Sunday, May 30, 2010

94 Did Cancellara Use Illegal Motor Power At The Classics?

When I first read the story this morning via a Twitter shrapnel, I dismissed it as an unimpressive attempt at comedy. The story was titled "Former Pro Says 'Mechanized Doping' Is Real."

4 hours later, people were crying "mechanized doping, mechanized doping!" and sharing another story from Belgian source Sporza.

In it, Davide Cassani, an Italian commentator for RAI, implies that pros (like Cancellara) maybe using at races a bike retrofitted with a certain kind of motor. From first impressions, it looks very much like a modified Gruber Assist.

Cassani remarked that if he were given a bike like that at his age of 50, he'd probably win a stage at the Giro d'Italia himself! Among his other claims were that the mechanism has been in existence since 2004 and pros have even used it in the past.

A shady video (below) was then made by "CyclingmanagerItalia", whose real name is Michele Bufalino, showing how Cancellara may have used this device during Paris Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. Question remains : Who started the rumor about Cancellara using a motor?

The Gruber Assist, the interesting mechanism that maybe at the center of these rumors, happens to be a 900 gram (1.98 lbs) motor-control unit powered by a 1000 gram Li-Mn battery that is placed in a saddle bag from where cables and electronics run. The motor is switched on and off or placed into pedaling frequency recording mode by a button on the handlebar end.

The motor itself is designed to fit inside a 31.8 mm diameter seat tube, thus hidden from view. The drive mechanism appears to be a 90 degree bevel gear arrangement as shown in the pic below. The manufacturer claims that upto 200W of extra propelling power is delivered to the rear wheel at a rated cadence of 60 RPM, with a running time range of 45min-1.5 hours.

A peek at their website yields some specs for the battery. If human pedaling contribution was ignored, the battery has 4.5 A-hours of capacity at 6 A current and 30V rating. What that probably means is that a 6A current will discharge the 4.5 Ah capacity battery in 45 minutes. If the manufacturer's claims are true, the exaggerated 200 Watts could be from :

30V x 4.5 A-hours = 135 Watt-hours or 135 watts for an hour.

Of course, batteries work like human power. The faster you discharge energy from the battery, the less it can totally supply. This is called Puekert's effect. So the numbers above can drastically change with higher energy demands.

So suppose these video allegations from Cassani are indeed true, and suppose the motor was indeed suitable for the famed cobbles of Roubaix and the Kepelmuur (9.3% average, 19% max). What then?

On the hill section where Cancellara attacked dominantly, the motor must have been expected to supply an extra 200+ watts of power for him to power away from Boonen. On the cobbled sections to Roubaix, it must have been expected to provide upto 250 Watts of extra power to counteract wind resistance while accelerating away from the bunch. I'm not sure of the wind conditions, but with headwinds, add another 200 Watts give or take to that figure, for every 5 mph increase in wind speed.

All in all, with the weight requirements that pro cycling demands, the energy demands imposed on the battery are substantial. Not only is the discharge rate very high, such as that asked for in an attack during the race, but the gravimetric energy density (Wh/kg) of the battery must also be high. If the battery weighs 1 kg as claimed, you're looking at a desired supply of upto 200 Wh/kg and over. My first guess tells me that a Li-Mn battery could not meet these racing specific demands. But I maybe wrong given the rate at which battery technology is getting better. See the graph below :

To the lame man, more important questions, however, are the following :

1) How was Cancellara was able to get away from not being noticed in spite of sound from the motor? Observe in the video below the amount of noise this thing makes :

2) Where did he place the 1 kg battery, if he didn't have a saddle bag?
3) The seat tube must be internally drilled out with a reamer for the drive unit to be correctly placed. The drive unit would have to be made to work with the SRAM bottom bracket, as the off the shelf unit only works with Shimano Hollowtech II. After that, all parts would then have to be hidden from view, given the number of components in the assembly as shown.

Surely, if this event took place, someone knowledgeable in how to do all this would have assisted at the Saxo Bank camp.

