Rider Originated Design

Whirlwind Wheelchair Who We Are

Wheelchair riders know best what they need in a wheelchair
to be able to carry out their activities of daily living.

The rider-originated design is a defining principle of Whirlwind that keeps the rider’s environmental and use requirements at the front of our minds. Since 1979, Whirlwind’s founder Ralf Hotchkiss, himself a paraplegic, has traveled all over the world in chairs he has built himself to learn from other wheelchair rider/builders in small shops what features are necessary for a good wheelchair that will be used in the rough conditions that are prevalent throughout the developing world.


Durability and repairability mean the chair will last a long time, lowering the overall cost of the chair over its lifetime. The RoughRider’s much greater stability makes it the chair of choice for safety and freedom, as well as for use in rough environments. Wheelchair riders as much as anyone else deserve to have a product that is visually appealing, so aesthetic concerns are as important as function in our approach to design. Our wheelchairs really work where people actually live, giving riders the freedom to go where they need to go. Recent innovations in Whirlwind’s wheelchairs include upgrades in the support for posture, increased durability, and increased size range.


Our wheelchair is manufactured in large, medium and small-scale shops in Vietnam, China, Mexico, South Africa, and the Republic of Georgia. They are shipped all over the world. In addition, we have two wheelchair provision and assembly centers (WPACs) in Sierra Leone and Nigeria. WPACs shift the focus from full-manufacturing to assembly shops that emphasize wheelchair provision, repair, and fitting services and are better positioned for long-term sustainability.



The OmniRider™

In 2017, Whirlwind made breakthroughs on two designs that we have been working on for a couple of years. The OmniRider is based on the RoughRider’s long wheelbase for active outdoor use in rough conditions but with a rigid frame. The new key feature is a seat that the user can easily slide forward to get closer to tables, toilets, bathtubs etc. The improved indoor performance added to the RoughRider’s acclaimed outdoor performance should make the OmniRider the wheelchair of choice for people who can afford only one wheelchair. The OmniRider should be in production by June 2019. Whirlwind plans to offer the OmniRider in a number of different configurations based on user priorities for cost, weight, and performance.

Power RoughRider

Problems with the motors on the power add-on to the RoughRider have been solved. Together with our partners in the Coalition for Independent Living from the Republic of Georgia, we are now modifying the controller circuit board. For more than a year Whirlwind’s Bruce Curtis has been riding a power RoughRider made by our Georgian partners. He recently spent two weeks field testing it in Morocco. Lightweight compared to other power wheelchairs, his foldable power wheelchair proved easy to take on the airlines, easy to get into the trunk of a car, and performed flawlessly on a variety of surfaces.

Lighter Weight RoughRider

Whirlwind is also experimenting with ways to reduce the weight of the RoughRider by using different materials for the frame but keeping the proven design unchanged. An aluminum, foldable, RoughRider is currently being prototyped. This chair would mainly be for the developed countries since it can fatigue and crack and then requires special welding equipment to repair that is often unavailable outside of major cities in developing countries.


In the wheelchair design process, each design requires the production of 3 to 6 prototypes before all bugs are worked out and it is fully tested. We currently use rapid prototyping at a factory in China or Vietnam for all but our initial prototypes. Each prototype iteration costs about $4000 including shipping to the U.S.

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