Showing posts with label wheelchair. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wheelchair. Show all posts

Friday 1 October 2021

Camino de Santiago 1 - Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port to Roncesvalles (Electric wheelchair style)

Back in October 2019 I made a blog post about a little mountain town in the French Pyrenees called Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port just north of the Spanish border. What I was actually doing was checking out the possibility of starting the Camino de Santiago on my wheels. This has been a goal that has sat with me for many years, since long before I used my wheels

Through the Porte d’Espagne, across the bridge to the Rue d’Espagne

The Camino is an ancient pilgrim path across the North of the Iberian Peninsula, starting in the lovely little town of Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port and finishing 790km away in the holy city of Santiago de Compostela 

The route is the red line at the top of Spain

The start of this pilgrimage crosses the picturesque bridge (photo) before ascending 1430m to the pass and down 650m into Roncesvalles 25 km away and across the Spanish border. This route commences  with a constant climb which is a big challenge for walkers. For me on my wheels it was relatively easy apart from some sections of the ridge at the very top. My challenge was trusting the capability of Genny and myself to take this committing leap

Attempting this crossing is no mean feat for a 2 wheeled battery powered wheelchair carrying everything you need for your journey. In October 2019 with a standard set of Segway batteries I didn't have the confidence to start this adventure. The Guardians at the pilgrim information office told me there was no possible way I should attempt this even by the easier tarmacked road alternative. People had died on this route and I doubt it has ever been attempted solo on an electric 2 wheeled wheelchair. I carried this doubt

Note: Since writing this I have discovered that Roberto Moretti has traveled 350 km of the Camino de Santiago aboard his Genny Mobility wheelchair as detailed HERE and HERE - how cool is that?

I need to say that although I use an electric wheelchair I am still able to walk to some extent and that I can get off and push when required. I am not trying to compare this to anyone else's journey, nor am I trying to promote my undertaking or the wheels I use. My posts have always been about what I am able to do with my wheels that I just wouldn't attempt without them

I left my VW van in a small campsite in Saint-Jean-Pier-de-Port having paid for 2 additional nights. I set off carrying everything I needed for myself and my wheels including some refreshments, sleeping bag, towel, tools, Genny charge cable, passport etc. and what felt like a lot of courage but could have been bravado. I guess this is the spirit of a pilgrimage. With any goal, making the decision is actually a big part of the process and having that made, you're already on the way

Rising views of the French side

Setting off was a great relief and the initial 16 km constant climb was ok for me and I passed a stream of other pilgrims on the route. The views increased in aspect as I climbed. I deviated from the usual walked route in one section where I chose a longer hairpin on tarmac rather than a steeper but rougher off-road section. This was a strategy I would use in several places over the next seven days of my journey

Approaching the pass into Spain the  road  turns to tracks and eventually a single rough footpath which was more challenging on 2 wheels. The hardest part was at the very top of this French side where the steepness and terrain was too hard to ride mounted and even too difficult to guide Genny in rider less mode
Rough terrain approaching the top of the French side  

It is possible after dismounting to put Genny into the Segway rider less balance mode which is designed to be used as a bit of assistance going up ramps etc.. It kind of self drives and you can direct it with a push. I will learn to perfect this technique over the next period but even clearing the worst of the rocks from the path by hand was not enough for me to pass on my own. I was overtaken by many walkers I had previously passed who all offered help. I eventually said yes to a lively pair of Spanish pilgrims who weren't hearing no and picked Genny up, setting it down at the top 

Wheelchair camino - Genny summiting with Spain ahead. Camino de Santiage
Genny fully loaded with rucksack and sleeping bag and Spain ahead

This spirit of kindness was ever present on the Camino and a joy to encounter. Although I was able to manage in most instances there were a number of places I just couldn't negotiate without help. I am fiercely independent however the acceptance of help was humbling and a gift

This wasn't the best way down
Entering Spain the route changes into high mountain woodland and you eventually reach the summit of Lepoeder at 1,430 meters which is the highest point for the day. My batteries were still showing just under half capacity at this point, well beyond the capacity of standard Segway batteries

From here there are two ways down, an incredibly steep rough footpath descending 650m over 4km or a long winding track that does it in about 8km. I took the easy track via a difficult path but soon it was a cruise to the bottom

This long winding track goes on to Roncesvalles at the bottom of the valley where you reach the pilgrim hostel. Unfortunately I dropped my phone and had to retrace my route 2km up hill to the point where thankfully, I found it by the side of the track
Albergue Colegiata in Roncesvalles

The beautiful Albergue Colegiata in Roncesvalles is a big and impressive old complex and sleeps 200 people. It was here that I met the fellow pilgrims I had been encountering all day and had the chance to sit, eat, talk and share a glass with


