Batec Versus Firefly – budget handcyles head to head

Reviews

The Batec is known across the manual wheelchair sector for being a robust wheelchair add-on handcycle, with manual, powered and hybrid modes.  The Rio Firefly is a competitor, with a lower price but similar power and speed.  Which should you look at?  We’ve done a head to head to find out – it’s the Batec Versus Firefly.

But before we begin – there’s a couple things we must also address.

The first is the elephant in the room, or rather lack of it.  Neither Triride or Klaxon were involved in this head to head and we recognise they are both popular hand-cycles.

The second thing to address is that we’ve compared a lower priced, better equipped hand-cycle with a higher priced, less equipped handcycle.  In this case, that was led by the product retailers, not by us.

Batec Versus Firefly – Attaching to the wheelchair

The Batec has a single clamp point, welded to the underframe of your rigid wheelchair.  Attachment is very simple, rolling over the clamp, push away on the catch handle to lift and release the catch handle to lock.  Very easy in theory – however you must be pretty head on and it takes a little bit of practise to get that alignment right first time, every time.

Batec attachment point - Batec versus FireflyThe attachment of the Batec feels very solid though and sets off your impression of the quality of the Batec as you would expect.

The Firefly lifts onto the front of your wheelchair and because of the free-moving steering hinge, takes some practise to “lift and drop” onto the brackets.  However, once on you can lift against the centre of the handle bars and lock each side separately.

Firefly attachment point - Batec versus FireflyReleasing either of them is reasonably straightforward and after a while, you won’t even need the brakes on the wheels.  However, if you have limited hand dexterity or strength, the Batec is the easiest to attach and my preferred way of attaching.

Batec Versus Firefly – First use

The Firefly is equipped with an LCD screen detailing information such as your speed profile, the current speed, your miles covered so far and if you want to get really detailed, you can find your max speed ever and the average speed as well.  I liked this – it gave me a bit of confidence as I was going along.  The profiles were well built and the control of outputting the torque meant that you don’t wheelspin off from applying the accelerator too much.

Firefly LCD Screen - - Batec versus Firefly

Side note: One word we use in this head to head review is ”torque” – the amount of power output at any moment is measured by the amount of pull it has.  The measurement is called ”torque”.

Driving the Firefly is done through thumb accelerators, with both a forward and reverse drive modes.  The handles were comfortable and this one even had a bell.

The Batec has a lot less information – just a battery/voltage indicator, a switch for slow/fast modes and a switch for the front light. There’s limited torque management, so the user has to manage the wheelspin with the grip-accelerator – perfect for those with limited dexterity.  There is also a push/pull handlebar option.

Batec LCD Screen

Neither of them in their base profiles are going to cause significant injury, however the Firefly for a novice or proficient user can just be attached and used.  The Batec took over a week for me to get used to using the accelerator and not making a fool of myself.

My winner for a first use experience?  It’s the Firefly.

Batec Versus Firefly – Around the supermarket

I like to eat and in order to do so, I need to visit the supermarket.  Both the Batec and the Firefly struggle with a basket on the knees, because turning the hand-bikes require the handles to go into the space where the basket is.  Useful to know – neither lose or score on that factor.

Supermarket Baskets

On the polished floor surface, keeping the Firefly in speed profiles 1 or 2 will mean you don’t go wheel spinning off.  However, until you have the accelerator down to a fine art in a Batec, you’ll be wheel spinning like a boy racer in a supermarket car park, attracting tuts from old people with their trolleys.

Both can turn within tight dimensions.  The Firefly can turn a full 90 degrees though, giving better manoeuvrability.  I found it handy for in the aisles.  The Batec can turn at approximately 75 degrees. The steering is sprung, meaning you need to keep the handles held firmly to ensure you can maintain your turn.  However, if you need to reverse the Batec, it’s a manual task.  There is no reverse mode in the Batec, unlike the Firefly.

I found myself leaning towards the Firefly for the Supermarket runs.  That turning circle and the managed torque meant that it was just more civilised to use.

Going to and around the office

The route I would normally take offers a mix of surfaces, including paving slabs, tarmac, road use, pedestrian crossings and a bridge.  It’s a distance of 1.1 miles.  Both the Firefly and the Batec managed this easily, with some on-road running and pavement.

On the road - slippery cobblesThe Firefly was mated to a wheelchair with wider rear wheels, meaning that the ride was much more stable over paving slabs and grass compared to the Batec, which had a rigid frame standard wheelchair.

What I wanted from this test was to remove or add the add-on attachment quickly when arriving in the office for the day.  Both the Firefly and the Batec did well.  The times were similar at full speed – typical times of 15 minutes to cover the 1.1 miles between home base and office.

Going to work on the Firefly - Batec Versus Firefly

One small thing I found was that when I was rolling downhill, releasing the accelerator on the Firefly wouldn’t disengage the drive gear.  This meant that when you pressed the accelerator again, the Firefly would slow down as the drive gear re-engaged and built its momentum, catching you as it did.

