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noun [uncountable]

in competitive cycling, the illegal use of small, invisible motors on bikes in order to gain advantage over other riders


noun [countable]

'In professional road racing, illegal moto-doping has been a gossipy topic inside the elite peloton for several seasons .... Not the needles or testosterone patches or the creepy blood bags dangling from the bedposts in Alpine hotels. This PED isn't for a rider's bloodstream – it's for the bike.'

Wall Street Journal 23rd July 2015

'Cycling rocked after Belgian rider's bike is seized and found to be concealing a motor but UCI pledge to stop moto-dopers'

The Telegraph 31st January 2016

Faster, stronger, higher, further … the Rio Olympics are now just around the corner and many of us will be glued to our TV screens to witness supreme athletes push themselves to the highest levels of physical accomplishment as they strive to be the best in the world. For the competitors, the stakes are higher than they've ever been, the drive to succeed meaning they'll have gone through punishing preparation and invested every ounce of their physical and mental resources towards this goal. But when even that doesn't seem enough, a very small minority have been known to resort to desperate measures to gain that miniscule advantage which might just put them on the podium …

in sports where success hinges not just on the competitor, but also on the equipment they're using, there's a whole other opportunity to illicitly influence the outcome

Since the turn of the millennium, major sporting events have increasingly been marred by controversy surrounding the use of performance-enhancing drugs (or PEDs for short), which manipulate an individual's physiology to make them an even better sportsperson than they could be using natural stamina alone. But in sports where success hinges not just on the competitor, but also on the equipment they're using, there's a whole other opportunity to illicitly influence the outcome. In cycling, where success relies on the synergy of leg muscles, gears, and wheels, the result is what's now been described as moto-doping.

Moto-doping, also known as motor doping or mechanical doping, is the use of a concealed, very small motor on a bike in order to gain an unfair advantage in competitive cycling. The motor is hidden in the frame's metal tubing, with wiring running through the seat, and an on/off switch secreted within the handlebars. Batteries are hidden inside water bottles. Though these tiny motors won't improve the performance of the bike hugely, even the tiniest of enhancements could prove significant, since the margin between one elite rider and another is so slim.

A landmark instance of moto-doping hit the headlines at the beginning of 2016 when the bike of young Belgian cyclo-cross champion Femke Van Den Driessche was found to be concealing a motor. Though rumours of possible moto-doping have been around for some time, the case prompted world cycling body UCI to put far more widespread and rigorous checks in place ahead of prestigious events like the Tour de France and Rio Olympics, where it's been made clear that moto-dopers (a term referring to the cyclists themselves rather than the devices) will not be tolerated.

Background – moto-doping

The term moto-doping seems to have emerged during the last couple of years, though expressions mechanical doping and motor doping date back to 2010, when suspicions about the existence of such devices first began to surface. As well as derived noun moto-doper, there's also some evidence for a verb form moto-dope.

Dope in its drug-related sense dates back to the late 19th century, its origins in the Dutch word doop, meaning 'sauce' (and from verb doopen, 'to dip or mix').

Outside of competitive sport, the concept of bikes augmented with motorized devices is of course a completely innocent and increasingly popular way, especially among older generations, to increase pedal power without extra effort. This new technology has given us the terms e-bike and pedelec (a blend of pedal and electric) as catchy alternatives to 'motorized (bi)cycle'.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 6th July 2016.

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