If you could custom-build a new wheelchair from scratch, what would it look like?

It’s something we’ve been pondering as we look back at the stylish wheelchairs, accessories and parts we’ve covered over the years. We want to know what the perfect wheelchair looks like in 2014 and how it works. So, in the next couple of weeks we’re going to look into what parts we’d use to assemble the best possible wheelchair.

Our basic question is this: If you could put together your ideal chair, using only parts that are currently or very nearly available, what would you use?

A sensible place to start this series is with the wheels – start from the ground up, as it were – and we’re not talking about changing the spoke design or buying spoke guards here – we’re thinking much bigger than that. We’ve highlighted a few of the most innovative and stylish wheelchair wheels around. Which would you want on your perfect wheelchair?

Comfort – SoftWheel

The best option for reducing the constant impact of bumps and knocks which are a pain even in the more accessible of surroundings, the SoftWheel is an innovative shock absorbing suspension system. Normal spokes are removed and replaced with three compression cylinders, incorporating suspension into the structure of the wheel itself. This means that, when the wheelchair moves over an obstacle, the chair’s hub actually moves position to absorb the impact, with the rest of the chair essentially floating. It’s rather ingenious.

SoftWheel CEO Daniel Barel says that in traditional wheelchair designs, over 30% of the energy put into going forward is lost because of the lack of suspension, which creates uncomfortable rides and tired users. The SoftWheel greatly improves on this and the inventors attest that even taking on stairs can be done as comfortably as going up or down a ramp in most wheelchairs. They plan to start selling their wheelchair wheels in Q4 2014 with pricing in the ballpark of $2,000 per pair.


Portability – Morph Folding Wheels 

These are the best thing on the market in terms of portability – for lack of a better word. Being easily removable and foldable, Morph wheels are ideal for storing, particularly for when driving. These are the first ever foldable wheelchair wheels and after being disconnected from the wheelchair frame, each wheel folds to approximately half its open size for easier transport and storage. Originally designed to work for bicycles, designer Duncan Fitzsimons was told by many wheelchair users that these could be a valuable asset for them. After working with wheelchair users to tweak the design the wheels are now available for £696.

Morph Folding Wheels
Morph Folding Wheels

Energy Efficiency – Rowheels

Designed to minimize the factors which contribute to shoulder and wrist injury, Rowheels pretty much work in the reverse way to any other wheelchair wheel (or, indeed, in reverse to basic logic!). It may seem counter intuitive but the Rowheels device allows you to pull backwards to go forwards and push forwards to go backwards. Don’t ask us how the technology in the hub works, but it allows you to use a motion based on the rowing motion and is designed to take advantage of the larger and more capable muscles used when rowing.

They provide a more energy efficient and healthier way to get around, as this motion apparently leads to a reduced likelihood of repetitive strain or other types of injury. The pulling motion works in conjunction with a gear system is designed such that for every handrim revolution, the wheel turns 1.3 times more, meaning that less effort is required to get around. They look great and for our readers in the US they may be covered by your insurance, however, they don’t seem to be available in the UK quite yet.


Extra Power – E-Motion Power Assistance

The E-Motion power assistance device is an intuitive design that looks quite similar to Rowheels, but rather than changing the standard motions, it supercharges normal manual wheelchair propulsion by up to 80%. The electric hub wheels minimise the exertion required to push the chair along – you put in roughly one fifth of the effort and the E-Motion does the rest. Here’s a video of the system in action which should make this all clearer.

The speed achieved depends on the strength of the propelling movement, as is the case with manual wheelchairs. E-Motion assists the propelling movement up to 6 km per hour (3.7 mph) with a 15km range. There is also a rollback delay feature which prevents the chair rolling down hill. The E-Motion is an excellent idea and very intuitive and costs about £3,995.

E-Motion Power System
E-Motion Power System

So, there’s our selection of advanced manual wheelchair wheels. Which wheels would you use to start 2014’s perfect wheelchair, or would you use something else?

Let us know what you think and if you happen to know any truly innovative and/or extremely stylish wheels then let us know and we can add them!

Leave a Reply

  1. Rozanna Quintana

    I find it is the front castors that are the biggest issue. They are often hard to remove and the bearings don’t hold up. Also the ride from the front castors need to be improved.

    However, if I was going to choose a rear wheel, I would focus on making the hand rims smaller like in a racing chair. Also, lower towards the inside of the tire.