Power Assist Wheels: A Comparison

Following on from my Powered Mobility Options post, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the different power assist wheel options, also known as add on power drives, that can be added to a manual wheelchair to give it power. And, as I’ve just worked out how to add a table in a blog post, there’s going to be a handy at-a-glance comparison table at the end of this post, as a quick and easy reference point to compare weight, battery life and some other useful bits of information about the different power assist wheels available.

In my quest to find the right power assist wheels for me, I have tried all of the options listed below. These are currently all the options available to the UK market. Please note, prices are accurate at time of publication. I really hope that they come down in the future. Power assist wheels would be life changing for so many people, but at upwards of £4,100, they’re inaccessible for so many because of the cost.

Power Assist Wheels

Now, you’ll probably all have gathered, since I’m fundraising for a SmartDrive, that this is the best option for me. So it’s only natural that this post may be slightly biased in favour of the SmartDrive. However, I’m going to do all I can to give you the facts about each of the power assist wheels, explain what I liked and what I didn’t and leave the rest to you.

It’s so important when you’re considering investing in something like this that you try them all out – what works for one person, doesn’t necessarily work for another, even with the same condition.

Power Assist Wheels: Quickie WheelDrive, £5,280

The Quickie WheelDrive has a dual rim system that offers the user assisted push, as well as a cruise style mode. Use the outer rims to make self-propelling a little easier, as they add power to each push. Then switch to the inner rims if you want to be able to move without pushing. All that’s needed is for you to push and hold the inner rims forward or backwards, depending on which direction you wish to go. This was explained to me as a similar kind of movement to that of a joystick.

The WheelDrive has three support level settings, which can be changed at the touch of a button. Turn it up to the top level for the maximum assist for your pushes, or select stage 1 or 2 if you don’t need quite as much assistance or don’t want to go as fast.

Power assist wheels

Image from bromakin.co.uk

One of the big positives of the WheelDrive, compared to other power assist wheels is that there’s no adaptations needed on the user’s wheelchair. No brackets need fitting, nothing. You simply click the wheels into place as you would with your wheelchair’s original wheels. It is worth noting that the WheelDrive do add width to your chair. This wasn’t something I noticed when I tried them, because I was going from an off-the-shelf wheelchair (the Drive Medical Enigma Wheelchair) that was too big for me, to an active user wheelchair that was a better fit and had these wheels attached.

The Quickie WheelDrive looked like it was going to be a great option for me, until I tried it (and found out how heavy just one wheel is!).

I really liked that it has the option for both assist and drive modes and that switching between the two was easy. Having an NHS wheelchair, I also liked that I wouldn’t have to have any adaptations made to the frame of the chair, something that could cause me problems with wheelchair service down the line.

But, when I tried the WheelDrive, I was underwhelmed. The first setting of the assist rim felt no different to pushing my standard self-propelled wheelchair. The second setting was barely an improvement. It wasn’t until I set the WheelDrive to the highest setting, that I felt any real benefit from it. This may have been because of the weight of the wheels – 11.5kg per wheel. Something I that my Mum wouldn’t be able to lift and put into the car.

I found the drive rim to be much better. It was easy to use and I could tell a difference between each of the three settings. It’s worth noting that you don’t set the drive and assist rims separately. So if you like to use the assist rims on the top setting, but prefer the drive rim on the first, you’d have to change this manually each time you switch between the rims.

While on paper, the WheelDrive looked like the best option for me, when I tried it out, that wasn’t the case. It’s also the most expensive of the power assist wheels.

Power Assist Wheels: Alber E-Fix E-35, £4,333

The Abler E-Fix E-35 essentially turns a manual wheelchair into a powerchair. It’s controlled using a joystick and has a battery that attaches underneath the seat of the wheelchair.

This would be a good option for people who need a cruise mode/continuous movement without pushing, but also have difficulties controlling the direction they’re travelling in with push rims.

