(Photo above: Geoff Babb with his wife Yvonne on Geoff’s first venture onto Central Oregon Trails | courtesy of AdvenChair)
The AdvenChair, a new all-terrain wheelchair developed entirely in Bend, left its first tire tracks on local trails last week. Now, the company founded by fire ecologist Geoff Babb faces the challenge of making it can gain traction with the millions of people throughout the country who use wheelchairs, and are typically left stranded at the trailhead when friends and family want to go for a hike.
Since surviving a life-threatening brain stem stroke in 2005, Babb has relied on a highly modified wheelchair with mountain bike tires and handlebar brakes to get off the beaten path. This primitive version of the “AdvenChair” served him well until he and a team of a dozen friends attempted to reach the bottom of the Grand Canyon via the rugged Bright Angel Trail in 2016. The hundreds of water bars on the trail eventually destroyed the bearings on the chair within the first two miles.
The team managed to get Babb back up to the rim safely and he went back to the drawing board with his design team – helicopter mechanic Dale Neubauer and CAD designer Jack Arnold – to create a whole new chair made with high-grade aluminum framing, a seat that adjusts to children as well as adults, adjustable handlebars, beefy 27.5-inch tires and durable mountain bike components. Unlike other wheelchairs, the human-powered AdvenChair is designed to be efficiently and comfortably pushed by one person or towed by two to four people.
Thanks to Bend-based ISCO Manufacturing, CLS Fabrication, Cush Core, Robert Axle Project and WebCyclery, all of the parts came from local sources. And when Babb’s crew completed assembly of the new AdvenChair 2.0 last Wednesday afternoon at Neubauer’s HeliLadder Shop adjacent to Sawyer Park, not even sub-freezing temperatures could keep Geoff and his wife Yvonne from taking it out for a test ride.
“We are especially excited about having the first working prototype out of the shop and on the trail,” said Geoff. “We found some things to fix, but overall I’m quite pleased with the prototyping process at this point, as our concept is now a reality.
Geoff’s wife Yvonne, who typically does most of the AdvenChair driving, concurs: “The difference between the AdvenChair 2.0 and the original version is like night and day,” she says. “It’s much more agile, yet extremely solid.”
With more than three million wheelchair users in the United States alone, Geoff Babb is anxious to offer the new AdvenChair to the public in 2019 through his company’s website advenchair.com. But he knows they still have their work cut out for them before that can happen.
“To thoroughly test the AdvenChair, we need at least four prototypes with different combinations of components – wheelsets, tires and seats,” Babb says. “And at a cost of $7,000 each, we still have a lot of fundraising to do before that.”
AdvenChair is heading into its last few days of crowdfunding on IndieGoGo and has received some substantial private donations. The goal is to reach at least $50,000 before the end of the year.
“As someone who has experienced the healing power of many adventures into the wilderness with my family and friends, I know the AdvenChair will do wonders for the physical and mental health of others like me,” says Babb. “It’s great to have the first step of our journey behind us. Now we need to keep the momentum rolling.”
About the AdvenChair:
The AdvenChair is an all-terrain wheelchair designed for people with mobility challenges who want to venture off the beaten path and experience the grandeur of the wilderness. It is the brainchild of Geoff Babb, a fire ecologist and avid outdoorsman from Bend, Oregon, who loved to ski, mountain bike and backpack with his wife and twin boys until a near-fatal brain stem stroke on November 10, 2005 caused him to use a wheelchair.
While the stroke forever changed his ability to move, Babb soon discovered that the biggest obstacle to experiencing a simple outing on local trails with his family again was not so much his body, but the frailties of common wheelchairs. Rather than lobbying for wheelchair-accessible wilderness trails, Babb chose to develop a wheelchair capable of adapting to the trails, and the AdvenChair was born.
On November 10, 2017, exactly 12 years to the day after his stroke, Babb survived a second brain stem stroke, which forced him to learn how to swallow and eat solid foods all over again. Yet it made him more determined than ever to share his all-terrain chair with other people with disabilities or limited mobility.
While developing the first AdvenChair, Babb also launched The Onward Project, LLC, to inspire, encourage and enable outdoor adventures for people of all abilities, and invites them to share their experiences and stories online.