Every wheelchair or electric scooter user knows that after you’ve been using your mobility aid for some time, it becomes an extension of your body. You feel every bump and know exactly where your center of balance is. You know what your mobility equipment is capable of and when you need to go around an obstacle. Traveling extensively in a scooter or power wheelchair like I do can put a lot of strain on equipment, and I really test my chairs to the limit. Recently, due to the progress of my multiple sclerosis, I came to a point where I needed to switch out of my three-wheel electric scooter and find a travel ready mobility aid. Thanks to a fellow wheelchair traveler, I learned about the new Whill Model Ci, and now I’m traveling the world with this amazing piece of mobility technology. Here is my review after taking it to several countries over the past two months.
I can guarantee you that the Whill Ci is like no mobility device you’ve ever seen before. Whill was founded by three Japanese men with backgrounds in transportation and engineering. They have a friend who uses a wheelchair, but hated the medical look of traditional wheelchairs that caused people to view him as weak or incapable. His three friends set out to design a high-tech mobility solution that not only allowed him to be independent, but to present a modern look that projected strength. Their goal is to redefine the perception of wheelchairs and their limitations through innovative design and advanced technology. Having previously released the larger and more robust Model M and Model A, designers at Whill recently released the smaller and more travel-ready Model Ci in 2018.
The chair has four wheels, including two front patented wheels with rollers that allow the front end to move from side to side without the wheels having to pivot. This allows the Ci to have an incredibly small turning radius. The control joystick is low-profile and can be positioned either on the right arm or left arm. Both arms are height adjustable. At the top of the non-joystick arm is an LED display that shows the speed setting as well as the percentage of battery power remaining. There is also a small speaker, from which emanates a female voice advising you if you are exceeding any of the chairs limits. The back and seat cushions are attached with Velcro and are extraordinarily comfortable. The seat back is slightly adjustable to a recline of up to 100°. The seat height and back height are adjustable, and the chair comes with a removable large basket that fits underneath the seat. The side panels come in several different colors.
I have very stringent requirements for my travel chairs because of the nature of how I get from point A to point B. I need my chairs to be light and also collapsible in case accessible taxis are not available at my destinations and I need to take my chair or scooter apart. Fortunately, the Whill CI meets all of these requirements. The total weight of the chair is 115 pounds, and it separates into three pieces. The seats weighs 32 pounds, the front wheel portion also weighs 32 pounds, and the rear drive portion weighs 44 pounds. The removable lithium ion battery only weighs 6 pounds, and has a total power rating of approximately 250 amp hours. This means that you can fly with it under FAA and European airline regulations. The chair length is 39 inches, the chair width is between 22 and 24 inches depending on the size you request, and the height from the ground to the top of the controller arm is roughly 28 inches. The chair can safely tackle inclines of up to 10°, and while it will warn you if you attempt anything steeper, it won’t shut off; you just need to be very careful. The Whill Ci has four different speed settings, and its top speed is 5 miles per hour. Ground clearance is 2 ¼ inches and obstacle clearance is 2 inches.
One of the coolest things about the Whill Ci is the integrated phone app and security features. From your cell phone, you can actually remotely control the chairs movement in case you need to check something on the back of the chair or just move it to a corner if you’ve transferred to a different seat. The app will also tell you how far you’ve traveled and how much distance and battery power you have remaining. Technical support can access data for your chair through this app as well in case you have to troubleshoot. You can also lock the chair so the only way it can be turned on is using your phone. That way if you have to leave it at a place like outside of a ride at Disney World, nobody can turn on the chair and steal it.
By far the most unique technical aspect of the Whill Ci is the individual rollers on the front wheels. The front two wheels don’t pivot at all. Each roller moves freely on the wheel on ball bearings, so they can literally slide side to side based on power directed from the rear two wheels. This allows the chair to have an incredibly small turn radius.
I use a four-wheel power chair at home, so I’m used to the basic maneuvers that using the Whill Ci requires. The movement is very smooth, and it’s quite easy to switch between speed settings while in motion. Using the phone app, you can also change the type of driving the chair can do. You can put it in a moderate mode, which minimizes the top speed and allows for slower acceleration. You can put it in normal mode, or you can put it in sport mode which allows for much faster acceleration and movement response. I find that level two is a good speed for tighter indoor spaces and a level three is great for day-to-day outings. Level four is really fast, and quite convenient when you need to catch up to someone or get somewhere in a hurry.
I can’t say enough about the comfort of the chair. Between the adjustments that can be made to the seat height, the seat back height and recline, and the arm height, you can find settings that are best for you. One of my biggest complaints with my scooter was how uncomfortable the leather seat could be by the end of the day. The microfiber covered cushion on the Whill Ci is soft and extremely plush. I’ve used this chair for at least 12 hours a day, every day, for two weeks with no pressure sores whatsoever.
The biggest adjustment for me was how the front wheels maneuver with the rollers. If you find yourself on pavement with any vertical grooves (looking down), you’re going to need momentum in order to go from side to side over those grooves. A prime example is the raised lines on the ground used by the blind. The front wheels can get stuck in between those grooves and you may need to stop and move side to side for a little bit in order to move laterally across them. The Ci tends to not maneuver as well on wet pavement or stones, and can slip quite easily on steeper slopes if the surface is wet. This can happen with pretty much all mobility devices, but the lateral rollers may contribute to this vulnerability. Be prepared for the front end to possibly slip sideways on a wet lateral slope. That being said, because of the configuration of the rollers, they offer a better grip when going over obstacles that are dry.
The only big negative for me is the method for charging the battery. The charging cable that comes with the chair is quite short. The only charging port is on the battery itself, which is on the back of the chair in between the two rear wheels. It can be very difficult for a chair user to spin around and connect the charger to the battery while it is still attached to the chair. The other alternative is to take the battery out and plug it in separately, which can be a challenge if you are traveling alone and can’t walk. On a recent cruise, I had to ask for an extension cord because I had no outlet next to the bed. This is also common in many hotel rooms. It would be ideal if Whill could either locate a charging port on the front of the chair somewhere or create a much longer charging cord.
Since I got my Whill Ci, I have definitely put this chair through its paces. I’m much harder on my chairs than most people, so if this chair can survive my international travels, it will definitely hold up for probably most of what you need it for. So far I have traveled with it to Seoul, Madrid, Gibraltar, Tangier, and five islands in the Caribbean on a cruise. It can definitely go over 2 inch obstacles as advertised, and handles cobblestones large and small like a beast. Whill has wisely and conveniently provided a simple pictorial printout that you can attach to the back of your chair with instructions for airline ground crews to carry and load the chair in the hold of the plane during air travel. They have been grateful for these instructions and so far my chair has not been damaged during air travel. The joystick controller is very low-profile and there are no protruding wires or pieces, which I think helps minimize opportunities for damage during air travel.
Taking a Test Drive
The Whill Model Ci is distributed in the US by Scootaround, National Seating & Mobility, SpinLife, and 1-800Wheelchair.com. They have over 50 reseller locations in the United States, and you can click here in order to make an appointment to take a test drive at the reseller nearest you. The Whill Model Ci is also available in the UK and Italy markets, and you can read more about that on Whill’s Europe page. The retail cost for the Ci is USD$3,999. You can also purchase several accessories to use with the chair, like a small storage bag for the armrest, a cane holder, and extra arm panels. Please feel free to reach out to Whill if you have any questions about the Ci, as they are extremely friendly and will bend over backwards to make sure that you get what you need. Finally, if you do decide to purchase one, please give them my name as a referral! This will help provide me with a small credit at no extra cost to you.