Powered Mobility Options, Power Assist Wheels

Image from BROMAKIN.CO.UK

From what I can tell from the brochure, the E Fix-35 doesn’t require any brackets to be added to the wheelchair it’s being used with. So no structural changes to your wheelchair. This is worth checking with a supplier when you test drive it, as it could just be that I’ve missed the information when looking through the brochure.

There is also a heavy duty version, the E-36, which has heavy duty wheels, more power and is able to be used by people weighing between 120-160kg (the E-35’s weight limit is 120kg).

I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan of the E-Fix E-35. I found the joystick very sensitive and had difficulty steering smoothly. This might be something I would be able to get used to, but I didn’t like the idea of having to put up with the chair feeling jolty until I got to that point. As there are more parts, it would also take longer and be more fiddly to get into the boot of the car.

In addition, the E-Fix E-35 was Dan’s least favourite option. It was the first time Dan had ever seen me use anything close to a powerchair and he didn’t like it one bit. He felt the chair was much more prominent and made me look ‘more disabled’ – whatever that means!

Power Assist Wheels: Alber E-Motion M15, £4,195

The E-Motion and Twion M24 (below) are very similar. They both add power to the push rims, so that you don’t have to use as much force to self-propel. Both of these types of power assist wheels require a bracket to be fitted to your wheelchair, resulting in permanent, but small changes to the frame – think a couple of screws or bolts.

While the E-Motion are cheaper than the Twion M24, they’re also heavier. But they have a bigger battery range. So if you want extra oomph to your pushes, it really depends how much battery range you want and whether the additional weight of the E-Motion’s wheels would be a problem for you.

Probably the biggest difference in terms of functionality between these two types of wheels, is that the E-Motion wheels can be programmed to different sensitivities. So one wheel can be programmed to need less force to move than the other. As a result, these would be a good option for someone with reduced strength in one side, as the wheels could be set up accordingly.

The E-Motion power assist wheels are available in 22 inch and 24 inch wheels.

Power Assist Wheels

Image from bromakin.co.uk

Power Assist Wheels: Alber Twion M24 and T24, from £4,305

There are currently two Twions available, the M24 and the T24. The T24 are the new version and have just been launched and feature a cruise control mode, something the M24 doesn’t have. I’m going to talk about both the M24 and T24, but I don’t think the M24s will be available to purchase for much longer. Indeed, I know some people have ordered the M24 and received the T24.

Alber Twion M24

My reason for sharing information on the M24 is that most of the UK stockists only have these available to view. They have to buy their stock and because the T24 is so new, they’ve not been able to order their own demo models yet. As a result, you may be able to get an ex-demo Twion M24 for a reduced price, from a supplier that want’s to get rid of them an purchase the new T24. If the M24 sounds like it’s going to be a good option for you, it’s worth calling up some stockists to see if they’re selling an ex-demo model.

The Twion M24 and T24 are the lightest of the push rim power assist wheels, by at least 4.7kg. This makes getting them in and out of a car easier and it makes it easier to change back to your original wheels should you want to. This is something the lovely Jo From JB Occupational Therapy does. It allows her to have power when she needs it, while keeping herself more active of better health days by self-propelling without assisted push rims.

Powered Mobility Options, Power Assist Wheels

Image from BROMAKIN.CO.UK

As with the E-Motion wheels, the Twion requires a bracket to be screwed in to the wheelchair, making a physical change to the frame of the chair.

Something worth being aware of when considering the Twion wheels is that, because of their motor, they do add a little width to the over all size of your wheelchair. Your hands will be slightly further away from the seat of your chair when self-propelling and you may have to check that any tight spaces you use your current wheelchair in will still be accessible to you. I have to admit that I suspect this is the same for the E-Motions, but I didn’t notice it when I tried them because I was used to a wheelchair that was too big for me at the time.

The Twion power assist wheels have smart phone connectivity. This allows users to access information on their Twion M24 wheels on the go and can be used as a remote control to bring the chair to you from across the room. A little gimmicky in my opinion, but I’m sure it would be useful in certain situations.

