Enrique Plantey (40 years old) is a native of Neuquén and practices adapted skiing, a discipline in which he has represented Argentina in three editions of the Paralympic Winter Games: Sochi 2014, PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022, where he achieved the best result for our country, obtaining two Paralympic diplomas for the first time.
Mariano Tubio (45) is a neighbor of Berazategui and also stands out in adapted sports: he is a golfer and participated in tournaments in the United States and Europe. Among various achievements, in 2018 he became World Champion of Adapted Golf in Mallorca, Spain.
Beyond sports, both friends have something else in common: lBoth of them use wheelchairs due to traffic accidents. And they share something else: the desire to help other wheelchair users have more facilities to get around on a day-to-day basis. For that they founded 3PI Mobility, a company that manufactures couplings that transform wheelchairs into bicycles.
In addition to providing a product that improves the mobility and autonomy of people with disabilities, on the company’s website they have: “We seek a change of perception not only in our users but also in those who do not have a disability, thus generating an inclusive revolution and the urban movement”.
Wheelchair users often need help to get around the city or suffer injuries when moving the wheels of their wheelchair. The coupling that turns them into a bicycle facilitates their mobility. (Image courtesy 3PI Mobility)
The initiative began to develop in 2014, after Tubio lent Plantey a similar device made in the United States. The product consists of a front wheel and a handlebar that can be very quickly and easily attached to and removed from a wheelchair. ANDThe use of this type of coupling allows wheelchair users to move without so much effort, avoiding getting dirty and hurting their hands when driving the wheels and preventing shoulder injuries that tend to be generated by displacements on sidewalks and streets, which usually present accessibility barriers, such as steps, slopes or uneven terrain.
Plantey thought of manufacturing something similar in Argentina, but with a lower economic cost, so that more people could buy it.
“3Pi Mobility was born by chance. Mariano and I have something in common and that is that we both want to optimize our mobility as much as possible. When we met, I really wanted to ride a bike and even though there were options here for adapted bikes (tricycles that were not functional or practical) none convinced me. Mariano lent me the coupling he had obtained in the United States for a few days, I tried it in the City of Buenos Aires and I loved it: it is very practical, it could be put on and taken off quickly and it allowed you to store it in the car. People would stop me in the street and ask me where I had bought it or where they could get it”, recalls the skier.
The manual coupling has pedals at the height of the handlebars, which are moved by hand. The electric model, on the other hand, only has a handlebar, without pedals. Each of these models already has two editions. (Images courtesy of 3PI Mobility.)
Argentine industry product
“The coupling that we manufacture —Describes Plantey— allows the front wheels of the chairs to be raised and thus achieve better rolling. In general, with wheelchairs it happens like with baby carriages, which tend to get stuck, and as a consequence the chair turns forward, causing falls. With the coupling this can be avoided since the rear wheels of the chairs and the wheel of the coupling remain as support for a better transfer”.
The structure of the product that Plantey and Tubio managed to develop is 100% produced in Argentina, except for its batteries, which are brought from Japan, since they have better quality and duration (up to 50% more autonomy than other models).
Since they had the idea of developing this device and launching the final product, five years and four different prototypes have passed. “We went through different stages. We underestimated the product because we thought it was something easy to manufacture in Argentina. Our objective was to manufacture a quality product, but at the same time it would be close to people’s pockets. And that it was universal: that it could be attached to any type of wheelchair that exists”Plantey narrates.
Mariano Tubio plays golf in a wheelchair, while Enrique Plantey does adapted skiing, a discipline in which he participated in three Paralympic Games. (Images courtesy of 3PI Mobility)
The first thing they did was turn to a blacksmith in the north of Greater Buenos Aires. “He made us a prototype that was functional, but it didn’t fit all types of wheelchairs. Then we invested more in what was the process and we hired engineers, with whom we also failed in different attempts, none of them convinced us for different reasons. We wanted a coupling that would work for a person with paraplegia, quadriplegia, someone who is an amputee, a child, or an older adult.adds Plantey.
