Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Ride

We went to a wedding two weekends ago, and the aunt of the bride was in a wheelchair.

The bride and groom wanted a picture taken of everyone who attended the wedding, so we assembled on the front steps of the church. The aunt, due to the way the access ramps were set up, had to go outside and down a road to get to the front of the steps.

I did a terrible job explaining that, but it doesn't matter.

What does matter is that it looked like each little bump in the road was transmitted through the wheelchair's frame without any shock absorption at all. Based on how she was being wheeled and her reaction, the ride seemed very punishing.

Her wheelchair looked standard issue, with the 1" grey tires that we all recognize. It's a design that seemingly hasn't changed since I was a kid (40+ years ago).

I used to race in triathlons, and I had a racing bike with 1 1/4" tires. Tires that size do minimize rolling resistance, but they're very, very poor for shock absorption. Tires that size produce a very harsh ride.

So here's the question: why not use bigger tires?

Yes, wheelchairs must be a standard width to fit through doorways, but I see many people in wheelchairs who don't use anywhere near the full width of the seat. Why not reduce the width of the frame by 1" on each side, then use that room for bigger tires? I don't think it's a zero-sum situation--yes, rolling resistance increases slightly, but not linearly, and the increase in shock absorption (and stability) more than compensates. The unicycle I'm riding now has a "fat" tire compared to my first, and the difference in ride quality (when I'm not falling off) and stability is huge.

It wouldn't be possible for everyone to use this kind of wheelchair, because some people would just be too big, but it would be an option for many, and it seems like it would make their daily travels much easier.

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