Wednesday 29 September 2021


Arles is a beautiful old French city on the banks of the river Rhône in the former province of Provence. Once again in my visits to old French cities, Arles is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also an alternative start for the Camino de Santiago

I spent a day in Arles mainly searching for my van that I had parked in an obscure car park. Prior to that I was admiring the fantastic Amphitheatre built in 60AD. According to Wikipedia it was built to hole 20,000 spectators and was the site for chariot racing and bloody hand-to-hand battles. I understand it currently hosts bull fights and concerts

Arles in 1944 - photo by J. George

Arles in 1944 - Image by J. George

St Trophime Monastery, start of the Arles route of the Camino de Santiago

Tuesday 28 September 2021

Genny Mobility Factory

Genny is based in Sant'Antonino in southern Switzerland just north of the Italian border. I took the opportunity to visit and to meet the team and whilst there, to have my wheels professionally serviced for the first time ever. I have obviously done an amount of upkeep on my wheels but my joy is in riding Genny, not maintaining it.

Genny Mobility showroom

I understand that Genny is currently very busy as the other self-balanced wheelchair producers can no longer get the Segway powerbases. Genny is the one self-balanced wheelchair producer with an agreement with Segway for the production of medical devices for the next period. Genny also has an independent R&D department working on future Genny Mobility products. I'm really interested to see the future outcomes and wish Genny a bright and profitable future

Based over 2 floors Genny HQ is a clean and modern building. There is a central display area showcasing Genny in production colors, a development facility, the office and a workshop. Downstairs is storage and production 

This is my wheels undergoing service and update with a modification to the Segway actuation sensors that detect when a rider is present. I was very aware that my wheels have had significant use, often in wet salty conditions but was delighted to see it so well maintained

Whilst there I was introduced to both the electronic and mechanical designers working on future Genny Mobility products and took the opportunity to highlight some of my ideas particularly about being able to isolate power for air transport along with other issues like making Genny compatible with UK legal requirements

One of the first prototypes made 10 years ago. You can see the fundamental design is all there and I love the shape of the bold side handles

This visit was great - the team is young and keen and there is obviously vision and creativity for the future. 

I was also delighted the headquarters are adjacent to another beautiful lake that proved to be clear, warm water and a great place to stay and to swim


According to Wikipedia the small town of Briançon is a commune in the Hautes-Alpes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southeastern France. At an altitude of 1,326 metres (4,350 feet) it is the highest city in France, based on the French definition as a community containing more than 2,000 inhabitants. Briançon is built on a plateau centre on the confluence of the Durance and the Guisane rivers.

From the surrounding countryside it looks like a citadel perched prominently in the river valley surrounded by mountains. 

Inside it is a treasure trove of tiny steep cobbled streets and mysterious doorways that look like they hide thieves and vagabonds although the good people of Briançon would probably deny that

Saturday 25 September 2021


I have been across the border into Switzerland on previous occasions but never stayed.  After collecting my new batteries and on route to my next destination, I took the opportunity to visit Zürich and some of the beautiful lakes on my journey south

All these images are of Zürich taken on a Saturday afternoon in late September. It is situated at the northwestern tip of lake Zürich and is a stunning and beautiful city full of culture, architecture, museums and galleries. It was exceptionally easy to negotiate on my wheels. Would love to return

A prototype Segway possibly?

Along with beautiful scenery Switzerland has many lakes which are clean, warm and great to swim in backed by high mountains everywhere you look

Friday 24 September 2021

New batteries

Approaching 8,000 miles on my wheels I am conscious my batteries are nearing the end of their life. Genny's power unit is a Segway, complete with a pair of 72v 5.2Ah Lithium-ion batteries. Getting new batteries is complicated as they are consider dangerous goods. The movement of lithium batteries is subject to regulation by the International Air Transport Association. Segway going bust has added further complications to replacing my tired old batteries 

After loads of research I have purchased a pair of ultra high capacity (UHC) batteries from a clever man who makes them in northern Switzerland. These are new batteries made with the same technology but a more modern build with higher capacity cells. To get these batteries I needed to drive across Europe and collect them in person

Map showing my route from St Malo to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the SW French Pyrenees via Switzerland and Italy

As I'm up for a road trip and COVID is starting to settle, and having been doubly vaccinated the world is opening again for me. Packing my VW van with mattress, cooker and of course my wheels, I set off for a grand tour and to collect my new batteries

These batteries are built into refurbished cases and there is a trade-in on the old batteries. They are made with a bespoke battery monitoring system that works in a slightly different way but still relies on the standard Segway charging interface. The usual charge indication shown on the Segway infokey reports it's level based on the use of the battery and measured by a built in shunt. The following image shows Genny having used 1/4 of its capacity 