For those who don’t need the use of a cruise mode and don’t need the E-Motion’s ability to have each wheel set up differently, the Twion M24 are a fantastic option. In my opinion, they have a number of bonuses, compared to the Quickie WheelDrive and the E-Motion and would be my top choice if I just needed my power assist wheels to have push rim assist.

Alber Twion T24

The Twion T24 has all the features of the M24, but also has a cruise mode. There is very little literature available about the Twion T24, so the following information is a combination of what I’ve been told and experienced when I got the chance to try the Twion T24 out.

Changing between push rim assist and cruise control mode is done via the smartphone app. The wheels and phone are connected via bluetooth. This does mean that you need to be able to maintain bluetooth connectivity with your phone to get the best out of the Twion T24.

Switching between push rim assist and cruise control mode is done via the smartphone app. This means that you have to get your phone out every time you want swap between the two. Personally, I would’ve found some kind of switch or button on the wheels much more user friendly.

I’m not gonna lie, after being impressed with the M24 (though not suitable for me) I was really disappointed in the T24. I’d held out for about 6 months, trying to find a set to try. I hoped the cruise mode was going to be everything the SmartDrive is, with the addition of assisted push rims. But unfortunately I didn’t find that to be the case.

With the Twion T24, I found the cruise control mode itself drove nicely. It was easy to control and very comfortable. However, I had difficulties with starting and stopping the T24 in cruise control mode.

Getting started requires the user to push the wheels in a self-propel motion at over 1km/h. I few times I failed to reach this speed, so the cruise control mode didn’t engage. To get the cruise control to engage I had to push harder than I would’ve liked. This wasn’t great for my shoulders, wrists or elbows and made the front caster wheels lift off the ground.

I found stopping the Twion T24 when in cruise control mode even more challenging and problematic. The wheels give power when moved forwards and backwards. As a result, when stopping from cruise control mode, the chair jolted backwards. This was not only painful on my joints, but also made me very nervous. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable using these with a baby and small child around. To be honest, just using them out and about would have concerned me with the lack of attention many members of the public pay to what they’re doing. The only way I found of coming to a non-jolty stop, was to slow down gradually. And let’s be honest, this isn’t always an option.

I may well have been able to improve my ability to stop and start the Twion T24 with practice, but that’s something I’d only know if I had them on loan for a week or so.

In power assist rim mode, the T24 performs exactly the same as the M24. You don’t have to use cruise mode if you don’t want to. So for those looking for power assist wheels with a good push rim option, the T24 is very good option. I don’t see it being a problem if the M24 becomes obsolete.

One think I noticed when trying the Twion T24, during the winter, was the 5 or so lights on the rims. This has the potential to be problematic for me in low lighting situations because of my photosensitivity. I can’t remember if the E-Motion had these lights, probably because we tried them in the summer when there was a lot of natural light around. So this is worth looking into if you’re also photosensitive.

Getting hold of the new Twion T24 to test drive was difficult, as they’ve only just come out. Despite explaining that the cruise mode was the main reason I was considering the T24, a number of suppliers still suggested I try the M24’s out. Sorry, but there’s no way I’d buy a product like this, for that amount of money, having not tried the most important feature for me.

The other thing to note about the Twion T24 is that the IOS app (for Apple phones) is much more reliable than the Android app (for all other makes of smart phone). The first time the rep from Gerald Simons came out for me to test the Twion T24, we had to give up because he couldn’t get the app to work on his phone so I could try the cruise mode.

If you’re looking into power assist wheels, or any other kind of mobility device, I’d strongly recommend that you test the the product before buying. If you want to try the Twion T24, Gerald Simonds were the only supplier able to get a set on loan from Alber for me to try (free of charge and no obligation), so I’d suggest giving them a call.

