How Street Luge Works

By: Bambi Turner

Physics of Street Luge

Much of the appeal of street luge lies in the sport's simplicity. Participants use boards that are powered just by gravity. Because of this, street luge can only be performed on hills or other sloped surfaces. The higher the slope, the greater the force of gravity will be, resulting in higher levels of speed. Steeper slopes yield greater levels of momentum, which means that riders will take longer to stop and the force of impact will be much greater in the event of a crash.

Much of the thrill of street luge comes from the high levels of speed involved in the sport. Because riders are lying down, there is very little wind resistance, resulting in a faster ride. No matter what the slope of the course is, riders can increase the speed of their run by working to make the body as aerodynamic as possible. They do this by keeping their toes pointed, heads down and bodies as flat and level as possible [source: Ryan].


Terrain also plays a major part in the street luge experience, as does the weight of the sled. Smoother roads will produce less friction with the wheels of the sled, leading to a faster ride. Rough surfaces or bumpy roads will create more friction and slow the sled down. Heavy sleds or those supporting a heavier rider will tend to be slower than those made with lightweight materials. Modern street luge sleds are often made of fiberglass or carbon fiber, which are relatively strong compared to their total weight.

Street luge is often compared to other extreme sports, such as skateboarding or ice luge. In many ways, street luge is safer than skateboarding. Riders sit closer to the ground, resulting in a lower center of gravity. This improves balance and control. It also means that riders have a shorter distance to fall during a crash, which may lead to fewer injuries. But because the speeds involved in street luge are often much greater than in skateboarding, there are still plenty of dangers around every turn. Participants in ice luge often travel at far faster speeds than street luge riders, but they're in a more controlled environment, which often means fewer injuries [source: O'Neill].