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John Williamson

PowerChairs & Snow.
 + Other Soft Surfaces like Sandy Beaches / Winter Mud.

I just came back from the pub in my very own home designed Powerchair after a few beers. The world was very white!  Covered in very thick snow. With even thicker drifting patches and really uneven frozen broken up frozen areas.. Much worse than a few hours ago when I went out. My powerchair can cope with this stuff easily so I wasn't concerned.. Most cant.

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Normal Powerchairs cant cope with this kind of weather for a number of reasons...

Nothing keeps me from my beer!   Most NORMAL indoor / outdoor full size top end Powerchairs can just about cope on reasonably level surfaces in fresh and even Snow. Up to about 4 inches for most rear drive chairs, and about 3 for mid drive (6 wheel) powerchairs.

The problem is that they (most powerchairs) generally use very skinny 3.00 wide tyres on main drive wheels and small diameter caster wheels with even narrower tyres, ESPECIALLY bad on 6 wheeler or mid drive powerchairs where casters are often tiny.

These sink into soft snow (or soft sand / mud) and leave you beached with the powerchairs bottom resting on the snow.  And small casters sink and plough through  the snow rather than ride over it. Then lack of drive wheel grip, (or power in a great many chairs) means you are screwed and going nowhere!

This is compounded by the fact that most powerchairs have very little ground clearance generally about 2.5 to 3.5 inches is pretty normal.

Mine has 4 inches+ which is better but still not huge. But it has big fat tyres that do not sink into the snow since they are about a foot wide combined!  Its called floatation. They exert much less pressure on snow or sand. And there is a much smaller gap between them.

Most rear drive powerchairs are slightly better in snow if only due to them having less casters to get stuck when manoeuvring about. Plus mid-drive (or 6 wheelers) use 4 smaller casters generally of just 5 and 6 inch diameter.

They are small because they have to be because have so many of them!  Otherwise they would be in the way and hitting everything around you indoors as they swivel about.  

Most production rear drive Powerchairs are much too nose heavy however meaning less weight on the important drive wheels (less grip / less control) and more on the front casters which then get stuck or simply head down hill towards the gutter.  My own Powerchair has a very rearward C of G designed that way to improve control and grip.

So if you do go out in thick snow (over around 3 inches) or on to a sandy beach, most stock powerchairs will likely get you stuck pretty quickly due to the wheels sinking in and the powerchair grounding out or just due to lack of power.

There is an additional problem with snow and ice though. Grip, or Traction.. Stock Powerchair tyres soon slip if you try to climb a ramp, or even cross a road due to the camber needed for drainage, if covered in even small amounts of snow.

Certain tyre treads are much worse in snow than others. The narrow one below is terrible in snow!  If your tyres look like that you better stay indoors in the winter! I use these on my older (oldest) powerchair. The others have been converted to use the big fat all terrain ones in the other image further down the page. With NO width penalty as the whole chair was redesigned.

In soft snow Fat Off Road type tyres (see 2nd images below) will help prevent the "sinking" from happening. And they grip Snow or Sand and propel you forwards much more reliably. Beaches, or heavy snow are no longer a problem. And comfort is drastically improved.  Of course on pure hard packed smooth snow or sheet ice neither tyres will really work!  For that you would need chains or studded tyres. Fortunately this is very rare where I live! 

A typical powerchair tyre. Actually this one is 3.50 x 8  (14 .25 inch) AND TUBELESS which is slightly wider than most are, and much more puncture resistant and stronger construction too...  It just slips and sinks in snow. Leaving you stuck if the snow is more than a few inches deep,

Generally speaking most powerchairs also come with caster wheels of too small a diameter for any serious snow or beach use too. (or even SENSIBLE real world outdoor use) So again its best to limit yourself to no more than a few inches unless getting stuck doesn't worry you or you have some able bodied person with you in case of need! 

For any semi serious snow or sand or real world outdoor use you need 10 inch diameter (total) caster wheels fitted. These are the size I use on my home built chair below. Actually they are  3.00 X 4 mini bike tyres.  The rear ones are 145/70 - 6 off road buggy tubeless tyres. This chair is the one I came back from the pub in with no worries.

Its small (25 inches wide) and short and so very good indoors and in my van etc, but its also all but un-stoppable in even thick snow. The fatter tyres don't stick out, so don't get in the way. They offer great floatation on sand or snow or in  real world outdoor conditions.  The chair has little weight on the front casters due to rearward C of G so the 3 inch wide 10 inch diameter front tyres don't sink and just ride over the top of the snow. / sand. 

As you can see you don't HAVE to accept a compromise!  It does the job of an off road chair as well as a good indoor chair with full range and performance. Here if you are interested.

powerchair off road tyres comparison
Choice of wheels! Mmm Which ones today...   The all terrain ones shown fitted below in the next photo.

The other thing you need to watch out for is serious corrosion and damage from road salt that gets everywhere for about 5 months of the year where I live!

Stock powerchairs are very badly finished (paint, materials, coatings, etc) and they rapidly disintegrate as you watch... Its amazing how cheaply they are made and finished.

If you have been out in the wet salty slush covered or wet roads then its best to thoroughly rinse your powerchair with clean water. I use my drive in shower (wet room) and give it a good rinse down. Clean water wont hurt it but corrosive salt water definitely does. Rinse it off! Obviously avoid the control pod and the Power Module under the seat. Feel free to rinse the batteries and the motors since they get wet anyway when you are out. If the salt water doesn't damage them the clean water certainly wont!  Just don't go mad.

Again my own home built/re-designed powerchair (above and below) has EVERY single part powder coated and oven cured, every single last bolt is totally rustproof polished stainless steel, as are all bearings and bolts are thoroughly copper greased on assembly. All electrical connections are coated in silicone grease to prevent electrical issues. So I no longer worry. It just washes clean like new, permanently. Corrosion and deterioration from salt just does not really happen any more. Ask your chairs manufacturer why they don't do the same? 

Wheelchair half way up vehicle ramp

This chair also has group 24 batteries, (actually it can TAKE group 24 Gel batteries but uses Odyssey 1500DT as they perform better! And can be charged in 1 hour) a low seat height (can be as low as 16 inches, currently set to 18), and 4 inches plus of ground clearance (not including the "pin" that locks it into the driving position). Contrary to what I just read on another "experts" website this is entirely possible! since I managed to build one in a bedroom myself... I drive tools rather than a desk!  The lowest part of this chair is the anti tip wheels seen in this image.

So, even normal over the counter everyday average powerchairs with skinny tyres and small caster wheel are actually OK in Snow as long as you are driving on reasonably flat surfaces, and the snow is fresh, rather than old compressed and hard (slippery) or sheet ice. Just take care! And avoid ramps, steep hills, severe road cambers etc. If its any thicker than a few inches then take an able bodied friend too (and a mobile phone) just in case!  Or get your chairs manufacturer to build you a chair like this...

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Detailed Full PowerChair Related ONLY Menu HERE

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