A self-proclaimed “Wheelchair Gang” hit the streets of Merritt on Friday afternoon, showcasing a new electric drive unit that improves accessibility for people with limited mobility who rely on wheelchairs to get around.

“We are part of a much larger organization called Accessible Okanagan,” said Accessible Okanagan Society President, James Hektner, who was also in Merritt Friday taking part in the ride.

“A couple dozen of us have a new innovative product that uses Lithium to power our manual wheelchairs by clipping on a powered front-drive technology. Similar to an electric bike but designed for wheelchairs. For the past few weeks, every Friday about a dozen of us wheelchair users have been gathering in various cities around the Okanagan to do a “Friday Front Drive”. Since we have a couple fellas originally from Merritt, we decided this week we would tear up the town and have some fun.”

More than a dozen participants from Kamloops and Kelowna gathered behind the Merritt Desert Inn before embarking on a 15km route that included the bench area.

Hektner notes that for some, the front drives have been a game changer, allowing longer distances over many surfaces, such as carpet, to be travelled much more easily. Some even took their units to Vegas, a city famous for its size and the amount of walking that tourists will do.

“These provide a whole different level of accessibility,” said Hektner.

“It allows us to get along a lot further and save the shoulders.”

Tyler Tingle, a former Merritt resident who made the trip over for last week’s “Front Drive Friday”, said that the group is currently comprised of men with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) but that the front drive unit can be of use to people who are in a wheelchair for other reasons as well, both quadriplegic and paraplegic.

“There’s quite a wide variety of why guys are in chairs,” said Tingle.

“They may have Spina bifida or Multiple sclerosis. Some of the guys here are vehicle accidents, some are workplace injuries.”

The devices range anywhere from approximately $900 to $14,000 and depending on the style can travel up to 32km per hour and include a horn and turn signals. They are relatively compact in comparison to an electric wheelchair and in most cases the user can attach and detach the unit themselves with no assistance.

“When we get set up and go for a tour, the amount of looks that we get is pretty funny, because you don’t tend to see this many wheelchairs together,” said Hektner as the group posed for a photo.