What is it like to ride in a Bobsleigh?
From a spectators point of view, a trip down a bobsleigh run looks not too different from a roller-coaster; high banking turns, fast straights, and bright colours. But in reality bobsleigh can be a deeply uncomfortable experience. The G-forces experiences and the speeds reached are not
dissimilar to a very fast roller-coaster, but there are a few key differences which make a ride in a bobsleigh so extreme. Namely the fact that there are no seat-belts, the sled could crash at any time, the position you’re sat in, and the inside of the sled has harsh metal corners and edges.
The brakmen, brakewomen, or push athletes have a vastly different experience from the drivers. They have the worst experience. in a 2-man bobsleigh, and the person at the back of a 4-man bobsleigh, the athlete is bent over in as close to a “U” shape as they can coerce their body. What this results in is the athlete being squeezed hard against their own knees or legs as the sled experiences G-force. This is enough to force the air out of their lungs, which after a maximal exertion push at the top can be extremely taxing.
Bobsleigh ice is not as smooth as it looks from a distance. In reality it has small dimples creating a washboard effect. This is due to method used to shape the ice. Track workers will scrape the ice vertically to create the banks and curves, but inevitably this cannot be perfectly smooth. Therefore in a sled travelling at up to 100mph the whole sled rattles and jumps a lot. This can be disorientating and stressful.
The last main factor to consider is that the sled can crash at any moment. The brakeman/woman has absolutely no control over the sled. This is all in the hands of the driver. With you’re their head between their legs, either looking at the floor, or closing their eyes, the brakeperson is fully at the mercy of forces beyond their control!
These three experiences are the main factors in making bobsleigh such an extreme sport to take part in. They are also a key part in why some of the biggest and toughest athletes in the world have taken one ride in a sled and never returned. That is not hyperbole, it really happens, more than you might think!
Sliding in a 4-man bobsleigh
The actual descent and the g-forces experienced in a 4-man sled are not vastly different from that of a 2-man. At least not to someone outside the sport. There are nuanced differences, but they are more noticeable after having been in the sport for some time. The key difference in a 4-man sled is that you have your team with you. In a 2-man, the brakeperson is left in the back of the sled, alone, to wait it out. however in a 4-man, every corner, bump, or even crash is experienced by the whole team. This makes it much more accommodating as an athlete.
However, it is not without its difficulties, the main one being loading into the sled. If the load is not performed to perfection then it is easy to find yourself in a bad spot, and once you’re in, there is no way of moving. This could include having someone sat on your leg, not being able to get to your handle to hold on, or even being too high and having your head exposed. When these things happen it can be very dangerous, and as an athlete, incredibly scary!