A “Runner” is the name given to the blades that the bobsleigh itself “Runs” on. There are four on each sled and act like the tyres of a car. They are the only point of contact with the ice, and the front two are what the drivers uses to steer the sled down the track. All runners are made from the same kind of steel which is provided direct from the bobsleigh governing body, the IBSF. From these metal billets individual runners can be formed.
How important are bobsleigh runners
Having a fast set of runners is absolutely crucial to bobsleigh success. They can literally be the difference between having a gold medal run, and falling out of the top 10. Their shape, profile, constitution, and preparation all play into their effectiveness on race day. However, knowing which set of runners is going to be fast is far from easy.
There are many factors that need to be accounted for, again like in car racing where the right tyres must be chosen; slicks for the dry, and wet weather tyres for the rain, so too must the right runners be picked for the weather. The team or driver might choose that the track and the conditions warrant more control and so opt for runners that provide that. Equally they may want more speed but less control and pick a set for that.
Most experienced drivers will use the week prior to a race to test different runners and runner combinations. This is to ensure that their setup will work for the conditions of that track, as well as how their sled and crew are behaving.
Cost of Bobsleigh Runners
It may seem counter intuitive, but a set of runners can cost as much, if not more than an entire sled this is because the differences in runners is so small, that finding a fast set is almost a lottery, and therefore supply is incredibly small. Even cut from the very same billet, one runner can vary hugely from another, creating a difference of hundredths of a second (a lot in bobsleigh) down the track. This can be due to microscopic differences in the quality of the metal, equally small differences in the way they are cut, or even if one design just performs differently for certain sleds or even sides of the sled.
The only way to determine if a runner set is fast is to do extensive tests under regulated circumstances. Unfortunately, this is incredibly hard to do in bobsleigh as factors like the weather and push can dramatically alter speed. Therefore, runner pedigree is often determined by long lasting reputations and results, and this can take years and thousands of pounds. For this reason, a set of top runners can easily be worth in excess of £30,000, or be worth as little as the metal they were made from. The only way to tell is on the ice!