This BMW-designed racing wheelchair for the Rio Olympics is like a carbon-fibre spaceship

Looking more like a carbon-fibre spaceship than a piece of racing equipment, a new wheelchair designed by BMW of North America for the United States Paralympic team should give athletes a serious edge in Rio this year.

So what’s a good racing wheelchair?

“A fast one,” project leader Brad Cracchiola of BMW DesignWorks told Business Insider.

“It’s the athletes that win the races. What we want to do is make a chair that transmits their power as best as possible.”

Among other elements, that requires chassis stiffness, advanced aerodynamics, and excellent chair fit, Cracchiola said.

BMWA closeup of the steering mechanism on a BMW-designed racing wheelchair for the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio.

Each chair is custom made to achieve the best connection between the athlete and their equipment.

BMW has even improved the all-important gloves, traditionally made by hand by the athletes themselves. They are now being 3D printed.

Paralympic gold medal winning athletes Josh George and Tatyana McFadden have already tested prototypes of the new racing wheelchair, and expect to receive their production versions in the coming weeks — just in time to get ready for the games.

“It was lighter — that’s what you notice right away — and very stiff,” McFadden said.

The new carbon-fibre racing wheelchair is essential if the United States is to stay competitive in the sport, McFadden said. Another carmaker, Honda, has been developing their own carbon-fibre wheelchair for the Japanese national team for about ten years. This is the first time an American company has decided to enter the sport.

“We needed a technology advancement, but with this we are already way ahead,” McFadden said.

The design process for the new chair began by digitally scanning an athlete in their old, aluminium chair and designing around their shape.


A team of about 15 designers and engineers then worked to create a chair that was as stiff, aerodynamic, and light as possible.


The result is an amazing and high-tech machine ...


... made almost completely of carbon fibre ...


... that could give American athletes an edge in Rio this summer.


This is not the first foray by BMW DesignWorks into the Olympic scene. In 2014, a sled designed by the team gave the USA its first medal in the two-man bobsled event in 62 years.


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