RoChair offers a unique form of wheelchair propulsion


October 11, 2011

The RoChair is a wheelchair that is rowed by pushing and pulling on a central lever

The RoChair is a wheelchair that is rowed by pushing and pulling on a central lever

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Imagine if the only way of propelling yourself on a bicycle was to reach down and turn one of the wheels with your hand. It would be pretty inefficient, yet that's essentially how a wheelchair works. Of course, wheelchairs are set up so that the push-rims can be reached very easily, but the propulsion process still comes down to the wheels being directly pushed forward by hand. ROTA Mobility, however, has an alternative. It's called the RoChair, and it's a wheelchair that is rowed by pushing and pulling on a front-and-center-mounted lever.

The ROTA powertrain takes the linear back-and-forth motion of the lever, and converts it into unidirectional rotary output. Depending on the selected gearing, one push-pull of the lever can translate into as much as two wheel revolutions.

Steering is accomplished by turning the adjustable-length lever to the left or right, while handlebar-mounted brake levers activate the wheelchair's dual disc brakes. A choice of eight gears is available, depending on whether users are going for maximum speed and efficiency on the flats, or making their way uphill.

As compared to traditional wheelchairs, the RoChair's push/pull propulsion system is said to not only offer a better mechanical advantage, but it is reportedly also less likely to cause repetitive strain injuries of the shoulders, wrists and hands. The chair still has traditional push-rims, however, for maneuvering at very slow speeds or in tight quarters.

It's also fairly narrow, with a width of 24 inches (61 cm). According to its designers, previous attempts at lever propulsion wheelchairs haven't used a front-and-center-mounted lever, and have thus ended up being wider. The RoChair additionally utilizes smaller-than-normal 20-inch wheels. These low wheels allow users to slide directly across from a chair onto its seat (its arm rests raise), without having to heave themselves up over one wheel. It's also designed to disassemble in seconds for car stowage.

ROTA Mobility also makes the three-wheeled RoTrike, for users who prefer the idea of a human-powered scooter over that of a wheelchair. Both devices are priced at US$4,980 each.

The video below shows them in use.

Source: Bicycle Design

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I\'ve seen very cheaply made versions of these in Vietnam about 4 years ago, was wondering when they\'ll make it over to the western countries.

Martin Nguyen

I remember seeing wheelchairs propelled by two hand levers pushed forward and backward some 60-70 years ago.


nothing new about the system ; when i was a kid (in the 50\'s) a lot of war veteran in europe used the same kind of wheel chair ( maybe heavier than now)

Jean Lacombe

I\'m pretty sure my friend\'s Quickie costs around $1600. Even that is very expensive compared to a bicycle. Why does this cost as much as a used car?


What a great idea! I watched an elderly woman try to negotiate a ramp the other day and she wasn\'t quick enough to keep the chair from rolling back almost as much as she had gained. A selectable ratchet device would be a big help there, but this push-pull (gandy-dancer) bar would be even better.

Facebook User

OMG! $5 grand? Is this theft legal? And if it is, how do I get in on this as an investment? I want tobe able to steal from people like this!


RE: the outragous expense of mobility devices. I\'m a wheelchair tech &, from my observation, I can tell you that one of the main reasons chairs are so expense is simple economics; there are few companies making few units (compared to, say, cars) & their manufacture is very labor intensive. Add to that the fact that, for the most part, they have to have customized & fitted seating systems as individual as people who must use them. Then, of course, there is the matter of the racket that is the US free-market health insurance system, with its graft & corruption... The main problem I see with the mechanics of this system is in transitioning; looks like things could get awkward. This looks more suited to paras that still have a lot of upper body control.

Steven Livingston

Wheelchair manufacturers need to standardize batteries so they can be solar PV charged. Using the free energy of the sun to assist the disabled should have been in place years ago. Fully charged batteries should be available at every business they travel to. Allow small businesses a generous subsidy for the solar installation expense, if used to assist the disabled. Allow the disabled a generous subsidy for solar power on their homes, so they can find financial relief from the medical expenses they incur. They should not have the expense of charging these batteries every month on their home power bill. Let the sun charge these batteries for free.


Reminds me of a 19th century railway pump car.


Jean Lacombe, can you post a link to the chair from the 50\'s?

Ed, it\'s only theft if you don\'t give somebody the product after they purchase it.

This looks like it\'s meant to be a bicycle for the disabled, which is an awesome idea!


There is another possibility to propel a wheelchair. Ski poles! I used a wheelchair and carried my elbow crutches with me a few years ago after during my recovery from flying accident. I used the elbow crutches like skipoles on higher speeds. It was more efficient on high speeds than using push rims. Ski poles would have been even better. .

Haykey Kaariainen

Great idea..... but for $5000?

You mean office chair, meets bicycle tech, meets wheel chair, meets home exerciser? - and it costs $5000?

I call \"conjob\" on the price.

Mr Stiffy

What an idea.I appreciate it. we can also use this chair for office purpose as a office chairs.This is very helpful to differently able persons.

jackson bravo
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