout the course of a race.

Tour de France officials announced this week that they will use both thermal imaging cameras and magnetic resonance scans during this year’s high-profile race. The thermal cameras are capable of detecting heat signatures consistent with a motor on a bike’s rear hub or crankset. The cameras will be used throughout the race and can be utilized both during the competition and on the side of the road. Race officials are not saying where or when the checks will occur. Officials also will be using a magnetic resonance scanning system at the start and finish lines. This scanner identifies doctored bikes using a device that emits a magnetic field. An attached tablet analyzes this magnetic field looking for unusual disruptions from bikes with motors hidden within their frames.

In the first confirmed case of bike doping, this magnetic resonance system detected a hidden motor inside the bicycle of Belgian cyclocross rider Femke Van den Driessche. Van den Driessche initially claimed the motorized bike did not belong to her but changed that statement shortly before a UCI disciplinary hearing. Rather than face a lifetime suspension and fines of up to 50,000 euros, Van den Driessche resigned from the sport of cycling.


Mirrorless cameras were built to be compact, so why have they gotten so heavy?

Mirrorless cameras launched as portable alternatives to bulky and complex DSLRs -- so why are they getting bigger and heavier? Cameras are trending towards heavier models, but that change comes with more advanced features.

The best budget-friendly GoPro alternatives that won’t leave you broke

Cold weather is here, and a good action camera is the perfect way to record all your adventures. You don't need to shell out the big bucks for a GoPro: Check out these great GoPro alternatives, including some 4K cameras, that won’t leave…

When you're ready to shoot seriously, these are the best DSLRs you can buy

For many photographers the DSLR is the go-to camera. With large selection of lenses, great low-light performance, and battery endurance, these DSLRs deliver terrific image quality for stills and videos.

Subaru’s latest VIZIV concept car is pumped full of adrenaline

The Subaru VIZIV Adrenaline is the seventh member of the Japanese automaker's family of VIZIV concept cars. It debuts at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, but for now, all we're getting is a shadowy teaser image.
Emerging Tech

Bees can do arithmetic, setting the scientific community abuzz

A new study has found something remarkable: Bees can do basic arithmetic. Researchers showed that bees could use colors as representations for numbers and then use those colors for addition and subtraction.
Emerging Tech

DeepSqueak is a machine learning A.I. that reveals what rats are chatting about

Want to know what rats are squeaking about? You'd better check out DeepSqueak, the new deep learning artificial intelligence developed by researchers at the University of Washington.
Health & Fitness

Immune cell discovery takes us one step closer to a universal flu vaccine

A group of international researchers have made a discovery which could take us one step closer to the universal, one-shot flu vaccine that people around the world have been dreaming of.

NASA celebrates Earth’s incredible natural beauty with free photo book

NASA has published a fabulous new book featuring stunning imagery captured by its satellites over the years. A hardback version is available for $53, though it can also be downloaded to ebook readers for free, and enjoyed online.

This new all-in-one flashlight is a power bank, lighter, and screwdriver

The Pyyros modular flashlight can perform numerous field tasks, from hammering to starting fires. If you back it on Kickstarter now, you can score some savings on this innovative flashlight and multi-tool, but act fast: This early-bird…
Movies & TV

Hilarious new Kickstarter aims to fix Scorcese’s last scene in The Departed

A fan of The Departed and apparent hater of rat-as-symbolism imagery has launched a Kickstarter campaign to digitally erase the rodent from the end of Martin Scorsese’s 2006 movie.
Emerging Tech

Baristas beware, Bbox cafe uses robots to brew your morning coffee

Want your morning coffee and pastry prepared by robot? Bbox, a new coffee shop in downtown Berkeley, California, lets customers place their order by app and then uses automation to take care of the rest.
Emerging Tech

This ridiculous new flamethrower makes Elon Musk’s look like a cigarette lighter

The XL18 Flamethrower is a flame-shooting beast on steroids, capable of firing off bursts of flame more than 110 feet in length. The best part? You can order it over the internet today.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX just nailed its most challenging Falcon 9 rocket landing to date

If you've been following the SpaceX launch calendar, you know this week marks the first launch from Cape Canaveral in two months. We have the details on where you can watch the launch live.
Emerging Tech

Touchdown! Japan successfully lands its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on asteroid Ryugu

Japan's space agency has just completed the latest stage of its extraordinarily complex mission, successfully landing its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on an asteroid millions of miles from Earth.