One of these Buggers is not like the Other One

old and new 6

The difference between the Old Bugger and the New Bugger is enormous. Truly vast.  So unalike are they that clichés fail completely. By comparison chalk and cheese taste much the same, birds and bats are indistinguishable, night and day … synonymous. After six years I had no idea that a wheelchair could be this good.

Bugger original photo

An apology, first up, for all the bad language flying around in this post. For the uninitiated, Bugger is the unintended name of my wheelchair, which stuck firmly after I posted its picture on FaceBook. The single word caption was my timid way of announcing a great challenge to the world.  Family and then friends quickly latched onto the name, and I must admit I still find the wry humour most attractive.


I wonder if I can give the ordinary populace – those at the disadvantage of not having wheels – any sense of the difference between a heavy old collapsible wheelchair and a top of the line, rigid-frame chair. Have you ever dreamt that you could fly, soaring over valleys and oceans, only to wake in the morning to discover the sobering reality of unyielding gravity? Well, New Bugger is as close to flying as I can imagine, and every morning it’s a dream come true. I reckon this chair is all of five times easier to push; the thing goes like a bullet!

Old B has been with me since Christmas 2009. (A gift Unwelcome). It was a second hand chair which I rented, then went on to buy because it was unusually narrow and long – well suited to my height. Old B has been a great companion, and we’ve done some remarkable things together. In 2010 we spent a month in the Gibson Desert, we’ve been to Queensland twice, and to Sydney and Melbourne a dozen times each.  She’s had six new wheels: two on the back, four on the front; and numerous modifications in my workshop. A bog standard folding chair, sturdily made of aluminium tube and lots of steel, all in gloss black.

old and new 2New B has been with me since mid July. Made of Titanium tube with alloy parts, the new chair was custom built to a drawing that took weeks to develop with GMS in Melbourne and the TiLite factory in America. Every dimension is individually set for the user’s physique and TiLite describe their chairs as a “custom made prosthetic”. To get such a result costs no small sum: $grrcoughcough in fact. The SmartDrive wheel on the back was almost as much at $sneezesniff; a grand total of $aweekinbed.

Here is a fact that all wheelchair initiates should be told:

Collapsible wheelchairs are designed for carers;
Rigid frame chairs are designed for users.

I didn’t know that until I began ordering my rigid frame chair.  It’s an oversimplification, but essentially true. Collapsible chairs are designed so a carer can fold them up a stick them in the boot of a car. Handy for the carer, but the disadvantage is that part of the energy expended by the user goes into all those folding joints and pins, and never reaches the ground. Pushing a rigid chair is a totally different experience, the focus of energy into motion is brilliant, and the chair is also beautifully silent. I’m a stealth machine going up our hall, I regularly startle the household!

A rigid frame is especially valuable for my purpose; and here it gets a bit technical. old and new 4A rigid frame has lots of empty space under the seat which is occupied in a folding chair by the folding mechanism. This under-seat space is where I have put the breathing apparatus and batteries on New B, rather than hanging behind the seat as it was on Old Bold and new 3Why this matters so much is that it moves the centre of gravity forward, which in turn means the push wheels can be moved forward. This is everything! As the wheels move forward, even in small increments, pushing becomes easier. On Old B much of the effort had to be applied while my hands were level with or behind my shoulders. On New B the point of power delivery is in front of my shoulders, and so you lean into the work and it is far more efficient. Also, as the axle moves forward the turning point of the chair moves forward until it is ideally right beneath you so that you can spin around “on the spot”.  Old B didn’t do this either and so every small or large turn took considerably more effort as the longer wheel-base of the chair had to be brought around.

old and new 1Access to change the batteries and operate switches is through the
wide gaps between the ‘PBO’ wheel spokes. (Each spoke contains over 30,000 strands of Polyphenylene Bensobisoxazole fiber, delivering 3 times the strength of stainless steel at half the weight). Beside which they look very cool indeed.

old and new 5The one small downside of moving the wheels forward is that the chair becomes “tippy”, inclined to tip backwards, as I discovered to my discomfort while going backwards down the ramp out of our vehicle. Notwithstanding anti tip bars New B tipped so effectively that the chair sailed right over me and ended up on its wheels again in the car park, suffering a tiny scratch. The chair, not me, I didn’t get a scratch at all but my Favourite Wife told me I looked like a tortoise, which might be worse…





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