Beyond insurer funding cuts and mobility industry trends, the one genre that continues innovating year after year is the ultralight rigid manual wheelchair. Approaching its 40th anniversary, the ultralight rigid is lighter, sleeker and, yes, sexier than ever, with the new models pushing performance and style even further for 2013.
That’s TiLite’s tagline for the TR Series 3 — more curves — and it’s fitting, to say the least. The TR Series has been TiLite’s flagship rigid model since 1998, and the third generation takes from the best and makes it even better. For starters, the TR Series 3 is unique in today’s ultralight rigid market in that it’s among the few closed, “dual tube” frames. Whereas most ultralight rigids are now made of single side frame tubes (referred to as a “mono tube” or “cantilever” frame design), the TR Series 3 has both a seat tube and front-to-back lower tube that creates an enclosed side frame. The result is that the TR Series 3 offers among the most rigid — meaning propulsion efficient — frames on the market. However, the TR Series 3 frame design shouldn’t be confused with cumbersome or heavy — and this is where more curves comes in.
The bottom frame tubes are wildly swept inward and upward, using complex bends to create a minimalistic frame that’s still super strong and ultralight. In fact, the bare frame weighs in at 3 pounds. Compared to the preceding model, the TR Series 3 frame is 15 percent lighter, 1-inch narrower, and is notably sleeker in its design for both transportability and a way-cool swept-frame look. Put simply, the TR Series 3 offers the strength and efficiency of a closed-in frame, but with the aesthetic and ultralight weight of a mono tube design. Because the TR Series 3 is truly custom built for each user by TiLite’s legendary one-off manufacturing process — right down to custom color anodizing combinations — there’s little final adjustability; however, the adjustable camber tube and axle position does allow some user tailoring. Perfection isn’t cheap, but with an MSRP of $3,195, the TiLite TR Series 3 is an investment in durability, propulsion and craftsmanship.
Ki Mobility may be among the newest manual members on the block, but they are already on their second generation high-end rigid with the Rogue. The Rogue is a super-sleek, mono tube design, but with exceptional user adjustability. The rear, fore-aft camber tube adjustment consists of simply loosening four bolts, then sliding it along the clearly-marked seat tube alignment gauge for both precise but infinite axle positioning. Similarly, just four bolts allow rear seat height adjustment, perfectly indexed. However, what’s truly impressive is the caster alignment mechanism, where turning a bolt head rotates a rack-and-pinion gear set, allowing easy, durable caster squaring.
Then, if all of that wasn’t enough adjustability, a fully-adjustable backrest also offers three, on-the-fly back angles to help with pressure relief or dressing throughout the day. Despite complete adjustability, the 7000-series aluminum Rogue is still custom built, with the choice of front frame angles from 70- to 90-degrees, and a full array of frame widths, depths and finishes. Sleek, rigid and adjustable — that’s Rogue — and at an MSRP of $2,395, it’s in the mid-range of pricing, but certainly in the high end when it comes to features.
In the world of ultralight rigids, one term virtually never seen is WC19 Crash-Test Approved — that is until the advent of the new Quickie QRi. Available with an optional transit securement kit for bus or paratransit use, the QRi is among the very few mono tube rigids to pass the stringent WC19 crash test standards and procedures. What’s more, in this era of funding cuts, the QRi is designed as funding-friendly, fitting into tight third-party constraints, including many Medicaid funding programs. The QRi doesn’t however skimp on technology. Its mono tube frame borrows its fully-adjustable backrest and rear axle adjustments from the Quickie GT — and the caster mounts from the timeless Quickie 2. Add all of this to a semi-custom frame in multiple front angles and tapers, and the result is a stylish, functional, ultralight rigid that’s among the most compliant and fundable. And, for those self-payers, it’s a bargain at $1,895.
Indeed, there’s no shortage of ultralight rigid manual wheelchairs in the market today. And, picking one over the other can be tough. However, by matching the nuances to your needs, you can surely find the right ultralight for your lifestyle.