Free Wheeling

Man in a AdvenChair hiking

If you, or your loved one uses a wheelchair you’re well-aware that accessibility is a major concern. Wheelchair users face many impediments when it comes to accessing restaurants, hotels, stores, transportation, historic sites and even city streets.

Wheelchair users who love the outdoors also face obstacles. In recent years, accessible trails and nature facilities have become more common, yet many wheelchairs aren’t designed to handle rugged terrains. Enter: wheelchair user, outdoorsman and athlete Geoff Babb. Babb, who lost the ability to walk after a near-fatal brain stem stroke in 2005, has invented a prototype for an all-terrain wheelchair he calls the AdvenChair.

After his stroke, Babb, formerly a fire ecologist for the Bureau of Land Management, was anxious to get back to his outdoor activities. Yet he found that his wheelchair wasn’t up to the task. He surveyed the all-terrain wheelchairs on the market but found that none of them met his needs. So, with the help of Dale Neubauer, a friend and helicopter mechanic, Babb “modified his regular wheelchair to give it beefier tires, a detachable front wheel, handbrakes on the handlebar, and a harness that would allow a small team to guide him up and down steep terrain,” according to AdvenChair.com.

The adapted wheelchair worked well, enabling Babb and his family to hike sites including Oregon’s Smith Rock State Park, Mt. Bachelor, Crater Lake and Mt. Rainier national parks. But in 2016, when he attempted to hike the Grand Canyon in the chair, it fell apart soon after departure. Not one to give up easily, Babb, his wife Yvonne, Neubauer, and computer aided designer Jack Arnold went back to the drawing board where they developed the AdvenChair 2.0. The new chair is made from mountain bike parts, not wheelchair parts. This makes it more “durable” and “less expensive,” Arnold told NPR.

According to the AdvenChair website, the newly designed chair has “an adjustable sit-ski seat, adjustable handlebars, larger 27.5-inch mountain bike wheels and high-grade aluminum mountain bike components throughout.” The chair is “human powered” (not motorized) and can be navigated by one to five people, says the website. It can handle rocky, soft or hilly terrain and its removable front wheels makes it easy for the chair to maneuver through doorways. It is easily dissembled and can be transported by car.

In 2017, when the AdvenChair 2.0 was in development, Babb suffered a second life-threatening stroke —12 years to the date of his first. After the debilitating stroke, Babb had to re-learn to swallow, chew and use his right hand. But it didn’t weaken his resolve to get the AdvenChair on (well off) the road. Currently, Babb and his team are fundraising so that they can bring the AdvenChair to market.

Babb says the effort is “not just for me, but for the millions of people around the world with limited mobility, and even more limited one-dimensional chairs.”