Smith Rock—Proving Ground for Local Inventor's All-Terrain Wheelchair
February 18, 2019
Geoff Babb’s first ride in his wheelchair to the park back in 2006 was not pretty. He promptly did a face plant as the front wheels got stuck in a crack in the sidewalk. But while a near-fatal brain stem stroke left him with only limited use of one hand, he soon found his inflexible wheelchair to be the biggest obstacle to having fun in his beloved outdoors again. He set out to do something about it.
Over the last 13 years Geoff and his team, including his dedicated wife Yvonne, helicopter mechanic Dale Neubauer, and CAD designer Jack Arnold, designed, tested, and tinkered to create a totally new human-powered off-road chair that thinks it’s a mountain bike—the AdvenChair. All this, in spite of a second stroke 12 years to the day after the first one.
Geoff was back at Smith Rock recently with the latest iteration of the AdvenChair to test once again, as the prototype gets refined through the Spring 2019, with a limited first production run based on funding scheduled for Fall 2019. He shared his Journal entry from the day for us to share with you.
AdvenChairing is a team sport.
By Geoff Babb
Photos by Michelle Simmons, The Suitcase Studio
My wife, Yvonne often refers to the AdvenChair as the “community chair” because so many people are involved with it, whether designing it, telling the story, or on the trail, where it takes a team to push, pull, and/or maneuver the chair. This was the case last week on a hike at Smith Rock State Park.
Our timing was perfect as we set a date a week in advance for a photoshoot of the newly powder coated AdvenChair to have high quality pictures to use on the website. With temps in the 50’s and blue skies, matched with stunning rock formations, conditions couldn’t have been much better.
Photographer Michelle Simmons had a list of shots in mind – moving on the trail, people talking, close ups of the chair, and various group shots, and designer Jack Arnold wanted to watch how the chair performed, particularly the front wheel.
In the parking lot several people helped me transfer out of the van and into the AdvenChair while others readied the straps, poles, and shoulder harness needed for pulling.
Soon we were headed down the steep trail into the Crooked River Canyon. Amy Kazmier used the disc brakes to easily control my speed, but just in case, Dave Green and Kirk Metzger followed with nylon straps attached to the chair should she need help.
With her two-year-old daughter Addison on her back Danielle Cochran pushed me across the footbridge at the Crooked River. This was Danielle’s first outing with us, but she was already a valued team member after she and her husband Joe had donated coffee through their business Smith Rock Coffee Roasters to the Indiegogo fundraising campaign.
As Brian Tandy pulled me with two fiberglass poles attached to a shoulder/waist harness, the team easily moved me through rocky spots and across smooth boardwalks before really testing the system. Michelle asked for a photo near the water, so the team guided me about 50 feet down a log and earth staircase to a small beach. With a combination of teamwork, strength, and finesse I was quickly back up the stairs and onto the trail.
At Smith Rock descending into the canyon from the parking lot is optional. From the bottom though, the climb out is mandatory; but three pullers and a pusher (with some rest breaks thrown in) quickly pulled me the 200 yards to the top.
Around a picnic table we debriefed with an AAR – an “After Action Review” in military and firefighting parlance, but in this case, I’ll coin the term “After AdvenChair Review” – to discuss the day.
Everyone was impressed with how easily the AdvenChair rolls and how well the weight is balanced. Jack shared his ideas on upgrades to strengthen the front wheel and to improve the footrest and steering tubes. Through the test, AAR, refine cycle we’ll continue to improve the AdvenChair.
With teamwork Michelle was able to get some good shots for the website, Jack got important feedback on the design, new people were able to experience the AdvenChair, and we all enjoyed a stellar January day.
Thanks Geoff for sharing your Journal entry with us and for all you are doing to help so many others with mobility issues get off the beaten path!