What’s a Bobsleigh?

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Bobsleigh has come a long way since its early days, with the modern design combining two sleds into one and made with a light metal frame and fiberglass or composite material. The sleds can accommodate a crew of two or four and have retractable push bars and a steering mechanism. There are also regulations on length and weight for competition. The sleds must be strong to withstand high speeds and crashes.

Bobsleigh has evolved tremendously since early daredevils negotiated rickety, modified wooden sleds down icy slopes in Europe. The mode of this transport is the bobsleigh, or as it is called outside the United States and Canada, the bobsleigh. The sport became popular in the mid-1800s with the first half-pipe track built in St. Moritz, Switzerland by Caspar Badrutt, owner of the Krup Hotel. Early enthusiasts rigged their own designs by using wood-delivery sleds and adding steering mechanisms, but it’s American Stephen Whitney who is credited with inventing the modern design, which combines two sleds into one.

The vehicle got its name from the bobbing action teams made to increase the sled’s speed down the track. As the sport literally got faster, reaching speeds of up to 90 miles per hour (144 km/h), the sleds needed to get stronger and leaner. It was this modern design that enabled them to achieve these higher speeds.

The modern device is typically made with a light metal frame and covered with fiberglass or composite material, making it very streamlined. The original bobsleds could accommodate crews of up to six, but today they are made for a crew of two or four. The sled sits on steel skids, which are usually a competition-regulated 26.3 inches (66.8 cm) long. Inside the bobsled is a steering mechanism consisting of a steering pulley, a steering axle and a steering handle. On the outside, there are retractable push bars at the front and rear and brakeman push bars at the far end.

Bobsleighs used in competition may not exceed 12.46 feet (3.8m) in length for a four-man crew and 8.85 feet (2.7m) for a two-man crew. In 1952, a weight limit was set for the competition. The maximum weight allowed for both crew and sled combined is 1,388 pounds (630 kg) for a four-man crew. In men’s bobsleigh, the weight limit for a two-man crew is 859 pounds (390 kg) and for women, a two-man crew cannot exceed 749 pounds (340 kg).

While a bobsled must be light and streamlined to navigate the twisty turns and bends, it must be strong to withstand the rigors of high speeds and up to 5G. It also has to withstand the inevitable high-speed crashes – man-made ice and concrete rinks can be brutal.

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