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Updated:  1-Nov-09

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MY OWN VEHICLES:
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MY HOME BUILT ULTIMATE POWERCHAIRS:
My SLIGHTLY Modified Improved Powerchair

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My VERY Modified Off Road & All terrain DO ALL Powerchair!
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Off Road DO ALL Indoor & Outdoor Powerchairs

Off Road ONLY Outdoor Powerchairs & 4x4
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Manual or Electric Wheelchair?

Why ALL Powerchairs NEED  to be Off Road Capable!

Choosing  a Suitable Powerchair

Wheelchair Width


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& DRIVE BY TRANSFERRING:


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Ultimate indoor capable all terain powerchair


ALL Indoor/Outdoor "Full Time Use" Powerchairs should be ALL TERRAIN capable.
There are simply no downsides!

All "all day" indoor/outdoor types of Power Wheelchair (Powerchair) as used by quadriplegic / paraplegic / full time users should be capable of at least some sensible off road performance. 

And should be equipped with big "fat" shock absorbing smooth riding "balloon" type tyres. as opposite. And be very small and compact for indoor use. There are many advantages outdoors and absolutely no downsides indoors.

Personally I built my own (opposite - click it for larger image) simply because there was no suitable currently available alternative.

Unless you can do that too, then you will need to rely on the manufacturers. This page is written mostly with them in mind to wake them up a little!. (Detailed PowerChair Only Menu)

First of all Paraplegic, Quadriplegic & Other "Full Time" disabled users need a dependable, reliable, & very usable Powerchair.

One with full "Go All Day" range (group 24 batteries) and a sensible 6 mph minimum performance if they are to venture out into the real world on a regular basis - safely. 

It MUST be capable of speed, range, SMOOTH outdoor capability with good comfort to HELP PREVENT pressure sores, muscle spasm or plain uncomfortable shocks to your spine.

And SUPERIOR indoor ability too. And although no current Powerchairs do this today, its actually pretty easy to accomplish. Since I managed it at home as an end user. (My own)

It MUST have a smooth SOFT ride on our assault course of town streets and pavements and at least some "off road" capability since beaches, mud and grass, old airfields, rough non paved areas etc forms much of the outside world. Its not all shopping centres out there you know! But still MUST be small and manoeuvrable for indoor use where every inch really matters. 25.5 inch width is maximum here! Less is better.

We can't just "swap" wheelchairs easily (if at all) to get into an outdoor or off road type powerchair at will to go on to a beach or to the pub in snow or to walk the dog. Plus when you get to your destination (maybe a restaurant or friends house) then you cant swap back to a small indoor one either or even transport both chairs in a typical disabled accessible vehicle on your own. Independence and keeping things simple (one chair) is the key here!

That usually means that we need a powerchair that can be truly Indoor AND Outdoor capable.  And yes it really is easily possible to do this. And no there isn't a single one on the market.*   Why?  Its what every busy active full time powerchair user wants and needs...

They either seem to make one "type" or the other. A total lack of understanding of the requirements and needs of the users and an unbelievably slow rate of development in the industry is to blame. A seeming lack of understanding by manufacturers and industry and the medical "professionals" is the reason. I just don't believe they cannot do it since I can do it in my bedroom!

Often they do neither indoor or outdoor particularly well anyway!  Indoor chairs are usually/often too big and seriously badly programmed and have no outdoor capability. Other than on hospital corridors or shopping centres. 

"Outdoor" chairs are simply too big indoors and generally have skinny hard tyres that transfer every shock to your spine and they sink in soft ground/sand/snow/mud/etc So are not even very good at the one thing they can "do".

 

Its actually pretty easy to make a true dual personality powerchair! And have a truly usable "do everything" power wheelchair that would suit most Paraplegic / Tetraplegic users because as a "paraplegic end user" and as a pissed off engineer  I built one in a bedroom in about 21 days...

Would you believe that of all the hundreds of PowerChairs available NON are really capable of doing both jobs well.  (As far as I know)  Why not? because its is obviously what every full time busy wheelchair/powerchair user actually needs!.

 

I will break down the requirements for a SIMPLE DO ALL indoor / outdoor powerchair into easy to understand parts...

For the indoor use part of the equation, a PowerChair that has the following attributes is required and nothing else will do. Without some serious compromise on your daily indoor independence and mobility:

  • Short. Around 40 to 42 inches maximum TOTAL length including any footplate's and the users size 11 feet!   Longer simply hinders indoor capability. Any other quoted length (like minus the footplate, or ignoring rear anti tip or extended rear caster wheels is absolutely meaningless other than for transporting it empty and fancy figures for the marketing department. Ignore brochures and MEASURE your future chairs! Mines a true 40 inches.

