Geek Out

Row, Row Row Your... Wheelchair

Fitness types have long known about the health advantages of rowing. But it turns out that forward and back motion also makes for a big improvement when it comes to manually propelled wheelchairs.

The RoChair gets its name from its unique centre mounted drive lever that’s operated with a simple rowing motion, propelling the chair on both the forward and backward strokes. It’s actually a notable improvement over the traditional push-rim propulsion system since it not only reduces the risk of strain injuries from repetitive motions, but it also facilitates a drive train with eight selectable gearing ratios like a bike.

Rear wheel steering, which allows it to turn in its own footprint, is controlled by simply turning the drive lever. While braking and shifting gears is handled by twisting the left or right hand grips. For slower speeds, or tighter manoeuvring, the RoChair still has large front wheels with push-rims that allow for more precise movement. But at just 20 inches tall they also make it easier to get in or out of the seat.

The smaller front wheels also allow the RoChair to be thinner than your standard wheelchair, a mere 24 inches wide, without sacrificing seating space. Modern wheelchair accessibility recommendations call for a doorway that’s at least 36 inches wide to let chairs easily pass though. So the RoChair should have an easier time at navigating older buildings and homes. I just wish it didn’t come with a $US5000 price tag, which is unfortunately considerably more than even an electric alternative. [RoChair via Bicycle Design]

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