This may either be a good one for the spoof books, or something just so good that it doesn't appear true.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

20 An Open Letter To The UCI President Pat McQuaid

Note : A gentleman on Cycling News' forums wrote the following, but it does not represent the views of CN itself. I'm helping to spread the word to other cycling fans, as I told him. The letter comes in direct response to McQuaid's statements today, denying using the money Armstrong "donated" in 2005 as bribe to cover up the latter's positive test in 2001. You guys must read this, as we're going through one of the biggest scandals in sports. NYT reports today that the investigations are going to broaden. Two unnamed individuals have already been contacted by investigators to exchange vital information in return for leniency.

Dear Pat,

As the cycling community is quite small, I have had the opportunity to meet with you over the years. I always admired your enthusiasm for the sport and your extensive knowledge of the sport in general.

Since the revelations made this week by Floyd Landis, the sport of cycling and the UCI of which you are President has come under immense scrutiny. The accusations that a positive drug test by Lance Armstrong was ignored in return for a financial settlement is deeply disturbing and a serious charge against the UCI.

In a radio interview on Friday you mentioned that Lance Armstrong had ‘donated’ $100,000 in 2005. You repeated those comments again today at the Giro d'Italia.

It seriously harms the reputation of this great sport that there still remains major discrepancies in your version of events.

At the Play The Game conference in October 2007 you said the $100,000 ‘cash’ came in to our account "in actual fact, about 15 months ago". (Audio here- second clip) This would be approximately July 2006 - which contradicts today's statements from you.

More alarmingly - July 2006 is only one month after the publication of the Vrijman report which cleared Mr Armstrong of facing sanction for having EPO in 6 urine samples that were retested in 2005.

With so many discrepancies I believe it is prudent that the UCI subject itself to a full independent financial audit.

I realize that this is a costly and time consuming process but it is one that the UCI must bare if it is to restore its faith in its members and the sporting community.

In a separate interview today former UCI member Sylvia Schenk said "the UCI was always very proud of its accounts".

This should mean that the UCI should be able to immediately release details of the transaction, UCI booking and machine purchased, before an audit gets underway.

I also believe that you need to consider your position at this point. In the interest of the sport of cycling, I respectfully suggest you stand down or stand aside while any investigation takes place – as I believe it would effect your ability to carry out the day to day duties of President.

If you feel that you should not stand down or stand aside then it is imperative that you clearly articulate the reasons for not doing so.

It is time to move along and begin the process of rebuilding the trust and credibility of this great sport.

- (Name and address with CyclingNews)

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A little about Pat McQuaid : Before his election, Irishman Pat McQuaid (a former racing cyclist from 1966-1982) fell out with Sylvia Schenk, a member of the UCI's management committee, who believed McQuaid was living off an expense account sanctioned by Verbruggen. [Source]

McQuaid joined the UCI's management committee in 1997 and six years later was nominated to take over from Verbruggen.

At the UCI Congress in Madrid on Sept. 23, 2005, 42 voting delegates gave him a 31-11 majority over challengers Darshan Singh and Gregorio Moreno.

McQuaid heads a 14-man committee that meets each January, June and September. For legal decisions, he depends on a team of five lawyers.

"In my 2 years on the board, there has never been a vote, everybody's agreed by consensus," McQuaid said once. "When it gets down to legal decisions it's the lawyers here that would advise me."

He sums up his role as being the "executive" who presides over the running of day-to-day business.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

24 Floyd Landis' Letter Of Confession

Remember the Floyd Landis Fairness Fund? Well, we now know that was an outright lie. An interesting letter surfaced this morning. A pdf copy of the same gets uploaded to this Scribd account and is attached to this post below. Hit "Fullscreen" and read away. Also, keep following the uploader. There's tons of material to read there, specifically about doping.

Other sources in this developing story are the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian. Bonnie Ford of ESPN also wrote here of her interview with Floyd. Related to this are exclusive audio clips from the ESPN telephone interview where Floyd speaks about how he's "clearing his conscience" and why he's doing it now.

The Science of Sports blog, which I greatly enjoy, had this to say on the matter. 400+ comments from readers go along with the Yahoo Sports' story about the confession. Cycling News' Clinic is also roaring with discussion about the same. Keep it alive, "BroDeal" and "RaceRadio"!

