Doping investigation has moved on from the professional cyclists themselves to their actual bikes. Discreet electric motors concealed inside the seat tube that drives the bottom bracket are old news now, and the testing of both bikes and riders is now mandatory in cycle sport. There’s a fine line between legitimate, pushing the boundaries of technology, and stepping into blatant cheating or interpretation of the rules…..
My view is that if you’re going to do it, choose your scene and be blatant and proud about it. Sometime ago, I bought myself one of those 80cc, two stroke engine kits that slots straight into your bicycle frame and comes complete with petrol tank and everything you need to build your own ‘special’.
Putting an engine into a bicycle might seem like defeating the object of cycling, but if you’ve got a bicycle or two and a motorbike, it’s the ‘obvious’ bridge between the two. Possibly.
There are some issues with putting an 80cc engine in a bicycle. For one, it isn’t a bicycle anymore. It’s a Motorcycle in the eyes of the road traffic act, and requires all of the testing, licensing and insuring that a small Motorcycle would need. Hmmmmm……Mr or Mrs Logic would ask, what’s the point then?
Life, experimenting and good fun don’t always fit into the ‘logic category’, and this one is no exception. There are lots of people who’ve built these ‘bikes’ and then loaded up their own action videos on YouTube. So, decision made, I had ordered my engine kit and waited patiently for a knock on the front door when a delivery person would hand over my box of parts.
Here was the plan: buy engine kit, show to friends etc, find a suitable old bike, get friends around for a ‘shed night’ to build the machine and then test appropriately. Simple and cheap fun. The engine arrived and as the plan, I showed it to friends, who all marvelled at the engine, drive system, petrol tank, cables etc. Talks of modifying the exhaust system to sound more ‘racer’ commenced at this early stage of the project discussion. Questions like; how could we make it faster? but faster than what? We hadn’t even built it to know what ‘fast’ is. With the ‘showing off’ phase completed, the box went under the bench to wait for its bicycle to arrive.
The box stayed under the bench for about a year until a suitable bike turned up. This wasn’t because I hadn’t been looking hard or didn’t have the cash, it’s just that the rest of life pushed it down the priority list. Someone did give me an old and badly looked after mountain bike, but the tubes and frame shape meant that the engine would not sit in the middle of the bike properly, so more waiting took place.
Then, one day, all the planets aligned and a bike arrived. It had belonged to a man in the village (who’s wife) didn’t want it anymore as it had stood in his shed for ten years, so he had been persuaded by his wife that it, and the rest of the shed contents should go to other homes/sheds. I got wind of the shed clearance by accident whilst gossiping about something else with another villager. Anyway, as the bike was going to the dump, I stepped in to rescue it.
Pushing the bike around to the house, a quick assessment of the condition revealed positive hopes that a shed special could be built with it. Obviously, thanks to the previous owner were required, and as I knew he was a Guinness drinker, I bought a pack of cans and went around to drop them off at his house. It was clear that nobody was at home when I arrived, so rather than come back again, I reasoned that it would be good to leave them as a surprise and noted the flap in the back door, which their dog used to get in and out of the house. Not being sure if the dog was at home on its own and on guard duty, I pushed the flap open a bit, and tentatively. No dog home either. The cans went through the dog flap and I returned home, feeling that I’d done the right thing.
Whilst I had ‘done the right thing’ by providing a small alcoholic gift of recognition to the bikes previous owner, technically, I’d made a schoolboy error. The dog was home, but was asleep in another room and hadn’t heard me. However, on waking, the dog needed some fresh air and a toilet break, so he headed out to his flap in the door. Surprise, surprise! It must be Christmas, because someone, instead of bringing presents down the chimney, had delivered them through his door flap instead.
What I didn’t know, was that the dog also drank Guinness and enjoys the ‘teeth sharpening’ sport of can savaging as well. What lay on the floor in front of him, ticked both of these boxes. Nobody witnessed his one-dog-party, but the owner explained the state of both the house and the dog when I saw him next day. Whilst he wasn’t pleased about what he and his wife came home to, he did see the funny side. The dog had punctured every can, which had obviously spewed the black drink everywhere. This required full retaliation and savage mode as the cans whirled around, driven by the power of themselves emptying all over the floor and walls. Savaging concluded, which the dog reckoned was due to the cans not moving anymore on their own and to his good work, he started to drink at the same speed as he had been trying to control and defeat the spinning cans. Needless to say, the dog slept well for the next 12 hours and wasn’t as keen on breakfast as he usually was. The dog, who liked a drop of Guinness as a treat, knew his limits and didn’t drink much of the contents of the cans. Unfortunately, his owners returned to a house that smelt like a brewery and had a hall carpet that was as wet and sticky as one you find in a shabby night club.
My bike donator came around to see me the following day, with the dog in toe, and explained the whole episode whilst his wife and daughter, who’d been summoned around to her Mum’s house to help, cleared up the mess. He found it very funny and showed me a photo on his phone of the chaos that the dog had created. He said that it was the most fun that he’d ever had with his old bike.
