How to turn a manual wheelchair into an electric one

How often have you thought “maybe I should get a power wheelchair” or “how tired I am of pushing up that hill?” Although I am a quadriplegic who is very capable of getting around in a manual wheelchair, I admit I have often wished I could push a joystick and climb a ramp or a hill.  But power wheelchairs are heavy and expensive.  Manual wheelchairs are much lighter and versatile. So, an electric assist to a manual wheelchair is a good alternative. Therefore, I review here several options that may be useful in a turning manual wheelchair into  a power / electric mobility aid.

1. Electric hand bike. (Various Brands, including Batec and DaVinci, etc) This maybe the easiest and least expensive way to turn the manual wheelchair into an electric/ power wheelchair. But if you are a tetraplegic like me, it can be difficult to put on and take off  on your own. Another potential difficulty for tetraplegics may be the mode of stopping. The brakes on my handbike are the same type as a bicycle which are difficult for a tetraplegic to use. 

A few technical parameters:

My electric bike weighs about 14 Kg. So getting it out of the car or lifting it really isn’t easy. The motor in the electric bike wheel will help you reach speeds of up to 25 km / h. (although I managed to reach 21 – 23 km / h). The batteries have a range of 30 – 40 km on one full charge, depending on your driving speed. The price is about 800 – 1000 euros.

Such an electric wheelchair attachment can overcome small obstacles, curbs, not very steep hills. I tried to ride in the sand as well, but if it is soft sand it gets stuck. Despite not being able to remove it from the car myself and needing a little help uncoupling it from the wheelchair I am happy to have bought it and am independent over long distances or overcoming obstacles. 

Pros: speed, battery range, price

Cons: weight, size

2. Power assist wheelchair wheels (like Alber e-motion and Quickie Empulse WheelDrive in Europe or Quickie Xtender in USA). These wheels facilitate movement for people with limited arm and body strength. The electric motors in the wheel hubs allow the wheelchair user to put in much less effort in order to travel long distances or climb slopes. As a result propelling a manual wheelchair is much easier. Once I tried one of these wheels, but only for an hour. Since they were not adjusted to my physical capacity at first it was very difficult to manage them. Once I got used to them I had to return them. 

Now a few technical parameters: They weigh 7.8 kg per wheel. Compared to an electric wheelchair, these hubs are very light. but if your hands are weak and you need to lift these wheels into the car on your own it can be a challenge.

Speed 6 km/h.  Range up to 25km. It has a function called “Rollback Delay”, which delays the wheelchair from rolling back on slopes. I liked this function of these wheels the most. If you drive uphill and get tired or want to answer a phone call then you won’t roll back when you stop.

Pros: rollback delay, weight

Cons: speed

3.Auxiliary Power Device  ( like MaxMobility SmartDrive and DKY InMoter)- With an Auxiliary Power Device you can reduce the amount of times you have to push in a day. This helps to reduce fatigue and pain in shoulders and arms. 

Driving range up to 19.8 km;

Maximum speed 6- 8.8 km/h; Drive wheel diameter 22”, 24”, 25”, 26”;

This power assistant is compatible with rigid or folding frame manual wheelchair. With SmartDrive you can spin in place, do a wheelie, or hop off curbs, you be able to go up hills and ramps, over thick carpet, long distances. 

Pros: size, weight

Cons: price, speed

4. Joystick control power drive system (like Alber E-Fix). The e-fix can be used with most models of manual wheelchairs and it will turn your manual wheelchair into a lightweight power chair, complete with Joystick, with motors are hidden within the wheel hubs.  

A few technical parameters:

The speed can be varied continuously from 0.5 to 6 km/h;

Total weight nearly 20 kg

Range up to 16 km.

E-fix can be taken into a car very easily. All the e-fix components can be easily removed from the wheelchair without needing any tools. 

Pros: easy removal

Cons: weight, speed, battery capacity