Machine Design

Starting-gate technology to debut in '08 Olympics

The 2008 Olympics, the first ever held in China, will mark the debut of BMX bicycle racing as an Olympic event.

Taiyuan (China) BMX will use ProGates in a series of international events it has organized in Asia.

And a gate designed with technology from Parker Hannifin, Cleveland, will literally start the event.

The ProStuff Straight Eight is now the official starting gate for Olympic BMX contests. The gate's manufacturer, Barker Rockford Inc., Rockford, Ill., uses Parker automation components including a pneumatic ram, FRLs, exhaust valves, a custom accumulator, hoses, connectors, and industrial-grade shock absorbers. Barker also developed proprietary electronic controls and safety hinges for the gate. The doors and ramps on single-gate systems for individual training are framed by Parker's Industrial Profile Systems — extruded aluminum sections designed to support factory equipment.

Riders anticipate the start signal and begin moving milliseconds before the gate falls. As a result, they often go "over the top," that is, they get stuck on the upraised edge of the gate or, even worse, fall under the gate as it drops. At the 2005 BMX World Championship in Paris, 40% of the starts saw riders going over the top. Last year in Sao Paulo, with ProStuff starting gates, only two riders in 3,970 starts got ahead of the gate drop. The automated start cycle of the new gates, from "ready" to "drop" positions, varies by 10 msec or less. Other systems vary 60 to 120 msec — enough to throw off world-class competitors.

"Besides improved safety, we had no malfunctions in all 3,970 starts at the Sao Paulo Worlds," says Pierce Barker, principal of Barker Rockford. "In many contests where heavier steel gates are used, the repair welder is on the starting line nearly as often as the riders to fix gates and ramps that beat themselves to pieces." Several elements, from basic design geometry to lightweight materials and an adjustable "cushion" stop for the cylinder rod make the reliability possible, says Barker.

Unlike "bang-into-the-ground gates, software and an adjustment screw on the side of the air ram create a pneumatic cushion that stops the free-fall of the gate. Start gates used to hit the ground hard enough to be felt in the stands, and the noise, over 100 dB, was comparable to that of a shotgun blast.

Barker Rockford Inc.,
Parker Hannifin,

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