Like a lot of CRPS sufferers, my mobility is hugely limited due to pain. In my home, I manage to get around with my Smart Crutches but outdoors, 99% of the time I’m reliant on my wheelchair.
I’m lucky enough to have a Quickie Xenon wheelchair that was built to fit me, meaning that I’m at my most comfortable whenever I use it. The only problem, though, is the state of so many pavements whenever I go out. Potholes, cracks, cobbles: when you have chronic pain, you feel every tiny vibration like a knife.
I looked at suspension systems for my chair but on the whole, they were very expensive and hard to retrofit. I tried to learn to live with the inevitable juddering I experienced on any outing, but the pain and exhaustion would both curtail my excursions and increase the time I needed to recover from them. It wasn’t an ideal situation.
Reinventing the wheel
That was until I discovered Loopwheels. The brainchild of engineer and designer Sam Pearce, Loopwheels are a brand new invention that places suspension within the wheel itself.
Sam was inspired by a very mundane experience; whilst sitting in an airport waiting for his flight, he saw a mum pushing her child in a buggy. The buggy went over a kerb and the impact jolted the child forward. A lightbulb went off and Sam scribbled a sketch of a wheel with inner suspension that would minimise this unpleasant jolting. This was the kernel of the idea that became Loopwheels.
What makes Loopwheels different?
The main difference in appearance between a Loopwheel and a ‘normal’ bike or wheelchair wheel is that loopwheels have no spokes. Instead they have interconnected carbon springs, called loops, that move and absorb impact as the wheel moves. These loops mean the wheels are far less rigid than other wheels; they are necessarily flexible in order to absorb vibration and shock. They also look seriously cool!
As a keen cyclist, Sam originally developed his new wheels for bikes, running a massively successful Kickstarter in 2013 that enabled those pledging to get their own bike Loopwheels. The feedback was hugely positive.
Catering for disabled people
It wasn’t long however until wheelchair users spotted the wheels and started asking how they could get hold of them. After realising how hugely beneficial they could be to those with disabilities, a further Kickstarter followed in 2015 to fund the wheels for wheelchairs, again smashing its target. As I write today, Loopwheels are available from a range of physical outlets and online retailers. You can get them in both 24” and 25” to suit, and there’s a huge range of colours you can choose from.
In fact, the response to and demand for Loopwheels for wheelchairs has been so great that the team has decided to focus exclusively on wheelchair wheels for the time being. They recognise that there is a real need, not simply a desire, for this product and they’re clearly determined to make a difference to the wheely community.
Loopwheels are made by a very small company based in Nottinghamshire, and they recognise that they only have the manpower to really focus on one issue at a time. (They only have one full time member of staff actually making Loopwheels!) I think it’s commendable and refreshing that they’ll aim to really crack one problem and produce an excellent product, rather than spreading themselves thinly and doing several things not so well.
My experience of Loopwheels
I purchased my Loopwheels a few months ago, at the same time as I bought my Rio Firefly, as I thought the two would work very well together. I chose purple Loopwheels to go on my bright blue chair and I have to say the combination looks awesome! Almost every time I go out someone stops me and asks about my cool wheels, so they’re clearly doing something right with the aesthetic.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a retailer close to me where I could try the wheels out before buying, so my retailer (John Preston Healthcare) stated that I’d be able to return the wheels if I had any problem as long as they were unmarked. In effect, that meant I could try them out indoors to ensure they did the job.
The wheels took only a second to fit and I immediately noticed a difference. Loopwheels definitely reduce the impact of going over bumps, kerbs and cobbles. Of course nothing can eliminate the impact completely (other than never leaving the house, I guess) but the addition of Loopwheels to my chair has made every excursion far more comfortable for me.
Easier to self-propel
One major benefit that I wasn’t really expecting is how much easier I find it to self-propel my chair now that I have Loopwheels. For example, the route to my daughter’s school used to leave me needing a rest halfway due to the camber and general unevenness of the pavement. Recently I realised that I can now do this trip without needing to rest at all and barely even getting out of breath as the Loopwheels make my pushing so much more efficient. It’s a big benefit when you’re already battling the exhaustion caused by chronic pain.
Are there any negatives?
One downside of Loopwheels is that they are expensive. Loopwheels aren’t currently available through the NHS wheelchair service in the UK (although the team tell me this is a future ambition) so the only way you can get hold of them is to buy them privately, and prices start from around £750 excluding VAT. It’s important to note that, generally, if you’re buying an essential disability product for a disabled person, you should be able to reclaim the VAT on that purchase. For more guidance on VAT relief for disabled people, check out this link.
Even with VAT relief though, this is still a big number and significantly higher than the cost of many wheelchair wheels. For me personally, it was a price worth paying; it’s still significantly cheaper than the cost of fitting suspension to a chair and it’s made a big difference to my wheelchair experience. For those without chronic pain they may not find it worth the cost simply to have a less juddery ride, but for those with diseases like CRPS I suggest it’s really worth thinking about, at least.
Another thing to note is that the wheels are only suitable for users between 50 kg (about 8 stone) and 120 kg (just under 19 stone). They’re hoping to produce Loopwheels for children and lightweight adults at a later date, but this is not set yet.
The team themselves tell me that trying is believing. They exhibit at the major disability shows in the UK and Europe (Naidex, Mobility Roadshow and Rehacare in Germany, amongst others) and 99% of those who try their wheels are amazed by the difference they make.
Do you recommend Loopwheels?
In a word: yes. They look great and do a fantastic job of reducing impact and making pushing easier. They are pricey, but that’s because you’re buying a high-end product made with quality materials. And yes, the cost is high, but it’s a fraction of what you could spend trying to fit suspension to your wheelchair.
And the team behind Loopwheels are genuinely on a mission to help the disabled community. They represent the best of British design and it’s an unexpected added bonus to be able to support home-grown innovation simply by rocking some funky wheels on your chair. Give Loopwheels a go: you may be surprised at the difference they can make.
Disclaimer: I spoke to the Loopwheels team for this piece, but I am not associated with them. I paid for the Loopwheels with my own money and am not associated with the company in any way. My enthusiasm is simply a reflection of how much they have helped me.