A Seriously Modified & Rebuilt and Vastly Improved PowerChair MK1
Have you ever wanted a much better modified powerchair than you can actually buy?
Ultimate power wheelchair
For less than 1/3rd of the price of an inferior new one…
The image here is of a very modified and totally rebuilt £500 eBay Sunrise F55s Powerchair.
This week alone two went for £350 (in all but new condition) and £211. Perfect Donors for a project like this
John WilliamsonI mean “newer” and better finished better performing, better usability, better durability, better reliability, range, more compact, more torque and more control etc?
Its all easily possible to do at home…
This one cost just me £1500 finished, but you do have to build it yourself.
Because there isn’t anything factory built with this much attention to detail.
I want or rather I NEED more than any “bought” power wheelchair can give me. I suspect this applies to almost everybody. You will need to read all of this page as there are a lot of important modifications made apart from just a restoration + rebuild.
The original donor chair(s) here was 13 years old and a very corroded and worn out wreck — £500 UK. (I paid too much)
Now its much better than a brand new one in lots of small but very important ways. Actually this is one of a pair I did together and still I have another old and practically free chair waiting in the garage for the same treatment All are/were about the same age or older. You can get these for a couple of hundred UK pounds on eBay.. Note. As of Feb 09 There are now about half a dozen people building similar powerchairs much like this one after reading this.
F55s Stock Parts PDF Here should anyone need any parts for one of these wheelchairs.
Modification is especially important if you want one to drive a car or van from it and that you can use everyday indoors and out. I don’t want total reliability, or better control, I NEED it!
A stock “new” slightly ugly Sunrise F55s Powerchair >>>
Powerchair manufacturers don’t seem to get this. They build down to a price and just have no idea how difficult things can become if your powerchair breaks or fails due to electrical, mechanical or tyre failure. Or if its an inch too wide/long. I cant just get out and walk after all! I may be in a strange town or village at 4 am unable to get back into my own van, or unable to get home even if only a few feet away! Never mind to a toilet, or out of freezing cold wet weather… I need complete and absolute reliability. And proper control.
Cost to rebuild it to a MUCH better than brand new level was less than £1500 including a mass of big improvements to its function, reliability, durability and usability! Read on, you can build a better wheelchair yourself if you have a brain and a phone and are willing to take charge of your life.
It now has the seat relocated rearwards, a new home made footplate to make the whole chair much shorter for much better turning ability in small domestic and inside vans, restaurants etc, and to put more weight over the rear wheels for many very advantageous reasons discussed later on. It also uses stronger tubeless tyres that are much less puncture prone, and every single part is powder coated or stainless steel including every single bolt, nut and washer etc… Too much to list. More later!
The Story… This will be a long page! Actually many pages…
Like most full time heavy wheelchair users I needed a long lasting, reliable powerchair with good performance, big range, controllability and power, as well as durability that looked smart but went un-noticed. Clean, minimalist, preferably black and very capable. As small as possible is very important. And one that was easy to clean and that stayed looking good for everything from the pub, to business meetings that the damned road salt and muck just rinsed off without deterioration! So no garish colours and rusty / dull bolts wanted here then!!! Just performance and build quality. I suspect I am not alone.
Image, opposite shows a tubeless scooter tyre fitted to a cheap trailer wheel in turn fitted to the F55s powerchair. The wheel centre and the wheel itself were of course powder coated silver first and polished stainless steel bolts used and greased during assembly. We do not want any corrosion after several very salty winters use! The idea being everything just washes clean like new.
This gives almost zero punctures, and allows a common sized (read cheaper) 350 x 8 tyres to be used. This has numerous benefits including raising the gearing and top speed slightly.
Tubes pop like balloons, tubeless tyres like your car suffer around 20x less punctures per distance travelled than the old tubed type.. The LAST thing I need is a puncture miles from home or while out in a my van in a different town or airfield… This is to me an essential mod..
Solid grey (green) tyres also don’t puncture but they offer a bad ride, and waste battery power and range, and increase the average Depth Of Discharge of your batteries. That’s bad too! They die earlier and cost a fortune. Grey tyres are crap anyway since the Carbon Black that makes black tyres black also is an important part of the chemistry!
