FRP composite rowing shells began replacing wooden frameworks in the 1970s. The German company VEB Yachtwerft Berlin began mass producing a fiberglass shell, which aided Eastern Bloc countries in winning the majority of Olympic gold medals. In preparation for the London Games, the Dutch Olympic Team collaborated with DMS to create a lighter, stiffer, carbon-reinforced eight-man rowing boat. The increased stiffness of the hull, due to the carbon fiber fabric, reduces the energy loss of each stroke, increasing speed. It also deforms less in the water, allowing the team to maintain speed and push toward gold.
A road racing bicycle is the closest competitive frame to what you envision when you hear the word “bike.” It is designed either with a horizontal top tube, which provides the most comfort and stability, or a sloping top tube, which provides a lower center of gravity and gives quicker handling. See page 10 to read the latest composite impact on this sport.
Track bikes are designed for optimal use inside a velodrome or outdoor track. Unlike road bikes, a track bike is a fixed-gear bike, meaning it has a single gear, no freewheel and no brakes. In competition a rigid frame is more important than light weight. Today, carbon fiber is the most commonly used material for the frame as well as the fork and handlebars.
The bulky design of early bicycle motocross (BMX) could not perform on modern sloping ramps and street courses. So, early riders began to boost the performance of their bikes with modifications. These do-it-yourself models led the way for alternative materials. Today, BMX bikes feature lightweight titanium or magnesium frames, weighing as little as 16 pounds, and utilize composites in components such as pedals – and most recently the wheels – to decrease the overall weight.
Mountain Bike (8/11-8/12)
Mountain biking is brutal on the limbs and on the bike. Competitors race around a set number of laps across challenging and rugged terrain (fallen trees are the norm), usually around 25-30 miles for men and 20-25 for women. Composites are becoming increasingly popular among manufacturers because they are lighter weight and up to 12 times stronger than steel.
The rackets Olympic athletes will use have come a long way since the 1870s when they were made from wood glued into variations of the now popular key-hole shape. Later, manufacturers adopted metal alloys and FRP frames and today pro rackets are made from carbon fiber – referred to as graphite in the sports industry – that provides greater stiffness and strength.