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Considerations for DIY Wheelchair Scooterboarding – Erik Kondo

Updated: Apr 12

Three wheelchair scooterboards in a garage.
Three different types of wheelchair scooterboards.

Given the availability of specifically designed electric powered front wheel attachments for wheelchairs, the primary reason for adapting a consumer electric scooter designed for the general public is to dramatically lower cost. The cost savings can be thousands of dollars. But a DIY wheelchair scooterboard will NOT work for all wheelchair users, and they have environmental limitations.

Some reasons that a traditional front wheel attachment may be MORE suitable for your needs.

1. If you are looking for daily electric powered mobility for indoor environments and short trips outside, you may want a “mini” front-wheel wheelchair attachment with a tight turning radius and reverse.

2. If you are looking to go on dirt and gravel trails, you may want a “maxi” front wheel wheelchair attachment with a large knobby front tire, powerful motor, and sturdy front end.

3. If you have trouble with popping and maintaining a wheelie it is likely you will not be able to independently mount the wheelchair scooterboard.

4. If you very “unmechanical”, you may have difficulty creating and maintaining the mounting system for the scooterboard.

Assuming you want to adapt an electric scooter, you will need to select a model among the multitudes that are for sale. In order to select the proper model, you must determine what specific electric scooter characteristics you desire which will depend upon how you plan to use the DIY wheelchair scooterboard. There are multiple scooter characteristics that must be taken into consideration when purchasing.

1. Footboard height – This aspect will affect the rearward tilt angle of your wheelchair while riding. The actual angle will depend on the height of your wheelchair’s footplate, and the distance between the footplate and the wheelchair’s rear wheels. Low footplate heights lead to greater angles. The closer the footplate is to the rear wheels, the greater the angle. Too much rearward tilt is both uncomfortable and stable. The scooter should either have a low deck, or the capability to be modified and lowered, unless you use the relatively awkward “undermount” method.

2. Handlebar height – Most wheelchair users will find that the scooter’s handlebar needs to be lowered considerably for comfort and control. Therefore, the handlebar height should be adjustable to accommodate a seated rider, it should be capable of being modified.

3. Starting method – Some scooters require a rolling start. While this can be accomplished by pushing the wheelchair forward, it is more difficult (particularly on an incline) to use than a scooter that starts from a dead stop.

4. Drive wheel(s) – The greatest traction comes from dual wheel drive. Next comes rear wheel drive. The least traction, particularly on hills, is the result of front wheel drive. Therefore, those who plan to use the scooter on more than just flat surfaces should NOT get front wheel drive.

5. Braking – A front brake works best on hills whereas a rear brake tends to skid on hills. A footbrake doesn’t work for wheelchair users. An electronic brake will fail when the battery dies. Disk brakes tend to be more effective than drum brakes. Hard smooth rubber tires will likely skid more than pneumatic ones.

6. Kickstand – A 2-wheel scooter requires a kickstand to keep it from falling over while you mount it. One you mount, you will need to be able to reach the kickstand to release it. The closer to the front the kickstand, the easier it will be to manually raiser and lower with your hand.

7. Scooter weight – Unless your scooter will always be at your home, it is likely you will transport it from time to time. Picking up a heavy scooter is difficult for most wheelchair users. Therefore, scooter weight is an important factor for portability.

8. Folding Handlebar – A scooter that doesn’t have a folding handlebar is even more awkward to lift and transport. Most scooter will fold. It may also be possible to modify the folding bracket to have the handlebars rake rearward creating a more comfortable position.

9. Style of scooter – The typical scooter has two wheels. There are tricycles available (two wheels in the rear) which are more stable, particularly when not moving, but they are usually heavier. The Reverse-tricycle has two wheels in the front and one in the rear. Reverse-tricycles are likely to be Lean-to-Steer which has a larger turning radius than a single steering wheel.

The above considerations are very important for adapting the scooter to be used by a wheelchair user. Next, there are general considerations that apply to all scooters.

10. Price – How much does the scooter cost? Is shipping included in the price?

11. Top speed – How fast does the scooter go?

12. Range – How far does the scooter go on a single charge.

13. Motor power – What is the watt rating of the scooter’s motor(s)?

14. Gears – Does the drive train use gears for efficiency?

15. Battery capacity – What is the rated watt hours of the battery?

16. Battery voltage – How many volts does the battery produce.

17. Battery certification – Is the battery certified for airline travel?

18. Suspension – Does the scooter have suspension? If so, front, and/or rear? What kind?

19. Tire width – How wide is the tire? (Width affects traction and stability)

20. Wheel size – Front wheel diameter? (Larger wheels handle cracks and potholes better)

21. Tires – Are the tires, solid, pneumatic, or tubeless?

22. Operating lights – Does the scooter come with lights for night riding?

23. Waterproof rating – What is the IP rating of the scooter?

24. Controls – How are the scooter’s acceleration and braking controlled?

25. Horn – Does it come with a horn?

26. Travel bag – Does it have a method for carrying luggage?

27. Smart Phone App – Does it have a companion app for your smartphone?

28. Seat option – Is there an option to add a seat if desired?

29. Anti-theft device – Is there a means to deter thieves?

As you can see from the wide variety of options, there is no one scooter that is “the best”. The scooter that works best for you depends on many factors and your environment. Generally speaking, a wheelchair scooterboard provides the greatest mobility when used like a typical electric scooter.

Most people (able-bodied) use typical electric scooters as an affordable secondary means of transportation. They don’t use them inside buildings, or off-road. They use them on roadways and bike paths as a fast, efficient, and fun means of transportation. They get on and off them frequently. They go somewhere, lockup and leave the scooter. They use them as an alternative to a bicycle. This same general usage applies to wheelchair scooterboarding.

It is important to recognize that both wheelchair scooterboards and front 1-wheel wheelchair attachments create a tricycle configuration. Tricycles are inherently prone to flipping when cornering at high speed. They also tend to tip over on terrain with sidehills. They tend to have a large turning radius in comparison to a wheelchair. Therefore, tricycle dynamics will limit the mobility performance of these devices.

That being said, it is possible to design a wheelchair scooterboard with a flexible mounting system that increases the rider’s ability to lean into a turn, and thereby improve cornering performance beyond what can be done with a fixed mounting system. In addition, resting the wheelchair’s footplate on the scooter’s footboard creates a sturdy mount that can withstand hard shocks that could break the fixed mount of a typical front-wheel wheelchair attachment. Therefore, there are circumstances where adapting an electric scooter can create greater performance outcomes than purchasing a traditional front wheel attachment at a much higher price.

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