WADA has released an immediate but weak statement in response to these allegations. Most interestingly, Paul Kimmage had this to say about the affair to the Irish radio. Greg Lemond released a statement supporting Landis.

Pat McQuaid
on the other hand, who appeared on the Irish radio show a bit later, questions Landis' credibility and fires back "what is his agenda??" Armstrong, as usual, insists he has nothing to hide and declares he doesn't want to waste his time. The same day, he crashes and abandons the TOC. Hmm...

13 Real And Unreal Cyclists

Among our available dose of cliches, one you'll hear many say is that real cyclists are the ones who race. Or that real cyclists are the one's who ride fast, break bones, lose skin and come back to bite the tough again. Or that real cyclists have so many well-defined muscle groups. And so on...

I must say that is a load of crock. Sorry, but there should really be no such thing as "real cyclist" anyway. So what are the others then, who ride bikes in something other than tight fitting lycra - artificial pieces being run by a spring wound mechanism?

By the same logic, I suppose I should call my grandfather a walker. Oh, and he's a "real" walker because he's always in a hurry on his feet, hence making him real. He also wears tight fitting clothes. His neighbor who limps to the store, but has immense pleasure in his activity, is somehow not real. Brilliant.

I think such rankings and hierarchies we impose in our world and onto certain groups of people reflect our own inadequacies of expression as well as false impressions we like to store up about other people.

Regardless of whether you race, or you commute 5 miles a day or go on a climbing binge in Southern France, cycling is cycling. There is no real or unreal. There's nothing else to it. Now if you call a racer an athlete, sure I'll accept that. Or if you call someone a cyclist who's "matured as a racer", that's acceptable too. But all the other stuff, real, unreal and yada yada is just plain nonsense.

But athleticism may have its own pitfalls too. If you lose character, you're no athlete. Let me explain. The other day, I happened to have a conversation with a gentleman on our local bike path. I was cruising along at 24mph and this man was keeping up pretty comfortably. I stop and ask him his name and other formalities and so on, and then asked him if he rides with others. He tells me, "Nope, mostly solo."

Since I like to press people for further information, I asked him if there was a reason behind that. He took a drink from his bottle and muttered "Life's too short to put up with jerks".

I knew what he was talking about right away. He was referring to all those "real" cyclists who don't care a thing in the world rather than speed. All they do is want to race. If you don't happen to race, they look down upon you like as if you're a cockroach. If you happen to ride with them and can't put up with their speed, they won't care a thing in the world as they'll be happy to ride off from you as fast as possible, leaving you in the middle of nowhere to fend for yourself. Will they say a hi when you wave a hand at them? Probably not. Will they stop to help you if you're in mechanical distress. Surely not.

There's many folks I have talked to who hold similar views. Not only can they not put up facing these jerks, they don't want to race with them at all. They'd rather ride alone with some peace of mind and quiet and in the safety of their own world. If they want to push themselves, they'll do it against themselves. There's absolutely no reason and no pressure to waste 60 dollars on an annual racing license, and further gas money to travel 60 miles to nowhere, to spend the weekend with jerks, all but to fight for certain "rankings" with said jerks, end up in 150th spot and drive back 60 miles all alone. Yup, life's too short for that.

What's your take on this "real" and "unreal" cyclist business, and the general attitude of some racers in your area? More importantly, do you race? Why or why not? Feel free to express your views or contradict mine.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

17 Grand Tour Racing Footage Disappearing From Youtube

Internet sites like Youtube has become a popular avenue for decentralized distribution of media content, whether it is a music video, a film trailer, a clip from a recent concert or why, even footage from cycling races. The embed function effectively pollinates such content throughout the world wide web in a matter of seconds!

But along with that comes bearing the responsibility of the fact that you could be reproducing unlicensed content, hence violating someone's rights to distributing that material.

For sometime now, Youtube account holders like "World Cycling Archives" and some others have been giving the rest of us the day to day highlights from big Pro Tour races. As viewers, we hold news and entertainment first, and hardly care about how these videos are sourced.