Old picture showing 1/4 battery used and 1000 miles on the clock

The new batteries don't have that same shunt monitoring system and are more variable in how they report their level of charge however they have considerably more capacity. This is of course dependent on many variables like terrain and weight of load. I understand these batteries have powered a Segway i2 for over 92km which is easily more than twice the usual capacity of the standard battery. What I can say is that in my experience, I have been able ride for much greater distance than my old batteries would have taken me. There will be more on this in subsequent posts where I try these batteries on the Comino de Santiago

Graph showing battery capacity

This graph compares the normal 5.2Ah (yellow), a newer releassed 5.6Ah battery (orange) and the new Swiss UHC batteries (blue) and indicates an increase in capacity of well over 200%

Delighted as I am with my new batteries I will probably revert back to my old ones till they finally die on me

Monday 7 June 2021

7000 on the clock

Today I made 7000 on the clock with my Genny. It's actually probably more like 8000 as I had a long time with another Segway base unit installed but using the same batteries whilst my gearboxes were being restored.

I'm definitely getting less miles per battery charge but that is to be expected. Its not a lot less but I have a target that I would always meet on a familiar route where the first bar on the battery indicator would go. Nowadays that indicator bar falls about 400m short

Genny at 7000 miles

Having purchased a backup Segway I have a spare set of batteries, however they are older and less capable of holding a charge despite having minimal mileage. My plan is to get a new set of non- standard custom batteries when Europe is open for business again after Covid.


Thursday 3 September 2020

Flying with your Genny

Genny is a great travel companion. It will get you places you may not have the energy to access without it and with such a great range on a battery charge it can replace a hire car to some extent. And what style, it will raise eyebrows and get you into many interesting situations and discussions  

We know however that going anywhere with a wheelchair may have additional considerations and getting your wheels into the air can be quite an ordeal. With a motorised chair the issue is more than likely to be about the batteries

Genny comes with 3 batteries. The first is a small 12 volt old school lead-gel battery like you would get in a small motorcycle. The other batteries drive the Segway and are a pair of 5.2 Ah, 73,6  volt Lithium-Ion batteries made with 92 cells each. Lithium batteries have proved unstable under certain conditions and there have been fires on planes because of them. As far as I am aware Segway batteries have proven safe

The movement of lithium by airplane is governed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations. If your wheelchair is powered by lithium batteries the details are covered in their "Battery Powered Wheelchair and Mobility Aid Guidance Document (updated 2021)" This document is definitely your friend. Print it out and always carry it with you when flying. I also keep a link on my phone just in case. Many times I have needed to resort to this document in discussions with ground operations representatives at the departure gate. I have also spoken to several pilots who have always supported my transportation when referencing the IATA regulations

The issue is that everybody and his mate has an understanding of what the regulations state. From the staff at check-in, the disability advisors on the phone, to the captain, all have their own interpretation and most of it is negative. The word Lithium is a red flag in aviation so have the IATA guidelines printed out and at hand

Once you get past the lithium issue there is another specific design floor with Genny that will also cause havoc. I have several "Acceptance for Travel Guidance" documents that are available on my RESOURCES page that give Genny flying instructions. The problem bit is with the small control panel that puts your legs down. After activation the lights on this unit stay on for up to 8 minutes. This is 8 minutes with the ground operations team twiddling their thumbs and waiting till the lights go off. It is also 8 minutes with you in your aircraft seat watching out the window as they all have a play trying to make the lights go out. Every time someone touches these switches, the 8 minute counter is reset and starts again

Legs down switch control panel

I have 2 solutions for this issue. The first is a small plastic food container that has been adapted to fit the control panel. The switches are then protected and beyond reach of impatient baggage handlers   

Switch protection using a modified food container

The second and much better option, is to fit an additional switch into the 12 volt battery lead that completely isolates the Genny power source. This is a fantastic modification that instantly puts Genny to sleep to the delight of the ground operations crew. This is obviously not an official Genny modification but will greatly assist in airport situations. I have this hidden under the seat and directly above the battery as shown below. Anyone with a simple understanding of electricity would be able to install something like this and it sure beats trying to convince people to wait the 8 mins till the lights go out by themselves. It also helps with children who just can't resist pushing buttons. If you want more details of this solution please leave me a message in the comments space below 

Battery isolation switch (home made)

Another very useful addition is some small wooden inserts I have fabricated. These fit into the side handles that you lower if using a sliding board or to put the legs down in emergencies. These are visible in the following photo and are held in place by 3 cable-ties. I use these just in case a loader accidentally operates these handles. With the legs down Genny is very difficult to move and every time it is lifted, the legs come out more, making it even harder to move. If you want the pattern for these please leave me a message in the comments space below. This would be a good item to get 3D printed      

Inserts that stop the handle operating accidentally

Bon Voyage

Monday 24 August 2020

Wanted / For Sale

Are you wanting to sell or buy a second hand Genny Mobility wheelchair? Check out my new page: HERE