On December 3rd, the World will celebrate International Persons with Disabilities Day. To celebrate, Experian has a special episode of the Small Business Matters podcast this week featuring a discussion with Zack and Cambry Nelson. The Nelsons are the creators of the “Not a Wheelchair,” an off-road, bicycle-based apparatus that is now being used all over North America to help people with disabilities get off the pavement and deeper into nature. We dive into the challenges they faced starting a business during the pandemic, and hear their plans to help even more wheelchair users in the future.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.
Emily Garman: We’re excited to welcome Zack and Cambry Nelson to our podcast today. They are the creators of the “Not a Wheelchair,” which is being used all over North America by people with disabilities to get off the pavement and deeper into nature. So I’m really happy to have you both here to talk to me. Can you give us kind of an overview of what the rig is and what inspired you to create this device? And I’ll show some pictures too.
Zack Nelson: So, I met Cambry what, like four years ago? We met on a dating app actually. And we started dating and I realized pretty quickly that, you know, if we ever wanted to go on a hike or something like that, a manual wheelchair is not good on gravel.
Cambry Nelson: Not really going to cut it.
Zack Nelson: And it’s not good on dirt, it’s not good on grass, fields even are really hard. So I started looking into off-road wheelchairs and they’re all like 20 grand, which is a little expensive when you’re dating. And so I realized that I could take two electric bikes and weld them together and make my own off-road wheelchair for like $3,000. And it worked pretty well. it needed a few adjustments, and then we made those and mass produced them and that’s where we’re at.
Emily Garman: So let’s take a look at it. This is the product, what it actually looks like in its current form. I’m sure there were many versions ahead of this.
Zack Nelson: Yeah, so this is made mostly out of bike parts. So it has a hub motor, mounted between the bike wheels. And the nice thing about having it made out of bike parts is that like everything is super inexpensive if you need to replace it. Like new tires are 30 bucks. Which if you’re familiar with the wheelchair industry at all, you know. It gets really expensive, really quick.
Emily Garman: You can find the parts locally, too.
Zack Nelson: Yeah. Amazon has most of them. So we try to make it as cheap as possible so people can get out as much as possible.
Emily Garman: So what have people been saying about it? What’s the reception been in the community? What impact is it making? What are people able to do that they couldn’t do before?
Zack Nelson: I like seeing our Instagram, I mean. It’s just fun seeing the pictures of places people can now go that they probably wouldn’t have been able to get to otherwise. I don’t know, what you think?
Cambry Nelson: Yeah, I would say Instagram has been the best route that we get to see everyone’s experiences; and I know the first time I hopped on it, it really felt liberating to be able to go into areas of nature that I hadn’t in years. And so it’s just really rewarding to see other people go on trails and see just gorgeous scenery from the NotAWheelchair instead of hanging out on pavement, like you said earlier.
Emily Garman: Cambry, I wanted to ask you something; when I looked at your Instagram, something that struck me, as a mom myself, is pictures of you with your baby riding in the rig. You have a strap that you–I think he was younger at the time–but you would strap him to your body so he could face out.Wzhat was that like, to be able to do something that so many parents just take for granted, to take your baby out, out for a stroll? Was that emotional?
Cambry Nelson: You know, I, it’s been really interesting because I have had a lot of questions from friends that are also wheelchair users that became pregnant and they would say, “I’m sad that I’m gonna miss out on some of the things that other parents can do with their kids.” And I just don’t, I guess I’m not really aware of that anymore. We just find a way to do it. And I love that the rig is another way that I can ride a bike with my kid. Obviously my kid’s not riding a bike on his own yet, but like, we’re almost tandem riding a bike together, and we go on walks almost daily, and I don’t know, you just find a way. When you want it bad enough, you figure it out.
Emily Garman: Absolutely. So shifting over to kind of the business aspect of this. You all launched in June of 2020, so right around the beginning of the pandemic. Do you think that everybody being cooped up inside and, having all the challenges that we all faced during that time affected the launch or success of the product and business at all?
Zack Nelson: Quite a bit actually. So, kind of inadvertently, because everyone was staying at home, everyone was going outside more often and buying bikes. And so there was a massive bike shortage as well as bike part shortage. And so that made our launch fairly difficult because it’s made mostly from bike parts. And so we’ve been sold out basically, you know, probably like six to 12 weeks of wait time for these machines until just barely recently, like a couple weeks ago, where we finally caught up with all of the orders. So yeah, it did definitely affect the launch.
Emily Garman: Now are you still making them all yourself or do you have a factory operation with folks putting them together there?
Zack Nelson: Good question. Utah Trikes is our manufacturer, and they probably have 30 or 40 people here in Utah that are manufacturing these alongside other trikes and, and bikes, that they make themselves. And then we also have our own building, also here in Orem, Utah, where we are manufacturing other products, that we plan on launching later this year.
Emily Garman: I’m looking forward to seeing about that. What would you say are some of the challenges that you face? So you mentioned the shortage of bike parts around the beginning of the pandemic, because everybody was getting outside. Any other lessons learned as a business owner?
Cambry Nelson: So I tested the first version out and I feel like we tried to take it over a lot of different terrain, and we went through a lot of different versions. I am an occupational therapist, and so I had some needs that I wanted to be met. I think the first real obstacle was, how do we make something as inexpensive as possible to fit a large group of people that all have very specific needs? And so we had to kind of come up with something that could help as many people as we could. And then with the idea of down the road, we would try and adapt more things and make it more friendly to other disabilities down the road. And so that’s what we’re kind of working on, at the moment. But I think that was really hard for me because I just wanted everyone to enjoy it and that’s really hard to do, to fit every body type. So that was a struggle I think. And then also, when we were getting ready to launch it, we had a friend tested out that he’s like a good foot and a half, maybe taller than me.
Zack Nelson: Yeah, he was like six four. He’s a really big client.
Cambry Nelson: He’s gotta be taller than that! He is a big, tall guy, and so he took it out and found some weaknesses.
Zack Nelson: He broke two of them for us that we had to fix, but it’s good that we did that testing beforehand.
Emily Garman: Yeah, that’s what testing is for. Those difficult and expensive lessons. Well, tell me a little bit about where people can find you. I know you have a big Instagram presence, but tell us where we can learn more about this off road wheelchair.
Zack Nelson: So our website is where we have most of the stuff, which is notawheelchair.com. And then we have some videos on YouTube of everything in action, and then later, either really late this year or early next year, we have a kids version of the rig that we’re really excited about that we’ll be launching as well.
Emily Garman: Oh that’s gonna be great. I can’t wait to see that. Well, Zack, Cambry, thank you so much for joining us today on the Experian Small Business Matters podcast. It was really good to talk to you. I look forward to following all your adventures with your beautiful photos on Instagram and wish you the greatest success.
Zack Nelson: Thank you.