by: Nerissa Cannon
One of the original Freedom Chair Trailblazers, Nerissa, now works full time with GRIT! Her own journey with chronic illness has made her very passionate about helping other people get the most out of life in spite of a disabling condition. In her new series, IT'S A GRIT LIFE, she shares how the GRIT Freedom Chair helps her engage in her favorite activities and live a life of adventure.
Today, I wanted to highlight the most prominent feature of the GRIT Freedom Chair which is: the Levers!
The GRIT Freedom Chair's lever drive system is what makes cranking over off road obstacles possible. Since the GRIT Freedom Chair uses a lot of bike parts, I often get asked if you can change gears. You can, but not in the way you would expect. You shift gears simply by moving your hands up and down the levers.
Down close to the tires is the higher gear allowing you to move quickly over smooth flat terrain. Up at the top of the levers is a lower gear allowing you to slowly maneuver over rough obstacles, or ease up a challenging incline. You can place your hands anywhere on the levers allowing you to quickly and easily change gears as your route's terrain changes. You can even alternate the position of your hands if the path you are on has a little bit of a side slope. This allows you to keep moving forward with equal lever pushing while allowing the most effort to go where it needs to.
Another of the most common questions I get asked is "How do you steer and brake?" Again, the answer is in the levers. Steering is actually similar to a standard wheelchair. You hold one tire and push the other. Although, in the case of the levers you pull back one lever which holds the tire, and then push with the opposite one. Braking is similar: pull backwards on both levers to stop. This style of braking gives you a lot of control regarding speed, and allows the Freedom Chair to be accessible to those who might have dexterity challenges. By utilizing a Grip Aid such as Active Hands, those with limited dexterity can still safely drive and stop their Freedom Chair.
One thing people do realize upon receiving their Freedom Chair is that with the levers inserted you cannot wheel backwards. This is actually for a very important reason. The cross bars on the Freedom Chair are not just for turning and braking; they act as a hill stop. If you are working up a steep incline and need a break, you can gently rest them against your tires, and shake your arms out without losing ground. Then, when you are ready to continue you simply start pushing again.
While the hill stop is a very helpful feature, what do you do if you want to use the Freedom Chair indoors? The Freedom Chair is designed to fit in all ADA standard spaces including restrooms and buses. Because of the need to occasionally maneuver in tight spaces, the engineers at GRIT designed the levers to be removable and stow quickly and easily within your frame when not in use. One thing to be aware of is that if you do need to move backwards, you need to remove the levers completely. Some riders try to save time by just twisting the brake bar out of the way of the tire and then trying to move around. This is NOT recommended because the bar will go backwards and it could twist into the spoke making it a pain to get untangled.
The levers are also one of the places on the Freedom Chair where you can let your personality shine. Through normal use, eventually grip tape and lever sleeves will need to be replaced. GRIT offers many colors of lever wrap grip tape, or you can see what your local bike shop (or the internet) offers. The hardest part is deciding on which color to get. Myself, I've gone through black, hot pink, white, and now I'm on to purple! Above all, if you have any questions about your lever-wrapping technique, please contact GRIT directly. Our goal is to make sure that you can make the most out of your time with the Freedom Chair.