Recumbents are comfortable and can be faster than conventional bicycles on flatter terrain. Yet despite these advantages, recumbents remain a quirky, seldom-seen alternative to the conventional bicycle. Although their benefits make them appealing to a small minority of cyclists for long-distance riding, audaxes and the like, for most prospective riders, they do not compensate for other drawbacks which we would summarise as:
1. To be fast, a recumbent needs a low seat position but this makes setting off, slow speed balance and riding in traffic difficult and unnerving, especially for new riders.
2. While the recumbent position is more comfortable for long distance riding, hill climbing is considerably more difficult than on a conventional bike (however it might be measured – One Minute Power test) and so any speed advantage vanishes over hillier terrain.
The problems of poor balance on a recumbent can be relieved to some extent, by having a high riding position. (In fact many manufacturers use seat height as a key differentiator between models.) But to give rideability close to that of a conventional bicycle requires a very upright seat position and this loses most of the speed advantage. Furthermore, even with a high seat, hill-climbing performance still compares poorly to conventional bicycles.
The Switchblade’s design retains the comfort and flat speed of a low-seat recumbent while enabling hill-climbing performance comparable to that of a conventional bicycle. This combination makes the Switchblade a superior proposition for long distance riding, high-speed touring or eventing.
A further advantage conventional cyclists find is that, in contrast to low-seat recumbents, good balance and confidence normally takes only minutes to acquire. This is because the selectable ‘Climb’ ride position raises both the centre of gravity and the riders line of sight, so setting off and riding in traffic is no longer challenging.
The Switchblade combines two new ideas:
• An active ride-position selection system which allows the rider to switch between a low (Speed) or a high (Climb) ride position, on the move.
• A handlebar ‘row-power’ system which facilitates increased power output with reduced levels of physical stress and is particularly effective when hill-climbing.
The ride-position selection system is ‘hands-free’ and is simply activated by back pedalling or by weight shift.
The ‘Climb’ ride position complements the ‘row-power’ system, particularly for steep gradients, to give climbing performance comparable to conventional cycles. This upright ride position also improves balance and manoeuvrability for urban riding and makes the Switchblade much less challenging for those not used to the recumbent position.