Invacare A-4 Rigid Wheelchair
Invacare A-4 Non-folding Wheelchair

Rigid (Non-Folding) Wheelchairs

Ultralight rigid wheelchairs are really custom wheelchairs designed for very active users who are after the ultimate in performance. Because they don't fold, ultralight rigid wheelchairs have fewer parts and less hardware and no moving frame parts. Because the frame has no moving parts it is stronger, lighter and the frame does not flex when being propelled.

These chairs are best for active teenagers who are notorious for destroying wheelchairs and young to middle aged adults who lead very active lifestyles. Rigid wheelchairs are the most popular with users who suffer from paraplegia without other medical conditions to contend with and high functioning users suffering from quadriplegia.

Seat Widths and Depths

Most models of wheelchair in the ultralight rigid category offer standard sizes from 12" to 22" and most will allow the user to custom order their seat width.

Seat depths for ultralight rigid wheelchairs are also available in sizes between 12" to 22" in 1" increments and again most models will allow the user to specify a custom seat depth.

Seat Heights

Seat to floor heights of this category can be anywhere from 14" to 22" and can be, at the discretion of the purchaser, lower at the back of the seat to create what is known as "dump". This "dump" wedges the user in the seat for more stability and will also provide better access to the wheel push rims. Wheelchairs with dump built into the seat are not compatible with very many seating accessories and not intended for users who require a lot of seating products beyond a good cushion.

Frames, Weight & Capacities

Ultralight rigid wheelchairs are usually made out of aluminum but can also be made out of titanium to save as much weight as possible. The weight capacity of will range from 250 lbs to about 300lbs.

The overall weight of a ultralight adjustable wheelchair will be between 12 lbs. and 25 lbs with the titanium frames being at the lower end of the range and the aluminum at the upper end according to the manufacturers specifications.

Unfortunately there is no standard for reporting the weight of a wheelchair and different manufacturers will weigh their products with different options attached. They may, or may not, include the weight of the arms or footrests or other components.

Casters, Wheels and Tires

The rear wheels on this category of wheelchair are normally available in 20", 22", 24", 25", to 26" with the larger sizes being most common and have either air filled or solid tires.

The front casters on ultralight wheelchairs can be any size from 3" to 8" with the most common being 6" or smaller. The 6" and 8" sizes are the only ones where air filled tires are options in most cases however I don't recommend air filled tires on casters as they tend to go soft very quickly making the wheelchair hard to propel.

High performance carbon fibre wheels, various sports wheels and high pressure tires are also available on some models where the user really wants a high performance every day wheelchair.

Axle Plates

Ultralight rigid wheelchairs come with either adjustable axle plates or an adjustable axle bar which allow for the fine tuning and positioning of the rear wheels. The wheels can be mounted in several locations on the axle plate allowing the wheels to be moved forward or backward and up or down on the frame. An axle bar does basically the same thing as the axle plate but instead of moving the wheels on the plate, the axle bar itself moves and the wheels are attached to it. Axle bars often need to be ordered in the degree of camber the user wants but some come with inserts to change the camber as needed. These adjustments provide the ability to adjust the wheelchair's center of gravity for those who are sports minded or need to find the perfect wheel position to aid in propelling the wheelchair.

The axle plates also allow the wheelchair wheels to cambered for greater stability and user access. A cambered wheel is one that is tilted in towards the chair at the top effectively making the wheelbase wider. It is a common feature on sports wheelchairs to have quite a severe camber but can be beneficial for every day wheelchairs as long as the camber angle isn't too great.

Brakes

Ultralight rigid wheelchairs have a couple of brake styles that aren't available on the lower category wheelchairs. In addition to the usual push or pull to lock brakes there are scissor brakes which mount under the seat and are totally out of the way when not in use.

A couple of models in the ultralight rigid wheelchair category also offer brake systems which are engaged on both wheels with the movement of a single lever.

Another option for this category of wheelchair is hill holders, also known as grade aids, which push against the wheels of the wheelchair and prevent them from rolling backward while allowing them to roll forward when climbing slopes.

Armrests

Armrests on ultralight rigid wheelchairs, depending on the model, can be height adjustable or be simple padded tubes which will swing away or be taken off when not required. Many users of this category of wheelchair don't use arms at all and any arm chosen when ordering will incur an upcharge.

Generally, height adjustable wheelchair arms come in either full length or desk length. The full length arms are often an aid to people who use the arms for support when transferring while the desk length allow the chair to positioned close to a table without having to remove or flip them out of the way.

Another consideration is the arm height. The standard arms will be 9" or 10" above the seat rails but once a cushion is added the effective height will be 7" to 8" and too short for most people. If the arms are too short the shoulders will slump and the user will slouch making sitting in the chair uncomfortable fairly quickly so manufacturers came up with height adjustable arms which are the best choice for most people who require armrests.

Footrests

Ultralight rigid wheelchairs will have few options for footrests and a single wide footplate is usual which is often referred to as a foot board. They normally are part of the wheelchair frame and are not removable. There is usually some adjustment for footplate height and angle but the angle of the footrest hangers are set during manufacture and can't be changed.

There are a couple of models of ultralight rigid wheelchairs that do have swingaway, removable footrests but they add weight to the chair and aren't common options. The user usually has the choice of standard composite (a plastic like material) or aluminum footplates. There are also footplates that are angle adjustable for people who aren't comfortable with having their feet flat on the standard footplates.



Pros

  • Very responsive
  • Very strong
  • Easy propulsion
  • Great wheel placement options
  • Very light

Cons

  • Expensive ($2,500.00 - $8,500.00)
  • Not suitable for most seating products
  • Few Options
  • Good Balance required




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