Without it you can make grey tyres but then they crumble and drop apart and don’t last well, while managing to look crap too. I have zero problems with black tyres marking carpets or floors anyway, unless wet. So don’t drive about at home with wet tyres! Powerchair tubeless wheel big | Powerchair tubeless wheel bigger
Note — I get my Tubeless rear tyres (3.50 x 8) from here! Specifically I use these ones shown above… (and they also do black stock sized 3.00 x 8) — For what its worth you can actually fit them (and any 3.50 x 8 tyre) with a tube to stock the stock wheels, although you will need some 20mm bore washers behind the wheel and the wheel really is slightly too narrow for the tyres slightly bigger size.
Well the bad news is you can’t buy one!
No, really! NOBODY makes a decent wheelchair unless I have missed something over the last ten years. So if you don’t want to help yourself and expect others to provide everything for you, then you may as well give up reading now!
You can build a much better power chair yourself, as I do every couple of years by using an existing one as a “donor” and doing a slightly major rebuild and modification or three! These pages document this and explain why and how I did what I did. Its actually very cheap and easy and results in a massively better powerchair than any new bought one. But takes some effort and a couple of weeks waiting for parts and machining. Obviously you wont do “exactly” as I do as it depends on your needs and choice of chair and other priorities, but it shows you what is possible and lets you see what you can do easily and cheaply.
All new standard (expensive!) power chairs and wheelchairs in many cases, have a very cheap finish designed to look good in the showroom only. Especially to all the black brackets, corrosion prone steel bolts, plus they have tons of basic design issues, tubed puncture prone tyres — tubes burst like balloons! — (or worse still crumbly battery draining uncomfortable heavy “solid” or foam grey ones!). They are always badly set up and front heavy. They are programmed electronically to drive like a sloppy pudding*** All of which is absolutely useless to me! I need to get on with my life. I am, after many years, sick of trying to fix corroded badly thought out powerchairs that leave me stranded unable to get home or even steer properly! Or just look crap after the winters road salt has ruined and corroded everything. ***To be fair they really have to do this with the controls as they err on the side of safety. Meaning over damped, sluggish and lacking in any instant response that you actually need in order to have any accuracy in control.
You simply can’t buy a decent powerchair no matter how much money you have. This of course depends on your definition and expectations but as a full time heavy serious powerchair user that has tried almost every possible available powerchair and an engineer I know I can / could do better! Commercially mass produced powerchairs are all designed by committee the corporate bean counter. This applies to many manual wheelchairs too but at least here it is possible to buy something half decent.
The results of the bean counter/committee are sadly a bit dismal but that’s what you expect when you consider that they have to compete on price against other manufacturers. And appeal to the majority that do not understand the real issues and buy based on the colour or price or some other non important issue!
So You really have to know what you want and why you want it. You need to understand everything from powerchair drive systems, motors, gearing, battery capability, materials, tyres, basic engineering etc. And then build your own or modify the best you can get as I do to give you the powerchair you really need. Most people cant do this unfortunately — lack of knowledge or ability — so I am lucky in this respect! You may learn something from seeing and reading these pages at the very least and may want to do your own project or even copy some of mine! That’s up to you. Hopefully all this work will help someone somewhere anyway!
The best chair (and my starting point) available in the UK in my opinion is the Sunrise Medical F55s Powerchair So if you live here or a few other countries (Australia, South Africa, etc (not the USA) you might want to check them out. I couldn’t use any of the others PowerChairs that I have tested for a big bunch of basic design reasons. And I tested a LOT! The F55s has all the basic parameters in place. I have two of these now all converted exactly like this one at the top of the page as I need backup! I have a third about to undergo the same process. Its my legs after all, if it fails I’m screwed! Nobody helps you so you have to help yourself!
I cant just stop and get out. I always have one stripped down waiting for a rebuild, one sat ready rebuilt unused finished and polished in my living room. (That’s the one in the picture at the top of the page!) And the one I am currently sat in typing this. Some say that that is a bit extreme but its actually essential if I am to have a ready to go backup chair in case anything goes wrong with this one. And if you consider that it means I only really spent £1500 three times then its still cheaper than buying a single inferior brand new Sunrise F55s Power Chair that would be corroded and worn out in two years… These last MUCH longer while still looking good. Perform better too!
