As regular readers will know, I've become increasingly housebound over the past year. Well, that has to change.
Thing is, I can drive, but when I get to my destination, I can't walk more than a very short distance. Add the kit I need to take along, say, on a birding trip, and that distance becomes mere yards, but I think I've found a solution - a Rollator (or Rolator - no idea which is right - I'll stick with the former unless I find out it's wrong).
This is the model I'm getting, £70, delivered, from Aidmobility (it comes in red, too, but blue is more discreet, especially if I'm birding). Normally, when I spot something I need to buy online, I ask if they'll hold it until Thursday (payday). These people have put one away for me without being asked, which is nice (no, they're not psychic! - I said I couldn't order until Thursday, they offered to keep one for me before I had a chance to ask).
Update: It came at midday today, March 7, and I think it'll do what I want it to do perfectly. I have a rucksack that fits between the padded bar and the bar just above the front wheels as if it was made for it, and I have no doubt that mounting my telescope and adding a water-bottle holder will go just as smoothly. Watch this space...
It has 7" wheels, making it ideal for outdoor use, and the flat-profile tyres will help prevent it sinking in soft ground; 6" wheels are really only suitable for indoor use, as it's not just the diameter that's smaller, they're thinner, too, making them more prone to snagging in pavement cracks, and digging in on soft ground. They're not unusable outdoors, but need rather more care.
The seat is small - 12" square - which is pretty standard - so I've bought an inflatable cushion.
It's really a camping pillow, and it has a Velcro flap (plus a self-adhesive strip of Velcro), which is intended to attach it to an inflatatable mattress. However, it's the perfect size for attaching to the underside of the seat, and the cushion will then sit neatly on the top, without the risk of losing it. You can detach it when you've finished with it and stow it away in its stuff-sack. You don't need a lot of air in it to smooth out the edges of the seat, and make it feel much bigger and comfier.
As you can see, it has a basket under the seat, but I may well replace it with a bag, £7.25 here , as there's no point in advertising the contents. These guys, by the way, have a massive range of disability and mobility equipment, at reasonable prices. Free delivery, too.
A word about prices - as far as I can see, and I've looked at a hell of a lot the last few days, decent design and quality of construction seem to have absolutely nothing to do with the price. Take this one, for example. It's £59 on that website, but I've seen it at a variety of prices up to £120! And this at £139.95, or £64.95 from Aidmobility - exactly the same machine! Nothing at all illegal in any of this - but as a customer you'd do well to vote with your wallet.
My advice - pick a style/model you like and keep looking - you'll find it at a sensible price before long. Trouble is, you can't search by name, as different vendors apply different names to the same machines. I'm wary of eBay - any sensible person would be, I think, but Rollators appear there, too. Mostly, it seems, the same model is offered by a variety of vendors at a variety of prices, but watch out for postage charges on eBay - they can add 40% to the price quite easily. I'd recommend buying from an online specialist, or your local one if you're lucky enough to have one, and give eBay a miss - the prices aren't that good anyway. And don't forget to claim your VAT exemption either.
And one very important point that I almost forgot - make sure the handles can be adjusted to fit you (measure your walking stick/crutch, and ensure there is provision for adjustment either side of that figure. An acquaintance of mine has a Rollator that would be too low for me - and he's about 6' 4" - almost a foot taller than I am. I saw him yesterday, and he has the handles on their lowest setting and the thought occurred to me - does he actually know they're adjustable? Then, he's had it for years, so how can he not know - it beats me.
If I had the money, I'd be sorely tempted by one of these. With all the bells and whistles, it's expensive, at £245 (though I've seen the basic machine at £170), but it's seriously cool. Trouble is, I wouldn't be able to attach any of my bits and pieces to it, as I plan to. Ah well, sometimes older designs are more practical and, of course, replacement wheels are widely available and affordable - I doubt the wheels on the cool one are either.
Terminology is a bit vague with these things, as the terms walker and Rollator are used interchangeably. That's wrong, though. A walker is a Zimmer-type device, like this (with or without front wheels).
If it has three or four wheels, and brakes, then it's a Rollator - they were invented in Norway, I believe, about 10 years ago. The basic Zimmer is a really crappy design - lift it up, move it forward, put it down, take a step. Repeat indefinitely! Their only virtues are cheapness and the fact that you can get them from Social Services/NHS (though in my area you're doing well if you can get the right time from these buggers - it took me years, after assessment, to get a bath lift). The only surprise is that it took so long for someone to come up with something better - the Rollator.
