If you are a manual wheelchair user, there is a good chance you’ve looked into power assist devices like E*Motion wheels, Twion wheels or Smart Drive. These are probably the best traditional power assist devices on the market, but if your insurance doesn’t cover it, it’ll cost you a pretty penny. Thank goodness there are other options.
About three or four years ago, a video of a young woman latching on a single wheel power bike to her wheelchair went viral. The Firefly front mount scooter, or e-bike, was all we could talk about. It was light, didn’t require modification to your wheelchair and could easily be attached and detached from your wheelchair whenever you please. Brilliant! No strain to your wrists, elbows or shoulders but loads of power. The only caveat I found was that in order to use the Firefly, you had to have really good hand function. Sorry Quads – maybe some would able to safely drive around, but not enough of us, unfortunately.
I found it hard to believe that a new approach to power assist would exclude the Quads (Tetras) of the world, so I went on a hunt to find out what the market was offering. The FreeWheel was designed by a Quad and works beautifully, not too pricey and did not require any brackets. I wondered what would happen if it was tricked out with a toy electric scooter motor and lithium batteries. If only I had a better background in mechanical engineering! I need something already built and ready to go, so and on that note, I continued my search. I turned to Europe and found the Genny; a self-balancing wheelchair that used Segway technology. Did I have enough trunk control for something like this? I couldn’t be certain, so I continued searching. Europe is loaded with innovative technology to improve accessibility, so I was definitely on the right track! After viewing a hundred or so videos on YouTube, I found an E-bike made for people like me; the Batec E-bike!
Batec has manual front mount bikes, e-bikes, and hybrids for both Paras and Quads. I couldn’t believe it. The upside is the ease of attaching and detaching the unit to your wheelchair. The mount resides right at the front of the underside of your seat, no screws, knobs or pins required. Since Southwest Air destroyed my ETAC, I bought an RGK Tiga because it could fold up and stow in the overhead compartment. Luckily, RGK would install a Batec bar to my Tiga! Batec recommends welding the docking bar or anchor to rigid frame chairs but offers a screw-on model for folding chairs that can fit onto your current rigid frame chair, though a number of wheelchair manufacturers will weld it to your new chair. Not a bad idea but I like to try before I buy. My Tiga came to me via Canada and the same distributor could put me in touch with a Batec Owner for a demo. Not long after, the FDA approved Batec for sale and use in the US. Great, I can go to an Abilities Expo and try one. With the product close at hand, I needed to be sure this was the best option so I decided to explore the market further.
The Pop’n’Drop was a stroke of ingenuity. Not too pricey either but I can’t pop a wheelie and the gas & brake control wasn’t Quad friendly. My Slave was the next e-bike to go viral and the design was sleek. I don’t know what it costs but after 50 or so videos, it was clear there was no Quad option. RGK designed their own FreeWheel add-on, Frontwheel, but like the Original, no motor. They no longer offered the Batec bar but offered Attitude and Triride e-bikes. Neither had a Quad option. Did I have to come up with my own adapter? So many scooter mounts and I only have one option? What are manufacturers thinking? Surely there must be someone else who thought of us. And at last, I found the only other Quad friendly e-bike, the Tiboda! Easy to attach, using backets and a U bar to anchor, the Tiboda is the only wheelchair e-bike that has reverse capability. A definite must if you navigate in narrow European streets or between clothing racks at Department stores. Sometimes you can’t just turn around, you need to back up.
Tiboda is not yet distributed in the US, but that is not an issue for me. I’ll find a way to get it here, but first, I need to convert the Euro into US Dollars. It should be comparable to the Batec in price, between 5k and 6k. Maybe I should look back into scooter and hover board hacks; they are high tech and low(er) budget … but how do I get Quad handles? Perhaps my problem is also my solution! I can’t be the only Quad who wants a plethora of choices. Time to get inventive.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons