If you have been hiking on a trail lately, you may have encountered a unique all-terrain, lever-driven wheelchair sharing the trail with you.
The GRIT Freedom Chair launched with a highly successful Kickstarter campaign in late 2014, and now these off-road chairs are allowing people with mobility challenges to get back on the trails under their own power.
The GRIT Freedom Chair was born from a class project at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) while the company co-founders were studying mechanical engineering. Engineering student Tish Scolnik (future GRIT CEO) and her peers designed a lever system to utilize a wheelchair user’s upper body strength which would assist them in getting around more efficiently while saving a ton of energy.
During the project, the students interviewed many people with different mobility challenges and quickly learned there was a need for a wheelchair that could take people farther, faster, and on rougher terrains.
“I love knowing that our product can be incredibly impactful on someone’s quality of life—it serves an actual need. When I look at the Freedom Chair, it’s amazing to think just how many of the basic needs it fulfills; from self-actualization, realizing all that you can accomplish, and freedom, to sense of connection and belonging, it’s a product that is enriching lives each day.
Moreover, our team is incredibly smart and equally funny, it makes for a wonderful work environment; the energy makes it easy to want to do great work. We pride ourselves on learning each individual’s story to ensure that they are getting the most out of the Freedom Chair.” — Adrienne Ritchie, GRIT Freedom Chair
The key to the Freedom Chair’s design is the lever driving system. This is the big difference between the GRIT Freedom Chair and other products on the market. Using basic principles of Physics, a lever serves to amplify a force—in this case, the work done by the arms. The push on the levers is transmitted through the chain to the wheels, making it easier to roll over rough and uneven terrain.
Moving the hands closer to, or further from the lever fulcrum is similar to changing gears. Pushing at the top of the levers gives more power to get over obstacles or rough terrain, while pushing lower on the levers gives less power but delivers a longer push stroke, helping you roll faster on smoother surfaces.
The Freedom Chair is intended to get dirty, but very easy to clean. Most riders hose it off to get the salt, sand, and mud off before drying it off and putting it away for the night.
The design uses bike parts for every moving part, making the chair easy to maintain and replacement parts easy to find. Most bike shops can do routine maintenance and replacements, making repairs quick and cost-effective.
The chair is only about 45 pounds and breaks down easily into four pieces, with the heaviest piece weighing 25 pounds. This makes it incredibly easy to transport so you don’t have to be confined to trails or terrain that are within close proximity.
“We have to thank our riders for the continued motivation along the way. They are not just our customers; they’re the most important voices on our design team. We reach out to them to learn about their problems and to get their feedback on what we’re working on.
We work together to collaboratively design solutions to help them overcome their biggest obstacles. It’s a collaborative process called user-focused design. It takes longer and is a lot more work, but the results are worth it, and we learned this early on.” Adrienne Ritchie, GRIT Freedom Chair
GRIT encourages folks of any ability level, who want to get outside and maintain or regain their sense of adventure, to try the chair. GRIT riders come from all over the world, they range from age 5 to age 94, using the Freedom Chair for all different types of activities, but the one common thread among all of our riders is their motivation to keep moving.
Regardless of injury, diagnosis, or disability, GRIT believes that being outdoors, having the ability to socialize and have a sense of independence makes everyone’s life better.
GRIT has done a great deal of traveling this past year and meeting riders. All-time favorite moments have to be seeing children regain their independence as soon as they get in the chair, and being there at such a pivotal moment is incredibly motivating. For children, they are not only getting a taste of more independence but they have SO much fun doing so, and you can see it all over their face.
Several organizations, state recreation areas, and national parks (nationwide and in Canada) have purchased chairs for use in their outdoors programs. Some include:
- The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has a Universal Access Program that purchased many chairs used for specific programs.
- Staunton State Park in Pine, Colorado has added several Freedom Chairs to their Track Chair program that can be checked out on a first-come basis.
- Waypoint Adventures in Lexington Massachusetts has a few chairs and they also use them in programming aimed at getting people with disabilities outdoors.
- GRIT Freedom Chair is committed to helping adaptive athletes conquer Spartan Races and is the official equipment of the Para-Spartan Elite.
When asked to sum up her feelings about the Freedom Chair, Adrienne simply said “My favorite review is from rider Tim: ‘this is not a Chair, it is my long distance legs.’”
GRIT doesn’t have distributors, they ship directly from their Boston office to cut out the cost of the middle-man and to make this as affordable as possible (about half the price of the closest competitor). You can learn more on their website here.