Fast forward a few months and it’s a Saturday night in the shed. Me and 3 other boys/men are pouring over the engine fitting instructions as a reminder. They’d all had a PDF of the instructions emailed to them and with the request to do a ‘pre-event read through’. Like all pre-reading requests, nobody did it, hence the so called reminder session.
In the shed, there’s assorted beers available and some wine. The food has been well thought through with stuff that can be eaten with oily hands i.e. With a fork or spoon. As it had been declared a ‘Status Quo night’, the venerable Quo were hammering out of the shed sound system. As it was now dark, from the outside, the shed looked like something good was going on inside. The lights shone through the cracks between the roof tiles and out of the steamed up shed window. The sound of music and boys/men talking rubbish and laughing could be heard.
Inside, there was a degree of organisation to the project. One person stripped down the bike, another fitted the gears to the rear wheel, another fitted the engine. The final member of the team put go-faster-stickers on the petrol tank, checked progress against the instructions and made sure nobody got thirsty or hungry, which was a very key role in the team. 3 hours later, the team stand back and take a first look of the completed machine. There is a feeling of satisfaction of completion, and anticipation of engine starting for the first time. With the bike filled with petrol and oil, the team agreed to start the bike for the first time inside the shed.
It’s 11.30 at night, Status Quo are on repeat, and whilst the shed smells like it’s had 4 drinking and eating boys/men in it, another aroma is added. That of the classic two stroke engine exhaust fumes. As oil is mixed in with the petrol, one of the team had done the mix with some special motor racing oil, and not because of the performance enhancing properties either, but because it smells fantastic! The bicycle is attached to a static turbo trainer, and as the bike owner, I climb aboard the machine (technically it is now more machine that bicycle) and I start pedalling at a good pace, fuelled by beer and encouragement from the others.
The clutch is released, which turns the engine over for the first time. Nothing happens. I am told to keep pedalling whilst the others check cables, wires and that the petrol and choke are both turned on. Whilst nobody knew what was actually stopping it from running, all the fiddling must have done something, because the engine starts. Blue, nice smelling smoke fills the shed and Status Quo are drowned out by the little engine’s high pitch scream. The chrome bell is removed from its place on the handlebars as it’s deemed not as effective as the wailing engine at letting people know that the machine is heading their way. It also makes the bike lighter, but any weight advantage has been eliminated by the calories consumed by the team during the assembly process.
The engine is stopped, the shed doors are opened and a congratulatory drink is shared. Lights are fitted to the bike and as it’s about midnight, it’s pushed quietly down the private (honest…:-) road. With a helmeted rider on board (me), the bicycle, now machine, takes off quite quickly with a little pedalling to get the new engine into its stride. I still had my slippers on, which I’d been wearing several hours earlier, and when I had first escorted my friends to the shed. I’m also wearing an old cycling shirt that I’d put on, especially for the occasion. Three of the team watch as the rider (me) and machine disappear into the night leaving a haze of blue smoke as the small red light on the back of the bike, gets smaller in the distance. I turn the machine around and the red light becomes a white light as I return to the rest of the team. When I reach the rest of the team, I’m smiling as wide as my handlebars and my eyes are streaming from the cold. The team are all standing around with their helmets on and waiting their turn. Video footage is made and all of the team get to ride the machine, until it runs out of petrol. Fortunately, the machine can be pedalled like a normal bicycle, because that’s what it is, so the team head back to base-camp-shed.
As it now 1 am in the morning, it’s agreed to tidy up the shed later that day. The team retires to respective homes and beds.
The following morning, the previous owner of the old bike calls in to deliver some of his free-range eggs. He has 6 chickens, all with names, and all different breeds. His eggs are THE best, and with yokes that are yellower than the yellowish sun ever.
As the latest owner of the bike, I take him to the shed where the machine rests peacefully. The door is opened and the two of us and the dog are greeted with familiar sights and smells.
There are tools on the bench, a box full of ‘alcohol recycling’, empty plates and a complex cocktail of smells. The dog picks up the beer smell first and wants to investigate, but is promptly prevented by his lead and the man on the other end of it. There’s also a smell of two stroke racing oil. The man walks around the machine and looks at it carefully. He’s impressed and wondered why he’d never done it to his old bike. The dogs nostrils are as wide as they could ever get as he engages eyes to find the source of the delicious smells.
The man asks a question about the machine, which goes like this; is it legal to ride on the road? The answer is no. It’s also very illegal to have an electric motor hidden in your bicycle seat tube when you are racing.
Since writing this story, the bike-thing has evolved into a speadier looking thing and there are ideas of ‘tuning parts’. I’m not sure what speed the 700C 25mm tyres will take before an explosion takes place. More to follow. Maybe.
Last photo by Jodie Wallace-Hill
All other photos by the author