In a Nutshell:

The Whirlwind RoughRider is a robust, time-tested design that will serve you well indoors, and is capable of handling the most common outdoor terrains you’re likely to encounter. Recommended for anyone who can fit into one, given its relatively narrow seat width and low maximum weight limit.

Customization options
Ease of Use

Overall Rating



  • Time-tested, proven design
  • Simple, straightforward repairs
  • Handles well indoors and outdoors


  • Not suitable for bigger, taller person
  • Narrow seat and low weight limit

Do you have a mobility issue? 

Are you on a budget, and looking for a chair that can serve in a “swing” role, as useful indoors as it is out? Would your friends and family describe you as something of a “Do-It-Yourselfer?”

The more of those questions you answered yes to, the more excited by this review you’re likely to be.

We love a wheelchair with a history and a story behind it, and this one, on top of being a superb, robust, versatile design, has a compelling story indeed.

Is it the right mobility aid for you? It very well might be, and in the sections that follow, we’ll tell you in detail what it is and what it can do, so you’ll have all the information you need to decide for yourself. If that sounds good to you, let’s get right to it!

Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair Overview

The Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair has been around in one form or another since 1980, making it one of the oldest wheelchair models in production today.

From the beginning, the goal was to create a wheelchair that could meet the needs of people living in developing nations, who often don’t have access to mobility devices, and the ones they can get their hands on are expensive and don’t tend to stand up well to the rigors of mixed, indoor/outdoor use.

Thus, the RoughRider was built with several guiding principles in mind: it needed to be ruggedly constructed, long lasting, and most importantly, using parts that could be sourced anywhere to facilitate repairs.

The RoughRider we know today came about in 1989 when Ralf Hotchkiss teamed up with San Francisco State University engineering professor Peter Pfaelzer to tweak the design, conducting almost continuous field tests using people with mobility issues as test subjects, giving them chairs, and soliciting feedback to perfect their design.

Folding Position View of Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair

For many years, their focus was on teaching people in developing countries how to build their own wheelchairs. Gradually, however, this morphed into making small production batches and selling them all over the world, and in 2006, became a social enterprise and ramped up to large-scale production, based on their continued success.

In addition to building world-class wheelchairs, the enterprise is committed to increasing economic opportunity in developing nations and has established a network of WPACs (Wheelchair Provision and Assembly Centers) where the local manufacture of the chairs is not yet economically viable.

The RoughRider is a real workhorse of a chair and built to last. Even better, it offers a surprising number of features that are either adjustable or customizable at the point of sale.

RoughRider Wheelchair Specifications

Here’s a quick overview of the chair’s basic stats:

  • Overall Dimensions: 37” x 13” x 26” (14” folded)
  • Seat Width: Available in 12.5” 14”, 15.5”, 17” and 18.5” configurations
  • Seat to Floor Height: The RoughRider has an angled seat, higher in the front, lower in the back to keep the rider from falling out. Thus, the seat height is 19.3” in the front and 16.5” in the back. (Note that these figures vary slightly depending on seat width selected.)
A Side View Image of Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair
  • Seat Depth: 14”, 16” or 18” configurations available
  • Back Rest: Height Adjustable between 15” and 19”
  • Total Chair Weight: 44 pounds
  • Max Supported Weight: 220 pounds
  • Wheel Camber: 3 degrees
  • Axle Position: Adjustable between +/- 0.8.”
  • Foot Rest Height: Adjustable between 12” and 17”
  • Upper Back Support Angle: 8 degrees, 12 degrees, 15 degrees, or custom
  • Lower Back Support Angle: Fixed at 8 degrees

Adjustability & Comfort

As you can see, based on the stats provided in the last section here in our Whirlwind RoughRider review, most of the significant features of the wheelchair offer some ability to tweak them so that the chair fits you like a glove.

A Front View Image of Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair

Where comfort is concerned, the RoughRider fares less well. It’s not an uncomfortable device; it’s just that the primary emphasis of the design was to bring wheelchairs to people who didn’t have access to any at all. Comfort, while important, just took a backseat to that goal.

Note that in addition to the above, the RoughRider also comes with:

We like that because we regard all of the above as essential to a great wheelchair design. Some companies, however, make you pay extra for those features. Kudos to Whirlwind Wheelchair International for not going that route!

Surprisingly Customizable, But Not Many Extras

Although most of the features on the RoughRider are either adjustable or customizable at the point of sale (or both), the enterprise doesn’t offer much in the way of extras. You can get a spare set of casters or push handle extenders if you like.

The casters are a good idea, especially if you live in a remote area, as these are likely to be the first things you’ll have a problem with. Having an extra set on hand makes a quick repair possible and will give you one less thing to worry about.

A Push Handle Image of Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair
A Casters Image of Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair
A Footplateb Image of Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair

The push handle extenders are situationally useful, depending on the needs of your trusty assistant.

The good news is that because of the chair’s almost open-source design; it will readilyaccept most aftermarket products designed for other wheelchairs. Just double check the measurements of any aftermarket gadget or gizmo you want to be sure it’s a good fit, but for the most part, you shouldn’t have any problems tricking the chair out in this manner.

Reasonably Portable

The RoughRider collapses down into a delightfully small footprint that’s easy to fit in the trunks of most cars. You shouldn’t have any particular difficulty here, whether you’ve got a full-sized sedan, hatchback, truck, van, or SUV.

A Backbrace Image of Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair

It is a bit on the heavy side, weighing in at 44 pounds, but that’s by no means a deal breaker, and given how adept it is at handling outdoor terrains, we regard its weight as being a worthy trade.

Using the RoughRider is Simplicity Itself

Functionally, the RoughRider is just like a conventional wheelchair. You sit down, grip the wheels and propel yourself forward, or, if you need some help, your trusty assistant gets behind you and gives you a push.

A Positions Setup Image of Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair
A Tires Sample Image of Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair

It handles well and is quite capable over a variety of terrains – unsurprising, given the fact that it was designed primarily for use in developing nations where road quality is poor, there are few sidewalks, and as often as not, the person sitting in the chair will have to use it over rough, uneven terrain.

Other Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair reviews mentioned that while it’s not capable of handling the most extreme outdoor terrains, it offers an excellent middle ground, just as capable indoors as it is on the most common outdoor terrains you’re likely to encounter.

Pros & Cons of Whirlwind RoughRider Wheelchair

We like almost everything about the Whirlwind Wheelchair RoughRider, and we think you will tooIt’s a time-tested, proven design that doesn’t use highly specialized components, meaning that if something breaks on it, finding replacement parts and effecting repairs is a simple, straightforward matter. Even better, it handles well, both indoors and out.

The only potential downside we see is that this model isn’t a good fit for bigger, taller folkIts relatively narrow seat and low maximum supported weight limit combine to make it a non-starter for some people. Still, assuming you fit into the chair, it’s a solid choice, and a mobility aid you’ll be proud to own.

Whirlwind Wheelchair RoughRider Conclusion 

Any way you look at it, the Whirlwind RoughRider is an excellent wheelchair. We love the simple, durable design and the fact that you can secure replacement parts for it just about anywhere. With proper care and a bit of elbow grease, this is the last wheelchair you’ll ever own. It’s a great product, offered by a fantastic group of people who love what they do. We recommend it.

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