Last week, we received a request from a reader asking us about wheelchair battery power packs and how you can convert a standard or folding manual wheelchair into an electric one. Since then we’ve been digging around and looking into the best available products for doing this. A conversion like this could be particularly useful for people who don’t want or need to change their everyday manual chair but could do with some mechanical assistance for holidays or other occasions where you’re looking to travel a bit more than you normally would.
A power pack converter is also an attractive option, whether for a holiday or just for general use, because they tend to blend in well with the design of a manual wheelchair, meaning that you can remain in a more stylish looking chair than most electric ones. All of the products we found can switch easily between manual and electric modes, so you can leave the power packs on and use the chair as you normally would.
There are a couple of different options for anyone who wants to use one of these electric devices. They’re all good ways to supplement a manual wheelchair and help with the extra work you might do from time to time. Of course, the type of power pack to choose will depend on someone’s individual circumstances and requirements. Here are some options:
The Light Drive system turns a manual wheelchair into an electric, joystick controlled wheelchair. It’s really quick to set up and can be installed in about 20 seconds without having to remove the wheels or anything major like that. You can see a video of how simple it is to set up and some of its features.
The device allows you to remain very manoeuvrable in your wheelchair and it’s silent to use. The speed is adjustable and can go up to 6 miles per hour. There’s also a reverse gear to get over larger obstacles like pavements and small steps or small obstacles in your path. If you want to use the chair manually it is possible to release the clutch and do so, without having to remove the power pack.
The Light Drive power pack is suitable for “almost all” wheelchairs from 25cm width seat. It’s advised that it’s best if your wheelchair has front castors at least 6 inches in diameter. Solid tyres are not compatible with the system – they recommend Marathon Plus from Schwalbe because they’re puncture resistant and provide good traction.
Using the Light Drive you can climb inclines up to 20% (12˚). Anything higher than that would require an extra push from somebody else but 20% is really pretty steep.
The Light Drive costs almost £4,000 which is pretty steep too! In fact, it’s more expensive than many electric wheelchairs, although also probably more stylish. So this might not be realistic for many people. Especially if you are someone who is happy enough in their manual chair at home and just want to have a converter for a holiday.
The E-Fix also has a battery pack and a control unit which lets the user control where they want to go, using a joystick. A bracket is mounted on the wheelchair frame which lets you attach special E-Fix wheels containing electric hubs. The chair‘s original wheels can simply be exchanged for E-Fix drive wheels, giving the user the choice of manual or powered assisted wheels. It can travel up to 15km before needing to be recharged.
The system fits most of the modern wheelchairs normally available on the market because they use customized brackets for each wheelchair model to attach the wheels. Anti-tipper wheels (which are essential for all of these power packs) are designed to help keep the chair upright while you remove the wheels.
Like with the Light Drive, the user can chose to propel them self manually by disengaging the clutch ring. The device maintains the manoeuvrability of a manual wheelchair meaning that the turning circle is very tight – you can even turn 360 degrees on the spot.
It’s a little bit less dear that the Light Drive (it costs £3395.00 so still isn’t cheap) but not as quick to assemble because you have to change the wheels to assemble and disassemble the device and the battery goes under the seat so it’s harder to remove. You can of course just swap to manual mode without removing anything but that would mean carrying extra weight – the total weight of the system in 26.9kg and the battery weighs 9kg by itself.
The E-Motion power assistance device is an intuitive design that assists normal manual wheelchair propulsion by up to 80%. The electric hub wheels are similar to the E-Fix but rather than having a joystick with this power pack, you just use the chair as you normally would and the device helps propel you further than normal. It’s a clever way of minimising the exertion required to push the chair along – you put in roughly one fifth of the effort and the E-Motion does the rest. Here’s a video of the system in action which should make this all clearer.
E-Motion can be switched on and off from an upright sitting position using a remote control, so you can go from manual to electric at the touch of a button. There are two selectable power stages to assure optimal driving convenience – the power can be precisely adapted to each user’s personal mobility restriction and needs. You can also switch between these power stages using the remote. A display screen attached to the wheelchair arm rest shows how much battery is left and other diagnostic codes.
The speed achieved depends on the strength of the propelling movement, as is the case with manual wheelchairs. E-Motion assists the propelling movement up to 6 km per hour (3.7 mph) with a 15km range. There is also a rollback delay feature which prevents the chair rolling down hill.
The E-Motion is an excellent idea and very intuitive. It’s a bit of an alternative option and is very cool. It looks good too – fitting in so well with the design of the wheelchair. It might be preferable to have this system which just enhances what a manual wheelchair user is used to rather than having to use a joystick control. It’s also about £3,995.
This system is a much cheaper option than any of the user controlled power assistance packs. There is a reason for that though: it can only be used by an attendant i.e. someone other than the wheelchair user has to control its movement. The power pack attaches to the wheelsand there is a control on the push handle. The attendant/assistant/carer/friend controls the speed of the chair with that handle and then all they have to do is steer. It’s a lot less exertion than pushing a wheelchair around. It’s not for everyone but it’s still a great option for people who would otherwise need someone to push them which could, over a long time, become strenuous for the person pushing.
There are several options within the TGA Power Pack series based on how powerful you need the mechanism to be. It starts with the Standard Single Wheel which is for everyday use and costs £599.00. It should be OK for most people, although it’s always a good idea to check with the supplier that it will be suitable for you. If you regularly go up slopes or rougher surfaces and need extra traction the Twin Wheel power pack is available for £799.00. Or for heavier users there is the Heavy Duty twin wheel with 25% more power for the heavier users (£899.00). All have a ten mile range and can go up to 4mph. They’re easy to attach and to use.
We think that all of these power packs and converters would be useful to somebody going on holiday and planning to wander around more than they usually do. They all have batteries that are suitable for taking on planes, although it is likely that you’d be asked to store them in the hold rather than taking them on the plane (as we said in our article on airplane travel, all airlines say that wheelchair users need to speak to the airline before they travel). They are all also capable of fitting into cars relatively easily.
The power packs should work with nearly all chairs including folding chairs but do double check that it will fit your chair before purchasing one. Elements of the device will need to be fitted by someone before you can use it – that would be a one-off fitting and from then on you can set it up yourself. Depending on where you buy you may be charged extra for this service and different dealers will have different policies regarding whether they come to you or you go to them for the fitting. There is also an up charge for the anti-tip mechanisms that you need to accompany the power packs. If this all sounds like a bit of a drag please understand we don’t say it to put you off – just so that you know!
It depends on who you’d be going with and your own personal preference as to which style of pack you would go for. The user controlled options are probably better for most people than an attendant controlled system but they are relatively expensive. In fact, forget about ‘relatively’; they’re expensive.
These devices are fairly widely available from wheelchair retailers. One place to look or simply to go to if you have any questions, may be GBL Wheelchairs who were really helpful when we were looking into power packs for this article. They’re experts on everything wheelchair related and very friendly too.
Power packs are a good way of making things easier for you and your friends on holiday. They could also be used all the time, in day to day life, if you wanted to. They are less bulky than actual electric wheelchairs so if you want to keep a stylish wheelchair they will fit with that. We think that these are helping to provide another option for wheelchair users but what do you think of power converters?