February 27, 2018 Product Review

Keep on Moving

Jeffrey Allen

As we age, many of us lose some of our mobility as a result of illness, injury or bodily deterioration.  We end up using canes, walkers and various types of mobility devices ranging from manually propelled wheelchairs to a variety of configurations of electronic scooters, chairs, etc.

Unfortunately, as we lose mobility many choose to make themselves less mobile in recognition of their limitation.  From my perspective, that represents a very bad choice in most cases.  The more active we remain as we age, the more likely we will age longer and more gracefully.

Many who have lost the ability to ambulate with ease choose to stay home rather than try to deal with the rigors of travel compounded by the use of a cane or a walker.  Anecdotally, my own experiences and discussions with other seniors have revealed that some of the reluctance stems from embarrassment at being hampered and part from the inconvenience of having to move so slowly with a cane or a walker.  By way of background, I will confess to having some mobility issues myself as a result of the fact that I am a type 2 diabetic and have developed peripheral neuropathy in my feet.  The neuropathy creates some balance issues, which caused me to use a cane and/or an assistance dog when I walk.  The neuropathy also causes pressure ulcers on the bottoms of my feet.

In my current state of semi-retirement, I have been traveling quite a bit.  When traveling, I frequently walked 15,000 or more steps in a day. At home, I generally walk 3-5000 steps.  Most of my problems with pressure ulcers occurred while traveling.  As a result, two of my doctors have discouraged me from walking very much (my other doctor tells me to get as much exercise as possible for general health reasons, but has not specified how).  Since my medical situation now precludes me from using walking as a form of exercise, I have had to make other arrangements.

You have many ways to exercise other than walking.  I have not written this article to talk to you about other ways to exercise, however.  I have written it to encourage you to do as I have and adapt to the loss of mobility, while still remaining active.  The easiest way to do that is to continue to travel, but use a mobility device to make it easier, quicker, and more convenient to get around. 

Several years ago, I started renting mobility devices from time to time to accommodate my problem.  More recently, after considerable experimentation with different models, investigation, and consideration of the trade-offs between prices, features, and function, I bought one to take with me whenever I travel.  Even more recently, I attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and discovered a newer and differently configured device that I found very impressive. The manufacturer of the newer device kindly allowed me to borrow one and travel with it to test it out and put it through its paces.  I wrote this article to tell you about re-mobilizing yourself with a mobility device so that you can easily get around and to tell you about these two devices in particular.  I will not tell you that these represent the only two to look at or buy.  Each of us will have different needs and desires.  I chose to write about these because I really like them because I think they are both very good, because each offers some advantages over and disadvantages in comparison to the other.  Bottom line, I like these two better than the other devices that I have rented over the past several years and thought that their features and specifications put them at or near the top of the list in terms of mobility devices for people who do not need a serious wheelchair to get around.  Think of both of these devices as offering mobility to the less mobile in a convenient and relatively easy to handle manner.

Some devices qualify as medical devices and others do not.  Discuss with your tax preparer whether you can deduct them.  A letter from a physician telling you to get one is a good place to start that process. In my experience, the airlines do not concern themselves with whether a device is a qualified medical device or not.  If it is used for mobility, they accept it and treat it accordingly.

The two devices I like are the WHILL Model Ci (the one that I discovered at CES earlier this year) and the Triaxe Sport (the one I purchased last year).  The Model Ci, which is not qualified as a medical device, is the more expensive of the two, costing $4000.  The Triaxe cost $2300 when I bought it, but have since seen it on sale for just under $2000.  The Triaxe is configured as a three-wheeled scooter with a steering mechanism similar to what you would find on a bicycle.  It has the advantage of folding down very compactly so that it easily fits in the trunk of most vehicles. The WHILL is a mobilized chair (see image). You steer it using a joystick on the armrest (it can be configured for either the right or left armrest) or a smartphone App.  It does not fold down but breaks apart into three main pieces and a fourth consisting of a very convenient storage basket that lives under the seat (each piece is smaller than the Triaxe), so that you can fit it into car trunks relatively easily because of the lack of bulk of each piece.  The Triaxe weights 55 pounds; the Model Ci weighs 115.  When broken down, the heaviest piece of the Model Ci weighs 44 pounds (about 6 more if you do not remove the battery).  I have not found it difficult to load or unload either of them myself, but the Triaxe goes in easier with two people picking it up due to its configuration.

