If you’ve sat in a racing chair, then you’ve probably noticed what a pain in the ass (and neck) they are. Transfers are tough, then you have to wiggle your hips down into an impossibly narrow seat bucket and fumble with straps to keep your butt from popping out as soon as you start pushing. When you’re in, you have to crane your neck just to be able to see the road in front of you. During a relay, I once put my head down to take a few hard pushes on a slight downhill and ran right into a stop sign — no more racing chair.
There were things I liked about the racer — the efficiency of my push stroke, how smooth it was at speed and how well the front wheel coped with bumps and cracks in the road. After bending my first racer beyond repair, I sure wasn’t going to spend thousands on a replacement, but I missed having the equivalent of a well-fitting pair of running shoes. I was looking for something in between an everyday chair and a racer, something comfortable and easy to take out for some laps around the neighborhood … I wanted a jogger.
Use What You Have
My first idea was to copy the seating geometry from my rugby chair, since it provides the best mix of comfort, pushing efficiency and maneuverability that I’ve found so far. I sit with my butt low and my knees high. Sitting far below the wheels gives me a lot of wheel to push and I can lean over my lap when I’m really wanting to sprint. The high knees give great stability and make it easy to get back into an upright seating position for quick turns — essential for dodging potholes, traffic and pedestrians out in the real world.
I considered having my dad weld a simple frame using that geometry, something we’d already done to fabricate a cross country ski frame. But while connecting a frame to a pair of skis is a fairly simple process, mounting a cambered axle and casters is another story. He’d have to build a jig — basically a brace that holds all pieces at the proper angles while you weld them — to make sure the geometry stayed true, and putting a jig together is a serious undertaking.
Then I had another idea: What about using an old rugby chair? It would need to be modified, as the frame is heavy, and the front casters will rattle you to death on anything but the smoothest pavement. Making some modifications to deal with those issues seemed like it was going to be a lot easier than fabricating a new chair from scratch. Plus, I had an old frame languishing in storage. We decided to give it a shot.
This job started with some actual hacking, as the front bumpers on my rugby chair would serve no purpose now that I wouldn’t be using it to bash into people. My dad used a grinder to cut off the bumpers and support bars, saving me a few pounds of weight.
Next step was to replace the small, roller-blade style front casters with something better able to cope with variable road conditions. But because rugby chairs have a ton of camber, raising up the front end causes the back of the wheels to be closer to each other than the front of the wheels, and this “toeing” reduces rolling efficiency. That makes it difficult to use larger casters.
I’d seen social media posts of people attaching a FreeWheel onto their rugby chairs for long-distance pushing and decided to try that. I created a mounting bracket for it by bolting a thick piece of aluminum plating to the front end of the rugby chair. Since the FreeWheel can be adjusted with Allen wrenches, attaching it at the right angle only took a few minutes. Because I’d always be using this chair out on the road, I decided to remove the front casters all together, which let me adjust the FreeWheel to a position that kept the front-end height the same, minimizing toeing. This also removed the potential for the casters to jam on bigger cracks.
The last step was to remove the anti-tips so I could wheelie over curbs and other large bumps without getting stuck on them. I was concerned that without the anti-tips, I’d easily flip over backwards, and initially, it was too tippy. The housings for the rear anti-tips kept me from flipping over, but it was difficult to push because the front end kept bouncing in the air with every stroke. I moved my feet as far forward as they would go and tightened up the back upholstery to move my center of gravity forward, both of which helped.
Once dialed in, the jogger performed as well as I could’ve hoped. It was perfect for a quick push without worrying about the smoothness of the pavement on my route. Plus, after adding an attachment for a child’s front bike seat, I could strap my son on the front and use him for a little extra resistance. Before I made it, I hadn’t thought about using it off-road, but with the big front wheel and long wheel base, it does great on soft and bumpy terrain. This summer, I plan to mount some knobby tires and test it as a trail chair. I’ll let you know if I wind up in the bushes.