Complete Guide to Powered Add-Ons for Active User Wheelchairs
In recent years, we’ve seen lots more people looking for active user wheelchairs rather than traditional manual wheelchairs. As the name suggests, their design makes them better suited to wheelchair users who are still very active and independent. Our Guide to Active User Wheelchairs explains the key features in more detail.
David, our Active User Wheelchair Specialist, has also seen increasing numbers of clients asking about powered add-ons during their assessments. We even have clients coming back years later to get add-ons for their original wheelchair! It allows them to adapt their chair to suit their changing requirements, rather than investing in a whole new model.
In this guide, we cover the three main types of powered add-on for active user wheelchairs. We’ll go through how they work and the pros and cons of each. This will help you to understand the key differences and decide which option is best for you!
Please note, we’re focusing powered add-ons for wheelchair users themselves here. If you need an add-on to help an attendant to push a wheelchair, then you’ll want to look at powerpack options instead.
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What is a powered add-on?
A powered add-on is a device that attaches onto a manual wheelchair to provide electric power when propelling. The add-on makes propelling easier and alleviates some of the physical strain.
With active user wheelchairs, this can further enhance the user’s independence. People find they can travel longer distances over more challenging terrain.
Having the option of electric power means they don’t have to worry about getting tired whilst out and about. They simply use the powered add-on and get on with their day!
There are three main types of powered add-on:
- E-Bike Attachments
- Power Wheels
- Rear Power Assist
Bike add-ons for active user wheelchairs
E-bike attachments, also called hand bikes or handcycles, are electric add-ons for wheelchairs.
They clip onto the front of an active user wheelchair and turn it into a powered trike-style system.
Rather than propelling yourself and steering using your wheels, you use the handlebars. Just like riding a bike!
Hand bike add-ons are great for longer outdoor journeys. Lots of our clients use them for walking their dogs, going to the park with family, or joining their friends for a bike ride.
Another benefit for some people is the design itself. In outdoorsy settings, the bike add-ons don’t look like disability aids. This can give active wheelchair users more confidence when they are out exercising and socialising.
The batteries can have up to a 50km range and brakes are built-in for safety.
Despite these advantages, there are scenarios where an e-bike won’t be the best option.
As it attaches at the front, this type of add-on makes the wheelchair bulkier. It’s trickier to manoeuvre indoors e.g. when pulling up to tables and when getting on public transport.
Therefore, we typically don’t recommend handcycles for active wheelchair users who regularly travel by bus or train. Or for anyone who often needs to sit at a desk for school or work.
Pros and Cons of Hand Bikes
|Excellent for outdoor and off-road use||Not good for indoor use|
|High range – can travel long distances||Increases the size of the wheelchair|
|Suits users who struggle with the motion of self-propelling all the time||Not everyone likes using the handlebars for steering|
Power wheel add-ons for active user wheelchairs
Power wheels integrate electric motors into the wheel hubs. This gives you an extra boost over long distances or when going up steep hills.
A great thing about power wheels is your wheelchair doesn’t look any different. It stays compact, so manoeuvring (indoors and out) is as easy as ever!
Lots of our active user wheelchair clients like the fact they can still self-propel – as they would without any add-ons. For someone who is very independent, having that control can be important. You still need to push yourself forward so the electric motors kick in.
As a bonus, this can help with physiotherapy and rehabilitation. If someone still has use of their arms but needs to regain strength, then power wheels are ideal. You’re still performing the self-propelling action, but the motors provide support when you need it.
You will expend less energy and feel less tired after travelling.
Some power wheels can accelerate up to 6.2mph! If you don’t want to use the power-assist full-time, simply take them off.
To benefit from most power wheels, you need good upper body strength.
Unfortunately, this type of add-on isn’t well-suited to people with paralysis or weakness down one-side. For example, after a stroke. You must be able to use both wheels for steering.
However, there is an exception to that rule…
Power wheels with joystick control
The E-Fix uses electric motors in the wheel hubs. But, unlike standard power wheels, it also comes with a joystick control unit.
This means active wheelchair users who only have use of one arm can get all the benefits of power wheel add-ons!
We often recommend the E-Fix to clients who have had a stroke and been left with weakness or paralysis on one side of their body.
Pros and Cons of Power Wheels
|Doesn’t affect the wheelchair’s size or manoeuvrability||Users must be able to self-propel full time – unless you choose joystick controls|
|Can aid rehabilitation and physiotherapy|
|Can be easily detached and reattached – with assistance|
Rear power assist add-ons for active user wheelchairs
Finally, you can get power assist add-ons which clip onto the back of an active user wheelchair.
They are essentially a powerpack made up of a battery, motor, brake, and wheel.
Unlike the bike attachments, these rear powered add-ons are very compact and don’t change the overall size of the wheelchair. That means they don’t affect your manoeuvrability indoors or outdoors!
As all the power comes from the back of the wheelchair, these add-ons are great from climbing obstacles. They give enough force to climb kerbs and get up steep slopes.
This is ideal for urban areas. Lots of our clients who live and work in towns/cities opt for a rear power assist add-on. They allow them to go from home to the shop, to the office, then out for the evening without fatigue or hand cramps.
These add-ons are new and innovative. You can control them using Bluetooth, or even a smartwatch. It’s much easier than having to reach down and press buttons. Plus, modern controls make them very popular with younger users who are comfortable using technology.
One thing to bear in mind is how you’re going to attach and detach the rear add-on. The fixings are easy to use. However, if you can’t reach down to the back of your wheelchair, you will need someone to help you.
Pros and Cons of Rear Power Assist Add-Ons
|Doesn’t affect the wheelchair’s size or manoeuvrability||Not everyone will be able to detach and reattach the add-on independently|
|Bluetooth or smartwatch controls|
|Great for obstacle climbing|
What’s the best powered wheelchair add-on?
When it comes to choosing a powered add-on for your active user wheelchair, there’s no one ‘best’ option. It depends on what activities you like to do and how much support you feel you need.
If you’re planning lots of outdoor adventures in nature, then a hand bike might be best. However, if you spend a lot of time in the city for education, work, and socialising then power wheels or a rear power assist add-on are probably more suitable.
For more free advice, come and see us for an assessment! Our specialist, David, has helped many active wheelchair users find the right add-on for their lifestyle. He will be more than happy to help.