By comparison, the Batec would disengage it’s drive gear, enabling it to coast without losing much speed.  Likewise, it wouldn’t jolt or catch as you re-engaged the gear and maintained or rebuilt your speed.

Going to work on the Batec - Batec Versus Firefly

Once at the office, the Batec stored easily and neatly away, whilst the Firefly has to either sit on its supports or lean into a corner, taking more space as a result.  The Batec was also quicker to remove or attach using the handle release, even if I didn’t get the line-up right first time.

Batec Attachment handle - Batec Versus Firefly

The Batec was the one I preferred taking to the office. It was just much easier to use in a professional environment.

Batec Versus Firefly – At the park

It shouldn’t be all work – so I went out with the children to the park.

Batec versus Firefly

Both the Firefly and the Batec managed the grass well.  We found that the Batec struggled to get all its power down though, even in the dry.  Once going, the Batec offered a slightly more comfortable ride, balancing out the pros and cons to about even.

At the park - Batec versus Firefly

The Firefly was easier to move my legs to either sit more casually or just stretch my legs out.  I found the attachment frame gave enough space.  The Batec has a central clamp sitting between my legs, making it harder to move my legs.  The wheelchair it was mated to also had an inset to help keep my knees together.  I found I often ended up just removing the Batec – it was minimal effort to do but did mean I couldn’t spontaneously chase the children.

Batec Removed - Batec versus Firefly

NB: No children were mown down in the course of this review.

The Firefly was just a tad more sociable and easier – it’s close though.

Quality

An odd one this – but something I need to focus on.  If you’re to pick a hotel, you expect to pay more for additional luxuries.  Yet, sometimes a more upmarket chain might offer less.  So why pay more?

The Firefly is spot on for a low-need user to a mid-need user, someone who has use of their hands to use the thumb accelerator and can press the control screen.  It’s priced well for something that offers no significant frills and can attach easily to most manual wheelchairs.  The silver aluminium and basic look reminds me of mopeds of the 1960s.

Batec versus Firefly

The Batec though offers a better build feel and quality, power-painted frames, a larger motor, sprung centre-steer return and a bigger wheel.  The stand is nothing short of excellent.  The battery life and the longevity is clear too.  Finally, the attachment and ease of adjustments highlight the level of research and development that was put into the Batec.

So, build quality – the Batec wins.

Batec Versus Firefly – Price

This is very simple – the Firefly costs £2,000.  The Batec costs £3,500.  On this bit alone, the Firefly wins.

Lets add some range to this – both offer around 25-27km of range (based on level ground, steady 15kph and no head wind etc), which means they’re still level pegging.

Firefly Quality - Batec versus Firefly

But is it right, considering the Batec has a much stronger build quality feel to it?  Would it be right to consider it a base premium model to a higher-end standard model?  Even if you allow a 50% premium on the Firefly though, the Batec would still be £300 more – and given the wider wheelchair compatibility, I’m still inclined to say the Firefly would win.

Batec Quality - Batec versus Firefly

Remember though, you do get what you pay for and if you want something that’s simpler to attach and has a premium feel to it, then you’d be right to think carefully about where you spend your money.

The scores

After hours of headache and thought, we came up in the office with the following score system – each time the Batec or Firefly wins, they get 1 point.  (We all still can’t work out why this took 4 days to come up with.)

Category Batec Firefly
Attaching 1 0
First Use 0 1
The Supermarket 0 1
The office 1 0
Quality 1 0
Price 0 1

 

So, a draw… or is it?

Batec Versus Firefly – Conclusion

I had an interesting few weeks with the Batec and the Firefly.  What did I learn?

Well, for a start I got used to using either of them over the car when going to town, work or even the supermarket.  They made me enjoy going out and quite honestly, I wouldn’t be sad if I were asked to do another head to head.

The Firefly’s biggest positive was the ease of which it was to use.  With the screen, speedometer and speed profiles, it was incredibly simple to use.  It also had a reverse mode.  The drawback was that it remained in gear all the time, so wouldn’t just coast and save some power.

Firefly - Batec versus Firefly

The Batec’s best features were that chunky wheel and the ease of attaching to the frame.  It was just a simple pleasure to use once I had got the hang of it.  The bits such as a screen, the speed profiles, and some power management that the Firefly offered that made me question if the quality could make up for the lack of features.  Given that it’s the base model and for a few hundred pounds more, you get a lot more for your money, it’s a good question to ask.  If I was a rigid chair user, limited dexterity, I’d be inclined to spend a little more for the features of the Batec Mini.

Batec - Batec versus Firefly

But ultimately, we need to return to the point of this head to head – it’s budget power hand-cycles.  If it had been “mid range”, the participants and outcome would have been different.

If you’re on a budget, it’s going to be the Firefly that will give you the most immediate bang for your buck.

The Budget Handbike Winner – the Firefly

The Winner - Batec versus Firefly

Do you agree?  Leave your comments below – and if you want to see us test a particular device, tell us!

A wheelchair user for 20 years, Dominic looks at how a wheelchair works for its user base, not the brochure. Dominic is our lead editor.

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