You don’t need to read this bit! Skip to the next section! — Why the UK Wheelchair Services are a sad joke…
You see (and I hope the Grimsby wheelchair services are listening!) am a BUSY active paraplegic powerchair user which isn’t the same as the vast majority of wheelchair or powerchair users! They will not and say they cant supply me with a decent full time indoor/outdoor powerchair. Then what are they there for? A decent powerchair is ESSENTIAL for a paraplegic or any active permanently disabled person. Absolutely essential to allow me to live an independent life. But I use them and wear them out fast! They don’t seem to like that even though they supplied the first one years ago and refuse to pay even for parts. I was under the impression that this was what I paid my tax and national insurance for. But no, its to pay for endless paper pushers and “meetings” not to help actual users
Unlike the majority of their users (operation/broken limb/whatever) or an older person sat in an old peoples home in front of the fire or even an average sit at the computer all day type of person, I am out and about actually using and wearing mine out! I need to go shopping and use the Powerchair to go into town, go to the pub, walk the dog, as well as many other smaller things like going to the engineering shop at the local college, to the restaurant for dinner, etc etc. I actually USE mine indoors and out every day! Doing so wears them out very fast! I get through 4 sets of tyres, a set of motors, a set of batteries and various replacement parts every year as a bare minimum. It wouldn’t matter what make of powerchair that would always be the case because the motor and battery technology is not available (at affordable prices) to improve on this. Its a fact of life, a running expense. I cant help it but they now refuse to supply me any suitable powerchair. They only offer basic motorised deck chairs. When I say motorised I mean barely…
Just because an old or inactive user gets 7 years out of a set of batteries or motors they expect I should! End of rant at ignorant stupid people that have no understanding of a real paraplegics needs or the technology they are supposed to understand. And certain so called wheelchair experts online, that also appear pretty clueless.
You can build or rebuild your own wheelchair or powerchair
Its a lot of work, its not actually difficult work and the result is the powerchair you really needed for your active lifestyle that you simply cannot buy. And there simply isn’t any alternative.
You can build a massively better than new modified wheelchair (Powerchair) from a cheap £500 eBay powerchair easily for £1,500 to £2,000 pounds. I did it three times so far. Finished and ready to roll. (With a fourth project just beginning.) That’s pretty CHEAP and once you see what modifications I make to mine and why I do it you will see how MUCH better it is than simply buying a new one with its built in problems.
A new full time user full size Sunrise F55 powerchair typically runs at about £5,500 and is frankly pretty crap as it arrives for my purposes. Its probably the best powerchair available in the UK (or anywhere for that matter) They are as good as it gets for a full time paraplegic user and I really cannot see how people can manage with the absolutely unsuitable rubbish that the NHS generally provides! The thing is that the whole industry has the same philosophy. They build oversized overweight under engineered railway engines with really cheap short lived finish. They pay little attention to what we really need. If they did I wouldn’t have to make all the changes that I do to get a powerchair that I can use reliably. And I wouldn’t need a hammer and chisel to get the old rusty seized ones apart…
I see old ones sell on eBay, corner shops notice boards, local papers etc for £250 upwards pretty regularly. I even bought a few. Buy the cheapest as if you want to build yourself a better than new chair you will be replacing things like motors/upholstery etc anyway. Condition is not important as every single part will be powder coated or replaced anyway! Better to buy a tatty one cheap than a good one if you plan to rebuild it in a similar way to what I do! You would of course use your own favourite powerchair type or brand for this.
OK Here is what I and most others actually need even if they don’t understand things enough to know it! Manufacturers please READ!
My list of very important things goes as follows: (I wouldn’t want any powerchair for full time use that didn’t conform to the following basic parameters)
It MUST be capable of at least 6mph (Crossing big busy roads or getting back from the pub in freezing winter means less is a real joke). 6 is ok even 8mph or greater is better. But remember that taller gearing means more amps in any given situation and therefore a bigger controller and batteries are required. So more still like 10mph is not going to happen as batteries and controllers are not capable of this while keeping “all day” range and usage. On my modified F55 I use bigger 4 pole motors (standard on the latest ones) and slightly larger diameter tyres on slightly different wheels. This gives me about 7mph gearing. 7 mph is a good compromise for a heavy person with GOOD AGM batteries with low internal resistance. More than 7 mph would be a problem with lack of motor torque and lack of range. Less is simply dangerously too slow in some situations – like crossing a busy 4 lane junction!