Finally, were associated with two designers Gregorio Newman and Tomás Lopez, from the Pivot design studio, with whom they reached the desired version.
“We were very clear about the product we wanted to market, which is why we kept bouncing the products that came from previous designers. In this study they were able to interpret what we wanted based on our experience as usersPlantey notes.
The company brought out both manual and electric versions of the coupler that allow the wheelchair to be converted into a bicycle. (Image courtesy of 3PI Mobility.)
In 2018, the coupling went on sale in its manual version (the Toruk M1), which has pedals at the height of the handlebars to move them with your hands. A year later they released the electric coupler (the Toruk E1), which has no pedals.
Of both models, both manual and electric (its manufacture and assembly occurs in Buenos Aires), they have already released two versions. As for the manual Toruk, they produced and sold 70 bikes in the first version, while for the second they produced 150 and sold more than 100 units. Regarding the electric model, in its first version, they sold the 75 they manufactured, while in a second instance they produced 300, of which they sold half.
“From the Toruk 1 to the Toruk 2 there were many changes: with practice we realized things to improve on the first model”, clarifies Plantey. Changes such as an integrated light, the possibility of folding, a better battery and that the coupling was suitable for people with quadriplegia.
The manual model sells today for $1,500.s, while the electric model is at $2,000. Similar devices from the United States or Europe cost about twice as much.
Although they achieved a model that adapts to the majority of users, Plantey clarifies that “there are old wheelchair models that do not allow bicycles to be attached, because a minimum of force is required that the attachment exerts on the chair”. In counterpart, It stands out that the product has an adjustable steering wheel and a design that allows it to be stored in small places.
At the same time, the entrepreneurs work on a hybrid bicycle that allows the option of manual and electric use in the same coupling.
The couplers can be folded and stored in tight spaces. Both the manual and electric versions have already produced second editions, with improvements based on the user experience. (Video: courtesy 3PI Mobility)
The creators of 3PI Mobility emphasize that for all wheelchair users these devices are a great tool that gives them freedom and independence, since they facilitate mobility, by having supports on their back and front parts, which allows them to travel the city without depending on other people to help them. Besides, bicycles of this type help users exercise and improve breathing.
They also contribute to a greater inclusion of wheelchair users. For example, in the case of Romeo, an 11-year-old boy with motor disabilities. His father points out that thanks to this coupling, he can go biking with his brothers, as one of the group.
Mariano (40) has a spinal cord injury and obtained the Toruk E1 through his social work. Today he goes for a walk in his neighborhood and enjoys going everywhere independently. “I’m going to go for a walk and enjoy the scenery with the bike that takes you everywhere, I recommend it!”, he exclaimed from Sierra de Los Padres, in the province of Buenos Aires.
For his part, Manuel, who is a tennis player and travels the world to compete, has been using the manual Toruk for two years. “I never thought I could walk in the snow”proudly tells from Italy, with the snow in the background.
Nora has been using an electric Toruk for two months, which she says gave her freedom and autonomy. She says that now she can go places that with a wheelchair are very difficult to go. “It changed my life. The energy saving is very important, and now I can walk through winding paths like the forests, that otherwise I could not»closes happily to continue his tour of the Miramar energy forest, where he vacations with his family.
looking for financing
From 3PI Mobility they are constantly looking for alliances that allow them to provide payment facilities to their clients (for example, they contacted a provincial bank, without success so far). In any case, according to Plantey’s account, “the majority of people obtain the coupling through social works, which generally cover 100% of their total cost”. In turn, those who do not have social or prepaid work and pay in cash receive a 30% discount.
To develop your productsthe company received a loan for SMEs granted by the Ministry of Labor of the Nation. To cover that credit, they need to sell five units per month.
3PI Mobility can be contacted by emailthrough WhatsApp or through their social networks (3pimobility).
This content was originally published on RED/ACCIÓN and is republished as part of the ‘Human Journalism’ program, an alliance for quality journalism between RÍO NEGRO and RED/ACCIÓN