    And this measurement it must include any anti tip wheels or rear casters rotated to the longest position. (maximum length).  My home built one is 44 inches INCLUDING my size 11 feet
    as I can't drive about without them!  (or 40 inches without my feet) and I could make that 4 inches shorter still with a little work - there's room.)  Manufacturers do quote these specs and they are extremely important, but often on a misleading way. Every inch really does matter indoors.

  • Narrow. Total Width 25  to 25.5 inches Maximum.  That is a usable indoor figure for good manoeuvrability and easy comfortable door clearance. Its not about whether it will fit through a doorway but if it EASILY does so. And have lots of spare room around furniture etc. Works in vans, pubs and other peoples houses too. This figure must INCLUDE an 18 inch wide cushion fitted! for e.g. (if that's  the size you use).  Substitute your own size here.

    Because quoting less width as most manufacturers do, with a "narrow" cushion is plain cheating, misleading  and is incorrect in actual use and for all real comparison purposes.  Mine on my "do everything chair" is 25.25 inches wide at the widest point even with my 18 inch cushion in place. This is important because on most powerchairs the arm rests are adjustable in and out to accommodate different sized cushions. 

    Wheelchair width is VERY important and the chair needs to be as narrow as humanly possible. Certainly no more than your body width Seated. See Powerchair Width for some typical bad examples.
  • Seat Height. Needs to be 16 inches (level) to 18 inches (tilted back) Maximum. It can be adjustable higher if the user wishes it but it must go that low to suit the worlds restaurants / desks etc. Higher is useless for vans and vehicles generally as well as it means no headroom!
  • Rearward C of G if rear drive (like my own preferred setup) to allow less front tyre wear, less battery drain, greater manoeuvrability, less marks on carpets, less noise and greater control and the ability to lift the front wheels over obstacles like a sports manual chair.

  • Enough "range" to allow all day use on carpets and at work etc. Maybe 4mph max speed and 40 amp hour batteries are adequate indoors only even for heavy users. But that wont work outdoors!!!  So 70ah batteries and 6mph is actually essential.
  • NO CORNERS! Swing away footrests, rear casters that always rotate and (hit stuff) form corners at both ends! Indoors this is just a definite NO! It means manoeuvrability and freedom around furniture/bathrooms etc is hindered drastically.  Every inch or part of an inch matters a lot here!
     
  • Programming -  NO or very little delays. No "accelerations" either in turn acceleration, turn decelerations, or anywhere else at both slow and fast speeds. These things make it like driving your car with the controls connected by rubber bands... This is the greatest problem with every powerchair I ever test or use. TURN IT ALL OFF!!!

    Make the controls absolutely direct. Like a model car or plane. Or your car. Then it goes where I want it to go, when I want it to go!  Suddenly its CONTROLLABLE and accurate. End user programmers do not allow this OEM level programming to be corrected.

    So either supply a OEM style programming tool with each chair for users that want one or program it correctly to begin with.

Well basically that covers the indoor part pretty well. Stick to the above and it will be great Indoors Only!  This first indoor section above has just ruled out 95 percent of all current powerchairs. Even the small "indoor only" old people's cheap (and ALL the NHS "wheelchair Services" ) motorised deck chair ones... And that's before we go to the shops into the big wide world!

Next, the parameters I (we) need in an Outdoor Capable Powerchair even if just going shopping or into your disabled van or car. But any outdoor powerchair HAS to have at least SOME off road capability just to deal with our badly designed and maintained streets, curb cuts, pot holes etc! Examples below. So for outdoor use as well, it MUST also:

  • Be fast enough to cross a busy 4 lane junction without getting you killed, or get you home in winter before you actually die of exposure. A FOUR MPH or less powerchair here is a real JOKE. its really and quite seriously unsafe. People crossing busy junctions often need a spurt of speed just to make it across safely!  The traffic wont wait! 6 MPH or more is just about acceptable here and if you are heavy is really the upper limit too due to current used battery technology. (Although better battery technology has existed for years. we are talking about safe lithium technology - lithium ion phosphate)

    But see "range" and the other problems with too much speed. 6 MPH is better than 8 or more if you are heavy, live in a hilly area, or intend to go off road much.  You cant fight physics and current batteries are not capable of more all day long. Its a compromise.  If you weigh about 7 stone you may get away with an 8mph powerchair.  Group 24 70 Ah batteries ARE THE BARE MINIMUM for outdoor usage. Less is completely useless.

  • Be capable of driving "comfortably" on our modern pavements and roads.   Never mind off road!  ALL powerchairs that are designed to go on our streets rather than to a shopping centre occasionally NEED some off road capability.

