What’s the Difference Between Front-Wheel Drive, Rear-Wheel Drive and Mid-Wheel Drive on My Power Wheelchair?

Close up of wheelchair tires and base on a sunny deck outside

Power wheelchairs get their go from one of three places: the front wheels, the rear wheels or the middle wheels.

New riders often wonder which configuration is best for them. Let’s unpack the benefits of each drive wheel type and talk about why you might choose one over the other two.

Just remember, your Pride dealer and physician should help you decide based on your specific needs. Every rider is different!

A quick note on drive wheels in power wheelchairs

Before we get too far, we should note that all power wheelchairs have independent drive wheels. That means each drive wheel has its own motor so each one can move separately from the other. This technology makes it easier to take tighter turns because one wheel can slow down, remain stationary or even roll backward, while the other goes forward. It makes taking turns significantly tighter than if the rear wheels stay locked while the front wheels rotate.

That said, some drive-wheel types have a tighter turning radius than others, which we’re about to discuss next.

Mid-Wheel Drive

Photo of a white Jazzy Air 2 electric wheelchair

This modern configuration is the latest in the history of power wheelchair engineering. Middle wheels keep the center of gravity directly under the rider, offering superior traction and maneuverability. Mid-wheel drive wheelchairs have the tightest turning capabilities. With large casters in front and back, mid-wheel drive wheelchairs are incredibly stable.

In fact, they’re  so stable, they can support scooters like the Jazzy Air 2, which lifts the rider 12 inches to put them face-to-face with others during conversations or to reach high shelves and cabinets.

Pride Mobility calls its exclusive configuration “Mid-Wheel 6,” and couples it with Active-Trac Suspension. The suspension system on these wheelchairs responds to the environment and adjusts while overtaking obstacles and uneven terrain.

Some of the greatest innovation at Pride is happening with the Mid-Wheel 6 lineup. For example, the Jazzy Evo 613Li comes with powerful lithium ion batteries that last longer and charge faster. The Evo is also one of the sleekest looking power wheelchairs on the market today.

Active-Trac Suspension solves an early problem that plagued mid-wheel drive wheelchairs. Front or rear casters would strike an obstacle and suspend the drive wheels, leaving the rider stuck.

For obvious reasons, we needed a way to fix that. Enter Active-Trac Suspension!

Who should ride a mid-wheel drive power wheelchair? Riders who are looking for speed and a high level of maneuverability. Mid-wheel scooters are easy to learn how to use and have responsive rider controls.

Front-Wheel Drive

Don’t let those forward anti-tip wheels fool you. Unlike mid-wheel drive front casters, the small wheels in front simply prevent you from leaning too far forward. In popular models like the Jazzy Elite ES, the drive wheels sit in front of the center of gravity, and weight disperses between the front and rear wheels.

The front drive wheels pull the whole wheelchair from the front, just like a trusty Toyota Camry or Honda Civic. Since the drive wheels are first to reach obstacles, front-wheel drive wheelchairs offer some of the smoothest rides and most responsive handling.

Who should ride a front-wheel drive power wheelchair? Riders who want excellent traction and tight responsiveness at the joystick.

Rear-Wheel Drive

Photo of a folding Jazzy Passport electric wheelchair

Rear-wheel drive wheelchairs were the original. The first power wheelchairs were essentially traditional manual wheelchairs with big battery packs and motors.

When propelled from behind, rear-wheel drive wheelchairs tend to feel more stable. They offer some advantages outdoors because they’re less likely than rear wheels will get hung up on obstacles, which front- and mid-wheel drive scooters are more susceptible to.

While many Pride mid- and front-wheel drive scooters may be disassembled easily with feather touch disassembly, Pride’s most portable wheelchair is a rear-wheel drive design.

The Jazzy Passport folds down and, without batteries, weighs just under 60 pounds. It’s one of the most portable power wheelchairs on the market, while also providing lasting comfort and durability for sustained use.

Who should ride a rear-wheel drive power wheelchair? Riders who prioritize stability over maneuverability. Rear-wheel drive wheelchairs have the widest turning radius, and will be more difficult to maneuver in homes with tight spaces.

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