It’s not every day that a world champion can thank an Israeli startup for his life. Canadian extreme athlete Lonnie Bissonnette, one of the world’s greatest BASE jumpers – those people who deliberately jump off cliffs – has expressed his gratitude for SoftWheel, whose revolutionary wheelchair landed him safely during one of his most daring jumps.
Get our weekly highlights directly in your inbox!Sign up
Using SoftWheel to win the Canadian Para-Bobsleigh Championship (powered-sled races) last month, Bissonnette, who became paralyzed after a 2004 jump, performed an extraordinary BASE jump using SoftWheel, which he later featured on his Facebook page.
One of the world’s most prolific BASE jumpers, Bissonnette was attempting a “quadruple gainer” (an outward facing, inward rotating flip) in 2004, on his 1100th BASE jump, off a 150-meter-high bridge, when his parachute failed to open.
He crashed into the river at a speed of 70 miles per hour, and suffered a spinal-cord injury leaving him paralyzed. Lucky to have survived that accident, he was told by his doctor he would never jump again.
But 12 months later, he was back “flying” in the sky. Fearlessly jumping off all four objects in B.A.S.E (Buildings, Antennae, Span, and Earth) again, he became the world’s first paraplegic BASE jumper to have jumped from all four of the objects. No wonder that his motto, as stated on his blog, is “never give up.”
Reinventing the wheel
While Bissonnette is proudly using Israeli technology to perform bold BASE jumps, many other paraplegics use SoftWheel on a daily basis. The company, which literally reinvented the wheel, has developed the next-generation wheelchair that can wheel down a flight of stairs, and move across any terrain.
With an inner-suspension system for shock absorption, SoftWheel’s innovative technology enhances user-ride capabilities, providing stability for wheelchair users, effectively reducing the level of daily pain and discomfort that can result from wheelchair use.
According to SoftWheel CEO Daniel Barel, “we did not invent the wheel, but we did reinvent its technology, to a point where it significantly improves the riding experience, helping users to go further with less pain and increased comfort.”
SoftWheel’s integrated suspension technology has been on the market since 2014, giving thousands in 15 countries the freedom to go everywhere.
From tractors to wheelchairs
SoftWheel is the brainchild of Gilad Wolf, a farmer who found himself bound to a wheelchair for three weeks, after breaking his pelvis. Working with tractors, he noticed that they have a simple yet ingenious airbag-based shock-absorbing construct. He then built a wheelchair with a similar construct for each wheel.
Wolf’s invention is designed to absorb shock and can be adjusted for each rider. In regular wheelchairs, even premium ones, shock is spread evenly throughout the wheel, then transferred in its entirety to the rider. But SoftWheel’s wheelchair, called Acrobat, operates differently. When the wheel is subjected to impact, the inner suspension automatically shifts towards the source of the impact and then back to its position, in less than a second. This mechanism drastically reduces the shock felt by the rider, which makes it easier to traverse bumpy roads, go down curbs – or even stairs.
Photos and videos: Lonnie Bissonnette, SoftWheel