In recent years there have been exciting developments in the world of power All Terrain Wheelchairs (ATW’s), mainly due to users pushing the boundaries and wanting to get out into the real outdoors. The new four-wheel drive chairs are built to cope with extreme conditions, but always come with a compromise in other areas, such as the difficulty of transporting them or their use indoors. Some are designed to be more versatile so, whilst they don’t do the extreme conditions quite so well, they do have benefits in other areas.
There is a fine balance between the wheelchair design, the power of the motors, the electronics used and the size of the batteries. When you run big powerful motors, you need big and powerful batteries to support them; otherwise you will be stranded after a short distance with flat batteries.
Many ATWs are now available with a Tilt-in Space function – which is particularly useful for steep downhill’s as it prevents those users who have no balance from falling forward. ATW’s are available in front-wheel, mid-wheel, rear-wheel and four-wheel drive. Each drive system comes with advantages and compromises.
Four-wheel drive chairs are the best, with phenomenal performance over rough ground but they are big, with a very large turning circle making them difficult to transport or use indoors and are usually more expensive. If you want to do serious outdoor exploring, the reliability of the chair is crucial. Remember: you get what you pay for!
Most joystick controls programme easily and can be set according to client needs. Features such as sensitivity, how quickly it accelerates and brakes, and the angle of movement required for forward motion all impact on how the chair responds and how much pleasure you will get out of it. So, when buying. your ATW, make sure that the company sets it up to your liking.
When selecting an ATW you need to prioritise your needs. Consider:
4 Wheel Drive
X8 Extreme - This is the Land Cruiser of 4x4 wheelchairs! It is reliable, comfortable, beautifully finished, and just does the job without any fuss. Very few obstacles were a problem in testing. Where other chairs got stuck on our test route, the X8 just powered over them, thanks to efficient gearing and the high torque of the in-line motors. Steering is controlled through a passive steering system, giving optimal and sensitive control even over rough ground. Optional front-wheel steering lock assists on soft sand or loose rocks. Available with modular seating options from a basic captain’s seat to a fully integrated power seating system. Mobility One 0861-662-454 from R109.000
Predator - At half the price of the X8, the Predator is an affordable imitation. Do not expect the same performance, finesse or reliability but we were suitably impressed with the performance that it offers at the price. The four-wheel drive moved us over many obstacles in relative ease and comfort. Available with power Tilt-in Space, reclining backrest and seat elevation with chin, hand and foot control. Comfort or canvass seating. Electronics are imported (stock is kept) but the rest of the chair is locally designed and manufactured so customisations, spares, service and upgrades are on-hand. Radical Mobility 011-664-6069 R55,000 excl.
A powerful and exciting All Wheel Drive wheelchair with 2 x 1200 watt motors. The system is fully customised with any seat being fitted to the power base. Power levelling seat available that will automatically adjust the user’s seat angle according to the gradient of the terrain. Solutions Medical 021-592-3370 From R65,000 excl.
Four Power Four
This indoor/outdoor power 4x4 wheelchair is imported from Belgium. There are no options as everything is standard. Stainless steel chassis and backing is protected against rust, mud, snow, water and gravel. 4 x 300W motors, low pressure studded tyres, tilt-in space. Clears obstacles up to 15cm high. Removable Roll Bar. Top case for carrying up to 3kg is situated behind the backrest, but easy one-handed swivel action brings it next to the seat. Barry Edy 031-776-4992 from R155,000 depending on exchange rate
Front Wheel Drive
Farmer Power Chair -Powerful motors combine with an active rear suspension for comfort and safety over rough terrain. Soft sand, gravel and steep inclines are no problem. High power batteries enable longer driving. It splits easily into two sections for transporting. Modular features offer full range of postural support options for trunk, head and limbs. Adjustable tilt-in space adds to the comfort. Available with hand or chin control from Shonaquip 021-7978239 POR
Vic Power Chair
Locally designed and manufactured for those users who require maximum to mild postural, customised support but who still want to get out into moderate outdoor conditions. Available in rear or front wheel drive with hand or chin control. Splits easily into two sections for transporting. Adjustable tilt-in space. Full range of postural support options for trunk, head and limbs. Shonaquip 021-797-8239 POR
Dassie 200M Front/Rear-Wheel Drive
This surprisingly gutsy little chair is a nippy, entry-level, wheelchair with a choice of front or rear-wheel drive at a very affordable price. The large front wheels and front-wheel drive is a very stable set up for uneven terrain and climbing over obstacles. Front-wheel drive is a bit slower than the rear-wheel drive, but with a wider turning circle and better outdoor performance.
Radical Mobility 011-664-6069 R18,000 excl
Rear Wheel Drive
The Permobile X850 is an impressively rugged and capable chair. It is rear-wheel driven with independent rear-suspension for maximum comfort over rough ground. The large front wheels can be electronically extended, or retracted, to enhance stability in various environments. Servo-steering gives it smooth steering control in all conditions, and it comes with either the Captain or powered Corpus seating system, which provides almost unlimited seating options. It is available for adults and kids and has a range of 30 – 45km. From R112,000. The Permobile range, available through Mobility One (0861-662-454) offers an array of power bases and a wide variety of seating options, which combine support and adaptability with electronic functions such a tilt-in space, elevating leg rests, stand up function, etc. with a maximum user weight of 136kg. The Permaloc docking stations also allow users to drive from their Permobile wheelchair. There is a range for children as well, which uses the chassis from an adult chair but with a kiddie’s seat.
Adventure Power Wheelchair
This modular design allows the wheels, seat and battery-pack to be removed from the chassis without tools for transporting in any midsized motor vehicle. Four-wheel, independent suspension, designed by Porsche, ensures stability, traction and comfort on any terrain. Front and back shocks provide effective vibration dampening.
Barry Edy 031-776-4992 from R140,000
The CE Velocity was designed and built by CE Mobility for South African conditions. This versatile indoor/ outdoor chair will cope with moderate outdoor conditions. It has 2 x 450W motors, with 2 x 50Amp batteries and rear suspension for added comfort. Now with tilt-in space it is fully adjustable and robust with a Steel Tubular Structure for strength and durability. Tension adjustable backrest upholstery and a removable backrest for transporting.
CE Mobility 086-023-6624 from R42,350
Ufudu Petrol Powered Wheelchair
This petrol-powered off-roader is designed for rough, rural conditions to provide an all day, every day means of comfortable and reliable mobility, as an active member of the community. Offers speeds of up to 12kph, a two litre tank, adjustable arm rests, 4-point harness, transfer handles and a cleverly built-in commode. Also has a small trailer for transporting firewood, water and other heavy items. Proceeds from sales provide Ufudus to users in rural areas who would otherwise be unable to afford them.
Ufudu Wheelchairs 011-443-8500 Approx R25,000
This small rear-wheel driven chair is custom built to client needs. It has an articulated front suspension which enables both castors to stay in contact with the ground, even over very rough ground and uneven rocks. It easily transforms into a manual chair and can be broken down into components for easy transport. It has 2 x 350W motors and 2 x 38Amp 12V batteries and can be fitted with the Rova positioning seat. It gives amazing performance over quite rough terrain due to the extremely effective front suspension. It also has a tiny turning circle, making it very versatile and home friendly. In testing it was found to be far less likely to get stuck than other rear-wheel driven chairs. Fast Pulse 012-817-2010 R31,350
Omega A3 Heavy Duty
This rigid frame gives additional strength, with large, puncture proof, foam filled rear tyres for rough terrain. 2 x 250W motors and 2 x 36Ah/12v batteries provide 6kph and a 20km range. From R37,050 at Mr Wheelchair and Medop.
The X5 has the same features and options as the X8, except that it is a mid-wheel drive with only two wheels! It does not have the same extreme outdoor capabilities as the X8, but it does cope with most situations better than a rear-wheel driven chair. The Frontier X5 also has the big advantage of a very small turning circle for use indoors. Mobility One 0861-662-454 from R65,000