I’m a manual wheelchair user of 30 years (I bought my last rigid ultralight through you). I’ve been diagnosed with shoulder issues and need to reduce my pushing. I don’t need a power chair, but I am looking to get a new ultralight chair and I’m thinking a powered kit for it might be best. What do I need to know about adding power to an ultralight wheelchair before moving forward? Thanks, Lewis
Unfortunately, you’re not alone in your need to take strain off of your shoulders. While ultralight wheelchairs and related components such as wheels are very ergonomic now, they weren’t in the past, and so many long-time wheelers are in your situation. Fortunately, between increased ergonomics and “power assist” systems, you can remain very active in an ultralight manual wheelchair despite your shoulder strain.
When we speak of “power assist,” we’re referring to any motor-based system that’s added to a manual wheelchair to assist with propulsion. There are three technologies in the power-assist category: a power base controlled via joystick, power-assist push wheels, or a power-assist 5th wheel. Let’s look at these technologies available when adding power to an ultralight wheelchair :
Power-Assist Push Wheels
Power Assist push wheels
Power-assist push wheels are typically self-contained with a hub motor and battery. They replace your standard wheels. Via sensors, when you give them a push, each wheel’s motor kicks in, giving your every push a boost. The advantage of power-assist push wheels is that they keep your manual wheelchair very stock and familiar in its operation – you’re just getting a boost with each push.
Power-Assist 5th Wheel
A power-assist 5th wheel is a small, all-in-one pack that quick-release mounts under your wheelchair. It contains a motor, battery and drive wheel. When you push your standard wheels, it triggers the 5th wheel to drive – your wheelchair then seems to glide on its own. Because the 5th wheel is so compact, it’s arguably the easiest power-assist system to transport.
A power-assist base is essentially a miniature power chair that docks beneath your ultralight wheelchair. Because a power-assist base uses a joystick hand control, it removes any need for pushing. It literally turns a manual wheelchair into a power chair. Nevertheless, what’s nice about a power-assist base is that it quickly docks and un-docks to your manual wheelchair for varied use and portability, so you can retain your manual wheelchair’s functionality, but add the joystick-controlled power-assist base when wished.
What’s Right for You?
As we’ve discussed, there are multiple methods to approach adding power to an ultralight wheelchair. Choosing the one that’s right for you comes down to how you wish to interface with the system, how compact and transportable you need it to be. All three methods are highly evolved and work extremely well.
Lastly, before you choose a new manual wheelchair, check with the power-assist manufacturer to ensure compatibility.
May you roll further, faster, Lewis!