What is a sports wheelchair?

Disabled (and, often, other participating) people use sport wheelchairs for disabled sports that require speed and agility, such as basketball, rugby, tennis and racing.

Although at entry level it is not essential to have a specialised sports wheelchair, many sports use equipment and chairs to make the sport easier to play and a sports wheelchair can make a big difference to your enjoyment of the sport.

Each wheelchair sport tends to use specific types of wheelchairs, and these no longer look like their everyday cousins.

They are usually non-folding (in order to increase solidity), with a pronounced angle for the wheels (which provides stability during a sharp turn) and made of composite, lightweight materials.

Sport wheelchairs are not generally for everyday use, and are often a ‘second’ chair specifically for sporting usage, although some users prefer the sport options for everyday.

Choosing a sports wheelchair

The mindset is the same when buying a sports wheelchair as it is for an every-day wheelchair. You have to consider what you need the wheelchair for, your physical size and whether the wheelchair will suit your lifestyle and your specific impairment.

Generally the wheelchair sport you’re involved in will have a specific type of wheelchair associated with it. These  wheelchairs will have been specifically developed to suit the different aspects of the sports they’re used for, such as: balance, weight, speed, strength or safety.

Here are our tips for choosing the right sports wheelchairs:

Get the right size

The first consideration for choosing your sports wheelchair is the size that you will need. Height, width and weight are important considerations when you are deciding which wheelchair is right for you. If you are very tall you will need a decidedly different wheelchair set up than someone who is shorter. Heavier people will require a more robust and heavy duty wheelchair than a person who is lighter.

Work out your budget

The cost of a sports wheelchair can be considerable. You should plan ahead of time how much you are willing to spend. A sports wheelchair cost will depend on the features and quality. You should decide up front how much you plan to use the wheelchair and how much you really need it.

Get funding for a chair

This guide displays a list of charities that can provide support with purchasing a sports wheelchair and equipment. If you don’t find what you are looking for then Active Partnerships are located in every county and can direct you to local funding.

Speed and agility

What sports are you interested in using the wheelchair for? Sports wheelchairs are typically designed with a specific sport in mind. Those chairs intended for tennis and basketball, for instance, will need to be very quick and highly maneuverable. They will require angled wheels for stability during tight turns, and they will need to be constructed from lightweight, durable materials such as aluminium, titanium or carbon fibre composite.

Pick your sport

You will need to find a sports wheelchair that is designed for your sport. The chair set-up is vital to ensure the best performance for you.  In addition to the height, width and length of the chair the back height and footplate configuration should be appropriate for your needs.  Strapping will enhance stability and security and some sports wheelchairs are fitted with a fifth wheel which acts as an anti-tip making the chair more stable.

Try before you buy

Now that you have those considerations all worked out you must figure out how to purchase the sports wheelchair. There are a variety of methods available for this purchase. It is best if you are able to test the wheelchair. It will give you an opportunity to decide if your chosen model is the right one for you. Buying a wheelchair from a wheelchair dealer is probably the best option but WheelPower would recommend that you take your time to speak to different wheelchair manufacturers when deciding which sports wheelchair is right for you.

Exhibitions such as Naidex and the Mobility Roadshow offer a great opportunity to try a variety of different wheelchairs before deciding which one is right for you.

Here are some manufacturers that specialise in sports wheelchairs: BromakinDa Vinci Mobility,  InvacareMotivation, RGK, Roma SportSunrise Medical, Top End.

For further information have a look at Loughborough University’s ‘Practical Guidelines for Wheelchair Selection in Court Sports’ resource.

What questions do I need to ask?

  • Is the wheelchair really suitable for the sport you have in mind? (Is it fast, light, manoeuvrable and so on?)
  • Is it the right size? (Seat height, seat depth, width etc.)
  • Is it comfortable? (This will ultimately affect performance.) Make sure you also select a seat cushion that will not induce too much sweat and that can be wiped clean.
  • Is it adjustable? (If you’re still growing, will it be too small, too soon?)
  • Can I upgrade it with better castors, wheels or other kit?
  • Does the wheelchair conform to the regulations governing the sport I’ll be participating in? (It should if it is a sport-specific wheelchair.)
  • What are the push-rims like? (It’s really important that they feel good since moving the wheelchair is an essential characteristic of wheelchair sport.)