Michael FranzThe original plan for this column was to review two wheelchairs — the Motion Composites Apex Carbon and another that shall remain nameless. Understandably, both companies had significant problems with production and delivery of the wheelchairs due to the pandemic. Despite the challenges, Motion Composites was committed to delivering the Apex, and did so as quickly as possible. The other company was unable to deliver its wheelchair. Therefore, this review will be limited to the Motion Composites Apex Carbon with comparisons being made to my two-year-old ultralight wheelchair made by another leading manufacturer.

Michael Franz tested the Apex Carbon with his own custom cushion and back, and power assist wheels.

Michael Franz tested the Apex Carbon with his own custom cushion and back, and power assist wheels.

I am a big fan of my current chair, and it works well for me. So to get the most accurate comparison possible, we copied the dimensions of my chair when ordering the Apex Carbon. We also used much of the same equipment including my Ride Designs Java cushion, Invacare Matrx Elite back, and Alber E-Motion M-15 power assist wheels. The only significant differences between the two wheelchairs were the frame and the casters. The Apex Carbon has a carbon fiber frame with 4-inch Frog Legs suspension forks and casters while my current chair has a titanium frame with 4-inch LiteSpeed casters with stock suspension forks.

After spending two weeks with the Apex Carbon, I can confidently recommend it to anyone looking for a new manual wheelchair. The Apex Carbon is a rigid-frame wheelchair made of T700 high-tensile strength carbon fiber. The carbon fiber is strong, lightweight and provides shock dampening when going over rough terrain. By itself, the standard size 16 x 16 frame weighs in at a svelte 9.8 pounds. The Apex Carbon can be customized to meet the needs of most manual wheelchair users and is compatible with a variety of third-party add-ons.

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In my opinion, the two most important things about a manual wheelchair are how quickly I can get around and how smooth the ride is. To test the speed, I took the Apex Carbon for my usual roll through my neighborhood. I am a C5-6 quad with no triceps or hand function to help push. By no means am I a fast pusher, but I can keep up with most walkers, and my dogs do not seem to mind the pace. The route through my neighborhood is about 1.2 miles, downhill on the way out and uphill on the way back. In my chair, I was able to do the trip in about 33 minutes. Two days later in the Apex Carbon, I did the same trip in just less than 30 minutes. The weather conditions were the same on both days, and I doubt that my strength improved by 10% over the course of 48 hours, so I think it is safe to attribute the faster time to the better performance of the Apex Carbon.

The Apex Carbon without power assist wheels.

The Apex Carbon without power assist wheels.

Even more notable than the increase in speed was the smoothness of the ride. The streets in my neighborhood are smooth and easy to roll on, but in my chair, I feel every little bump. In the Apex Carbon, the bumps are much less noticeable, and it feels like the chair is just gliding along. In my driveway, where there are much larger cracks and bumps, I could still feel the difference. Big bumps felt like small bumps, and they were much less jarring than usual. Typically, when I hit a larger bump or crack, I can feel the impact through my spine. In the Apex Carbon, I could still feel the impact, but it was much reduced. The brick pavers in my backyard that frequently trigger spasms did not do so in the Apex Carbon.

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Oftentimes, the biggest obstacle when ordering a new wheelchair is getting insurance to cover it, and that is especially true of the Apex Carbon, which retails for $4,295. Medicare will not pay for the upgrade to carbon fiber. When dealing with Medicare, there is the option to do an unassigned claim. In this scenario, the dealer submits to Medicare to determine the likely coverage amount and the consumer pays the entire cost of the wheelchair upfront. Once Medicare approves the order, the consumer will receive a check reimbursing the cost of the wheelchair minus anything that is not covered.

Many private insurance companies will pay for the upgrade to carbon fiber if it is deemed to be medically necessary. It can be a frustrating process, but by working with the dealer, doctor, therapists, and insurance company, it is possible to get coverage. Some insurance companies will allow the consumer to pay the difference for the upgrade to carbon fiber. Of course, there is always the option to pay the entire cost out-of-pocket. There are companies like CareCredit that offer credit to pay for medical equipment over a period of time. Any time credit is involved, it is important to check the terms to ensure that the interest rates are fair.

The Apex Carbon is a great option for anybody looking for an ultralightweight wheelchair that offers great performance and a nice ride. The Apex Carbon can be adjusted to fit the needs of most wheelchair users, and many customization options are available. The most significant prohibiting factor is the cost and getting insurance to cover it. If funding and insurance coverage are an issue, the Apex Carbon may not be an appropriate option. However, if insurance is willing to cover the cost, the Apex Carbon is worth looking for your next wheelchair.