It MUST have 80 to 100 amp bare minimum controller or larger for me (fat!) to be capable of any real control on steep slopes, thresholds, ramps, in grass etc. Because It TAKES 100 amps at least to manoeuvre in difficult situations with large users and tall 6mph and upwards gearing… 80 amps is enough for lighter people and 50 to 60 amps is enough for slow unbearable 4mph only powerchairs. When looking at powerchairs consider this balance very carefully no matter what the sales people tell you! Most are stupid and pretty clueless anyway and just talk about seating options and colours! Manufacturers try to get away with the least possible cost for reasons of competition. Less amps in your controller = Cheaper and easier to sell! And once reprogrammed and the powerchair modified a little it will then have the torque to lift the front wheels over small obstacles or small curbs etc. Or “wheelie” at will should you so wish. Personally I find this essential and it helps about 50 times a day when negotiating our “pavements” thresholds and other obstacles. It gives me some proper CONTROL! Much like a manual sports chair
It must be capable of all day everyday use. From 9 am to 3 am used a lot every day. That means 70ah batteries and decent AGM (absorbed glass mat) ones with low internal resistance are a bare MINIMUM requirement if the above speeds and amp capability is to be met. Gel batteries cannot do this very well as you get bigger voltage drop under load and they also cannot be safely fast charged which is another absolute essential requirement if you have a busy life or want to preserve your batteries useful working life. Because contrary to what another well known website will tell you opportunity charging any time you get chance extends the useful life of your batteries due to a lower average discharge level. As long as they get a full (equalization) charge overnight too.
It has to be totally user programmable. The “programming” of most powerchairs stinks! All modern power wheelchairs have a computer under the seat or built into the control system that controls how the thing responds to the Joystick. Most chairs are sluggish, delayed action gutless wonders. This makes them “safe” if anyone makes a mistake or a waitress catches your joystick in a restaurant (!!!) as little really happens – at least at first.
But this also makes them hard to CONTROL, not positive enough to steer and drive up a ramp and manoeuvre accurately. Getting accurately into a van like mine or through a narrow doorway becomes almost impossible in any standard wheelchair. A normal end user so called “Programmer” doesn’t offer enough additional control or programming ability at a low engineering level to be any real use here. Fortunately I have a OEM programmer which allows me to set it up for some real control by removing all the delay and “acceleration” on turning and improving torque and so improve response hugely. My chair actually responds to the joystick positively and accurately and instantly. It makes control a breeze! Just make sure you turn the chair off in restaurants or where a kid may grab the control. It actually jumps into life and could break limbs or crush someone very fast! (which is why they don’t come like this! In careful hands its perfectly safe.
Rear Drive is absolutely essential — its naturally “balanced” and stable. Front drive is naturally unstable due to some simple physics! Try putting casters on the rear of a front drive car ant you will see what I mean! The rear naturally wants to overtake you so its only suitable for slow chairs. Neither of which are any use to the average user that needs a chair to be as fast stable and compact as possible. This front drive and mid drive are sales gimmicks that actually make things worse when outside in the real world. It also leaves a huge bit of powerchair sticking out and swinging about like a fish behind you in most cases. Manufacturers please note: The SHORTER and more compact a chair is the more manoeuvrable it is!
In my own chair I can turn in a tiny loo or corridor because my head is the most rearward part of the whole setup and my feet the most forward! THAT is what matters and its all that matters. Not the amount of overhang. No front or mid drive chair can go into my bathroom and turn around and come out forwards. There are too many wheels in the corners to hit everything. My Modified F55s can turn where even the most compact mid drive pride powerchair cant. My chair isn’t in the way – its SHORT (40 inches) but just as importantly it doesn’t have wheels sticking out in the “corners” all around you. Putting the wheels in the middle DOES NOT HELP anything if the chair is longer corner to corner. And they are less capable outdoors too. How for example can you wheelie off a curb when you have a mid or front wheel drive chair? It doesn’t like it I’ve tried. They are not keen on anything much other than level ground. And outdoors in the real world you need 9 inch diameter front casters as its full of lumps, bumps and obstacles. Add those to your 40 inch compact mid drive powerchair and the thing feels bigger still.
