I’ve been using power-assist wheels on my manual wheelchair for about four years now, and as a C5-6 quad, I’ve found they make all the difference in my strength and flexibility. Prior to the power-assist wheels, I used a power wheelchair, which was nice, but didn’t afford the regular exercise one gets from pushing. I also get a rush from cruising down moderately steep hills unimpeded by the transmission of a power chair. I should note that freewheeling down steep hills comes with a “don’t try this at home” caveat, as I have flipped myself out of my chair twice.

When originally looking for power-assist wheels, I only had two options — E.motion from Frank Mobility or the Quickie eXtender (iGlide was already closing up shop). I chose the E.motion wheels because I could bolt them onto a TiLite frame, so for the last four years I’ve been pushing around on E.motion M12s. After going through about six sets of batteries at $800 a pair, I was getting pretty frustrated and was considering the Quickie option. Then I found out the new E.motion M15s were coming out, promising new features and extended battery life.

Battery life was the crux of my problem with the M12s. I could get through only about half a workday before I needed to switch batteries (difficult without hand function), and batteries would go bad just after the six-month warranty was up. I found myself making plans around how much battery power I had between the set in my wheels and the extra set I carried. Zoo trips were out, and my wife was always pushing me in order to conserve power — obviously not the freedom I was looking for.

I’ve had my demo set of M15s for about a month now, and the improvements are staggering. The literature claims the new lithium-ion batteries have twice the power of the old nickel-metal hydride batteries, but I found them to have something more like four times the range. This is good because the batteries aren’t easily interchangeable and must be charged through the wheels rather than plugging in the batteries directly. I was concerned about this at first, but I have yet to come home from a workday with my batteries less than half full.

This improvement alone makes the M15s a great product, but the engineers at the German manufacturer, Alber, had a few more surprises. The wheels are now about a half-inch thinner, closer to a traditional whee