The Dirt Road
Less Traveled


April 2014

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Mountain Trike, the all-terrain manual wheelchair. Image: Mountaintrike.com

Tim Morgan is a design engineer who’s long had a taste for speed. In fact, he was a mountain bike racer in the Welsh National Championships in 1999. Considering the trouble people in wheelchairs can have with off-road terrain, he wondered if his two interests could create a solution. “There just didn’t seem to be a wheelchair to use in the everyday lifestyle of going in the country with your family, enjoying that kind of terrain,” he says.

Inspired, he invented the Mountain Trike, touted as an all-terrain wheelchair, orders have come in from a good portion of the world.

Drive System

Containing aerospace machine-swing arms for suspension, each wheel has its own independent suspension, getting three points of contact with the ground with two front wheels and a single back wheel. The lever drive system is also key. “For this, the problem is a normal wheelchair has off-road wheels touching so, for example, your hands get dirty,” he says. “With the lever system, you never have to touch the wheels—just push the lever forward, on the right for each arm, and the wheels go forward much more efficiently and it has the drive to go up hills in all weathers.”

Mountain Trike enables users to access the outdoors in areas previously inaccessible in a standard wheelchair. Image: Mountaintrike.com

“In terms of the design, it was a constant juggling act, balancing all the different compromises,” he says of the Trike, which took home the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Silver Medal. “You wanted it to be strong but lightweight and wanted it to have good position for going uphill but stable when going downhill. Sometimes the two riding positions are quite different so you try to figure out the best middle ground.”

Fatigue Testing

For testing, he had wheelchair users give feedback and did some testing himself to understand issues. “We also did lifetime fatigue testing at the official wheelchair testing center in the UK,” says Morgan, who graduated from the University of Bath with a degree in mechanical engineering. “It was hundreds of thousands of cycles of impact loading— it even was hit by pendulums. We really did put the Trike through its paces.”

Presently, there is only one version but it’s adjustable for riders of many sizes. Right now he’s working on developing a different range of Trikes for specific health needs. “If you have a high spinal injury, you might not have the same control to work the brake levers so I’m adapting it for them,” he says. “You can do it with a joystick control with pivoting wrists. I’m also working on an advanced pro version and I even want to do a smaller version for kids.”

What’s been most rewarding is the response he’s received since starting work on the Trike seven years ago. According to the company site, it’s even been used at the Headley Court Rehabilitation Centre, Surrey, UK, to help in the rehabilitation of injured soldiers. “I’ve heard from people who’ve said it’s changed their lives, that they are active in ways that maybe they weren’t before,” he says. “These positive stories just inspire you to keep at it. I think everyone should have as much opportunity as possible to be active.”

Eric Butterman is an independent writer.

It was hundreds of thousands of cycles of impact loading—it even was hit by pendulums. We really did put the Trike through its paces.

Tim Morgan,
Mountain Trike

 
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