Nothing could offend my mechanical sensibilities more than Mid drive powerchairs! These need 6 wheels, are like insects with legs sticking out all over and are crap at almost anything other than flat surfaces and they rock back and forwards like weeble on their suspension… All that extra suspension and extra wheels is extra weight too. Tried loads and they are all awful and they cant manoeuvre properly even in my office never mind off curbs or over tree roots and uneven surfaces which make up most of the real world. What a stupid idea obviously thought up by committee or a marketing departments. They do it for a “small turning circle” to make the thing more manoeuvrable. But it actually doesn’t! That really depends on total length! And they are mostly all longer than a rear drive F55s modified as mine is at 40 inches with no “corners”. Unless they are using smaller wheels…
Tubeless Tyres and Wheels Punctures are a HUGE potential and very serious problem for a quad or Paraplegic user. It can somewhat more than ruin your day and cause all kinds of recovery problems and expense. Solid, Foam, Green tyres are all simply crap! They are grey and crumble away due to the grey rubber (no carbon in them which is why they are grey, but its actually NEEDED to give the rubber its rubber like properties!) They also are very heavy, and have an uncomfortable ride whilst sucking amps (range) from the batteries as they have high rolling resistance too. Quite apart from the fact that they look awful “invalid/NHS” and go yellow/brown in weeks… Tubes pop / burst like balloons. We don’t want that either! So we need stronger and tubeless tyres.
Tubeless tyres offer 10 to 15 times as much puncture resistance (ref Dunlop Web site). No tubes to “pop” like balloons or rip where the object enters them. Its why my dad used to get punctures in his early cars with their tubed tyres and now with almost universal adoptation of tubeless tyres its almost unheard of. They are in a way “self sealing” as the soft rubber that forms the air seal is bonded to the inside of the strong tyre. Get a nail in your tyre? No problem, leave it there until you get home. No tube to rip or burst like a balloon. I used to get around 3 punctures a month that left me stranded until I fitted better stronger tubeless scooter tyres on better easier to swap bolt on steel wheels.
Apart from being tubeless they are also much stronger construction too. Much more difficult to get that nail in the first place! See images at top of page. The front tyres are still tubed since after moving the seat and therefore the C of G back there is very little weight on these caster wheels any more. They also have a “liner” inside which is the treaded area cut from an old worn out tyre to give added protection and “thickness” before any sharp object can puncture a tube.. This C of G position gives me much better control (and range for yet another reason) but it also means that a front puncture isn’t an issue at all, And since there is now much less weight on the front anyway they seem to just ride over broken glass and sharp objects and so these too now seldom cause any trouble.
If I DO still happen to get a front puncture (2 in 7 years) I can just ignore it now! I can actually drive to the pub with only one front wheel fitted! This is due to the rearward relocated C of G discussed below. Don’t ask how I know this… In any case all four tyres have a 25 percent fill of “off road puncture proofing liquid” as a real belt and braces approach. just in case anyway. I have not been stranded by a puncture in 7 years since I first made all these wheel, tyre, and C of G changes. So why don’t the manufacturers do the same??? Small things have a huge beneficial effect and are not just important but absolutely essential for a full time powerchair user that gets about and is very active. I don’t need a flat tyre in a shopping centre with my GF in a strange town at 10 at night because the logistics of getting me, my chair, and my van that I drive from this wheelchair home are impossibly difficult.
C of G (Centre Of Gravity). The C of G makes a HUGE difference to how the powerchair handles, steers, performs and even has a drastic effect on range or battery longevity. Basically I moved the seat back a little, cut off the sticky out weak swing away footplates and fitted a single shorter one (home made) — see pictures. The effect is very pronounced. It turns left/right MUCH easier and more positively. Helped again by the reprogramming. It also means that there is now little weight over the front wheels, so wheelies over obstacles in the street, small curbs, thresholds etc make life very much easier, Long distance wheelies are also possible for sheer fun.
See here mpeg and here mpg. In addition it means that a front tyre puncture is of no concern. Its entirely possible to drive about without one of the front wheels even being there since most of the weight is now over the drive (and control) rear wheels.
Compare the seat position of this typical (eBay £350) standard Sunrise F55 Powerchair to mine here Its seat is just too far forwards! Its like this because the manufacturer want to stop you falling out and tipping over the back on steep ramps. But it causes a mass of other issues…
Personally I prefer the control, the light front end with all the other advantages that this brings. I know that my powerchair is tippy like a sports manual chair and I like it much better that way!
