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Press room - A blast from the future

The following report was sent to us by Stuart Dennison of Bikefix, London's first address for bicycles. The report was originally written by Sam Holliman from the USA and yes, he paid to ride the bike :) Just sitting there parked on the tarmac, it was obvious that the machine was capable of sustained high speeds. The fusion of careful design, high tech materials and superb craftsmanship exuded a tangible aura of "high performance". Steel, nylon, aluminum and rubber: the total machine was obviously more than just the sum of its component parts - the pure definition of "synergy".

From the cockpit, the reclined seat whispered of high-G manoeuvers, and the gleaming controls beckoned The Bystander to become The Pilot. My pulse quickening, I knew that I would not be content to be an observer, a mere Bystander. No: not THIS time! I would be the one to push the edge of the envelope, I would feel the acceleration, I would see the world rushing by from its cockpit. This time, I would become - The Pilot.

I had piloted performance vehicles before, but this - this machine was something different. Its appearance embodied The Future itself. Settling comfortably into the reclined seat, I was a bit startled to note that none of the controls were in their usual locations! Nevertheless, everything was correctly placed in a very logical manner. With some trepidation, I gripped the controls and prepared to launch. Could I handle this machine? There was only ONE way to find out!

I applied power and started rolling. Wow! She's sensitive to the touch!"PRECISION", I said out loud, reminding myself that thoroughbreds like this require a delicate, but firm hand. "Just relax and trust her", I said to myself. My initial jitters were coalescing into confident control inputs, and the machine seemed to sense and obey my thoughts. Now we were accelerating at an ever increasing pace, banking left then right, the landscape melting into a blur of colour; every nerve aware. Man and Machine had fused into a single, functional unit: a synergyof high performance.

What is this mystery machine? The new Harrier combat jet? A twin-turbine Lotus? Or a nitro-burning Triumph drag bike? None of the above!

Welcome, dear readers, to The Future of CYCLING! Welcome to the Street Machine recumbent bicycle!

I know your first reactions: "A bicycle?! How could a bicycle be futuristic? What's this about a 'laid-back seat'? Did you say, 'comfortable'? There's NO such thing as a 'comfortable' bicycle seat! And what the HECK is a 'recumbent'?"

Like I said, Welcome to the Future of Cycling. All these things are realized in the Street Machine recumbent bicycle: futuristic styling, a semi-reclining seated riding position (that's the definition of 'recumbent', by the way), high performance and most significantly, COMFORT!

I had the good fortune to recently participate in a "Recumbent Weekend" test riding session sponsored by one of London, England's premiere bike shops, Bikefix. The venue was a weekend of riding in and around the village of Castle Acre in the beautiful Norfolk countryside. A place for body and soul to relax and refuel was provided by Jez and the other wonderful people who run The Old Red Lion Inn. I was the only 'chap from across The Pond' (the only American) in the group, but I was received with such genuine warmth that I felt like part of the family.

Stuart Dennison and Matt Fretton, of Bikefix provided a multitude of recumbent bikes and trikes, among which was the incredible Street Machine; a fully-suspended performance recumbent. For those of you not familiar with recumbents, allow me to briefly explain. Everyone's familiar with the conventional diamond frame bicycle, the so-called 'safety' bicycle design that is about 100 years old. A recumbent differs significantly in the design and layout of the frame, and therefore the position of the rider. The rider assumes a semi-reclining seated position with their feet out in front of them, which is the definition of the word 'recumbent'.

There are several permutations on the basic design of recumbent bikes, mainly related to wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles). These classifications generally fall into 3 categories: long wheelbase (LWB), short wheelbase (SWB) and a compromise of these geometries, the so--called compact long wheelbas (CLWB). Each design has its own unique advantages. Additionally there are two variations of handlebar location: over-seat steering (OSS) and under-seat steering (USS). Preference of wheelbase and steering location is highly subjective. No single recumbent design is "harder" to learn to ride than any other type. You just have to "retrain" some of the habits that have been cultivated from riding a conventional bicycle.

So, BikeFix's "Recumbent Weekend" was the perfect setting in which to sample each of the wheelbase/steering combinations, and decide for myself which worked best for my physiology and style of riding. I test rode over a dozen individual recumbent bikes that weekend, but one in particular bike left a very definite positive impression with me: that bike was the Street Machine.

The Street Machine that I rode was a short wheelbase (SWB) frame with under-seat steering (USS) that featured front and rear suspension and a fully adjustable reclining seat. Because the SWB design has a shorter frame, it tends to be stiffer than either the CLWB or the LWB design, and transmits more energy into the rider when a bump on the road is encountered. The Street Machine's suspension system dampened out the rough spots, while maintaining a definite lively "feel" for the riding surface. Well designed and well executed suspension.

Being new to recumbents, I had wondered if the bike's under seat steering system would pose problems for me. After all, I was used to supporting a substantial percentage of my upper body weight on my arms. And I was used to being able to SEE the handlebars! Thankfully, Stuart offered expert advice: "It's essential to relax your arms all the way from the shoulders to the wrists. If you tense up, the bike is going to feel 'twitchy'. At slow speeds, steering is done mainly with your wrists. At normal riding speeds, you shift your weight to steer, in much the same way you do on your upright bike. Oh and one other thing: when you are starting, don't pull back on the handlebars. It doesn't help at all!" As much as I could, Ifollowed Stuart's advice, but 35 year old habits cultivated on an upright bike die hard! Despite my best conscious efforts, I still yanked on those grips when startingout, especially up hills. And just like Stuart said, it didn't do me one bit of good!

After a couple of wobbly starts, I was able to relax my arms like he said, and it helped immensely. And in only a few minutes riding, I was able to ride confidently with only one hand on the handlebar grip. But a word of warning is appropriate here: NEVER try to ride a recumbent "hands free" because you will most certainly CRASH! (The good news is, I never crashed once all weekend long!)

The Street Machine was an absolute blast to ride! Highly responsive to steering inputs, the sensation was similar to driving a high performance sports car. The bike accelerated quickly and it was easy to sustain a high rate of speed. Even though two days isn't sufficient time to retrain one's muscles for optimum power and endurance, I felt that I could ride it fast for a longer period of time than I could sustain on my conventional road bike. Plus I got a MUCH better view while riding the Street Machine: I was able to see the beautiful English countryside without having to strain my neck into an unnatural position! Holding a conversation with my fellow cyclists was a pleasure, no longer a dangerous distraction from my attention to the road in front of my wheel! My neck and shoulders did not hurt ONE single time during the whole weekend, and we rode all day Saturday and all day Sunday. This is how cycling SHOULD be - fun AND comfortable!

Oh and one more thing: let us not forget the "attention factor" offered by the Street Machine! It has all the high-tech looks of a contemporary jet fighter. We never failed to turn heads wherever we rode. That's a good thing, because the drivers of the cars obviously noticed our recumbents much better than a conventional bicycle. They gave us plenty of room, and an occasional "thumbs-up" acknowledgment of the ultra-cool bikes were riding!

The Street Machine was set up for touring, with pannier racks and a decent gearing range for climbing. Although experienced recumbent riders seemed to indicate a preference for the LWB bikes when touring, I would not hesitate to take the Street Machine on a century ride alongside my friends who ride upright bikes. (Guess who's neck and butt WOULDN'T be hurting after 100 miles?!) The under seat steering was my preference of the two steering designs. My hands dropped naturally to my sides and there were the grips, right where I expected them to be. It was easy to take a drink while riding, or even take pictures with my el-cheapo disposable camera! The Street Machine is a responsive, comfortable bike that beckons its rider to just keep cruising on down the road.

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Last changed: May 20, 2012