Sports Wheelchair Parts Diagram

There are a great number of wheelchairs on the market and it is very important to find one that will fit the needs of its user. The sport wheelchair, or ultralight wheelchair, is very popular, both by people who are very active and those who simply find it easier and more comfortable to use.

*Please Note that some of the items below are not present in the picture, because they are not usually found on a sports wheelchair.


  1. Backrest
  2. Rear Axle
  3. Rear Wheels
  4. Handrims
  5. Seat
  6. Frame
  7. Traverse Bar
  8. Front Rigging
  9. Footrests
  10. Front Casters
  11. Anti-Tip Casters
  12. Brakes
  13. Tipping Levers
  14. Seatbelts
  15. Push Handles
  16. Upholstry
  17. Armrests
  18. Metal Skirt

1. Backrest: The backrest of a sports wheelchair is usually lower than a conventional wheelchair. Typically the backrest will be between 11” and 15”. The backrest is also usually adjustable and models are also available that span 7” to 11” and 15” to 19”. A lower backrest can allow for increased upper body movement.

2. Rear Axle: While on a conventional wheelchair, the axle is located directly below the backrest, many sports wheelchairs have adjustable axles. They can be positioned closer to the front of the chair, reducing the wheelbase and making the wheelchair more maneuverable. While typically much more maneuverable and easier to push, a smaller wheelbase also reduces the stability of the wheelchair. To increase stability, at the expense of maneuverability, the axle can be moved backwards towards the rear of the wheelchair. It also makes it a little harder to push, but increase the power of the stroke. Instead of a moving axle, some sports wheelchairs have a moving seat instead.

3. Rear Wheels: The rear wheels are usually the same size as on conventional wheelchairs, but sometimes for racing larger wheels are used. They feature sealed precision bearings and are designed to be as lightweight as possible. This makes the wheelchair easier to move and reduces friction. They also usually feature a quick release button, so the axle can be moved or wheel replaced quickly and easily. Most use spoked wheels, although some sports wheelchairs have solid molded rims.

Typically pneumatic tires are used, often allowing for a much higher pressure than traditional pneumatic tires. Pneumatic tires are great for outdoors, because they provide better shock absorption outdoors. Like racing bikes, the tires are often very narrow.

Often, the camber of the wheel, its angle, is often adjusted, much like you would adjust a sports car, with the bottom of the wheel farther out than the top. This brings the wheels closer to the users body, allowing for more energy efficiency. A wider wheelbase also offers the advantage of a more stable wheelchair that is also easier to steer.

This can pose a problem when indoors when dealing with narrow doorways and makes transporting the wheelchair more difficult. Some now allow the camber to be quickly adjusted to a “toe in” mode for indoor use though.

4. Handrims: The handrims are typically coated in foam that is covered in vinyl, although the rim itself is made of metal. This makes it easier to grab, however the vinyl can be very slick and result in finger burns. More or less padding can also be added, to deliver a variety of grip sizes.

Often smaller handrims are used, which require more energy to get started, but allow for a higher top speed. The smaller handrims also allow for the individual to maintain their speed easier. In many regards the size of the handrim is much like the different gears on a bike.

Sometimes for those with very limited upper body strength or mobility, small extensions are added to the handrail, which extend away from the wheelchair at an angle, making the wheels easier to turn.

5. Seat: The seat often has pieces of velcro attached to it, allowing cushions and bags to be attached. The lower backrest of the seat allows for a greater range of movement and slightly elevates the knees, improving stability.

6. Frame: The frame of a sports wheelchair is made of metals that are very lightweight, such as aluminum, titanium, and graphite. Often, the entire wheelchair will weigh only 25 pounds, which is about half of what a conventional wheelchair weights. There are some, however, that can weigh as little as 15 pounds. The lighter the frame, the easier it is to propel.

Traditionally the frame of sports wheelchairs had been rigid. This improved its performance and made it much sturdier, but it also made it harder to transport. The seat would have to be folded forward and the larger rear wheels would be removed. However, as of late, several manufacturers have begun making folding sports wheelchairs, which makes transportation much easier.

7. Traverse bar: The traverse bar replaces the crossbars found on conventional wheelchairs and helps make the frame sturdier. On folding sports wheelchairs, the frames are equipped with locks to prevent it from folding unless needed.

8. Front Rigging: The front rigging refers to the footrest and the bars that connect it to the frame. Traditionally, the front rigging was not detachable, which improved the stability of the frame. However, this could make transferring into and out of the chair more difficult, some some sports wheelchairs now feature detachable and swing away front rigging.

9. Footrests: The footrest is typically one piece and made of several metal tubes, instead of a platform. It is usually closer to the frame than conventional wheelchairs, reducing the sports wheelchairs turning radius.

10. Front Casters: The front casters are typically made out of solid polyurethane, although some use pneumatic or solid rubber tires. The casters are smaller than those on a conventional wheelchair, usually only 4” to 5” in diameter. However, on racing wheelchairs larger front casters are often used.

11. Anti-Tip Casters: Anti-Tip casters prevent the wheelchair from tipping backwards completely and are often not included on newer wheelchairs.

12. Brakes: Most sports wheelchairs do not have brakes, although some choose to use them. If used, scissor brakes are most popular and mounted lower down on the frame, so the users hand does not become entangled when pushing or the brake accidentally activated. (Not Pictured)

13. Tipping Levers: Typically the tipping lever, which makes it easier for someone pushing the wheelchair to tip the wheelchair backwards and navigate curbs, are much smaller than those on conventional wheelchairs. (Not Pictured)

14. Seatbelts: Seatbelts are usually available for most sports wheelchairs as an option. Some wheelchair users that are very active will use a safety harness to provide more support. (Not Pictured)

15. Push Handles: Many sports wheelchairs do not have push handles, because of the added weight. Instead, fabric straps are added to the back of the seat, to provide a handhold. Some, however, do have push handles. (Not Pictured)

16. Upholstry: Most sports wheelchairs have reinforced nylon or darcon upholstry. This is very lightweight and strong, but unlike vinyl, it is not as easy to clear. (Not Pictured)

17. Armrests: Most sports wheelchairs do not have armrest, which reduces the weight, while allowing the user a better pushing angle. It also increases the users range of upper body movement. (Not Pictured)

If armrests are present, they are usually lightweight and removable. Typically they are not strong enough for the user to use them to transfer into and out of the wheelchair.

18. Metal Skirt: A metal skirt is also usually not present, for both wheelchairs with and without armrests, so the user will risk dirtying their clothes or catching them in the wheels. (Not Pictured)

Other Types of Sports Wheelchairs

There are many different popular wheelchair sports and almost all of these types of sports use a slightly different wheelchair design. For example, the footrest and front rigging of a wheelchair that will be used for wheelchair basketball has a built in foot guard to add more protection. Wheelchairs for wheelchair rugby have an even more protective front guard, as well as more protection around the wheels.

Wheelchairs that are used for racing are elongated to provide stability, so the front wheels often extend several feet from the wheelchairs seat. Since there is so much diversity among the design of sports wheelchair, it is important to decide what you want to use the wheelchair for and to speak with a professional or other wheelchair user to determine what type of wheelchair will be best. It is also not uncommon for many wheelchair users to prefer the design of a sports wheelchair, even if they do not intend to directly use it to play sports.