BMW have got into the business of making racing wheelchairs? That’s cool right? Maybe in 10 years everyone will be pushing around in racing chairs made by Mercedes?
The BMW racing wheelchairs will be piloted by American para athletes in Rio. As opposed to many racing wheelchairs, the BMW version is made completely from Carbon Fibre. Why is this special? Well most racing wheelchairs are constructed using folded aluminium. There are a couple of very good reasons for this:
- Cost. The cost of carbon fibre moulds to make race chairs (which always custom built) are very expensive.
- British athletes did test experimental carbon fibre frames and for various reasons – did not get on with them.
- Damage. While it is quite difficult to damage carbon fibre – it is not impossible and once you do damage it, that is it.
The Next Generation of Racing Wheelchair?
However, the boffins at BMW’s DesignWorks Team think they have it sussed. According to them, although aluminum is light – it cannot be molded in the same way as carbon fibre.
“Chairs really take a pounding,” said Brad Cracchiola, part of the Designworks team that built the chair. “They’re punching the wheels and a lot of force is going through the chair, translating from athlete into turning wheels. With an aluminum chassis, there’s some flex, and that can take away some of the energy.
“What we really want is to have energy translated as efficiently as possible.”
Now I have to be honest and say that I once saw the neck of chair flex and snap. It does happen and the consequences are often serious. Whatever new developments can be made to mitigate these risks is welcome.
T53 athlete Josh George said this. “If I’m pushing the BMW and other racers are pushing aluminum frames, I’m going to be able to go the same speed as them with less energy exerted,” George said. “That means at the end of a race, the last 5K, the last 10K, I’m going to have more in the tank than they are.”
Will It Work?
I found it interesting the select American athletes who will pilot these racing wheelchairs have not received them from BMW yet. Rio is fast approaching and the critical Switzerland track meets are this month. Racing wheelchairs are difficult beasts to master – regardless of whether BMW built them or not. I think the US Paralympic team and BMW will have serious issues in properly preparing their athletes in time. I was going to back a team of racers – I’d still back the Brits.