Pushing a wheelchair in sand is hard! The Freedom Chair's lever system helps a lot – we've had riders hitting up the beach in their chairs all summer – but soft sand is still a workout. Click here to see the Freedom Chair on the beach without the beach kit.
The biggest challenge faced by riders in the sand is that they tend to sink in. The looser the sand, the more they sink in. And the more they sink in, the harder their chair (Freedom Chair or otherwise) is to push. Wider tires spread out the rider's weight more, and don't tend to sink into the sand as much. This is why beach wheelchairs have such big balloon tires.
The issue with balloon tires, though, is that they are only good on sand. They do a good job of spreading the rider's weight over the surface, but on smooth ground their big footprint causes a lot of friction, making them harder to push than regular wheels.
We've been working on a set of beach tires all summer, experimenting with a few different designs to find the right balance of "not sinking in" and "easy to push on normal ground." We started off looking at "fat bike" tires, like what you'd find on some trendy new mountain bikes. These seemed like the obvious starting point, but we pretty quickly ran into some issues: the wheels were extremely expensive (a couple of hundred dollars each, just for the rims!), they were hard to attach to the Freedom Chair, and they were only really useful on sand. On other kinds of terrain, these wheels tended to be more work to push than they were worth.
We experimented with different treads and tube sizes, and came up with the perfect intermediate solution, one that plays nice on and off the sand. Our new beach kit uses a 2.25" wide tire (compared to our regular 1.75" tire width) on our standard rim. This may not sound like a big difference, but in practice it dramatically reduces your sinking in on soft ground. It hasn't snowed yet in Boston (thank goodness!), but when it does we're pretty confident that these tires will be a great winter solution for riders in northern climates.
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We've been testing these wheels off-and-on all summer (unfortunately we couldn't spend the whole summer at the beach) and with our most avid beach-going rider, Myla. She's been using them for most of the summer, hanging out on the beaches of Virginia.
The best part of the beach kit is that it is really easy to attach to your Freedom Chair. The wheels attach to the same quick-release system already on the chair, using your existing push-button axels. The parking brakes need to be adjusted (using the 4mm driver we sent with the chair), but that's it –you can be cruising with your new beach tires in less than five minutes!