Finish and durability. What can I say. Over the counter powerchairs (and many wheelchairs) are barely “finished” at all. Usually they have the main frame painted (sprayed and maybe lacquered) which is sort of OK but a little thin and it easily deteriorates. But all the rest of the multitude of parts and brackets is usually treated to a really thin coat of cheap cellulose black. This “looks” ok as long as its new, clean and sat in the showroom. All the bolts are just cheap steel hex headed and electro zinc plated. These too look great for a few weeks and sort of shiny. Then they go dull and eventually corrode. As does all the black parts. When I rebuild these powerchairs I want one that will look just as good after 4 or 5 serious winters of corrosive road salt and muck with just a quick rinse with a sponge. With this in mind the first thing I ever do withy a 500 pound eBay powerchair is take it completely apart and throw away about 1/3rd of it! This includes the rear wheels and tyres, the upholstery, all the bolts, nuts, lights, front tyres, all bearings, batteries, motors/gearbox combinations. After examining what’s left I dispose of anything that’s not as new or will be once powder coated. What remains, frame, front wheel, dozens of brackets and other bits fills the boot of a car. It goes along with any new parts I have bough or had made straight to the powder coaters who blast everything with abrasive powder to remove all traces of paint, muck and rust.
They then powder coat every single part that will go into the new rebuilt wheelchair.( Powder Coating is a sort of very tough paint that applied as a powder with an electric charge and is cured with heat in an oven) and then they ship the parts back for reassembly. When I reassemble everything I do it with attention to detail! Every single bolt is ordered from a specialist bolt supplier, and in Stainless Steel. I use Domed Headed Allen bolts and Stainless Nylock nuts for everything. See images above and to follow in the detailed pages to follow.
They cannot rust or corrode. I individually polish every one with a buffing wheel. And assemble with copper grease. These bolts will have the same shine in ten years as the do when assembled. And they will come undone as easy as they went together. And the powder coating will just wash clean and not deteriorate with salt and road muck. The manufacturers wont go to all this trouble because most people don’t care or don’t understand and they have to compete on price. This is what we need. But its not what you can buy. But you can do it yourself pretty cheaply as you rebuild!
Programming and Controller. All modern powerchairs use a computer controlled drive system. It translates your joystick movements into whatever the original programmer decided you should have. Mostly they are programmed to be powerless, gutless, sluggish, delayed action, and “damped” so that you can wave the joystick about merrily without much happening. It means that a shirt sleeve, or a child catching or pulling the joystick results in some slow and easy to catch movement that hurts nobody!
And frail little old ladies even like it like this. It very “safe” and smooth to the point of misery and almost no real control. The problem is that all those delays and accelerations and damped movements mean that any normal sane user has almost no real control at all. The faster you go the worse it gets. Hitting a doorway becomes a matter of luck and praying. Its like driving your car with the steering and throttle and brake all connected by soggy rubber bands. It CAN be done if you are really careful and if the carpet isn’t too thick if your chair decides to co-operate… Now in the case of the F55s powerchair it uses a Penny and Giles Control System. A Pilot Plus 80 Amp one. These are fitted to many chairs all over the world in various Amp ratings. I swapped mine for a 100 amp one on both powerchairs because I like power and control and I am fat! And I have taller gearing. I NEED 100 amps at least especially if I want to be able to lift the front wheels over obstacles and have good control on grass, ramps etc.
Anyway I digress. The real control comes from re-programming. There is a small hand held “programmer” available called the PP1a and its an end user controller. These are common. And absolutely useless for altering any of the more important settings! Wheelchair technicians, some mobility dealers all have these. As do many end users. They only allow a few settings such as turn speed and max speed to be adjusted.
What you really need is a PP1b. It looks identical, but has an extra menu called the engineering menu. It holds the secrets of real control and precision. However if you don’t know what you are doing you will not be able to get it right! Took me about a year playing with all the settings to make my powerchair perfect and balanced in control.
But since it also allows many changes that can be dangerous for the motors, the controller, and the occupant as well its very unlikely they will sell you one. Some technical powerchair repair guys do have them but they are like the proverbial rocking horse excrement and most seem clueless about what they are doing. However I have one and do know exactly how to use it! Feel free to contact me if you need some help. Takes about 10 mins now I know all the best base settings and then a little fine tuning to suit each individual. The look on peoples faces after suffering lack of control for years is always a picture!
Batteries. All Batteries are not the same. All deep cycle mobility batteries are not the same. If you are a very lightweight person, don’t go far each day or don’t use the powerchair all the time then to you almost any cheap deep cycle Gel battery will last many years and seems the same providing you charge it up overnight every single day that you use it and in any case once a week. If however like me you are fat, hammer the powerchair for long distances, walk the dog, shopping, pub in the evening and you have reprogrammed your chair as above then you are in trouble! No batteries are good enough and its a fight finding a solution.