To be honest, these videos thrill me as much as it may thrill you. Racing footage such as those from the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia propel forward the sport to a far greater audience. Besides, which television channel gives you 10 minutes worth of cycling footage without advertisements and other hoopla, or even cares to broadcast racing action from around the world more frequently?

But posting 10 mins worth of a 6 hour race is not considered innocent. The speed with which our unseen heroes post these videos on Youtube is exactly counterbalanced by the media raid from ASO, Eurosport and Rai TV who want the rights to their content respected.

Consider the case of the account holder "World Cycling Archives" who has been amassing an impressive collection of clips from all kinds of races; right from the ones you can pronounce to the ones which will get your mouth tired and tongue tied. The channel is often in the top 50 list for "Most Viewed This Month" and "Most Viewed This Week". This directly tells one about the popularity that cycling in competition form is gaining on the internet.

But this account is not new to receiving claims from media companies and has even been banned twice in the past. The funny thing is that iterations of the channel keep popping back up with fresh content.

For those of us who were enjoying his clips from the exciting Giro d'Italia, the timing couldn't be worse though. The account holder received a claim from Rai TV this morning, that prevents him from continuing to do uploads from the race.

That leaves one more claim to go before it is shut down, as another similar claim was thrown in by Eurosport/TF1. The account admin told me : "It seems to be impossible to bring videos from the big events (the 3 grand tours): we are claimed for the fourth time in a row on a big event. This means that as we are going on, eventually the channel will be shut down - as it has been twice before. Of course, we know the game by now. We'll see what the future will bring."

I'm a media ignoramus so this essentially provokes me to ask you readers how much these companies "lose" in terms of revenue due to unauthorized distribution. Is it such a substantial figure that that they cannot allow a mere 10 minutes worth of footage to go online? You would think that popularization gets the better of such losses over time.

Do you consider Youtube race clips as entertainment or an annoying scourge that has to be stopped? Please discuss below you thoughts and opinions.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

0 Pablo Garcia Explores World Cultures By Bicycle

35 year old Argentinian, Pablo Garcia, made a life changing decision in 1999 when he gave up everything he was doing to pick up a bicycle and trot the globe.

His mission, one he set in Brazil before pulling out of there, was to explore world cultures and traditions and pen them in the form of a book. As it is, he was a cycling enthusiast, who refused to use buses in his college days to travel the city by bike. So, the new mission set well with a growing obsession.

Since then, Pablo has covered more than 65 countries on his bicycle. His website documents the adventures and mileages. If you were to visit it right now, it would tell you that he's currently somewhere between Hanoi and Cat Ba in Vietnam. The distance he has covered, which is regularly updated, stands at 78,398 km (48,714.3 mi).

The simplicity in his travels is fresh. Pablo apparently rides a modest, 50 pound, 27 geared bike with Shimano Deore components. It has a gel seat and front suspension. On it, he carries 121 pounds worth of supplies including his tent, mattress, tools, clothes, a diary, a laptop, extra batteries, sandals, and cameras. He also carries safely a pile of brochures to introduce his "project" to people he meets.

The videos Pablo places onto Youtube are well made, and give a glimpse of the places and faces of his travels. Better still are his elaborate diary entries of the feelings and opinions of local people.

For instance, he writes here about Raifed, an Iraqi he met in Bahrain, who told him why American arrogance and show of power made his country a jungle. Or of Francesco, an ex-mafia cum political sciences student in Italy who exchanged his knowledge about the origins of the mob. Here he writes about the conflicts in Sudan, here about seeing the Swayambhunath temple in Nepal, and here about his dissatisfaction with the touring experience in Athens, Greece.

If you have something to tell Pablo and want him to come visit your hometown, you can even write a him a proposal!

How I wish I could ride around the world too.

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

1 There's Also The Family Affairs

"My daughter has just had a crap, so I'm off to wipe her backside."

- Bradley Wiggins on Twitter (May 1)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

8 Design Case Study : A Recumbent Bike For Patients With Cerebral Palsy

It is quite often that we observe cycles becoming a platform for design and study ideas, especially at universities. Perhaps it is the simplicity and access to the structures and parts of cycles that make it popular for such use. Students choose bikes to explore the physics of riding, or torque and power relationships; they like to mount motors on them to establish drive capabilities, or generate electricity using pedal power, or automate it using various mechanisms and so on to put it to different uses.

