Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Bike Race
Pilots with complete paraplegia participate in this race. They pedal by artificially stimulating the motor nerves to initiate muscle contraction.
Functional electrical stimulation (FES) is a technique that allows paralysed muscles to move again. By placing electrodes on the skin or implanting them, currents are applied to the muscles, making them contract. Thus, a person whose nerves from the brain to the leg muscles are disconnected due to a spinal cord injury (SCI) can use an intelligent control device to initiate a movement, e.g. stepping on a bike pedal. New types of electrodes and an exact control mechanism make it possible to maximise the pedal force with each rotation while avoiding early muscle fatigue.
Only pilots with SCIs using non-motorised bikes are allowed to participate. To prepare for the race, the teams need to develop effective muscle stimulation patterns in order to activate the pilots’ muscles. Meanwhile, the pilots train by building stronger muscles and increasing their endurance.
In each FES bike race, two pilots start at the same time on a circular racetrack. The pilots control the power of the current themselves; thus, they can regulate their speed in relation to their endurance. The pilot who crosses the finish line first wins!
The challenge is to skillfully stimulate the muscles so that riders can achieve a high speed on the bike without becoming overly fatigued. It is very difficult to efficiently stimulate muscles from outside the body.