Here is a review of our experience with the Hippocampe.
Firstly I want to make a point that this is a review of the Hippocampe in use as a beach wheelchair. It would of course be a very different review if it was reviewing the Hippocampe as more of an all-around outdoors wheelchair in multiple terrains.
The Hippocampe is available in different setups with different components. The one that we rented is more of a common setup and includes a front balloon tire (like a Wheeleez); a long rear hand bar for a person helping to push the wheelchair; and double rimmed rear wheels, which are essentially two 26″ bicycle wheels adhered together. The outer rim has a padded and somewhat tacky strip to help the user push the rims and self propel the chair like a traditional wheelchair.
There is also a bar connected to the underside of the chair by cord which can be used to help pull the user in the chair.
Propelling the Chair at the Beach
We were told by Northeast Passage that the Hippocampe wouldn’t be the best all around chair to use in Cape Cod because it doesn’t do well in soft sand. That is because the rear wheels, although wider because they’re double rimmed, don’t float very well on the sand compared to low pressure balloon tires. When we did have to use the Hippocampe on the softer sand while taking it in and out of the water, it was extremely difficult to push the chair with someone in it as the person’s weight would drive the rear wheels into the sand. Because of this we used a Landeez beach chair with large balloon tires for getting down and back to the beach from out motel.
When we were nearer the water’s edge where the sand was harder and also while we were in the shallow water, it was much easier to push BUT it wasn’t very easy. The rear wheels still seemed to get bogged down even in the harder sand. My Mom would have a difficult time self propelling a traditional wheelchair on hard ground so she didn’t even try pushing the rims on the Hippocampe but I would have to say that I think it would be fairly difficult for a moderately strong wheelchair user to self propel the Hippocampe even in firmer sand.
One very important and somewhat surprising note about the Hippocampe and maneuvering it is that the front balloon wheel DOES NOT PIVOT. This was surprising because in the Hippocampe marketing video below, it is framed that the person can use the chair independently by self propelling it and all. The thing is, it is very difficult for the user to turn the chair when the front wheel doesn’t pivot. For a user to turn it, one has to jerk forward on the wheels to lift the front wheel up off the ground and then pivot via pushing in opposing directions on the back wheels like you would a traditional chair. I was thinking this to be a design flaw but it might actually be a feature in that, with the longer wheelbase, the makers of the Hippocampe might have made it purposely not pivoting so as the nose wouldn’t start to roll down if the Hippocampe was positioned across an incline. With a user pushing this is okay as the long push bar enables the pusher to push down and lift the front wheel and then pivot the chair.
The Hippocampe in the Water
One of the advantages of not having balloon tires in the rear of the Hippocampe is the ability for the chair to go into the water and be more stable. With a beach wheelchair with all balloon tires, the balloon tires are very buoyant and even in shallow water the chair can become unstable very quickly. This isn’t so with the Hippocampe since the rear bicycle tires aren’t as buoyant and the user’s weight keeps them down against the ground. The front balloon tire comes up but doesn’t cause the chair to be unstable in water.
Because of this, the chair can then be pushed into deeper water safely at which point the user can easily float up and away from the chair if they want to swim or float. The process can also be reversed so the user can float or be floated back into the chair very easily. This essentially eliminates a potentially difficult transfer of the user from a more traditional beach wheelchair from the water’s edge into deeper water if the user is interested in swimming.
Transporting the Hippocampe
As you can see in the photo above, the Hippocampe can be folded down for transportation. The seat back folds down after the arms are unstrapped from the lower frame (arms not shown in photo above). The push bar also disconnects from the frame in one piece and the rear wheels come off as shown in this photo:
The front wheel does not come off. The frame, because of the nature of the long tubing, is somewhat long and awkwardly shaped although it still should be able to fit in the back of a sedan or in a trunk. Compared to the Landeez beach wheelchair though, it doesn’t break down as nicely and compactly.
The Hippocampe has more of a sporty design which in turn puts the user closer to the ground than other beach wheelchairs. Also, the rear wheel and armrests are positioned in such a way that requires the user to hop over them in order to successfully transfer. I don’t think that this would be too much of a problem for a moderately strong wheelchair user but otherwise the user might need assistance with the transfer.
One of the other advantages I mentioned before of the Hippocampe (although I’m not sure about the details of how to obtain other components) is the capacity for it have different setups. So for instance it does look like it is possible to put rear balloon tires on the Hippocampe as shown here:
That is really excellent and could be a remedy to some of the cons listed above. For instance, if it is possible to obtain the balloon tires for the Hippocampe then you could theoretically use them on it for the softer sand and then swap them for the other bicycle tires when it’s time to go into the water. There is also a setup that includes a castering front wheel that is designed for being used on hard surfaces say at a pool:
All in all I think that the Hippocampe is a great option for a beach wheelchair especially for users that are going to be going into and out of the water frequently as well as for self-propelled wheelchair users.