Last year, I wrote about Alfred University alumni creating a hotdog launcher using a bicycle. In February, you may recall how I wrote a bit about Yale students building a spokeless wheeled bike. Keeping with the theme of bikes for design projects, this week we explore the work of a team of students from Michigan State University who took a recumbent bike and engineered it for the use of patients with cerebral palsy. The work was sponsored by GM and the MidMichigan Medical Center.

Senior mechanical engineering students Spiros Kakos, Eric Wickenheiser, Drew Darling and Marshall Mendoza were inspired by the Nu-step exercise machine and desired to mimic it's design elements into their bike. That said, their engineering time was predominantly devoted towards creating an electromechanical steering system in order to present a safe and convenient interface for patients.

15 weeks of hard work later, they had a successful design. Just last week, it was publicized by a local TV station and unveiled on the school's 'Design Day'. They were all smiles as they presented their mobile recumbent bike to Peggy Essex, a physical therapist assistant and their liason at MidMichigan Medical Center.

Obviously, creating designs for physically challenged people is not an easy task as these are not your everyday users. I had a chance to chat with Spiros and shoot him a few questions about the bike and what their work comprised of. In reply, the team was quite forthcoming in sharing information.

Presented below are lots of pictures and tables to look at along with material to read !

1. This rehab bike project was for a senior design class I take it?

SK : Yes.

2. But how is it that you were working on it for four years?

SK : Our design team hasn't been working on this project for four years. We are just the fourth team to work on project. The teams before us have failed in completing the recumbent cycle. Each generation of the cycle has gotten better, however; our team has successfully completed it this year.

3. Forgive my ignorance. Now this bike of yours has a solid clinical purpose behind it. How did you define this purpose at the initiation of the project?

SK : The purpose of the cycle is to help patients with neuro-muscular diseases perform cardiovascular exercise outside rather than inside the rehabilitation center. The goal was to provide these patients with a more fulfilling and enjoying workout.

Engineering projects typically involve outlining a set of goals and ranking desired features, materials and other details based on distinct attributes.

4. What objectives did you want the bike to achieve and were you inspired by something in your journey to make it?

SK : Our main goal on the project was to design a functional steering system that would allow the patients control the cycle with ease. We chose a rack and pinion design because we were impressed with its reliability.

5. Great! For readers here, talk a little about the highlighting features of the bike such as source of motive power, brake systems, controls, and so on.

SK : Well to highlight some of the features, it has electric steering. A battery powers a motor to turn the rack and pinion a certain direction once a button on the arm handles is pressed. The cycle is powered by the arms and legs of the patient in a "push and pull" motion.

From just talking with Peggy Essex from MidMichigan Health Center, it was found that children with cerebral palsy have decreased muscle strength, muscle spasms, decreased range of motion, and poor or altered posture control. This suggested that the design of the recumbent cycle needs to be efficient in generating propulsion from the energy exerted by the patient. Also, a push pull system gives a better advantage to the patient rather than a rotational propulsion system, because of the limited range of motion in the patient’s extremities.

The Nu-Step propulsion system helps utilize energy from both arms and legs simultaneously.

Previous teams had standard lever arm steering. Integrated rack and pinion improved functionality and durability.

The input power is transmitted to a couple of gears that have one directional bearings which then rotates the chain to propel the cycle forward. There are disk brakes on the two front wheels which are applied through a cable after squeezing the arm handles. Unfortunately we only had access to the previous teams' design reports and pictures so it is hard to describe the changes from before that. But the "re-design" in steering basically encompasses a much more reliable and stronger system. The design of steering in the previous year contained a servo motor that was insufficient and a motor that did not have enough power to turn the wheels. This caused the teeth on the motor to skip and grind down.

The rack and pinion was controlled by a DC servo motor that was mounted to the frame. The DC servo motor is operated with two push buttons that were installed atop the hand grips located on the handle bars. The location of the push buttons was determined with the help from Peggy Essex, the professional assistant at the Mid-Michigan Medical Center. It was important to place these buttons where they could be easily operated by the patients.

