A tale of two chairs

Many years ago, students at MIT designed a product called the Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC), intended specifically for rural areas of developing countries. Some of those students went on to found GRIT, while others went on pursue passions in academia, robotics, space, and more. The LFC was our beginning, our cornerstone, our Model T; the Freedom Chair, on the other hand, is the lever-driven, all-terrain wheelchair GRIT produces today. Below, we’ll share some of the key differences between the two designs, tell a bit of the LFC story, and show how the concept of the LFC helped us create the Freedom Chair riders around the world use today.

In the early 2000’s, a group of MIT students and staff set out to create an internationally affordable wheelchair that could handle the tough terrains of developing countries. This group worked in between their classes to design, prototype, produce, and evaluate the product they eventually called the LFC. Manufactured in India and sold in bulk to NGOs, foundations, aid agencies, and others in the international development space, the LFC was in many ways a terrific solution.

The LFC became a fine everyday chair for rural users in developing countries. Its design allowed for more efficient propulsion and ease of use over dirt, gravel, grass, etc. Before long, though, many folks in the US began asking about getting one for themselves. So, we began testing the LFC with riders here in the US. After over a hundred interviews and countless test rides, the US riders agreed that while the off-road capability of the LFC was excellent, it needed some serious changes before landing in this market. There were two changes in particular that we needed to make before launching the product in places like the US:

  1. The LFC did not disassemble or fold for transport. The wheels were not removable. For rural users who didn’t have access to cars in the first place, this wasn’t a problem, but it was a serious dilemma for US riders. Most folks in developed countries needed to be able to put the chair in their cars—and many didn’t have access to the vans or large SUVs required to transport the LFC.

  2. The LFC was built from bicycle parts that are standard in developing countries, but are very difficult to find in the United States. This meant the LFC could not be repaired or maintained in the US, as spare parts were not available.

The new design, the Freedom Chair, is designed in response to these challenges. It is:

  • Easy to disassemble and can fit into the trunk of a small car.

  • Built primarily of modern bike parts found in local shops all around the US. The tools required to service the Freedom Chair are also standard tools in bike shops (and most residences as well).

  • Assembled in the US with a mix of domestic and imported parts, which allows us to achieve both superb quality and low shipping costs.

We understand that price is a major concern for many potential riders in the US, and we are proud to say the Freedom Chair is the most affordable manual, all-terrain wheelchair on the market today. The closest competitor to the Freedom Chair sells for around $7,500, while the most popular Freedom Chair model sells for $2,995. Whenever possible, we use off-the-shelf bicycle components to make maintenance and customization easier for our riders—it is easy to swap out parts for performance, comfort, or personal preference. Almost all maintenance for the Freedom Chair can be done at a local bike shop; none of this would have been possible had we stuck with the LFC.

As our R&D costs are absorbed over time, and as our production volumes increase, we’ll achieve economies of scale that will allow us to continue to improve the Freedom Chair. As you may expect, producing a batch of 1,000 chairs is considerably less expensive than producing 100 chairs, so every Freedom Chair we sell helps us pass savings on to our customers. We’re now also able to produce rider-specific models of the Freedom Chair, like the Hemi, designed for folks with use of only one side of the body.

The GRIT team is made up of a small team that is passionate about helping people of all abilities enjoy the outdoors. We have put literal blood, sweat, and tears into lifting the Freedom Chair from its humble LFC beginnings. We always make multiple purchasing options available to our customers—through low-interest payment plans, grants, loans, crowd-sourcing, and more, our team helps riders find ways to get Freedom Chairs of their own.

If you have any questions about the Freedom Chair, please feel free to contact us at info@gogrit.us or at 877-345-4748.