I destroy batteries much faster than anyone else I know. I know a lot about batteries and actually sell the things. Email me if you are worse! In 12 years of powerchair use I have had 15 sets of quality well maintained batteries. I get between 9 months to 1 year from a set. And by a “set” I mean the very best available. I use AGM batteries not Gel. And I use Hawker Odyssey or Optima batteries now. Why??? Details below…
a) Gel Deep Cycle type batteries. The rolls Royce of these being the Sonnenschein A500 dryfit range. As fitted by most manufacturers for this very reason. For the average Powerchair user and the average powerchair these are about as good as it gets. 500 cycles at an 80 percent depth of discharge (DOD). You get great battery life and acceptable performance. I cant use these because I am a hooligan. Mainly because they use a Gel as the electrolyte (a mixture of Silica Gel and Sulphuric acid). Heavy charging (I fast charge regularly in 1 hour) and big currents (wheelies after reprogramming, taller gearing etc) causes the thick paste electrolyte to be pushed away from the plates and create bubbles or voids. They don’t much like my powerchair or me! I get 7 months from them and they lack the power (amps — too much voltage drop under load) to lift the front wheels over obstacles after about 5 months and eventually range falls noticeably
b) AGM Batteries. I need a battery that can give me the capacity that I need for range (56 as stock), the cycle life I need (the Sonnenschein originals give 500 @ 80% DOD) and can provide the current I need to supply the bigger 100 amp reprogrammed controller and taller gearing… And I need to be able to charge at 30 amps to give me the fast charge capability that I crave! (I HATE waiting). Decent AGM batteries can do this. The hawker Odyssey and the Optima batteries can both do this at a price. Both financial and in a slight decrease in number of cycles. 400 at 80% DOD. Both can start a truck with many hundreds of amps more than I need! Most deep cycle batteries cannot do that, and most users don’t need that capability but I do. The Hawker ones are slightly bigger capacity at 68 ah so I go with those lately.
c) Cheap leisure batteries. When in Halfords about a year ago I came across some leisure batteries marked DEEP CYCLE and correct size for my powerchair and were actually marked 75ah… They were on offer at half price £47. With a 2 YEAR warranty. Mmm very suspicions but they had a 2 year warranty so I bought a pair after telling the sales guy that he had got to be joking and there’s no way they were “deep cycle” no matter what he claimed at that price. I kill GOOD deep cycle batteries in less than a year so this should be a laugh… I expected to get say 3 months before they died. Day 1, 2, 3, and even the first two weeks – great! Then they started getting short on range. By week 3 I dare not go far from home. Week 4 they swapped them free of charge. Same scenario and swapped again… After the forth set in 3.5 months they had a bit of a fit and refused to honour the guarantee and after a fight they gave me my money back. As I said all batteries are not created equal.
Charging. As an active user I find that my powerchairs 68ah batteries are about 60 to 70 percent discharged based on a stabilised voltage reading some days even by 5pm. I actually USE my chair! Well at that level you are already shortening the life of your batteries through high average depth of discharge even BEFORE you go out for the evening. Of course many users just sit at a computer or in front of the fire in some old peoples home. To them it doesn’t matter. To me it DOES! So at about 5pm while checking emails (after going out all day and walking the dog) I just plug my fast 30 amp charger in to its special socket connected directly to the batteries and within 30 to 45 mins its fully charged* and a Green light… This is only really safe if AGM type batteries are used. Ready to go for the evening and with far less battery damage than running them too flat. You get drastically less cycles the deeper you discharge them, So why after 12 years in a powerchair do we still get Gel batteries and tiny slow chargers??? (*actually 95 percent – So they still need an overnight slow charge while you sleep in an ideal world if you want to be kind to your batteries.)
