For the upcoming 2016 Paralympics in Rio, BMW has designed aerodynamically efficient, carbon-fiber racing wheelchairs that will be customized for Team USA athletes participating in the marathon and track events. The chairs were made by BMW’s Designworks team – the same group that made carbon fiber bobsleds for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
BMW started the process of making the chairs with a 3-D scan of the athletes in the current aluminum chair and then ran aerodynamic simulations of how the old setup performed. BMW then replaced the aluminum with carbon fiber in order to give the chairs a better strength-to-weight ratio.
“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.
BMW adds that while aluminum is a lightweight material, it cannot be molded to fit an athlete’s body the way carbon fiber can. Also, over time, the force exerted by the athletes will cause the chair to bend or flex, requiring the racer to use even more energy.
“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,” said Josh George, a gold medalist in the 100 meters at the 2008 Paralympics and the winner of the 2015 International Paralympic Committee’s Marathon World Championships. “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.”
Delivery of the chairs will begin in about six weeks, well within time for the Paralympics, which will run from September 7 to September 18, 2016 in Rio.