Wheeling in the Wind: The Effect of Wind Velocity and Direction on the Aerodynamic Drag of Wheelchairs

in Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly
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A computer model was developed of the aerodynamic drag forces acting to slow down a wheelchair. The model calculated drag forces over a range of wheeling speeds between 2 and 20 m/sec, and for wind conditions over the same range of speeds with wind direction varied between 0° (headwind) and 180° (tailwind). The computer model suggests that the large lateral area of a wheelchair adds considerably to the retarding drag forces at relative wind angles between 0 and 90°. It further suggests that three-wheeled wheelchairs have a considerable aerodynamic advantage over four-wheeled wheelchairs for a wide range of wind speeds and directions. In straight line races, the four-wheeled wheelchair has a slight aerodynamic advantage when the relative wind angle exceeds 90°, but under other speed and wind conditions in this study the three-wheeled wheelchair was more efficient.

Colin Higgs is with the School of Physical Education & Athletics, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Nfld., Canada A1C 5S7.

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