BREYDON’s wheelchair trials

Saturday 27 March 2021.
Updated 02 November 2022.

Beginning as a brief I supplied to dealers through my occupational therapist, and drawing on reams of observations from real‐world trials, these pages offer a frank examination of a range of mobility equipment, from the perspective of an active and ambitious wheelchair user.

Or you might be looking for other things I’d be after.

1. To fit

I live in a fairly flat suburban environment, but do things in other settings too. Independent access to parks and nature is particularly important to me, especially for getting around town safely, as someone who suffers severe impacts from air pollution. Travel is predominantly by “walking” (wheeling), rail, bus, and — occasionally — aeroplane.

As well as wheelch bushwalking, I am desperate to participate in wheelchair skating and dance.

Without appropriate assistive tech, I have been really struggling with absolute basics like getting to the bathroom.

My level of motor impairment varies from moderate clumsiness to complete paralysis, sometimes with spasms. The condition affects my entire body. I have four limbs, two hands and two feet, no limb difference, and am vaguely symmetrical in both anatomy and function. I am about 173 cm (5′8″) tall. Floppy, ill‐fitting chairs have caused me crippling joint pain and forward falls.

I have been most comfortable with wheelchair seats of 35 cm (14″) in width. I struggle to grasp push rims accurately enough to propel myself over longer distances, although I find using them much easier than scooting with my feet. I cannot perform transfers safely by feel, but strongly prefer a tippy chair. I rely a lot on aural and visual feedback, and on consciously calculating positions/trajectories/flex/etc.

2. Seeking

While open to considering certain power chairs, I am foremost looking for efficient self‐propulsion. My priorities are:

Achieving both to a satisfactory degree might take two separate chairs, or the use of interchanging components. Please refer to both links, for their respective requirements.

3. Tried

oof, well

It would be ridiculous to mention every wheelchair that I have ever given a go, but here are some of the most relevant examples.

I will give each trialled model a star rating indicative of overall appropriateness for me these days, between 0 (‒‒‒‒‒) and 5 (★★★★★).

  • Suitability for short‐term use begins somewhere around 3 (★★★‒‒) and 4 (★★★★‒).
  • Suitability for ongoing use will lie nearer to 5 (★★★★★).

Ratings are for a (hypothetical) brand new chair in the best available fit. Specifications given are for the actual chair I tried.

Two people looking contemplative among an assortment of scissor‐fold wheelchairs and pressure cushions.

Figure 1: Comparing (left to right) the Karma Eagle, mystery Ottobock, and TiLite 2GX, March 2021.

3.1. Scissor‐fold, transit, and/or hospital‐style chairs

This category is not appropriate for anything but very occasional use in very limited settings.

3.2. Court sports chairs

Not viable for either of the priorities I am trying to address. But some findings are relevant.

There are about half a dozen individual court sports chairs I have played footy in, ranging from about a 30 cm to a 45 or 50 cm seat width, and over a similar diversity of geometry and construction.

I find some court chairs to be almost too responsive, for someone who loses control of steering as easily as I do. That said, the right chair helps compensate for how very sluggish my poor grip and unpredictable weight‐shifts make my sprints and defending, by enabling a flowing, opportunistic style of offence. My fundamental chair control will never consistently meet a 2 classification (or even most 1s!), but I enjoy riskier moves like rising up on one wheel or lunging for a ball close to the ground.

3.3. Nimble rigid chairs

For which the main use cases are outlined in manoeuverability and tight spaces.

3.4. Outdoorsy chairs

For which the main use cases and candidate chairs are outlined in ease of trekking.

3.5. Drive engagement: pedals, power assist, pushrings…

  • ★★★★★ MKS LAMBDA EzySuperior [platform pedal]: In concert with short cranks, revived my otherwise ruined pedalling ability.
  • ★★‒‒‒ BATEC MINI 2 [electric handcycle attachment]: Swift to attach, fussy to run.
  • ★★★‒‒ Spinergy TC Max Handrim [pushring]: Frustratingly slim despite tactility.
  • ★★★★‒ MKS XC-III [platform pedal]: Smooth and dependable as footrests on an offroad wheelchair, but could use a quick‐release for parking indoors.

3.6. Traction and float: skis, tyres, third wheels, forks…

  • ★★★★‒ CST Patrol [tyre]: Very capable, but dreadful to clean.

3.7. Wheelsets, castors, axles…

  • ★★★‒‒ GRIT Sand/Snow Tires [wheelset]: Grass/Sleet perhaps, but unnecessarily undermined in all conditions by problematic choice of components.

4. Would like to try

I am still particularly interested in trying the likes of…

4.1. The nimble

Plus, there was an aeroplane aisle chair designed to be taken as carry‐on, which could do the trick in confined bathroomy spaces on land too… Hopefully I can track down the manufacturer details.

4.2. The outdoorsy

4.3. Brands trying for nimble and outdoorsy

4.4. Adaptive cycling

In the absence of a lever drive, a handcycle attachment could avert some of the problems of pushrims, as well as those of electric‐only power‐assist machinery.

  • Stricker Neodrive range
  • Stricker Lipo Smart models
  • manual‐only handcycle attachments

Even‐more severe difficulties also can be resolved with adaptive cycling technologies, such as

  • the Nihola Flex 2.0
  • and others

4.5. Separate pieces to consider

  • aftermarket lever drives: There have been a few companies offering similar products in recent years.
  • third‐wheel attachments: A third‐wheel attachment would not allow as much ground clearance as is possible with an actual three‐wheeled chair, but could still be very helpful!
  • soft‐surface runners: Winter runners that clip onto castors. (Potentially useful on sand as well?)
  • electric power drives (for example Freedomtrax FT1)