    Our streets are really bumpy, uneven and damaged. Normal powerchairs rattle you about either causing or aggravating pressure sore issues due to the sheer forces and muscle spasm problems for many people. And spine and other problems as all the "shock loads" hit you.. Just watch someone in a typical wheelchair getting rattled around on our pavements and uneven roads and you may get the idea.

    I have tested and tried a great many so called outdoor power wheelchairs. Including many with "suspension" for what its worth. They all hurt my back and rattle me about like a pea on a drum and cause me severe muscle spasm problems. The manufacturers don't have to sit in these things obviously. Powerchair suspension is ineffective. Too little travel, so far too hard.

Tree Roots Pavement

  • The problem here is that our streets and pavements in towns and cities are FAR from flat and smooth!  This is an extreme example but in reality most of its a bit "rough" compared to shopping centres, hospital corridors, and the wheelchair manufacturers factory floor or car park where they obviously "test" them...

    Some places are unbelievably bad though.  And current powerchair suspension has hardly any "travel" (an inch or so if you are lucky) compared to say a car or motorcycle with 6 to 12 inches or more. Those tiny hard 3 inch wide or less standard "grey mobility tyres" (even worse with foam, "green", solids! ) just transfer every shock and bump straight through to the occupant. My back cannot stand any more!  You always spot that bit of broken road surface or next bump or drop just to late to slow down enough to avoid it! It hurts unless you go far too slowly...

    At the speeds we travel at in a powerchair, the suspension that we get just does not work well.* It cant, its more important to have lots of "give" in the fat soft tyres. (*Other than for marketing purposes and sales in the showroom!)

    Big fat soft (very low pressure) balloon tyres cure the vibration and road shocks almost completely, bumps and uneven pavements are beautifully smooth, Even cobbles are smooth like they don't exist. It works like no suspension ever can at low speed as the tyres just deform around everything.  I have two identical powerchairs with one crucial difference. One has suspension and typical 3.50 x 8 (14 inch tyres) and the other has NO suspension and big fat balloon off road tyres. Guess which I use! The difference is quite remarkable. 

    See THESE two next images, BOTH CHAIRS ARE THE SAME narrow 25.25 inch width!  Fat tyres should not mean wider chairs unless the designer has no clue.

    So SMOOTH riding big fat very low pressure (6.5psi) balloon sized tyres are also essential requirements for a smooth ride outdoors on our streets.

    ESSENTIAL equipment - once you have experienced the difference!
    . Mine are black. But the wheelchair industry could get them moulded in grey if you prefer that. (I actually don't!) Tyres

    First time I tried my freshly built powerchair I was amazed how good they REALLY were. So tyres like these are very important for any decent outdoor powerchair. You actually get a sensibly smooth ride but please remember the width issue indoors. (See above) 

    You CAN have seriously fat tyres like mine (6 inches wide with huge sidewalls and "floatation") and still have a narrow 25 inch wide indoor powerchair because because I did it already with my own home built powerchair and with full size batteries. 

    So there's no real excuse for ALL powerchairs not also having a better ride and be capable in snow, off road, on the beach too.

  • Typical outdoor obstacles. Without ever actually going "off road" or "all terrain" you come across things like this. Its actually MUCH worse than it looks here with some very difficult small steps and angles. The photo does not do it justice. The bottom is about 10 inches below where the lamp post is. The yellow line near the left of this picture is about 11.5  inches above the lowest part. This sort of thing is common in towns and cities. God forbid you live in the country!  Or worse IN the country! Or a farm etc...

  • Mid drive indoor/outdoor powerchairs with a set of casters sticking out at each end cannot get across this typical "access ramp" onto the road below to cross it at all.   At least non of the ones I have tried.

    It seems that they have insufficient travel on their overly complex heavy caster "suspension" systems. I know, I tried a few! They get stuck with the drive wheels not in contact, or just about in contact but with no grip!. Or one not in contact and so the chair turns instead of getting "over" this typical roadside problem.  Those chairs are ok with small curbs on nice flat surfaces but this, and any serious off road obstacles has them and their tiny caster wheels in trouble!

Ramp onto Road (accessible)

Mid drive indoor/outdoor powerchairs with a set of casters sticking out at each end cannot get across this typical "access ramp" onto the road to cross at all.   At least non of the ones I have tried.

It seems that they have insufficient travel on their overly complex heavy caster "suspension" systems. I know, I tried a few! They get stuck with the drive wheels not in contact, or just about in contact but with no grip!. Or one not in contact and so the chair turns instead of getting "over" this typical roadside problem.

