Saturday, November 6, 2010

FreeWheeling in November

I am finally getting the hang of the FreeWheel, an adaptive accessory for manual wheelchair users. Despite my lack of wheelchair skills and savvy - I plunged merrily through puddles in my zeal to test the product and naturally got soaked - it was a thrill to be able to wheel with ease over soggy grass, irregular hardpacked surfaces, and debris on the ground. I found the effort to propel the chair and the strain on my upper body amazingly reduced with the use of the FreeWheel compared to without it. I could travel in places I otherwise couldn't and get much farther with dramatically reduced effort. Wow! It seems well suited to this time of year too.

The perfect candidate for a FreeWheel is an active person with good upper body ability and a wheelchair made by one of the following companies: Quickie, Top End, Invacare, Colours, Kuschall, TiLite and others like this. If you have a typical medical wheelchair with separate footrests for each foot, the FreeWheel won't be attachable. A one piece footrest allows for the FreeWheel to attach to it between your feet, but even that is not a sure guarantee. One wheelchair we tried the FreeWheel on had a footrest angled downward at the heels just enough to effect the angle of attachment and prevent it from being secure enough to work properly. Yesterday I tried the FreeWheel on a wheelchair with a low, level, one piece footrest and finally got to experience a quick attachment process and take off!

For the right person and chair, the FreeWheel is an amazing adaptation that lengthens the wheelbase and removes the resistance of the chair's front wheels with the ground. It allows for much less strenuous travel on mild and moderate terrain with irregular surfaces such as eroding or inconsistent pavement, grassy areas, gravel, wood chips, curbs, dirt roads, transitions between pavement and grass, etc. I wouldn't recommend it for rugged use on steep or extended grades, trails with significant roots and rocks protruding more than 2", or off trail use on the forest floor, unless you are willing to get stuck. With the FreeWheel attached, your clearance is still quite low, yet it is remarkable how much more you gain by relying on your two back wheels and the freewheel, both more substantial than the typically tiny front wheels of wheelchairs. If you have more rugged tread on your wheelchair tires and/or footrest clearance of a few inches, you'll probably be able to get more out of the FreeWheel.

The FreeWheel sells for $499 + $50 shipping from its maker in Boise, Idaho. It is also available from Both Pat Dougherty, the designer, and Scott Pellet of Bike-on are FreeWheel users and can answer questions for those considering a purchase or using one. I think it would also make life easier from anyone pushing a person in the right type of wheelchair. If you want to test one out before purchase, consider coming to a Universal Access hiking program next year! We will be starting up in May and going through October, at various state parks around Massachusetts.

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