The two front wheels are connected to a rack and pinion. The shaft of the rack and pinion is attached to a motor. Rack and pinions are effortless to use, self steered, reliable, and allows smooth steering without interfering with propulsion.

Design using tools such as ANSYS helped increase torsional stiffness and overall strength on the frame. The frame was made from steel which made welding additional brackets and parts to the frame easier than aluminum and created a stronger bond. The frame was circular in shape and had dimensions of 35in. x 22in.

A new cam support was designed to allow for smooth propulsion at greater torsional stresses.

6. Now that this is over, would you consider the project successful?

SK : Yes definitely. We are very pleased with the outcome.

7. Your customers are the folks who have these physical challenges and indirectly, the medical staff as well. What do they have to say about it?

SK : We have only tested the prototype on fellow students so far but everyone seems very excited to try it out. The steering is so easy and everyone we talked to seems to like the overall aesthetics.

Since this cycle will be used for people of all shapes and sizes, a wide range of people were asked to use the cycle. The table below gives the results. The height and weight was recorded for these tests. The person was then asked about how comfortable they felt and how easy the cycle was to use once they adjusted the arms and seat to a position of their liking. These values were also recorded.

The electromechanical steering was one of the most challenging aspects of this project and testing its usability from the patient's standpoint was very important. With the help of our advisor, we were able to rank how easily a patient could operate the cycle. The table below displays these results. A ranking of 5 for Disease Case means a very extreme case of neuromuscular disease, while a rank of 5 in Ease means supreme functionality of the user and the push button on the handle grip.

The table shows that the very serious cases of neuro-muscular diseased patients have a harder time with the push button system our team incorporated. However, our design is still successful overall. Patients with less severe cases will still be able to enjoy their cardiovascular workout.

8. Time, money and materials. How many man-hours do you estimate you put on this, and what were the main tooling and processes you used?

SK : I would say that each member of the team put about 25 hours a week of work into the cycle. We used many different machines, but the main ones were band saws, belt sanders, and welding. We built the cycle in-house at a shop owned by Michigan State University. None of the work was outsourced.

Each of these machines served a purpose for the creation of each part used on the cycle. To minimize time spent on manufacturing each part through trial and error, a NX prototype served as a very useful tool in seeing how the assembly would mesh and operate without any manufacturing. This enabled the team to create parts once; mounting them to their position without any alterations after being initially fixed.

9. Give us an idea of the people and organizations that helped you in this project.

SK : The cycle was basically built by the team. General Motors was our project sponsor but they only supplied the budget for the project. We also had a faculty advisor who helped us in coming up with ideas and computer modeling. Otherwise, everything was completed by our team of four students.

10. What engineering lessons did you learn, if any, from this endeavor. Do you guys feel there is a future for the design?

SK : Personally I learned a lot about manufacturing and control systems. This project did cover a huge range of engineering principles and required all of the team to brush up on previous knowledge. I do believe there is a future for this design. It's a start. I'm sure there will be other ways to perfect the cycle in the future, but showing everyone the answer to a solution will hopefully spark some excitement in making it better.

11. As time goes, new needs come about. What suggestions do you have for future work?

SK : Some improvements would require a better belt tensioning system. It tends to come lose every now and then. Also, the arm handles are heavy and shifts the cycle's center of gravity from where it should ideally be. If it were made of aluminum instead of steel, I'm sure this could be resolved.

12. You guys were obviously inspired by a recumbent bike to help these patients out. What do you think of bicycling itself as activity for recovery and rehabilitation, compared to other impact bearing activities?

SK : Fortunately, I have never needed rehabilitation for an injury so far in my life, but I think cycling in general is a great way for someone to recover. The impact on joints, such as knees and ankles are minimized compared to jogging or weight lifting. Overall, it was a very fulfilling experience for the entire team.

13. Do you have anything personal to tell people with physical injuries and disabilities?

SK : Our team has gained respect for the people dealing with such a disabilities and how many hardships they must overcome within their life.

I would like to say that technology in this field is taking off so fast. From where I see it, there will be a solution to many disabilities in the near future. So I would like to tell people with physical challenges to be patient and always keep their heads up.

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