The science behind wheeled sports
The science behind wheeled sports

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3 Materials technology and wheeled sports

More so than in many sports, success in competitive cycling and wheelchair racing depends on technology.

One aspect of the technology involved in cycling is the development of materials used in manufacturing the bicycle itself. Many years ago bike frames were made from steel, which was then replaced by aluminium, resulting in lighter cycle frames. Modern cycle frames, at least at professional level, are made from a relatively new material called carbon fibre, which is lighter than aluminium but still strong enough to be used for this purpose.

The following short film is an excerpt from a BBC television programme about technology in sport. It describes how a new bicycle frame was developed for the British national cycling team. Watch this film now. Note both the high-level of technology involved, and the effect of this technology on the cyclists' performance.

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The development of carbon fibre has had an enormous impact on performance in many sports other than cycling. It is used for a wide range of sporting equipment, from tennis racquets to bobsleighs, including almost anything for which a strong, lightweight material is required.

In this section we will introduce more detail about the structure of carbon fibre, and explain why it has the particular properties that it does.

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