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Our ultralight manual wheelchairs and our bodies have a lot in common when it comes to weight - that is, all of the good stuff that we want packs on the pounds, both to our figures and our wheelchairs.

If you're like most manual wheelchair users, you likely think that your rigid monotube wheelchair weighs around 21 lbs., or your folder, around 28 lbs.  After all isn't that what the brochure said.   But, the weight specified in the brochure was a bare-bones, optimally-configured chair, one that almost no one would use, right down to likely omitting a seat cushion and brakes.  As a result, your ultralight wheelchair, as configured for your real-world, everyday use, may weigh closer to 30 lbs. if it's a monotube, or closing in on 40 lbs. if it's a folder.

Yet, these weights are very subjective from one user's chair to the next, entirely based on what features, options, and accessories are placed on a chair.   The key, as a consumer, then, is to understand the weight implications of the components you choose, determining whether the functional benefit or aesthetic allure is worth the trade-off for adding extra weight to your chair?

(Note: All discussed weights are approximate, but typically with 0.25 lbs. of most industry-recognized components.  Many wheelchair manufacturers now publish component weight charts, and they should be reviewed to define a particular wheelchair's weight.)

Rear Wheel Types
Among the largest impacts toward overall weight is the rear wheels, where they can account for 40- to 50% of a chair's assembled weight in some cases.  Lighter wheels not only reduce the chair's static weight, but also make the chair more efficient to propel via less rotational weight in the wheel, itself, so wheel weight is a major consideration all the way around.  

A 24" HP spoke wheel with aluminum handrim, without tire, is around 3.5 lbs., or 7 lbs. per pair on the chair.  If you elect for mag wheels in the same configuration, it adds about 2 lbs. more to the chair.  To the lighter side, a Spinergy SPOX wheel is about .5 lbs. lighter than a spoke wheel, so it's a way to save 1 lb.  
Weight Variation To Chair: Up to 3 lbs.  
Best Pick For Lowest Weight: Spinergy Spox (or, spoke wheels, if cost is a concern)


Rear Tires
Again, going back to wheels, lighter weight means better static and dynamic results, and while tires may not seem like a consequence toward weight, they can be.  A 24"x1" (540), clincher tire like a 100 psi Primo V-Track is among the lightest tires, about 1 lb. per pair lighter than an everyday gray 1-3/8".  However, adding a flat-free insert to 1-3/8" tires adds approximately 3.5 lbs. to the chair; and, a full poly tire adds around 2 lbs.  
Weight Variation To Chair: Up to 3.5 lbs.  
Best Pick For Lowest Weight: 100 psi clincher tires


Handrims
Aluminum handrims are the lightest choice (even lighter than titanium handrims by about .20 lbs. per pair).  Adding vinyl/plastic coating to aluminum handrims increases the weight by around 1 lb. per pair; projection handrims add approximately 1 lb. per pair; and, ergonomic handrims add around 2 lbs. to the overall chair's weight.  
Weight Variation To Chair: Up to 2 lbs.  
Best Pick For Lowest Weight: Aluminum handrims


Now, I want to stop here, and just take a look at rear wheels for a moment.  If you run 24" Spinergy wheels with clincher tires and aluminum handrims, your total rear wheel weight is about 6 lbs. on the chair.  But, if you go to 24" spoke wheels with 1-3/8" flat-free inserts and ergonomic handrims, you're at approximately 11.5 lbs. on the chair - that is a huge difference, that's going from a 21 lb. chair to a 26.5 lb. chair strictly based on the rear wheels.  Never underestimate the importance of all aspects of rear wheel selection.  

Casters
4" low-profile, composite-rim, poly-tire casters are among the lightest choices.  5" composite casters add around .25 lbs. per chair; 6" composite casters add about .75 lbs.; 5" aluminum soft-roll casters add approximately 1 lb.; and, 6" aluminum soft-roll casters add around 1.5 lbs.  
Weight Variation To Chair: Up to 1.5 lbs.  
Best Pick For Lowest Weight: Composite rim casters


Armrests
Armrests are another area of considerable weight on ultralight manual wheelchairs.  Height-adjustable, full-profile armrests add approximately 6 lbs. per pair to a chair; and, tubular armrests add around 2 lbs.
Weight Variation To Chair: Up to 6 lbs.  
Best Pick For Lowest Weight: Tubular armrests


Notable Accessories
Aluminum side guards add approximately 2 lbs. per pair; anti-tips, 1.5 lbs.; spoke guards, 1.5 lbs; brakes, .75 lbs.; and, tension-adjustable backrest upholstery adds approximately 1 lb.  
Weight Variation To Chair: Up to 6.75 lbs. combined

Seat Cushions
Many users don't take into account the weight of their seat cushion, which can add considerable weight to a manual wheelchair.  A basic 2" foam, non-positioning cushion adds about 1 lb., and is the lightest cushion solution - but not very effective toward positioning, comfort, or pressure relief for many users.  A high-profile air-cell cushion weighs around 2.5 lbs, and a gel positioning cushion weighs in at about 5.5 lbs.  
Weight Variation To Chair: Up to 5.5 lbs.  
Best Pick For Lowest Weight:  Foam (or, air-cell if pressure management is needed)


Putting The Numbers In Your Favor
The fact is, while many features on our manual wheelchairs add weight, they're there for a very good reason - we need them.  But, in many cases, a savvy consumer can configure his or her chair to dramatically reduce weight without skimping on features.  Choosing spoke wheels over mags saves 2 lbs; choosing pneumatic tires over flat-free tire inserts saves 3.5 lbs.; choosing tubular armrests over full-profile, height-adjustable armrests saves 4 lbs.; choosing composite casters over aluminum can save .5 lbs.; and; using an air-cell cushion over a gel cushion can save 3 lbs.  Through these selections - where components weren't removed but replaced with lower weight alternatives - 13 lbs. has been saved.  Think about that: Through wise configuration, you can save 13 lbs. on a fully-configured ultralight manual wheelchair - that's a profound increase toward performance.

Surely, each of our needs are different when it comes to outfitting a manual wheelchair - some of us can get by with a minimalist 21 lb. rigid monotube, where others of us need 38 lb. full rehab folders.  However, most manual wheelchairs offer a vast array of component variations at the time of order, and simply knowing to select the best components for your needs - but in the lightest forms - can dramatically improve your mobility over the years that you'll own the wheelchair.  Heck, if you simply follow the few pointers in this article, you've learned how to save 13 lbs. in just the 5 minutes that it took you to read this. That's some kind of diet!

Published 8/07, Copyright 2007, WheelchairJunkie.com