Powered Mobility Options, Power Assist Wheels

Image from MAX-MOBILITY.COM

Power Assist Wheels: MaxMobility SmartDrive MX2+, £4,795

Unlike the other power assist wheels, a SmartDrive doesn’t replace the original wheels of the wheelchair. Instead, it’s a device that attaches to the back of the chair. Previous models of the SmartDrive have required the user to give one or two self-propel pushes to activate the device. But the current version, the MX2+ just requires the user to double tap their wrist to start moving.

The SmartDrive, attaches to a the back axel of folding and rigid wheelchair with a bracket. Where as the bracket for the Alber power assist wheels required drilling/screwing into the wheelchair frame, the SmartDrive’s doesn’t. So you can take it off and your chair will be left with no permanent changes to the frame.

Controlling the SmartDrive MX2+ is done via a wrist band, that looks like a fitness tracker watch. You double tap your wrist to start and the device slowly starts, speeding up until you single tap your wrist to set the speed. To stop, you double tap your wrist again and squeeze on the wheelchair’s push rims (like you do when stopping from having self-propelled). The wrist band comes in three different sizes.

I was initially concerned that having to tap my wrist so much would cause additional pain in my wrists, one of my most affected areas by hEDS. But this wasn’t the case. I didn’t have to tap hard to engage the SmartDrive. I found tapping the base of my palm on my wheelchair’s hand rims was the best way for me to do this, as there’s a little cushioning to absorb most of the movement. The bracelet can also be worn on either wrist, so if one of my wrists is playing up, I can easily switch the bracelet to the other and still be able to benefit from the SmartDrive. While I’m left handed, I do (or did when I was able to) most things right handed – eating, throwing, catching, etc. So I can’t see potentially needing to switch wrists being a problem for me.

The SmartDrive drove smoothly and was easy to engage and disengage. It’s also the lightest of the power assist wheels at 5.7kg.

The SmartDrive has an app. This allows you to track your journey and the distance you’ve travelled. It’s not something I think I’m going to use much, but I do feel it’s more useful and less gimmicky than the app for the Twion M24.

The main drawback for the SmartDrive is that there’s no assisted push rim option. You’re either cruising or regular self-propelling. Although for me the cruise mode is the big feature I need, it would be nice to have the option of assisted push rims even though I wouldn’t use them much. That’s why I was so excited to try the Twion T24 and really hopeful that they’d be the best of both worlds. But alas, that wasn’t the case for me.

Power Assist Wheels: The Best Option For Me

Ok, so this section is quite likely going to be me telling you how amazing the SmartDrive is FOR ME. So I should probably tell you a bit about my needs, so you’ll get an idea of why the SmartDrive is the best option for me. It may not be the best option for you, even if your needs are similar to mine. So please, please, please test out all the available options to find the best equipment for you.

I have hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is a connective tissue disorder. Subluxations (partial dislocations) are common for me and I experience a lot of pain and fatigue from doing what seem the simplest of tasks, including self-propelling my wheelchair. The more I can protect my joints, the less damage I’ll have to deal with further down the line.

I also have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, this is a type of autonomic dysfunction. My brain isn’t able to regulate my heart rate properly. Simple things like standing up and pushing my wheelchair can send my heart rate sky high and leave me incredibly dizzy.

With baby on the way, cruise mode was an absolute must for me. I’ve thought long and hard about how I’m going to move about independently as a wheelchair user with a baby and baby wearing seems to be the best solution. Buy this, I mean that baby will be put in a carrier or sling and attached to my front. As a result, there will be additional weight on my shoulders and back, making self-propelling even more difficult. To protect my shoulders, I need a cruise mode.

Even without a baby on the way, having power assist wheels with a cruise mode was always going to be the best option for me because of the way my hEDS and PoTS affect me.

As I’m not medically allowed to drive because of my basilar type migraine, so any equipment needs to be able to fit into all standard sized cars. This is the main reason a powerchair would be no good for me.

