A man who invented a four-wheeled off-road buggy for his wife is now planning mass production to give new freedom to wheelchair users.
What started as a sweet home invention to give his then-girlfriend, Cambry, better access to the great outdoors has blossomed into marriage and business. Zack Nelson launched “Not-a-Wheelchair” in June this year and retails his off-roader at around half the price of a conventional off-road electric wheelchair; they are ready for shipping orders from September onwards.
However, it has been a long road to get to this point. From the prototype to a model costing almost “half the price” of a normal off-road wheelchair that can be commercialized took many months.
Talking in detail about the off-roader in a video on their YouTube channel, JerryRigEverything, Zack said that their goal is to produce an “affordable and capable off-road wheelchair and mass-produce them.”
Until Cambry met Zack, she had spent her adult life as a wheelchair user restricted to the pavement. As a result, she had largely missed out on nature and going places. Recognizing the problem, the couple began to figure out how to improvise a device to allow Cambry more freedom to explore the great outdoors.
They eventually devised a four-wheeler made from two electric bikes, which Zack calls is “definitely not a wheelchair.” The first version of their “Not-a-Wheelchair” proved to be a great success, allowing Cambry to experience a new level of freedom and go places she could only have dreamt about before.
Over a year, Cambry and Zack tested and refined the design to make it a reliable and safe off-roader that’s portable. They even flew the off-roader “The Rig” to Hawaii to put it through its paces and in the mountains and trails near their home.
“The bike has to be shipped with a freight company before we go [to Hawaii],” Zack told BoredPanda, “but we ship The Rig about a week before we fly out ourselves, and it’s waiting there for us when we arrive. All this travel was before COVID was a thing. Luckily, we also live near mountains and snow with long wide flat trails to try the bike out on.”
These trials and adventures informed them of design changes that were required and how much more work was needed to create a quick, lightweight, and long-range electric off-roader. The shakedown testing resulted in a fully electric aluminum-framed off-roader shod with 4-inch off-road bike tires.
“Personally, I love my light blue Rig. We have put over a thousand miles on it, and it’s taking me to places I never in a million years thought I could go,” Cambry said in their video on The Rig.
The Rig’s range is impressive too: up to 20 miles with one battery, and up to 35 miles with two batteries, Zack notes in the video. The range is dependent on the weight of the rider, maximum 225 pounds (approx. 102 kg), any cargo being carried, and the type of terrain.
A rear mounting platform allows wheelchairs, coolers, camping gear, or picnic baskets to be carried.
Zack adds that his “Not-a-Wheelchair” has a detachable front bumper that, when removed, makes the off-roader 5 feet long. Being 32 inches wide, it can easily fit in short-bed pickups with the tailgate down, as well as Jeep and Subaru Outbacks. The off-roader will also fit through most doorways.
Judging by the video, handling seems to be pretty capable, too. But like any bike, it struggles a little when it comes to dry sand and loose snow. Overall, though, it is a remarkable machine that handles most off-road terrain well. And since it is constructed using mainly bike parts, routine maintenance and repairs are straightforward.
Zack says that one huge advantage when traveling off-road is how silent it is, making for an unobtrusive entrance wherever this off-roader goes. With no bodywork, too, it is as close as any wheelchair user can get to be as one with nature.
Due to its dimensions, the “Not-a-Wheelchair” is not suitable for indoors. Cambry uses her regular wheelchair at home, but she switches to ‘The Rig’ when she and Zack go out for a hike or to the park.
But Zack pointed out that “Not-a-Wheelchair” is, in essence, a bike, with all its limitations and routine maintenance. Zack said, “It’s not a fine-tuned, polished, medical device.”
“Normal off-road wheelchairs can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000,” Zack said. “This, Not-aWheelchair, only costs $4,750, which is half the price and twice the specs of a normal off-road wheelchair.”
No matter its credentials, the “Not-a-Wheelchair” is poised to give wheelchair users a much greater sense of freedom. And it proves, once again, that necessity is the mother of invention.
What started as a labor of love could benefit entire generations of wheelchair users who have been denied the pleasure of experiencing Mother Nature in the raw.
Watch the video below:
We would love to hear your stories! You can share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org