Obviously, Rollators are designed to aid walking. The handles take your weight, and you trundle it along - much easier than using crutches or sticks, though that's a matter of preference, I suppose - and it won't roll away from you as it has brakes. Also, and this is vital for me, four-wheeled models come with a seat (I did find just one three-wheeler with a seat, but that cost more than many 4-wheelers, which makes it a bit pointless), so I can rest when I need to, not just when there's a bench or other seat available which, of course, there may not be, or it may already be occupied.
This is the one I was thinking of getting, originally.
The reason I'm showing you this is a design problem. Look at the rear wheels on this one, just bolted to the frame tube. Now, hopefully, the tube will have a reinforcing insert, and the wheel bolts will be high-tensile steel, but as the wheels are only supported on one side they will be over-stressed anyway. Even worse, these are the wheels that take most of the user's weight. Compare it to mine, above, where all four wheels are mounted in forks (like wheelchair castors), which makes them much stronger. If you're in the market for one of these things, that's something to watch out for (and it's very common, regardless of price, because even though it sucks from an engineering standpoint, it's cheap to produce), the rest is down to personal preference and price. The red one is £54. I don't know what the balls on the brake levers are for - they're supposed to make the brakes easier to use, in some unspecified way.
Afterthought - I may be worrying too much about this design, as it's almost universal. The question, I suppose, is would disabled people give it such a hard life that the design becomes a liability? I don't know; what I do know is I wouldn't have one.
By the way, the brakes on these things work in two ways - you squeeze the levers, like a bike, to slow or stop, and push them down to lock the wheels for sitting.
I've really needed one of these for years, but I put it off because I thought I'd look like a pillock! OK, I still might, but I don't care any more what others think, it's what's best for me that matters.
Another important aspect, for me, is that it can be used to carry my birding gear. A rucksack can be fitted to the front, to carry waterproofs and maybe a flask and sarnies, and a cyclists' water bottle can be fastened to a frame tube. I can also attach my telescope/camera combo fairly easily. Once I've got that done, I'll post photos here. Note: Make sure you don't exceed the maximum recommended weight or, better still, stay well under it - my machine will take 19 stone, and I can't envision getting beyond 16 stone with me and my gear. Notice how cunningly I've avoided mentioning my weight? That's talent, that is!
There are some mind-bogglingly stupid reviews of these things online - I saw one that insisted that you must buy a steel one, as aluminium is weak and fragile. Total rubbish, aluminium tubing (and that's a vital distinction), is stronger than steel, weight for weight, won't rust and is no more prone to impact damage than steel. Let's face it, the majority of mountain bikes have alloy frames these days, and few things have a harder life - aluminium is not weak!
This is how not to use one! It probably goes without saying that these people are Americans - it has to be in the genes to be so gormless.
There aren't, as far as I can see, that many steel 4-wheel Rollators available - the fact that almost everyone uses aluminium speaks volumes. They're not going to use a material that is going to involve them in huge warranty costs, which would be the case if the material was unsuitable. Even bariatric Rollators (for very heavy people), are - yes, you've guessed - aluminium, though you can get steel. There are inherent problems with steel - there's a weight penalty of about 30% on average; then it will rust, not just if the paint's chipped, but inside the tubes, too, where you can't see it - bad news if you use it outdoors. Beware, too, of chrome-plated steel - you'll spend your life polishing it to stop it going rusty!
Fact: did you know that the American spelling, aluminum, is actually correct? British scientists decided that as all the elements around aluminum in the Periodic Table ended in "ium", they'd stick an entirely superfluous "i" in it, just for the look of the thing.
If you just need support while walking, plus a bag to carry stuff, then a three-wheeled machine may suit. They also take up less room when used indoors, and when stored.
These can be either aluminium or steel, the former being lighter, of course, and the comments I made earlier about wheels and forks seem not to apply to three-wheelers - they all seem to be the same basic design as the one above. No idea why.
And that's about it - as I said, I'll post pics of any modifications here (actually, modifications is the wrong word - I'm not changing it, I'm adding to it).