Wheelchair Junkie

Choosing a Custom Sports Wheelchair

New Hall's Wheels' HALLMARK

If you read the product brochures by the major sports wheelchair manufacturers -- Quickie, Invacare, E&J, and Permobil -- they all tout “custom” sports wheelchairs. Yet, if you stroll through their manufacturing facilities, you’ll find vast racks of sportschair frames, upholstery, and mounting hardware. So, if so much is pre-built, what’s custom about their products? Indeed, here rests a great question of wheelchair industry semantics: Does “custom” mean the manufacturer builds you a chair from scratch, as with New Hall’s Wheels, Eagle Sportschairs, TiSport, and Melrose, or does “custom” mean that the manufacturer configures existing components to meet your specific needs, as with the major manufacturers?

I say that, for the most part, the major manufacturers build “adaptable” chairs rather than “custom.” For example, you can pick the frame color and wheel size of your GPV from Quickie’s list, but if you said, “I’d like the caster housings welded on the frame instead of bolted -- exactly 16” forward of the rear axle at center -- as well as a camber-tube instead of axle plates,” not only wouldn’t they do it, they’d probably have a good chuckle, seeing you as unreasonable. On the other hand, a custom manufacturer expects you to provide your exact wishes for every detail of the chair, and then builds a “one-off” design to your specifications.

Why Choose a Custom Sportschair?

What’s that, you say you’re not Joe or Mary Supercrip, and don’t play sports, so why do you need a custom sport wheelchair? Well, contrary to the marketing of sport wheelchairs, the everyday user with SCI quadriplegia, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy needs a topnotch sportschair more than the 23-year-old paraplegic playing grand-slam tennis. The fact is, you could put a super-jock in a ‘70’s E&J Premier (that’s a 50-pound rolling dinosaur), and he’d still get around just fine; yet, to a person who has limited strength, coordination, or endurance, it’s imperative to his or her everyday survival to have the most efficient chair possible to make it around school or the office.

If you look at adaptable sportschairs -- from a folding Quickie 2 to an Invacare Pro-T to a Permobil Boing -- you’ll see a deluge of bolt-on mounting hardware for the caster housings, rear wheel mounts, backrest, and footrest. While the mounting hardware makes the chair highly adjustable -- and many users, especially new users, need adjustability -- it also adds weight, lessens rigidity, decreases reliability, and skews alignment -- all of which makes it more difficult to push. At the other end of the spectrum, a custom sportschair eliminates most mounting hardware, which voids later adjustability, but decreases weight, increases rigidity, raises reliability, and ensures alignment. By going with a custom Hallmark instead of an adaptable Pro-T, for example, you’d eliminate twenty-six bolts, ten pieces of mounting hardware, and about 5lbs. from your chair, all of which would offer superior rigidity and precise alignment -- that is, a chair that’s many times more efficient to use. Who doesn’t wish less weight, increased roll-rate, and greater reliability in his or her manual chair, whether pushing across the basketball court or supermarket?


Fitting a Custom sport wheelchair

Because a custom sport wheelchair is. . . well. . . custom, the fitting must be exact, for once it’s built, little can be done if it doesn’t fit correctly. In fitting the chair, you can give the builder your own frame specifications and measurements, or, if you’re not confident in the determining sportschair dimensions, you can give the builder your body measurements, and he’ll use his experience to build a chair that, ideally, fits you like a well-tailored suit.

If you have a current sportschair that fits exceptionally well, the most assured way to get a perfect custom chair is by applying the measurements of your current chair to the frame specifications for the new one. If you like your current seat heights of 20” in the front and 17” in the rear, then that’s what you should specify for your custom. Likewise, if you find that you sit an inch too high in your current chair, then on your custom chair you might specify a 19” and 16” seat heights instead of 20” and 17” -- your current chair is an ideal model for both good and bad attributes in a sportschair and should be considered when outlining a new custom chair. Of course, the more chairs you’ve had, and the more hardware you’ve adjusted to discover what configuration best meets your needs, the easier it will be to determine the best specifications for a custom chair.

