We live in Britain, It’s August, so what’s better than spending a sunny summer’s day (seriously, it wasn’t raining or blowing a gale) than at the beach?
Last week, I was invited to the Lincolnshire coast by Debs at Access The Dales to test drive a Terrain Hopper on Mablethorpe Beach. It’s quite a distance from where I live (on the other side of the country) in Lancashire, so i decided to make it a weekend and had Mum and my dog join. I first met Debs and Andy from Access the Dales in May when i tried out the terrain hopper on the Winnats pass in the peak district for some university research. They’re aim is to “make the inaccessible accessible” and want to inspire more people to get outdoors on challenging terrain, in all-terrain wheelchairs. So, as you may have guessed, we have a lot in common!
What is a “Terrain Hopper”?
It is essentially an electrically powered off-road wheelchair that is designed to tackle the likes of sand, rocks, loose gravel, snow and many other types of terrain that are pretty much impossible for a manual wheelchair to travel over. It therefore enables people who are less able to, or unable to walk over these surfaces, to get out and enjoy parts of the countryside they wouldn’t be able to access in
their everyday wheelchairs.
Like many all-terrain wheelchairs, there are a range of models available. I have tried an ‘overlander 2‘ in the past, but didn’t have access to a harness and the seat was pretty big compared to me and I found myself sliding off it, so going down hill was pretty unnerving. However, this time I was in the ‘Terrain Hopper – mini‘, that’s designed for children or ‘petite’ people. When buying a scooter, different parts are added to fit a person’s choice, such as tyres and the option for a roll bar.
The harness made all the difference to me. As i have no movement or feeling from below my chest, my only way of keeping myself on a moving piece of equipment like this on rough terrain is by pure luck and strength of my arms, which is pretty difficult when you are going down an extremely steep hill. (Or on a fairground ride, that was a good idea…)
Above: Testing the ‘Overland 2’ near suicide cave at Winnats pass in the Peak District in May 2016.
With the harness however, I didn’t have to worry about this. The fact I was in a smaller buggy also helped, however though i’m “slim” i do have rather long legs and it was pretty difficult trying to get them in whilst transferring. I’ve figured that the best way of finding the right fit for you, starts by finding the right model (just like buying a car) and then choosing what you would like adjusting. There are a range of different seats, seating positions and harnesses available, so you’ll be able to make the terrain hopper fit you!
As someone who’s main modes of transport come in the form of a light weight manual wheelchair, mountain trike or downhill and wind powered pieces of kit, the heaviness of the manual steering when i first tried to move the buggy took me by surprise. But as soon as I was on sand and rough terrain, it didn’t feel heavy at all and the terrain hopper felt as though it was in its natural environment. If you feel the manual steering isn’t for you, or you have limited arm movement, there is also a joystick option.
As I was using the smaller vehicle with smaller tyres, my adventurous ambitions overtook my ability and i managed to get stuck on the sand dunes! Then Debs in her overlander 2, managed to clear them fine. It just shows that when picking the right product for you, you need to think of what you’d like to do and where you’d like to go. With me, the more hardcore and bigger the tyres, the better!
After the first obstacle however, i soon picked up a good technique of navigating the soft sand and managed to conquer some kinder sand dunes!
Is it for me?
Right now, for purely personal use, my answer is not yet. I think the Terrain Hopper is a fantastic piece of kit that can enable people with a wide range of abilities to get to many places but I have what i need at the moment when it comes to all-terrain wheelchairs. I just need endorphins to get my buzz outside and I like to feel like my arms have had a good work out at the end of the day. However, in the near future I could see the terrain hopper working for me professionally, whether it be taking people along routes that would be near-impossible for my trike to conquer or instructing people in more challenging environments. Price wise, it’s cheaper-to-average when it comes to the general price of battery powered off-road wheelchairs, and there are lots of ways you can obtain funding if the terrain hopper is right for you.
As with any expensive piece of equipment, it’s always best to have a test drive first! Just get in touch with them, or take a look at their many test dates they have available : Terrain hopper test dates.
For more information and to keep up to date with Debs and Andy’s adventures, be sure to check out their website: Access the Dales