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Reinventing the wheel for a manual wheelchair.

PURPOSE: Standard manual wheelchairs (MWCs) are inefficient and pushrim propulsion may cause progressive damage and pain to the user's arms. We describe a wheel for a MWC with a novel propulsion mechanism.

METHODS: The wheel has two modes of operation called "Standard" mode and "Run" mode. In Run mode, the wheelchair is propelled forward by pushing a compliant handle forward and then pulling it back, both strokes contributing to forward propulsion. We report the propulsive force and preliminary testing on a rough outdoor circuit by three able-bodied participants.

RESULTS: In Run mode, the peak applied force is reduced to 30% and the maximum force gradient is reduced to 10% of that for standard pushrim propulsion, for the same work output. The travel time for the 1.06‚ÄČkm outdoor circuit is about 60% of that for a brisk walk and about 40% of that for pushrim propulsion. At a propulsion speed of 1 m/s, the cardiovascular effort in Run mode is 56% of that for pushrim propulsion. Automatic hill-hold in Run mode improves safety when ascending slopes. The mechanism has three gears so that it can be used by people with widely varying strength and fitness. Folding the handle away converts the operation to Standard mode with the conventional pushrim propulsion, supplemented by three gears.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite the increased weight, width and friction, the bimodal geared wheels facilitate wheelchair travel on challenging paths. This may bring significant improvement to the quality of life of MWC users.

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