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 pass.
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 control.
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 lives.
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.