They usually have to  use smallish casters too, so as to minimise the impact of having four of the things stuck in every corner when indoors. And they jam and get caught in all kinds of obstacles since they are generally much too small for outdoor usage. 10 inch casters are really a requirement outdoors. With a rear drive chair their is just 2 of them and they don't get in the way because your feet stick out further than they do. 

Sensible sized tyres for a front caster would be 3.00 x 4 as used on my chair. Wide enough to not sink in sand/snow easily, big enough outside diameter (10 inches) to roll over big pot holes and other obstacles outdoors. Tyres

You think this ramp is unusual? Its not. There are many much worse ones, and all kinds of other issues that we have to contend with and negotiate in the real world many times per day!

The small casters typically used on mid drive powerchairs also get "stuck" on the ridges (layers of old road where they resurfaced). So since this example is pretty mild compared to some of the obstacles around here I cannot sensibly use any mid drive powerchairs as they just don't have the capability to get past things like this that I come across in the real world, which just so happens to be full of them.

In my own fat balloon tyred powerchair I could drive over it slowly as my anti tip wheels are tiny, high up and short. So they don't touch anything. And it has big 10 inch front casters so they ride over the "steps" onto the road very easily. But with the very rearward C of G that I prefer, I MAY JUST tip out of the back!   (I don't actually, I have tried it, but it is a close run thing)

So instead I just approach faster at say 2mph and then a quick "wheelie" while going down the slope with a touch of extra power (just as a manual wheelchair user would do) and then it sort of lands smoothly while moving forwards onto the road as I cross the yellow lines with the rear wheels.

Its easier to do than to describe. And its really smooth and natural. It requires some power (and some proper control system programming) and some expertise and commitment but with those big soft balloon tyres its a smooth and bump free ride and doesn't really even slow you down. You need some "feel" and some control, that stock powerchairs just don't have.  Why not? Manual wheelchair users demand this balance and control? Why should powerchairs be any different?

Ultimate power wheelchair

My power wheelchair bigger  Yes its just 25.25 inches wide, with 75 amp hour batteries and 40 inches long complete. And has a low seat... It can be done. True Indoor and very comfortable outdoor And even at home in the woods with the dog or in snow or the beach...  Those tyres run at 3 to 7 psi. You choose. It wheelies like a mad thing so its easy to lift the front wheels over an obstruction. The tyres absorb and deform around curbs, rocks, etc. You feel just a smooth easy ride.

RAISED DRAIN COVER

Even small bumps like this go right through you on normal 3.00 x 8  (hard 14 inch) wheelchair tyres. And they are continual, one after another at 6mph. And they come at you faster than you can avoid them. Rattle rattle...

Driveway No Ramp

And of course every few feet there is a driveway (or something else) to cross with a small 2 to 3 inch curb... This goes right through you and hurts if you don't slow down to a crawl in normal power wheelchairs.

If however you wheelie up with the front wheels in my chair, like a manual wheelchair, and let the big fat soft balloon tyres ride up after you you barely feel this curb at all. Same going down. You hardly need to slow down, other than just enough to accelerate to pop a small wheelie. 

cobbles

Another tiresome entranceway to cross. Standard powerchairs vibrate as you cross the old cobblestone drive slightly and then try to snap your spine as you hit the small 1 to 1.5 inch "curb" to get back on the pavements. My new powerchair glides over this so smoothly with those tyres that it feels like a flat surface. So ALL indoor/outdoor powerchairs NEED off road tyres!   And the chair does not need to be wider overall. And of course it works great in snow (cant miss the pub!) and sand or mud should you wish. Stock wheelchairs slip and slide just on wet grass!

Same road as above. But look how bad the "smooth" footpath is too. Even that sends shockwaves through your spine in any "normal" powerchair. This is just how the real world happens to be!

  • Range. Must have all day range (group 24 or 70ah batteries) minimum. Bigger is better (remembering the overall dimensions limit) and better technology would be better still! Like Lithium ion Phosphate power. Bigger capacity lighter weight, better longevity etc. But that's expensive right now. AGM batteries preferred as they can be fast charged in an hour which is also a serious requirement!  BCI Battery Sizes, Group 22, 24, 34, 27
  • Controller. Must be TOTALLY user programmable to a high degree. I have a OEM level programmer and its just about enough. Less control, like the  typical end user "dummy" programmer allows, is simply an insult to my intelligence. It does not allow sufficient adjustment to make any chair properly usable.  Must be 100 amps per channel or greater. I wouldn't buy any powerchair that doesn't have/allow these things.

