Inventor stories is a series written for Smarta by
the British Library - each week, it tells the tale behind one of
the brilliant British inventions featured in its 'Inventing the 21st Century'
Last week's inventor stories blog featured ex-Formula 1 design
engineer, Richard Thorpe, and how he re-applied his industry
knowledge and expertise in an effort to revolutionise the world of
pedal power. Offering users a genuine 21st-century cycling
experience, Richard's GoCycle represents the cutting edge of light
An industry that embraces ingenuity and innovative thinking, it
is unsurprising that Richard is not the only star of the British
Library's 'Inventing 21st Century' exhibition to have emerged from
the fast-paced world of motor sport. Mike Spindle, who spent most
of his career working on precision tools and parts for F1, has used
his technical abilities to develop a more modern and stylish
wheelchair. An international success, available in 22 countries,
some have even referred to Mike's sleek new product as the sports
car of the wheelchair world!
The inspiration for revisiting such a tried-and-tested product
came from a trip to Luton Airport back in 2000. While queuing to
board his flight, Mike noticed a stylishly dressed teenager in a
decidedly unstylish wheelchair. Unable to escape this jarring
image, and much to his wife's disappointment, he spent the rest of
the flight sketching out initial ideas on the back of his boarding
Determined to completely transform the user experience, Mike
started by asking what it was wheelchair users actually wanted.
Already running his own small engineering and tool making firm,
D.T. Clayton, Mike set his team working on his prototype ideas, and
five years later he filed the patents and trademarks for the Trekinetic K2 wheelchair.
The first time the design for the wheelchair has been
fundamentally revisited since the 1930s, the K2 features sleek
design, a bucket seat, and hi-spec drum brakes to cope with the
improved speed. Employing a three-wheeled design - two large ones
at the front that feature chunky mountain bike style tyres and a
single smaller one at the back - the chair also has an adjustable
wheel base which can be narrowed to make it easier for home use,
but when using the standard wider base makes crossing more
difficult terrain much easier.
The K2's innovative weight transfer system provides more support
and enables users to easily ascend kerbs without the need to
perform a 'wheelie' - requiring the users to simply sit back in the
chair and let the rear shock absorber assist with elevating the
chair. In fact the whole ride experience is transformed by shifting
the users centre of gravity lower down to provide much greater
When he set out on the project Mike began by simply wanting to
make a new, more modern, more appealing wheelchair. Yet by the end
of a very long product development phase, the K2 has proven to be
not just excellent aesthetically but also in terms of functionality
- providing all terrain access for thousands of wheelchair users.
At six times the price of the standard NHS wheelchair the K2 isn't
cheap but countless user testimonies show that it is transforming
Prior to this project, along with the rest of the car industry,
Mike had seen business for his engineering firm steadily decline.
By looking for alternative applications for the skills of his team,
his decision to switch to targeting this blatant gap in the
wheelchair market not only resulted in a fantastic new product but
also saved his business.
For more detail about the K2 or Trekinetic please
visit www.trekinetic.co.uk, and find out more about
the 'Inventing the 21st Century'