Happy New Year All! Yes, yes, like everyone I’ve made some goals (not resolutions…that word carries too much baggage). One is to work at expanding GeekonWheels. Haven’t quite decided how all that will work yet, but have some ideas. Of course, writing more than once a month would help, but that’s another topic for another day.

The second? Get my bloody hand bike and get back on the trails!

With that being said, I came across something on my Facebook feed that got my mind wandering and almost had me wishing I lived in the States…almost. Meet the GRIT Freedom Chair, a very intriguing design for an off road wheelchair that has been developed by engineers at MIT. To say the least, it’s concept and design have a lot of potential, with the fat tires, the front third wheel extension and the very experimental push rods. What it needs is real world testing…and they are working on that.

One of the hardest parts of taking any wheelchair into rougher terrain is what mud, dirt and water do to the normal push rails that ring each wheel. They get gummed up, slippery, and nearly impossible to hold onto, let alone brake or get any real momentum. Using those lever powered drivetrains offers a bit more in the way of a real cardio workout and lets you move it without worrying about what your are slopping through. I’m curious how the braking would work as any good bit of offroading is only 50% propulsion. Trust me, you have to ride your brakes at times. I’m also wondering about that front wheel after having used my FreeWheel on my normal chair. I know how that affects the turning radius of the chair (BADLY) so it would be curious to see how it can handle trails with tighter turns.

A closer look at the components of the Freedom Chair
A closer look at the components of the Freedom Chair

Obviously, there are limitations to any chair and it’s not a solution that could get me back to the single track riding I love. It would let me do more and might even allow me to get out in the snow with my wife to walk the dog. This time of year is by far the worst to be in a chair and I end up trapped by the snow far too often (even with my FreeWheel) and the lever drivetrain seems perfect for alleviating the hardest part of winter travel. Cold, wet hands. So there are some possibilities for this beyond just the outdoor freedom.

The MIT crowd also seems to be going for affordability with this, as the parts are fairly basic and it can be serviced at any bike shop. That is something you don’t see much of when it comes to chairs or handbikes. Maintenance on them isn’t that expensive, but you are limited on who can actually do it. I’ve had mixed experiences with smaller vendors/repair people who claim to know how to work with wheelchairs, so I prefer sticking with those who sold me my chair.

So far so good right? Here’s where it gets even better. They are looking for people to trial the chairs in all kinds of environments to give feedback and results on how it works. I expect they also want to know how it helps physical fitness, improvement or effects on symptoms, and overall well-being. They are even planning an all-expense paid trip at some point for all of their “Ambassadors” to meet up. Sounds perfect!

Wait for it…

There is a facility in Canada that does demos of the chairs. It’s just around the corner in Hamilton. Sounds good still? Unfortunately…it appears the program is only available in the US for the full year demos.

Dang-it! Foiled again!

I think come spring-time I will look into a demo and full pricing on this. With that in mind, though, it wouldn’t be a true replacement for biking. Useful for hiking and alternative exercise yes, but it can’t replace the love of a good off-road bike.

Full credit to MIT for coming up with this. I hope to see more like this in the years to come.