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Offroad Wheelchair Opens Trails to the Mobility Impaired

August 29, 2016
GRIT's new offered wheelchair
GRITRear mountain bike tires are one hallmark of GRIT’s new offroad wheelchair.

Outdoor enthusiasts with mobility impairments can now explore off-road, going where standard wheelchairs cannot.

Developed by the Boston-based company GRIT, the Freedom Chair is propelled by a patented drive train of gears and levers. Unlike a push-rim wheelchair, which can waste up to 90 percent of a rider’s effort, the Freedom Chair operates more like a bicycle: The rider pumps the levers to go forward and pulls backward to brake and turn.This system increases torque, which in turn makes it easier to travel up steep inclines and over uneven ground.

The offroad wheelchair looks different from traditional models, too, with a single front wheel that navigates rough terrain and 26-inch mountain bike tires in back that provide off-road traction.

“I am now able to go deep into the woods over rocks, roots, and uneven surfaces for the first time in my 30 years of using a wheelchair,” says Nate Johnson of Orange, Mass.

The idea for the Freedom Chair was conceived by a group of mechanical engineering students from MIT in 2007. “As engineers, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing something you designed improve somebody’s life,” says GRIT’s CEO, Tish Scolnik. “We founded GRIT to help as many people as we can to move beyond the pavement.”

Chair prototypes have been in testing for several years, with feedback from wheelchair riders, therapists, and organizations worldwide incorporated into subsequent models. The current Freedom Chair includes several features designed specifically for the United States, including modern bike components and quick-release parts that are easy to disassemble for transportation by car. Two versions of the chair ($2,995 and $4,995; gogrit.us) are available for purchase directly from the company.

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John S. Burk

John S. Burk, an outdoor writer and photographer, is co-author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Boston. He has contributed to publications such as Natural New England, Northern Woodlands, and AMC Outdoors. He lives in Massachusetts.