Bed races safety improved with new design, team protocol

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In the hopes of making a long-standing campus tradition safer, Lehigh has changed Bed Races to include beds built specifically for the event.

Bed Races is a Lehigh tradition that is held every year as part of the “Spirit Week” that leads up to the annual rivalry game between Lehigh and Lafayette College. This year, the event will be held on Nov. 19 in anticipation of the Nov. 22 Lehigh-Lafayette football game, which will be held at Yankee Stadium.

The Bed Races tradition began as a Greek Week event and was a way for Lehigh’s engineering students to display their talent by constructing beds that students would decorate and race down the side of South Mountain.

“This tradition stopped for a few years and then was revived back in 2007 by (Association of Student Alumni) and class officers to bring back the tradition in new ways as a part of Lehigh-Laf,” said Shannon Varcoe, ’15, a member of the Association of Student Alumni.

The organization wanted Bed Races to be a more campus-wide tradition, not just for the Greek community.

Today, Bed Races are held on the much safer, and flatter, Memorial Drive.

“The potential for injury was really high last year so we didn’t want that to be the same this year,” Varcoe said. Last year many of the beds that were typically used started falling apart. Halfway through the races, the event had to be called off because of wheels falling off.

After last year’s race, Brian Slocum, director of the Wilbur Powerhouse and the design labs, was asked if he would redesign the beds.

“For all sorts of reasons the beds were really unsafe,” he said. “They were too tall, the castors weren’t designed for what they were doing, it was hard to steer them, people would get stuck in between the beds, (and) there was a high center of gravity so they were likely to fall over.”

Faced with these issues, Slocum and Michael Moore, manager of the design labs, got together and designed the new beds for this year. Working with individuals from Wilbur and the design labs, Slocum and the team made steel-framed, welded beds that have steering wheels. For this year’s race, four new beds were made for the 30 expected teams.

Apart from the new design, the racing protocol has also changed. Team members stationed at the front of the bed will no longer steer. Instead, the rider will steer the bed with the wheel implemented in the new design. Two riders will be atop the bed, with three team members pushing, so no one is in the way of the wheels.

“They are built to be a lot more robust,” Moore said. “It’s a full steel frame and basically bring(s) elements from a go cart into it to make it faster and safer while still maintaining the look of a bed.”

People riding the beds are now required to wear helmets and Memorial Drive will be blocked off so viewers from the audience cannot get onto the track.

“We are taking more safety precautions so the tradition can last effectively without people getting hurt, because one bad injury and it’s over,” Varcoe said.

This year’s bed races have been advertised mostly on Facebook and Twitter, and also through campus-wide emails for registration. There are also hopes for the Füd Truk to be there, and there will be giveaways leading up the event and at the races themselves.

“I am completely confident that we have created something that will be a lot more fun to use, will be a lot safer to use and will continue the tradition moving forward,” Slocum said.

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