Titanium racing wheelchair – a highly specialized product that makes the most use of titanium properties
Racing wheelchairs are a highly specialized evolution of common wheelchairs used by physically challenged people in order to overcome their disabilities and still be able to successfully participate in sporting events. Titanium and the sports field have a long and powerful relation, so long that is actually becoming traditional.
For a titanium racing wheelchair, perhaps the most common rationale for choosing titanium metal over other materials is weight. Titanium chairs have historically been (or have been presumed to be) lighter in weight than aluminum and steel chairs. For the individual who self-propels many miles in a lifetime, having to push a chair that’s heavier than necessary can become a significant physical burden, especially in a racing competition.
Of course, you should know by now, if you kept reading this site, that titanium is not especially lighter as compared with other materials. It is not lighter than aluminum, which is the principal alternative in lightweight tubing. It is the strength to weight ratio that makes titanium shine. As a raw material, titanium actually weighs more than aluminum, though both metals weigh considerably less than steel.
The question that presents itself is why are titanium wheelchairs so routinely assumed to weigh less than aluminum chairs, if it is already established that titanium weighs more than aluminum? As in the case of bicycle frames, it’s because the metals different properties and how they’re used in racing wheelchairs manufacturing process.
If a manufacturer is trying to create two identical frames – one aluminum, one titanium – and intends to make each frame as strong as a steel counterpart would be, then he’ll need more aluminum to equal the same amount of strength as titanium. So aluminum as a raw material weighs less than titanium, but because larger amounts of aluminum are needed to be used, titanium wheelchairs have historically been lighter in weight than their aluminum counterparts.
Obviously, the fundamental question is about the money. Titanium costs more. Much more. Practically, as a raw material, titanium is around 30 times more expensive than aluminum, which is something that weighs heavily in a manufacturer decision to use titanium for a consumer product. Additionally,
and the brazing and welding are also very difficult processes, which further raise the price of the final product.
Titanium is still considered the ideal metal for ultra lightweight manual chairs, not only for its strength-to-weight ratio, but also because o titanium’s vibration-dampening abilities. Usually, the majority of metals transmit vibrations, but some, such as titanium absorbs vibrations. This means that a titanium wheelchair will provide a smoother ride that those made from other materials. There are at least two benefits to the smooth ride. First, a smoother ride is more comfortable for the user. Second, the less the chair bounces around, the more efficient the propulsion. And the more efficient the propulsion, the less fatigued the user will be.
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In part, this vibration-dampening effect is due to the fact that titanium is not as stiff as some other metals, such as aluminum, which is often why you see larger-diameter tubes on titanium cantilever frames. That larger diametertube has more surface area and gives a titanium frame that needed stiffness to maximize energy transfer.However it is worth noting that there’s not a titanium racing chair that any world-class athlete uses. They are all made from aluminum. And the reason for that is aluminum products are make lighter stiffer, so it has a more responsive, energy-efficient ride, which is the desired out come for high profile competitions.