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One of the hottest fashion trends for the 2010/2011 winter season is the “pea coat.” Ask 16-year-olds, and they'll likely tell you that they either just bought one, or it's on their wish list – and that the pea coat is the hippest, new coat around this season.

Of course, as many young hipsters don't realize, the low-budget clothing chain, Old Navy, didn't invent the pea coat as an epiphany of style this season; rather, the pea coat has been around since the 1720s, when sailors wore them, and the coat has come and gone out of style in a 20- to 30-year rotation ever since, where even Jackie O. brought it back to fad at one point. The pea coat proves a fashion staple, reemerging with each generation that “discovers” it.

Rigid manual wheelchairs have proven to be a lot like fashion and the pea coat, where there was so much innovation in the 1980s that we're now in cycles where design trends have come, gone, and come again. In the early 1980s, many went to Kuschall's mono-tube frame because of its minimalistic, easy-to-transport design. Then, many decided that such a mono-tube design was too heavy (as larger, thicker tubing must be used), flexed too much, and wasn't durable enough. Therefore, much of the western world went to a dual-tube design, one that was quickly refined to offer minimal weight and utmost compactness, while offering strength and rigidity via a lower tube that reinforced the frame, front to back.

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Throughout the 1990s, the dual-tube frame was the industry standard. However, as trends come, go, then come again, circa 2000 brought the mono-tube back, where it's been the hot rigid to have over the past 10 years. However, that may be changing, where just as those in the know tout the pea coat as the latest fashion, those on the inside of the manual wheelchair industry are touting dual-tube frames as the next big thing – again.

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At Medtrade this year, a manual wheelchair manufacturer executive told me, “Mono-tubes are a fad, where you can get a lighter, stronger, more rigid frame with a dual-tube design.”

In fact, that source showed me a new dual-tube model that's not out yet. And, that source wasn't the only one touting the return of the dual-tube design. High-end rigid manual wheelchair trends historically trickle down from top industry users – sponsored athletes and wheelchair users who work for manufacturers – and many such individuals have recently moved from mono-tube frames to next-generation dual-tube designs. In these ways, with many in the industry touting dual-tube frames as the newest incarnation in manual mobility – read that, as new as the pea coat – it is going to be interesting to see if the market agrees and shifts back toward dual-tube frames over the next two to three years?

As a consumer, you may be wondering which is truly the better design – trends aside – a mono-tube or dual-tube frame design? Interestingly, TiLite, which predominently produces mono-tube wheelchairs, gives a succinct answer on its web site, pointing to the merits of dual-tube frames:

“Rigid wheelchairs with upper and lower frame tubes maintain more rigidity than mono-tube wheelchairs, which only have upper frame tubes. The more rigid the frame, the more optimal the energy transfer between the user’s push and the wheels’ rotation ...thereby achieving increased rigidity for improved performance without sacrificing compactness for transport purposes.”


You may also be wondering what's my take on the subject, what do I, as a pundit, predict – will the market move back to dual-tube designs?

Industry insiders are absolutely correct that dual-tube frames offer better all-around performance than mono-tube designs. However, consumers love the ultimate minimalistic appearance of a mono-tube frame – and that counts for a lot. In this way, it's going to be tough call as to whether the market shifts.

Are the industry insiders right? Will the consumer market move back toward dual-tube manual wheelchair frame designs? Will ultimate performance win over style, or will ultimate style win over performance? ...We won't know the answer until the tribe – read that, the marketplace – has spoken.

Published 12/2010, Copyright 2010, WheelchairJunkie.com