Motors. In an ideal world we would all be using brushless gearless motors. They are quieter, more reliable and more efficient so we could either have more performance, more range or smaller batteries and less weight. Or a combination of all three. They have been available for many years, I even brushless motors on model planes and helicopters… But the Powerchair manufacturers are unbelievably slow to change. There are one or two chairs about that use this simple technology but its uncommon. I am looking to update my latest powerchair (the third one not on these pages yet) with these. In the meantime I am using 4 pole 6mph geared standard (on later versions) motors for the F55s. But with slightly bigger wheels and tyres to give a slight gearing increase. More would compound the battery issues, less would be unbearably slow…
Wheels & Tyres. Rear drive wheels. The biggest and most serious issues for any full time wheelchair user is punctures, and a harsh ride. (Have you actually seen our “pavements”???) Now on the face of it solid, foam filled, or so called green tyres are the answer, at least according to the powerchair (and wheelchair) industry. Well they are all crap.
They take too much energy to “push” which is bad in a manual chair but equally bad in a power wheelchair! Because it eats our precious battery charge up too fast! If you think that doesn’t matter because you don’t use all of your powerchairs range you are still wrong because it increases the daily average battery discharge level. The depth of discharge has a dramatic effect on how many cycles you get from your set of expensive deep cycle wheelchair batteries. Plus the solid or foam filled or whatever tyres are very harsh and uncomfortable in comparison to air filled tyres.
So what’s the better solution? Tubeless tyres! Like the ones used on 99 percent of cars! Have you noticed that cars and motorcycles no longer seem to suffer the puncture problems of old? That’s because they have no tube to pop or burst like a balloon since they use Tubeless tyres. These are MASSIVELY more puncture resistant. I mean tens of times better. You can all but forget getting stranded and being all but unable to get home. I no longer worry about running over glass other things that I used to avoid. Since fitting Tubeless Black (Black is better – below) scooter tyres I have reduced my rear wheel punctures from around 2 a month for 3 years to zero (none!) over the last 6 years or so. I have even pulled nails out and the tyre just seals itself. I now add a 1/3rd fill of off road tyre seal as a belt and braces approach too! You can never be sure enough…
I use black tyres because I wear out grey ones far too fast. And grey tyres look crap! They shout “Health Services” and the go dull and yellowy. But worse they crumble. They literally crumble away as the rubber properties are destroyed by removing the Carbon from the rubber mix. That carbon is what made the tyre black, Plus black tyres are easier to obtain and generally cheaper too. They do mark carpets though if they or the carpet is wet. If not, then no worries. Although I bought my carpets with this in mind so they are dark grey, brown etc.
Now Tubeless tyres are not available in the standard wheelchair tyre size 3.00 x 8. So I have to use 3.5 x 8 tyres. These are a little bigger. This gives a slight boost in gearing and therefore speed. But they are a little too big for standard wheels. The diameter is correct, but the wheel rims need to be a bit wider. In any case powerchairs use split rims that bolt together and so a tube has to be used. They also corrode like mad, seize on to the motor shaft, or wear the keyway and develop much backlash… So I throw these away and use easy to swap 4 bolt trailer wheels. In the now unlikely event of a puncture the whole wheel and tyre can now be changed with me still sat in the chair easily just like a car and I keep a spare in my van. And on my other two powerchairs… Plus they are available from motoring and ca accessory shops like Halfords complete and inflated should the need arise.
The front wheels are stock but with longer lasting black tyres with tubes. A puncture here isn’t a concern since I can drive about easily with a flat or even without a wheel altogether since moving the seat rearwards to move the C of G. In any case these too are filled 1/3rd full of off road tyre seal.
Footrest – I made my own for several reasons. The first is because the stock ones are “swing away”.
See the nasty scaffolding sticking way out in front on this standard 350 uk pound eBay f55 opposite >>
These are huge bulky things that stick out in front too far and they do so in the “corners” exactly where you don’t want them to be if you are trying to manoeuvre in a tight spot. They absolutely hinder your ability to turn into doorways or get into position in a van or small area. They also are connected directly to the seat frame. This means they are in the way when you want to transfer to a bed for example, where you cannot “swing them away”… Your legs hit them. And since they are connected to the seat frame they move rearwards and hit the front wheels if you try to move the seat back to a more rearward position which is so essential! So I cut the mountings off the seat frame. See seat images.
Then I made a better stronger neater lighter single footplate that rises up and down with the now relocated seat, and that fits further back between the front castor wheels. See here – new window. This makes transfers MUCH easier, The whole powerchair about 6 inches shorter and it has no “corners” either. So manoeuvrability is hugely improved at the same time. There much more changed on this power chair but its easier to just add the details under the images below. And many of these changes are small but work together to give a much more integrated better powerchair.