Thankfully, all of the power assist wheels will go into a standard car. But, I wanted to make sure that I was protecting the people putting equipment into the car for me. The main people who will be doing this are Dan, my Mum, my Dad and my sister. While they are all physically fit, I’d like to keep them this way! Between them, they each have at least one of the following: shoulder injury, back injury, hEDS and arthritis. So it was important for me to consider their health and wellbeing in choosing suitable power assist wheels.

My Mum would not have managed the 11.5kg weight of one of the Quickie WheelDrive wheels, let alone two of them. And I wouldn’t expect her to. So these, along with the E-Motion wheels were discounted very quickly.

For me, that left the E-Fix, Twion T24 and SmartDrive. As you’ll have gathered from the above, I found the E-Fix difficult to use and really didn’t get on with the Twion T24’s cruise mode. The other issue I’d have found with the Twion T24 is that, because of the extra width they add to the chair, I’d have had to take them off to get round my house. But, they’re too heavy for me to get off without damaging my wrists and shoulders.

However, the SmartDrive was wonderful to use. The only slight drawback with this device is that there isn’t an assisted push rim option. But, this is something that I’d rarely use. I’d only ever find this feature helpful in crowded places, like shopping centres. And the SmartDrive starts so slowly that I could easily and safely cruise along at a snail’s pace in crowded areas anyway! So it’s a moot point.

I’m very thankful to Gerald Simons, who have offered to lend me a SmartDrive for a week. They’re going to attach it to my wheelchair, so that I can see how it will feel when I have my own and how it’ll fit into my lifestyle. This will be happening once my wheelchair caster wheel has been fixed, and I’m excited to film what I get up to so I can show you all just how much of a difference it’ll make to our baby’s life and mine.

Power Assist Wheels: At A Glance

Quickie WheelDrive

Alber E-Fix

Alber E-Motion

Alber Twion M24

Alber Twion T24

MaxMobility SmartDrive

Price

£5,280

£4,333

£4,195

£4,305

£4,305

£4,795

Weight

11.5kg per wheel

7.8kg per wheel, plus

2kg battery pack

11kg per wheel

6.3kg per wheel

6.3kg per wheel

5.7kg

(12.5lb)

Battery Range

Using Drive rim – 12km

Using Assist rim – 20km

16km

25km

20km

12-20km

(The assumption would be 12km using exclusively cruise mode and 20km using exclusively assist mode. However no information available at present)

22.5km

(14 miles)

Maximum Speed

Using Assist rim – 6km/h

Using Drive rim – 10km/h

6km/h

6km/h

6km/h (optional 10km/h with upgrade)

6km/h (optional 10km/h with upgrade)

8.85km/h

(5.5mph)

Assisted Push

Yes

N/A

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Continuous Drive/Cruise Control

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

Yes

Smart Phone Connectivity

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Power Assist Wheels: Conclusion

I really hope this post has been helpful for those looking into power assist wheels. Please don’t be put off by any of the things that haven’t worked for me. What works for one person can be the worst option for another.

Do your research (which I hope this post has given you a good starting point for), work out what you need your power assist wheels to be able to do and test thing out! I can’t labour that point enough. Try, try and try again until you are completely satisfied that you’ve tested all the options thoroughly.

Dan’s taken me to visit Bromakin twice and I’ve had reps from RGK and Gerald Simonds come out to the house free of charge to test out powered mobility options. So take advantage of these options to try before you buy.

This post is so long, as there’s so much information to include. I’ve tried to include everything, but may have missed something. So if you have any questions or are feeling a little overwhelmed by the options, please leave me a comment or get in touch via social media or email. I’ll do my best to help!

Have you tried any of these options? How did you find them?

What are the main things that you look for in a mobility device?

When Tania Talks Signature

Find me on:

Bloglovin’ | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Snapchat | Google+  | YouTube

You can also sign up for my newsletter!

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneBuffer this page

Tania Jayne

One Comment

Comments are closed.