  • Wheelies. (if you are talking about rear drive obviously!) Power, C of G, Programming MUST combine to allow this with accurate "feel" and direct control. It allows all obstacles to be avoided with the front casters, allows a 4 inch curb to be climbed in the same way as a sports manual wheelchair user does it without slowing much and its fun. If you never use it as a tool to help mobility its still FUN!  We are not all geriatrics just because we are disabled! We don't all need a "Safety Nazi" designed powerchair.

  • Ground clearance. I walk the dog in the woods. I drive on bad streets. I go to the pub in thick snow, and on the beach in summer. I need enough!  4  inches is probably ok with fat tyres (they don't sink! in mud and snow/sand etc). Less is bad.
  • Anti Tip wheels need to be inboard (like the footplate -- no corners remember!) so as to allow better manoeuvrability but more importantly they must be high enough to allow wheelies and driving off curbs etc.  (See above...  Just because its powered does not mean no wheelies!) Motorcycles can, manual wheelchairs can and it helps them both. Mine can and it helps every day many times over!

  • Weight, Less is more. More control, more range, etc etc, Give up with all those heavy steel brackets!
  • Fast charging is not only essential but its easy and pretty cheap! 1 hour as mine does already.
  • Puncture proof or at least tubeless tyres. Nobody likes punctures but for a paraplegic or similar its a major issue!

    We cannot get out or get home...  And tubeless means about 20x less punctures! Tubes pop or burst like balloons, or expand around a tiny hole and leak... 

    Solids don't work at all well.  Shake your teeth out and send your batteries flat faster, so not an option. (foam, green. inserts etc)

    They are useless for the same reasons as I wanted those big low pressure balloon off road tyres in the first place!  Comfort and ability.
  • Continued:   Kevlar shielded puncture resistant tubeless tyres are available as I use them on my own powerchair.  I went from about 2 punctures a month to zero punctures in the last 5 years.   Off road powerchair tyres  And bigger fatter tyres exert less pressure on glass etc anyway...
  • Lights etc. If fitted should be tiny/hidden/light. Less is more. I neither need them or want them really but some do. Make it an option and make them very small and battery efficient LED lights.

  • Swing away footrests. "NO"!!! They hit everything and form corners.  And they are weak, in the way when transferring to a bed, and look terrible. Looks matter. So while we are on the subject no great big battery lumps sticking out of the rear behind the seat either! So ugly!
  • Automotive style seating? NO... Raises the C of G and moves it forward which are both really bad things AND makes the seat higher. Looks cool, functions great IN A CAR!

Put simply all indoor/outdoor powerchairs should be off road capable because those fat balloon tyres give it a better ride, more ability on the streets (even if you don't go off road) and there are simply NO DOWNSIDES if designed correctly. Currently there are NO such powerchairs available other than the one I built for myself.

The powerchair does not need to be any wider, longer or higher than current indoor/outdoor existing powerchairs. So since there are only benefits to be had (and a great many) and no negatives then why are ALL powerchairs not built like this already?

No other powerchair performs better or is more controllable or more compact even with normal hard skinny tyres! I would love a reply from a manufacturer...    Not a design committee member but a real "designer".  If there are any.

Typical "street" entrance to a house (in France!)   This is rough and uncomfortable in any normal powerchair, even if you slow right down. All our real world trips in any outdoor power chair involve surfaces like this. Off road or all terrain powerchairs are much more comfortable and capable over this kind of surface. With no disadvantages over a "normal" power wheelchair.  Its also the reason no sane person should be using a manual wheelchair!

Yet more real world. Trust me there is more of this than "perfect" surfaces...

 


See how "Small and Manoeuvrable" is essential even outdoors! And see how even a modern City like New York is still an off road expedition!  Control (programming and C of G) as well as total width and length and ability to manoeuvre very quickly and accurately matters lots even when OUTDOORS in a big modern wheelchair friendly city. 

Think how much difference this ability makes when indoors in your house, van or in a busy restaurant. Or in small less wheelchair friendly towns and undeveloped rural villages!  Also watch how much the camera mounted on this guys wheelchair shakes rattles and rolls as he goes over these modern smooth city streets. That causes pressure sore issues, discomfort, spasm problems and is plain uncomfortable!

Then you may understand why big "off road" low pressure balloon style shock absorbing tyres are ESSENTIAL equipment! And see "why all powerchairs need some off road capability". And understand why as I keep saying every inch matters! The thing is ALL OF THESE THINGS can be in one small agile powerchair. My own home built chair fits the bill. NO manufacturer makes a powerchair that does. Why is that? Beats me...

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PowerChairs & Snow (or Soft Surfaces like Sand / Mud) What works, what doesn't and why!

 

 

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