Manual Wheelchair Wheels
The rear wheels on a manual wheelchair come in several different sizes and a couple of different styles as normal options. generally speaking the larger the wheel, the easier propulsion will be and the wider the wheel, the better they will be able to roll over softer terrains such as lawns.
While the wheels have a definite effect on wheelchair propulsion, the tires chosen will ultimately be more important for everyday users. There are several options for tires and each will have its own advantages.
The wheels pictured are all high end wheels that do not come as options for most wheelchairs. If they are wanted, they usually have to be purchased separately as aftermarket products and are designed for sports and high performance wheelchairs. These wheels are ultra light weight, ultra strong wheels, use specialized tires and are more high performance than necessary for the average user.
Composite Mag Wheels
Composite mag wheels are by far the most common wheels in use for wheelchairs today and come standard on most wheelchairs. The composite mags are made out of is a nylon/fibreglass-like material that is strong, resilient and light weight. They can be fitted with several types of tires and handrims to meet the needs of the user.
The rims of these wheels are maintenance free and are designed to spring back to their original shape should outside pressures due to accident or rough use warp of bend them.
The spoked wheel is very similar to the spoked wheel on a bicycle and was the norm for all wheelchair prior to the development of composite wheels for wheelchair use. Spoked wheels are still optional on many wheelchair models but only those who expect high performance from their wheelchairs usually opt for them.
In spite of their popularity, composite mag wheels will flex during use and this flexing increases the energy needed to propel the wheelchair. Spoked wheels, when in good condition, do not flex and are there fore more efficient for the user. The average user probably wouldn't notice the difference but those who are very active probably will.
High Performance Wheels
High performance wheels are the wheels pictured at the top of this article are not used by average wheelchair users. There are many kinds of these wheels on the market for sports and very active users. High performance wheelchairs and products is a large topic and can fill a web site on its own and because it is beyond the scope of this web site I'll not go any further into this topic.
There are three types of wheelchair tires, air filled, solid and foam filled or flat free inserts. The tires will be a factor on how easily the wheelchair will roll over all terrain. Generally the harder the tire, the easier the wheelchair will roll and turn corners. The softer the tire, the harder it will be to propel the wheelchair.
Air tires are fairly common on the rear of a wheelchair because they will roll over soft terrain easier and give a better ride than solid tires. The disadvantage of air tires is they will go flat if punctured and they will go soft even without any damage eventually. An air tire that is under inflated makes the wheelchair hard to push and causes excessive wear on the tires. Air tires and tubes need to be replaced more often than solid tires.
Solid tires are the best tires for those who want a wheelchair to roll as possible but they give the roughest ride over bumps and ridges in the ground surface. The biggest advantage is they are virtually maintenance free, they won't go flat and they won't likely wear out in the life of the wheelchair. Solid tires are most suitable for wheelchairs that are expected to stay indoors most of the time such as nursing home use.
Foam filled or flat free inserts are basically air tires that have a semi-solid core. The advantage is they will stay harder than air tires and not be subject to flat tires but still give a bit softer ride than a solid tire. This type of caster tire will wear out over time and have to be replaced on wheelchairs that have heavy use and would be considered a compromise between air filled and solid caster tires.