Electric scooters can be hard to miss lately. Since the scooter rental company Bird first launched a fleet of e-scooters on the streets of Santa Monica in September 2017, they’ve spread to cities across the globe, and have affected urban transport in a way that few could have guessed. The scooter craze has many wheelchair users crying foul, as abandoned scooters and inconsiderate riders often block sidewalks and curb cuts. But intrepid wheelers are figuring out how to take back the streets by turning e-scooters into their own adaptive mobility devices. I caught up with a few of them to see how they did it.
The No-Gear Hack
Tyler Masterpiece followed the rise of e-scooters, hover boards and other powered personal mobility devices, and instead of being annoyed, he wanted in. “I was getting envious of just being able to jump on one of those things,” he says. “They looked like a lot of fun.”
When Masterpiece, who has a C7 SCI, recently traveled with his girlfriend to Mexico City and saw people on e-scooters buzzing all over, he started to think how he could ride with his wheelchair. “I thought I could probably just put my footplate on the front of that thing,” he says, “and as long as I could reach the handles I should be able to at least go.”
The Zocolo, a historic plaza in the heart of the city, provided the perfect location for an attempt, with its flat obstacle-free layout. Masterpiece’s girlfriend held the Bird scooter upright and he did a wheelie to get his footplate over the back wheel. He scooted his chair as far forward on the scooter deck as he could to bring the handlebars just close enough for him to be able to reach. The Bird scooter required a push start, so after paying and turning it on via the company’s app, his girlfriend gave him a shove and off he went. “Those electric motors get you going pretty quickly,” he says. “You go from thinking you’re going to full-throttle the thing to slowing it down a bit because it doesn’t feel like you’re really well-secured on there.”
The only things holding him on the scooter were gravity, the back edge of his angled foot plate and his grip on the handlebars. Masterpiece says a scooter with lower handlebars would be easier to operate, as he was at full arm extension just to hold on — not the best for control. But once he started to get comfortable, he found that he was able to lean the scooter to turn, a technique similar to how he rode motorcycles. He says he’d want the handlebars closer to him and a way to secure the footplate to the scooter to make it functional for riding on sidewalks or streets. But for a few dollars, messing around on vacation? “It was certainly a lot of fun,” he says.
A More Secure Connection
Before his accident in 2009, Andrew Angulo used to go scootering with his kids for something fun to do outside. Angulo, who sustained a T7 SCI in a motorcycle accident, wanted to figure out a way to adapt that hobby. He bought a Currie Technology IZip Stealth 1000 e-scooter, and with the help of his father, got to work. The model Angulo purchased had a seat on the back, so the first step was chopping that off, along with a high fin that covered the rear wheel. Once those were removed, he could pull the front end of a spare wheelchair over the rear wheel and drop his footplate onto the deck of the scooter. As with Masterpiece, he found that the best positioning was with his footplate as far forward as he could go.
To secure his chair to the scooter, he decided to use a heavy-duty door hinge. He bolted the hinge to the deck through two holes, folded the hinge over and secured two other bolts with the threaded ends sticking up away from the deck. His spare wheelchair had a slotted footplate, which he was able to drop onto the bolt ends. He then secured the footplate to the scooter deck by tightening some wing nuts onto the bolt ends. “All in all, it took us a few hours and about $10 worth of materials,” says Angulo.
That’s in addition to the $500 he paid for the scooter, but it’s still a fraction of the price of typical powered mobility devices. Angulo says he had no issue driving the scooter, other than having to lean into turns when he wanted to take them at speed. The 1000w motor let him go 15-17 mph on the flats, and he says the battery would take him 12-15 miles on a charge.
If you’re looking to convert an e-scooter for yourself, look for something that doesn’t have a rear seat or fin over the real wheel, and you can save yourself from any cutting. If, like Masterpiece, you’re looking to try out one of the rental options available, a piece of thin foam to provide extra friction between the footplate and scooter deck, a strong bungee cord or strap and some practice could get you a lot farther than you think.
Angulo made a video of his e-scooter conversion that provides a great visual of how he went about the modification below.
There’s also a product called the Pop N’ Drop that lets you easily secure a manual chair, depending on your footplate width, to an EcoReco e-scooter. At $300 (plus $1,000 for the e-scooter), it kind of defeats the DIY ethos we have here. But it may provide some inspiration for your own design, and the promo videos are fantastic. Available at myfastwheelchair.com.
Erik Kondo is in the process of hacking a Cycleboard (cycleboard.com) three-wheeled e-scooter, the design of which gives it a few advantages over the two-wheeled options. First, because it stands upright on its own, it’s easier to get onto and it’s more stable. Because of that stability, the only chair securement modification Kondo, a para, needed was to tape some strips of thick rubber onto the deck of the scooter, forming a backstop for his foot plate. A fairly secure connection, without having to bolt yourself down, makes getting on and off a breeze — just wheelie over the rubber stopper and drop your footplate in front of it. Second, the three-wheeled scooters are lean-to-steer, which provides better cornering and better lateral stability than their two-wheeled cousins. Plus, balancing and carving turns is simply a lot of fun. The other modification Kondo intends to make is to cut and lower the handlebars so that he has more control and a more comfortable arm position.