A female acquaintance and I recently got into the discussion of whether size is important. “No,” she said. “whether it’s five or eight inches, it’s all the same to me.”
However, as I told her, size is of utmost importance -- at least when it comes to sports wheelchair casters.
Pick up a sports wheelchair order form these days and you’ll find an assortment of casters, ranging from 3” roller blade wheels to 8” pneumatic casters. With so many options, how’s one to choose the correct size, and does size really make a big difference toward how a chair performs?
Absolutely. There’s little that’s more important on a wheelchair than. . . well. . . wheels, so selecting the correct casters for your lifestyle is fundamental to the successful use of your sports wheelchair.
For use on smooth, hard surfaces -- mainly basketball, tennis, handball, and quad-rugby courts -- 3” roller blade casters ($22 per pair), are the ideal choice. Small, rigid, and hard, 3” casters are very efficient, and permit the use of a more compact wheelchair frame, which provides the best handling in highly active sport uses. However, for everyday use -- on carpeting, sidewalks, gravel, snow, and terrain other than perfectly smooth, hard surfaces-- 3” casters should be avoided, as they catch on the smallest obstacles, providing the highest rolling resistance of any caster. sports wheelchair advertisements sometimes portray absurd images like a sports wheelchair with tennis wheels and 3” casters on a beach or in snow, but the last wheel you want for most types of everyday use are 3” casters. Still, if you have a sport-specific chair, 3” casters are the ideal.
4” micro casters ($75 per pair), feature an aluminum rim with a low-profile, solid urethane tread. The aluminum rims look cool, and -- like 3” casters -- the smaller diameter allows the use of a more compact frame design. In-between sport 3” and everyday 5” casters, 4” casters are a good choice for the individual who uses a single chair for both everyday use and serious sports competition.
5” casters -- a plastic rim with a solid urethane tread -- are the most common casters found on sports wheelchairs. Lightweight and compact, 5” casters ($50 per pair), offer lower rolling resistance than 3” and 4” casters during everyday use, while still offering great handling on smooth, hard surfaces, making them an ideal all-purpose caster.
Traditional 5” casters are 1” wide, but in recent years, the 5x1½” caster has gained popularity because it provides superior flotation on surfaces like carpeting, dirt, sand, snow, gravel, and grass. For $135 per pair, you can get a 5x1” caster with aluminum rim and urethane tire, which looks hip, but it’s a lot of money to spend for a wheel that doesn’t perform noticeably better than the plastic version.
6” casters are among the most overlooked assets in today’s sports wheelchair market. The larger diameter makes 6x1¼ ” casters ($55 per pair), the best choice for outdoor use, and 6x1¼” pneumatic casters ($60 per pair), give your chair a cushioned ride that rivals -- if not outperforms -- any suspension chair on the market. Pneumatic casters will puncture and require monthly inflation, but they offer among the smoothes, most capable rides you’ll ever experience, making your friend who jus bought a megabuck suspension chair look silly. (Most 5” poly casters have a valve stem opening in the rim -- that’s because they use the same rim as a 6” pneumatic caster -- so you can save yourself money by placing a 6” pneumatic tire and tube on your existing 5” rim rather than buying a whole new set of wheels.)
Prior to the late 1980’s, 7” and 8“ casters on sports wheelchairs were fairly common. However, as sports wheelchair design has improved, the large casters have all but disappeared from the marketplace. 7” and 8” casters require a lot of clearance to pivot on the forks without hitting the footrest, meaning that the front of the chair must be built longer and higher off the ground, which lessens the chair’s performance. Additionally, indoors, large casters are more likely to interfere when making tight maneuvers than smaller casters. For these reasons, it’s recommended that users opt for the more practical 6” casters.
Indeed, we live in a world where size matters, so take inventory of your pleasures, and find the size that feels right for you -- in casters, that is!.