Editors Note: Is this fair to athletes from other countries? Or is it going to be like when the rich nations excelled in swimming due to the super suits which sped them up markedly. Advances are good and maybe this will even translate to a lighter, more mobile wheelchair for everyday use, but the same equipment should be available to all I think.
There isn’t a lot of money in wheelchair racing, so racing in the Paralympic games is an exercise of carefully choreographed improvisation. Athletes are crammed into their chairs with loose foam. Their gloves are homemade from craft putty. And they have to focus all of their strength and balance into punching their wheels harder and faster than the next guy, to win anything from a 100-meter dash to a full marathon.
“With cycling, bike manufacturers can make bikes for the Tour de France and know there’s a massive enthusiast market out there that will buy bikes, too,” says Brad Cracchiola, an associate director at DesignworksUSA. “But it doesn’t translate [with wheelchair racing], so you don’t get companies investing in innovation for racing wheelchairs.”
So at DesignworksUSA, BMW’s global creative consultancy, Cracchiola has been leading a crew for the past year to build a better racing wheelchair, working with the U.S. Paralympic team to craft a faster, more comfortable ride with as much racing science as possible. “Everyone has basically the same chair from different brands,” says Cracchiola. “But we’re looking to really help these athletes maximize their performance.”
Most of those chairs are big tricycles, crafted from aluminum, with two large rear wheels that are cambered in. At first glance, BMW’s design doesn’t look terribly different. But through subtle adjustments, BMW hopes to create a piece of equipment that gets out of the way and lets athletes do their job.
First, the design team scanned one of the…
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