The freewheel was the first piece of wheelchair/mobility equipment we ever bought. We got it just after Craig returned home from rehab and it's had plenty of use ever since.
Here's our experience of using the freewheel after 6 months of regular use:
The freewheel is an attachment that clips onto the footplate of wheelchairs. It raises the front castors off the ground and replaces them with one larger wheel. The large wheel makes it easier for you to navigate over bumps, gaps and steps which the front castors would catch on.
In our experience, the freewheel is not very easy to set up at all. The instructions provided are very unclear. We ended up watching a YouTube video for clearer instructions. This wasn’t great either but it was much better than the instructions so we'd recommend doing the same.
The way you set up your freewheel will depend upon the type of footplate you have. It comes with various parts to suit different footplate types. Our footplate was supposed to be freewheel compatible but it didn't match any of the examples provided. We had to bodge a hybrid based on two of the examples.
The setup also required one part to be cut to size using a saw. Not everyone has the tools or ability to do this.
If you do buy one from a shop rather than online, we would suggest asking them to set it up for you to save a lot of hassle.
We bought ours online from a website called Spokz for £350 (about $430 / €390) without VAT. In the UK, most wheelchair users are exempt from paying tax on mobility equipment. This seems expensive for what it is - a pivoting wheel attached to a clamp! But, it is a lot cheaper and more affordable than most other wheelchair equipment. Craig uses it almost every time we go out so, in terms of price per use, the freewheel is good value for money.
The freewheel lifts the front castors off the ground and replaces them with one larger wheel making it easier to cross uneven terrain.
Without it, all it takes is a small stone or an uneven paving slab to catch a front castor and jolt you forward (and potentially out of your chair). The freewheel glides over all these things and gives you peace of mind.
The freewheel also reduces pushing effort when going over grass, gravel and other rough terrain. We take ours everywhere as it makes a big difference even when the ground is still fairly smooth. It's also noticeably easier to push along cambered pavements with the freewheel.
Even if someone normally pushes your wheelchair, it's still useful. It’s easier on the person pushing you and you won't go flying out of your chair if someone pushes your castors into a ditch.
While there are lots of benefits, the freewheel does have some bad aspects:
The freewheel effectively suspends you in a permanent wheelie. This makes it easy to tip over backwards particularly when going uphill or if you're carrying a bag on the back of your chair. Craig has tipped a few times when someone has accidentally pushed down on the back of the chair. It is fine once you are aware and get used to it but you do have to be careful at first.
The freewheel sticks out a long way in front of your wheelchair. This can be hazardous to nearby people who don't notice it. We’ve had several oblivious people try to cut in front of Craig and trip over it. It also increases your turning circle and makes it hard to turn in small spaces.
When steering the freewheel can drop quickly to the side and spin you around faster than expected. This can be annoying but with a little practice, it is easy to control.
The freewheel is very quick and easy to attach and detach once set up. Check out our video below to see just how easy it is to use.
The freewheel is very small which makes it easy to take everywhere you go. It's small enough to put in the footwell of a car or in the overhead lockers on planes.
There is an included attachment to hold the freewheel on the back bar of your wheelchair while not in use. We have had several problems with this attachment and didn't like it at all. First of all, the clamp that joins the attachment to the back bar is too small to fit on Craig's wheelchair (the bar on Craig's chair seems to be a similar size to most wheelchairs). Another wheelchair user suggested an alternative wider clamp that we tried. This did work but it didn't feel secure and we worried the freewheel would fall off the attachment. The attachment also sticks out a lot from the back of the chair. This was incredibly annoying when putting the wheelchair inside the car. We also felt at risk of damaging furniture and walls with it.
We came up with our own solution to carry the freewheel when not in use. We use a double sided carabiner and attach one side to the back bar of the wheelchair. We tied some string to the freewheel and made a loop which can be attached to the other side of the carabiner. This feels very secure but the freewheel does swing around a little. This swinging can be stopped by tucking the freewheel behind the back bar of the chair. Check out the video below to see how our carrying solution works.
All in all, we can’t recommend this little attachment enough. We would advise anyone thinking about getting a freewheel to go for it. It has made life so much easier and given us so much more freedom to go off the beaten track without fear. It does have a few flaws but, for its simple design and relatively cheap price, it achieves a lot. We've been to so many places that we really would've struggled to get to without it.