BREYDON’s wheelchair trials: GRIT Freedom Chair Spartan

Wednesday 12 October 2022.
Updated 21 October 2022.

Lever‐propelled, rear‐wheel‐drive chair.

1. Assessment

During the interminable wait for a daychair, I turned to a GRIT Freedom Chair to reach select appointments around town. The Spartan variant boasts a reinforced frame, lateral handles at the back for an attendant to push, and an athletic gear ratio. The Spartan I’ve been using also sports what has proven to be an invaluable “utility clamp” — specfically, the version for towing the chair out of bogs and up slopes, which is also threaded to accept bicycle pedals for use as alternative footrests. So far, so brilliant.

Only on occasions can I hold myself up easily enough to safely sit in this chair. But, in our combined elements, the Spartan is very effective. It can be fun. The physical sensation of gentle manoeuvres evokes that of canoeing: an impression of buoyancy, intervals of paddling and attentive rest, the steering of a long and tapered craft. Confined, technical work crosses rafting with mountain biking; mounting logs and stalling on ledges to carry a watering can into nooks of a garden produces the imagined splendour of world‐class exhibition. In the Spartan, I casually traverse grassed hillocks whom I couldn’t dream of edging partway‐onto in a conventional wheelchair. Pushing such a heavy mobility aid from behind can be strenuous, but the Spartan’s high, well‐made handles make the experience more “pram” or “lawn‐mower” and a lot less “short‐statured wheelie bin”. All of which is to say that where this chair works well, outcomes are exceptionally satisfying.

Unfortunately, engineering attention apparently petered in and out following development of the leveraged drive (initially devised for the L.F.C.). There are many little, glaring problems with the GRIT line that surely could have been rectified at a prototype stage, which betray a distraction from much of the potential real‐world application for this tool.

Pushring‐friendly drive wheels should be standard (I elaborate on rims for rims) and, with so many metal parts moving in different directions under strong forces almost immediately seatside, sideguards should be too.

Though GRIT do sell skirtguards (in plastic, at an enormous price), the seating is sadly representative of how the GRIT Freedom Chairs’ worst aspects are not easily ameliorated at home. Especially crippling are the slick, haphazard nylon wall of a seatback on its jerky frame; the swivelling nature of the footplate’s attachment (which even when so tightened that its quick release fails, still slews around at a wisp of exertion); and, most prohibitively, the Spartan’s structural hostility around any kind of torso harness or safe head support.

GRIT chairs further surprise with an unpreparedness for luggage. However, some little pockets of opportunity are pleasing.

There is definitely a lot of literal room for improvement all over. The Freedom Chair’s use of bicycle parts allows this to be a huge plus. Many different non‐invasive changes are possible (some of which I will cover in more a detailed examination, ART CHAI). Perhaps even, I am hoping, some sort of seatback swap, to help hold my body safely and within more comfortable reach of the levers’ arc.

Alas, for me personally, further inherent restrictions confine GRIT’s Freedom Chair to stopgap status, ever a slightly sad, sporadic steed. Lever stowing and retrieval, an essential part of operating these chairs within tight spots, is difficult with upper body impairment. At cruisier speeds, maintaining direction on cambered surfaces can be exhausting.

The (flicking?) mechanism for deployment on Mountain Trike’s self‐propelled chairs would be far swifter and more achievabale to operate. Mountain Trike course‐correction sounds less taxing; the MT Evo variant of their steering and braking controls are probably adequately graspable for me. Mountain Trike also at least had the foresight to offer a readily fitting bag rack, and make far more thoughtful allowance for thoroughly supportive seating on all their models. GRIT’s Freedom Chair Pro might provide sufficient postural support in its own right, or allow for the easy installation of appropriate seating.

1.1. Chair tried

Table 1: GRIT Freedom Chair Spartan assessed in October 2022
Seat width ??? mm (16″)
Seat length ??? mm
Backrest height ??? mm
Footrest height variable: ???–??? mm
Chair length ??? cm
Chair width ??? cm
Weight in use ??? kg
Frame material Steel?
Footplate Large grippy plate attached via quick‐release bike‐seat connector
Wheel camber
Drive wheels (d.w.) Two, towards rear
d.w. rims aluminium
d.w. spokes steel
d.w. hubs 32‐hole, aluminium
d.w. axles 15 mm quick‐release
d.w. tyres 57‐559 (26×2·25″ in bicycle terms / 25 in wheelchair), pneumatic
Push rims none
Castors One ??-??? at front
  all ??? mm (???×???″)
  ??? rim/hub/?‐spoke moulding
  pneumatic tyre
castor forks tubular ???
Model number ???
Manufactured circa February 2022

2. Further reading