User-Dictated Measurements and Specifications for a Custom sports wheelchair:

Seat Width
Seat Upholstery Depth
Frame Width at Footrest
Front Seat Height from Ground
Rear Seat Height from Ground
Top of Footrest to Seat
Backrest Height
Rear Wheel Axle Distance from Back post
Caster Housing from Rear Axle
Degree of Camber
Rear Wheel Size and Type
Front Caster Size and Type
Frame Finish


Keep in mind that because the chair is custom, you’re only limited by your imagination rather than a list of fixed specifications and options. If you want a rear anti-tip, do you want the traditional two wheels, extending from each side, or would you rather have a single wheel in the middle? Would you like rollerblade wheels on the anti-tips? How much ground clearance would you like to allow the anti-tip, and how far behind the chair do you want the wheel positioned? You are in charge of the design of your chair, with the ability to build each detail into the chair exactly as you wish, so don’t be timid about telling the builder your ideals.

Cost

Surprisingly, custom sports wheelchairs -- ranging from $1,200 to $1,900 complete -- are often less expensive than the mass-produced chairs sold by the big manufacturers. In the real world, building 20,000 chairs per year would be considerably more cost-effective than building 40, allowing large manufacturers to sell chairs at a much lower price than the custom builders. But, I remind you, this isn’t the real world, it’s Wheelchair World -- its own sick planet of greedy dealers who double or triple the price of the sportschairs they sell. The custom builders, however, sell directly to the consumer, cutting out the middleman, and that allows you to get a better product for less money. The downside is that since most custom builders don’t go through chain dealers, insurance funding may be hard to obtain, as many insurers have restrictive lists of approved dealers. Still, considering that a custom sportschair may last ten years -- as well as offers the ultimate in performance -- it may be in your best interest to scrimp and pay for it yourself instead of accepting a lesser chair funded by insurance.

Conclusion

Void of adaptability, a custom sportschair isn’t for everyone. Yet, if you know your needs, and want the most efficient, best fitting chair possible, a custom sportschair is the ultimate solution for your mobility. And, as if awesome performance isn’t enough, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind, avant-garde chair that’s sure to turn heads wherever you go.

Custom Sportschair Builders

AllNight Wheelchairs
7730 - 238th Place SW
Edmonds, WA 98026
(425) 774-98026
customcmpt@aol.com
Price range: $1,400 and up
Warranty: Five years limited (everyday).
Delivery time: 4-6 weeks

Eagle Sportschairs
2351 Parkwood Road
Snellville, GA 30039
(800) 932-9380 / (770) 972-0763
(770) 985-4885 (fax)
bewing@harb.net
Price range: $1,200 and up
Chairs offered: Everyday, junior
Warranty: Five years, frame; one year, parts (except tires)
Delivery time: 30 days

New Hall's Wheels
P.O. Box 380784
Cambridge, MA 02238
(800) 628-7956
(617) 628-7955 / 628-6546 (fax)
WWW..NEWHALLS.COM
Price range: $1,875
Chairs offered: Everyday, junior
Warranty: Limited lifetime
Delivery time: 4­6 weeks (custom)

Melrose Wheelchairs
P.O. Box 35-059 Shirley NZ
0800-4-MELROSE or +64-3-383-1664
fAX: +64-3-383-3641
WWW.WHEELCHAIRS.CO.NZ

RGK Wheelchairs
Units 8B & 8C, Chasepark
Industrial Estate
Ring Road, Chasetown
Staffordshire WS7 8JQ, England
44 (0) 1543 670077 / 44 (0) 1543 670088 (fax)
WWW.RGK-WHEELCHAIRS.CO.UK

TiSport
1426 East Third Avenue
Kennewick, Washington, 99337
(509) 586-6117 or 1-800-545-2266.
WWW.TITANIUMSPORTSCHAIRS.COM