We first encountered Softwheel on a warm June day at the Mobility Road Show. Trying them then for a moment on paving and tarmac, we could feel a key amount of benefit to them and were keen to learn more. Fast forward to November 2017 and a set of Softwheels had arrived at Review My Wheelchair for a test run.
Officially, the Softwheel model we are testing is called the Acrobat. First thing to note is that there are two sizes available – 24 and 25 inches. The standard handrims are aluminium. On our 25 inch test pair, there are Schwable Marathan Plus tyres fitted. Built with three shock absorbers per wheel, the point of softwheels is that they reduce the impact of bumps and bounces, rather than act as a complete ride softening solution.
Because of the size of the internal rim, there is a valve extender fitted to our test wheels. This simple add on enables the tyres to be inflated.
With 6 weight bands, the maximum user weight is 130kg (290lbs) and there are three material types – Aluminiun composite, magnesium and carbon fibre, give a weight range of 2.2kg to 1.6kg. Supplied with the test wheels were 4 different axle locks, all of which were quick release. The supplied wheels are in the third weight stage.
Softwheel on (and off) the road
The Softwheel banding system means that the wheel has a certain amount of tolerance before the shock absorbers will give. You can anticipate you might still feel bumps on the road as you wheel around the town. It will absorb some of the tactile paving and at the same time reduce some of that impact on your spine, ensuring that surface feedback is not lost whilst wheeling around town.
Off the road, the impact is felt a lot more. On the Xenon, fitted with Frog Leg front suspension as well, soft-roading is a breeze, moving over rougher ground without any significant sudden jolts. It reduces the impact transferred from frame to spine conditionally. This means that any bump in the ground is not a problem. Chasing children around the park with this test set, there was no issue about being able or not able to get anywhere in particular.
The Softwheel Acrobat comes with 4 different axle locks, one of which will usually fit your wheelchair. We fitted the set to a Quickie Xenon and also required a brake adjustment as well. With the 4 degree camber, there was no problem fitting these to the Xenon. If you have mud fenders (rather than clothes) guards, you will want to make sure you have enough clearance before fitting new wheels.
Professional Softwheel use
We felt that we should get a good overview of using the Softwheel for professional use – so we took the wheels out to find somewhere with rough terrain and work involved.
The wheels successfully absorbed and managed the impact of riding over rougher ground – demonstrating the capabilities of the SoftWheel in a more demanding business environment. Although we don’t often visit building sites or similar, if you work in a role that requires more of a “go anywhere” attitude, the Softwheel have you covered.
It didn’t stop for us though with the rough stuff. And on the less demanding environment, we found using the wheels around offices where the flooring could vary, the wheel weight didn’t hinder easy movement during the day.
Because you are likely to need to remove the wheels for transit, we found this to be a bit trickier than with a standard spoke wheels. A certain amount of dexterity is needed to use your fingers in holding the heavier wheel still as you remove the wheels. Once off, lifting the wheels is easy enough and they nestled nicely into the footwell of our fleet Alhambra. We also carried them in the boot with other wheels and found that thanks to their robust nature, we were less worried about them being sat next to each other with the axles loaded as we normally would be when it comes to Spinergy wheels with metal spokes.
Should regular travel be on the cards, wheelbags are also available from Softwheel.
We found the Softwheel to offer a working professional a significant ride improvement. Anyone involved in outdoor pursuits will enjoy the benefit of Softwheel when undertaking challenging terrain. In the town and office, the Softwheel kept us informed about the surface being travelled over whilst reducing the impact of broken paving, drain covers and tactile paving. They also coped well in colder weather, with ice and snow.
The weight is an interesting issue. 2KG is not a lot for those with good muscle tone – for some with reduced muscle core or dexterity we would encourage you to try them out before hand to ensure that you can undertake the activities you want to before purchase. Softwheel’s sales team are very friendly and have shown themselves to be both knowledgeable and considerate about your aims when looking to buy.
If you need that impact reduction or live somewhere that the terrain is going to be a little less than smooth going, you’d do well to consider some form of suspension. The Softwheel are certainly worth it.