Thursday, 3 July 2008

Reinventing the wheelchair

Back in the saddle, or perhaps that should be back at the wheel, after a long busy period dealing with other stuff.

Lots of catching up to do but one thing I'd like to mention straight away is my small role in spreading the story of the revolutionary new Trekinetic wheelchair. I first encountered the wheelchair's appropriately named inventor, Mike Spindle, when he took part in the Verdict test a month or two back. We got chatting about his work and in particular the wheelchair; the chair itself is fascinating, but so is the story of its development. I thought it deserved a wider audience and when I outlined it to the powers-that-be at the Independent, they obviously agreed because they immediately commissioned me to get it into the paper. This appeared yesterday and you can read it online if you click the title link for this post.

I don't think I even began to do justice to the product, the designer or the story with all its twists and turns - that would have required a book, rather than a double-page feature - but I hope some of the flavour comes across.

The Trekinetic chair embodies a wide range of innovations but probably the most obvious of these is its 'monocoque' design in which the main components are attached to a very strong and stiff carbon fibre seat. Traditional wheelchairs, which haven't changed much since the thirties use a steel tubular frame with a canvas seat stretched across it. The change is analogous to that made by the car manufacturers when they abandoned separate chassis and bodywork in favour of lighter, stronger all-in-one body shells.

The functional advantages of the Trekinetic chair for wheelchair users are very clear, but what's difficult to get across to anyone who hasn't seen it in the metal, is that it is also an exceptionally beautiful object, especially in the recently introduced GT-3 version, which is optimised for street use and finished in white.

The other thing that is difficult to convey on the page is Mike Spindle's enthusiasm and his commitment to the project over the last eight years or so. If every British fifteen year old could hear Mike tell the story of how he developed the chair, we'd be a nation of engineers within a generation. That said, it's important not to underestimate the quality of what we've already got; Mike has a background in the highly successful UK Formula 1 industry (seems strange to refer to it as that, but that's what it is) and can source most of the work and parts he requires for his high-tech product here in the UK.

The Trekinetic website is at

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