Buying Your First Racing Wheelchair: Six Helpful Tips

If you're thinking about participating in wheelchair racing, you've made a great decision for your cardiovascular health and probably for your social life as well. There are numerous wheelchair race training clubs now and a wealth of events, from local road races to track sprints to full marathons. Racing wheelchairs are different from regular chairs in a number of ways, so as you look to purchase your first one, and as you look to buy wheelchair accessories, here are some helpful tips.


Every race has its own set of rules for wheelchair specifications, but they are generally very similar. When you sign up for a race, make sure your chair conforms to the rules, and when purchasing a chair, make sure it will meet common competition regulations.

Rules forbid the use of rear-view mirrors, for example, and have specifications for wheelchair dimensions. Your chair may be measured before and after a race for compliance.

Starting Out

You won't need the same level of chair to compete in a 5K as you will for a marathon. As your racing progresses, you can upgrade equipment once you get a better sense of what works for you.

Meanwhile, consider purchasing a used chair to start out. You can eventually work up to a custom-made chair if you decide to do a marathon or if you qualify for elite level competitions, like the Summer Paralympics.

Ask other wheelchair athletes what they like and don't like about their chairs. If you know someone with the same basic body type as you, ask to try their wheelchair for a bit, so you can see for yourself what it feels like.


Racing wheelchairs have a third front wheel for stability. If you purchase a model with a detachable front wheel, you can use the chair for basketball, tennis, and other other sports.

Like bikes, racing chairs have pneumatic tires and have done away with metal spoke wheels. Today's wheels are made of sturdier carbon fiber, just like high-end racing and touring bicycles.

Push Rims

The size of your push rims will largely be determined by the type of racing you want to do. Track racers usually use smaller push rims for streamlining, while larger push rims give you the ability to handle big hills in road races, especially marathons.

You'll want to cover the metal rim with either rubber from an old tire or specially made push rim rubber for extra gripping power. Plan on replacing this frequently if you do a lot of training and racing.


There are two factors that affect the length of your chair: race type and body size. Track racers and sprinters generally favor shorter chairs for maneuverability, while road racers like the stability of longer chairs.

If you are a taller racer, you'll want a slightly longer chair, and the opposite is true if you have a shorter body.


Don't forget you'll need racing gloves too to prevent damage to your hands, to aid in gripping, and to prevent slipping. Supplement your gloves with tack used by athletes on their hands in stone lifting competitions or sprays sold in hardware or home supply stores.

Wheelchair racing is an exciting endeavor, and just about anyone who can push a chair can participate. Keep these tips in mind when buying your racing chair, and you'll be on your way to an enjoyable pastime you can appreciate for years to come.