For people who use wheelchairs the city really can seem like the urban jungle with all its obstacles and accessibility issues. There are the bumpy pavements, the awkward level changes and don’t even get us started on cobbled streets. But compared to the countryside, even the most inaccessible of cities is a dream in terms of access. Generally the changing terrain and muddy footpaths of the country have been completely off limits for wheelchair users… until now.
These days there is a rapidly growing variety of wheelchair and scooter devices that can handle changing terrain, allow you to go off road and are opening up the countryside to people who use wheelchairs. A great deal of electronic wheelchairs are being designed with more power, higher floor clearance and better suspension to make travelling off road a real possibility. Add to this the increasing realisation that there is a market for people to take manual or electric wheelchairs, that can go off road as a adventure activity like mountain biking, or just for more exercise and you find that country footpaths are no longer a no-g0 area.
For instance, The Overlander range of all terrain vehicles, by Terrain Hopper, are electrically powered off road wheelchairs and scooters with distinctive looks and extreme off-road capabilities. Some people have called the Overlander a “mini Land Rover” because of its looks and its capability to take on all kinds of bumpy paths. There are five different models, with the biggest and toughest being the Overlander 4Z. Thanks to the unique patented independent suspension system, you are not thrown all over the place whether you’re going over dry sand, inclines or even fallen trees
The 4Z was recently included at Design Week Awards for 2014 and was on show at last month’s Naidex convention, where the American Lieutenant was able to try it out. Take a look at the video of him using it, below – it looks like he took to it really quickly and had a blast.
Using tank style tracks rather than the usual wheels The Ziesel make it easier to take on varied terrain. It’s a rugged and powerful design and is named slightly peculiarly after a species of ground squirrel—a very agile little thing. These chairs can be used all year round, including travelling through snow. However, they cost a staggering 20,000 euros and just to rent one for the day will set you back 226-270 euros. Not practical for most, especially as they would be too big for indoor use, but as these chairs become more common, perhaps a reduction in price can be expected.
For a manual rather than electric option, Trekinetic K2 wheelchairs are rugged off road chairs. Instead of a metal chassis like a traditional medical device wheelchair, it has a light weight carbon fibre Monocoque seat. The key to the design is that the larger wheels are moved to the front, with a single rear wheel behind the seat providing more balance and putting the power in the front of the chair, which makes it easier to use on uneven surfaces.
Trekinetic also produce a GT3-3 model which is a little sleeker but probably not as versatile for off road activity (not least because of its white paint job!). Their third wheelchair – the GTE – is an electric version of the design which looks cool too, but for the purpose of off road activity the K2 is probably the most suitable. The K2 costs £3595 and these wheelchairs have the benefit of being more sensible for use as everyday chairs too, although mud and dirt would remain an issue.
Mountain Trike wheelchairs are designed with a clever lever system which means you can go power yourself through tougher terrain. The two drive levers at the front of the chair and hydraulic disc brakes give the rider excellent propulsion, control and braking. They’re designed in quite a similar way to mountain bikes and are all about getting people active and off road and they haven’t neglected comfort either, with a comfy seat and mountain bike style suspension.
We featured the Mountain Trike in another post last year and it clearly impressed. Many people were interested in the idea of getting off road in a wheelchair and that, in part, encouraged us to write this article. These chairs are clearly very capable of being taken on all kinds of terrain. Recently a call centre worker climbed 1,695ft up Mam Tor in the Peak District using a Mountain Trike wheelchair. They cost £4,395 to buy but can also be rented or tried out at one of their experience centres.
The Boma 7 all terrain wheelchair from Molten Rock is the latest in their range of electronically powered chairs. They look a little bit like go karts or other racing cars, as you sit back with your legs stretched in front of you and they can be driven just like them too. They offer thrill seekers an adventurous ride – it’s good to see companies acknowledging that less able people can want to take part in risky adventure activities just as much as anyone else. They’re not available for hire but you can attend one of their demonstration events to have a go instead.
There are two types of these wheelchairs – the Boma Handlebar and the Boma Joystick – although the only real difference is the method of steering. They’re both electrically powered and the basic shape of each is the same. The difference is simply that the handlebar throttle is on the handle and for the joystick you steer with the joystick. This means that the joystick requires even less physical exertion but it might be slightly less intuitive and involving than the handlebar as a method of steering.
Finally, there is the Hex Hog, a big beast of a wheelchair. An electrically powered six-wheel-drive ATV, the Hex Hog has a ‘centipede like’ way of moving and can take on hills up to 50% incline – conditions that able-bodied people would find arduous. Sion Pierce, a mechanical engineer from Nantglyn, near Denbigh, describes his HexHog as a “quad bike on the outside and wheelchair on the inside”. It looks like an absolute tank of a vehicle rather than a humble wheelchair – this is not a mobility scooter, it’s a mobility Hummer.
Prices start from £18,000 which the designers say is because they see it as a rival to scooters rather than as a straight up wheelchair alternative.
The development of wheelchairs with off road capabilities is really exciting as a way of opening up previously inaccessible areas of the country. It’s also really good to see that many of the chairs are being made available to rent for the day or for a couple of days. This is important because by and large these wheelchairs would be too large, too expensive and (mostly) a bit too clunky and unattractive to use as an appropriate everyday chair, but for a specific activity they’re just brilliant. Stories are coming out almost everyday about a new off road wheelchair experience and it would be lovely to see this trend continue!