Each of the devices runs on an almost silent electric motor.  The Triaxe has three speeds (two forward and one reverse) Think of its forward speeds as quick and slow.  The Model Ci has five speeds (four forward and one reverse). Think of the forward speeds as quick, slow, slower, and REALLY slow.  Each of the devices uses a powerful lithium-ion battery to keep things moving.  The Triaxe has two sizes of batteries available, the larger doubles the power reserve of the smaller.  Using the smaller battery, I have gotten approximately 7-8 miles on a charge and considerably farther on the larger. I got about 9 miles to the charge on the Model Ci.  You can get extra batteries for both units and they easily switch out.  As I have run out of battery power on occasion, I have made it a point to acquire and carry an extra fully charged battery with me, as well as the charger.  Most of the time I can get through a full day with only one battery (the larger of the two in the Triaxe); but I consider running out of power a very bad option, and on the few occasions that it has proven necessary, the battery swap has worked just fine.

The Triaxe works extremely well on flat, smooth and dry surfaces.  I have had some minor problems with it on wet pavement (wheel spinning before moving) and have had some issues starting up on short steep inclines and very long less intense inclines.  In those situations, I have simply used the device as a support and walked beside it until it was past the incline. Generally, it has not been a serious issue.  The Triaxe does not do terribly well on soft surfaces.

The WHIL Model Ci comes with very different front tires (see image) that give it better traction than the Triaxe.  It handles soft surfaces and inclines better than the Triaxe (both short steep inclines and longer more shallow ones). 

A few other comparisons:

  1. Both have two seat size options available.  The larger generally is more comfortable and works better in my opinion, unless you are a very small person.  I tried both sizes (16” and 18”) on the Model Ci.  The 16” worked OK, but I liked the 18” much better.  One reason was that the 16” was sufficiently narrow that when I used it wearing a winter coat, with a kindle in the right pocket, the Kindle wanted to use the joystick.  That did not occur with the 18”.
  2. The Model Ci has a basket under the seat to carry small packages.  That is very convenient and does not exist on the Triaxe.  The Triaxe, however, has an integrated adjustable luggage rack that will carry most standard sized carryon suitcases easily.  The Model Ci does not have that, although I am told that they have a luggage attachment available in Europe that they have not brought over to the US yet.  The luggage rack on the Triaxe has proven REALLY convenient and is one of its best features.
  3. I can easily strap a backpack to the seat back on the Model Ci.  You can do the same with the Triaxe, but not as conveniently.
  4. Both devices are well made and fairly solid.  They have lots of metal, but some plastic. The Model Ci has more plastic than the Triaxe. I would prefer more metal and less plastic on both.
  5. The seat on the Model Ci has proven significantly more comfortable than the Triaxe, but the comfort level on the Triaxe improved when I added a gel seat cushion on top of the Triaxe seat.
  6. The Triaxe uses inflatable tires for the rear and solid rubber in front.  The Model Ci uses solid rubber in the rear and non-inflatable specially designed rubber tires in the front for better traction.  The inflatable tires provide a slightly smoother ride. 
  7. Both devices are relatively low maintenance.  If you need service, you call their support department.  They can often diagnose and guide you to a minor repair over the phone.  They also have advised that they have service agents that they can connect you with in many places.  Last resort is that you ship the device back to them for service.
  8. Both devices come with a horn of sorts.  I would recommend to both vendors that they replace the included horn with something that people can actually hear or get rid of it as a more or less dysfunctional feature.  The horn on the Triaxe stopped working reliably after about a year.  I found that it worked much better to simply add a loud bicycle bell to each of the devices (on the handlebar of the Triaxe and on the accessory post on the side of the Model Ci.

I enjoy traveling too much to give it up just yet, so this has proven to be a great solution for me.  Because I can walk about 5000 steps a day using my cane, without creating pressure ulcers, I plan my touring to balance walking and riding.  For example, when I was in New York for Legal Week earlier this year, I rode the Model Ci to the convention and around the convention floor and for other errands during the day and walked from our hotel to the theater in the evening.  Those adjustments are personal and, in my case, a matter of choice as to when to walk and when to not walk. Conversely, depending on where you travel, you will find some places more and others less friendly respecting the use of such a device.  Generally, you can find out online which sites are and which are not wheelchair or scooter friendly.  If you go to a place with lots of stairs and no elevators or ramps, you will find it difficult to use the device.  For example, when we went to Greece last fall, the device would have been a hassle when we went to locations like Meteora or Delphi which have lots of places that would be virtually inaccessible with such devices.  On the other hand, most of the streets were level in cities like Athens and Thessaloniki, so it would work just fine.

While wonderful for travel, these devices can also make things easier for you in day-to-day use.  From all that I have seen and read, keeping active will help your mind stay agile and travel will help with that.  I encourage you to consider one if you have a mobility issue.  Interestingly, I have also discovered a collateral benefit while using these devices.  I have found that people tend to be nicer and more solicitous when I use one than if I am just walking with a cane.  People in crowded situations who might otherwise brush by stop to help with doors. I continue to observe this, and I consider it an interesting phenomenon.  I will also tell you that it gives you a very different perspective on handicapped access to public places.

Jeffrey Allen

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA, the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is a co-author of the ABA book Technology Tips for Seniors.