The Rollerlock oarlock has been in development for over 5 years and is finally ready to make its appearance on the rowing scene. Oddly, the most radical thing about it compared to “normal” oarlocks is that it is round, not square. Doesn’t sound like an earth shattering advance, but athletes have been rowing with square oarlocks for over 150 years. The last major improvement was the swiveling oarlock introduced in 1874. So moving from a square to a round shape is actually sort of a big deal!
When I started using my recreational rowing shell in the ocean off Rockaway Beach, NY in 1987, I could not believe that the oarlock system I was using was the same setup that elite rowers were using in international competition, they just seemed so crude. Indeed, over the last 25 years almost every other part of the shell and oar has seen substantial improvement, except the forgotten oarlock.
The reason that we have square sleeves in square oarlocks is that the flat surfaces help to position the blade for each part of the stroke, perpendicular for the drive and parallel for the recovery. While this part of the design works very well, it comes with a lot of negative baggage, especially that it results in a loose connection between the oar and shell. This loose connection means a loss of power and control, assets that no rower wants to sacrifice.
In 2008 I began experimenting with different oarlock designs that would make for a better connection but still properly position the blade during the stroke. Over the past 5 years there have been no less than 9 iterations and prototypes that were tested. Valuable experience was gained with each subsequent design as I gradually began to learn what worked and what did not. The major breakthrough occurred when I realized that I could use cams to take advantage of the outward force of the oar on the oarlock to position the blade at the catch and finish. This was my aha! moment that forms the heart of Rollerlock.
I would like to acknowledge the support of teams like Columbia University, Fordham University, Jacksonville University, UMass Amherst and New York Rowing for their testing various prototypes over the years. Additionally I’d like to thank everyone in the rowing community for their support and encouragement over the years, particularly Volker Nolte and Jim Dreher.
Rollerlock received FISA approval in February, 2013.
Both projects were an interesting learning experience about the mechanics and biomechanics of rowing. Some of the things I learned were that hydrodynamic lift is generated by angled blade, that blade angle, especially at the catch was important to an efficient stroke and finally, that all rowers, especially sweep rowers of average height, could achieve tremendous catch angles with a perpendicular handle. These revelations suggested that only the handle should be articulated to allow the blade extra time in the water, substantially increase catch angles and keep the handle within arms reach of all rowers. Another important benefit to this design is that sweep rowers would no longer have to worry out symmetrical development of their muscles and injuries associated with constant twisting on one side.
Several prototypes were created and tested by Columbia, Fordham and the New York Rowing Club. At some point I will post some photos of some of these early tests. Suffice to say that the oars were heavy and a bit cumbersome, although the second version, with only an articulated handle was a lot better than the one whose blade also articulated. As it turned out, the articulating handle allowed even the shorter rowers to get a catch angle of 75 degrees (75/45 – total of 120 degrees of arc). The only trouble was that the universal joints (to allow feathering) only allowed for a total of 90 degrees. Although I have since solved that limitation, the project was put on the back burner as it was simply taking too many resources to develop any further. I anyone with deep pockets out there would like to chat about picking up the ball, please contact me.
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