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One of my lifelong friends called me recently, talking about getting a new powerchair.  On his list, he had three chairs, all meaningful products, but none were 6-wheel.  As I inquired why he wasn't considering a 6-wheeler - especially since stability and power positioning are very important to his needs - he explained that he still saw too many flaws within the 6-wheel platform from years past.

Indeed, I've run across this argument from other seasoned wheelchair users.  I emphasize "seasoned wheelchair users" because these are the knowing individuals who have spent decades using powerchairs, witnessing trends come and go, and are among the most savvy, high-end consumers.  For many, they watched the introduction of 6-wheelers in the U.S. with great interest in the late 1990's and early 2000, and saw mixed results.  The ability to turn on center, as 6-wheel technology provides, was extraordinary indoors.  Yet, outdoors, as many learned in the early days, 6-wheelers only offered marginal performance.  

But, times have changed, and what was a valid opinion in 1999, doesn't hold merit in 2005.  Just as with the definition of technology, 6-wheel powerchair have evolved, becoming arguably the most technology-based platform ever developed.  Suspensions are phenomenal, motor optimization is better than ever, and all around handling rivals other platforms (and beats them in many cases).

The foremost evolution in 6-wheel technology is within the increased ability to handle uneven, outdoor terrain, including backing up small obstacles.  It used to be that 6-wheelers, for the most part, had fixed rear casters, and limited front caster arm movement.  Today's higher-end 6-wheel powerchairs feature live, all-wheel suspension, where the powerchair truly conforms to uneven surfaces.  When you accelerate against an obstacle, the front caster arms lift, the rear-end squats, and the drive wheels maximize traction.  On uneven terrain, independent front caster arms, and rear articulating caster suspension allows front-to-back, side-to-side suspension travel, reducing the likelihood of high-centering, while enhancing stability.  And, rear-end caster arm geometry enhances the ability to back over small obstacles.  When combining all of these aspects with indoor maneuverability, directional stability, and higher speeds, it's hard to not be impressed by the advancements in high-end, 6-wheel powerchair technology.

Now, this isn't to say that there doesn't remain tremendous validity with front-, mid-, and rear-wheel drive - indeed, the benefits of those platforms hold true.  And, this isn't to say that all 6-wheel powerchairs are created equal, as certainly some models dramatically outperform others.  However one must make the point that higher-end 6-wheel technology has not only come of age, but has solidified itself as an outstanding mobility mainstay.  

There's nothing more personal or vital than a powerchair.  And, when someone has a proven platform that they've used for years, it's natural to have some reluctance toward a newer technology.  Yet, it's important to remember that all platforms were new at one time, and just as others earned their ways into users' lives, so has 6-wheel technology.  And, how great it is that consumers now have four fantastic powerchair platforms within their selection, including 6-wheel.

Published 8/05, Copyright 2005,