Texas-based start-up KneeFlyer has put a new spin on board sports by designing a sort of board booster seat. The add-on allows snowboarders and skaters to kneel or sit on their boards, lowering their centers of gravity and making it easier to balance and turn.
KneeFlyer replaces the dual bindings of a regular snowboard with a plastic kneeler tray. It mounts directly to standard snowboard inserts and Burton's Channel system. It can be shifted to different positions on the board for different snow conditions. For instance, you'd mount it toward the tail for keeping your weight back in powder.
"Normal snowboards are great, except for the long, painful learning curve that most beginner riders experience," KneeFlyer explains on its website. "The KneeFlyer has almost no learning curve due to its low center of gravity. This allows the rider to easily balance and touch the ground with their hands. Using their hands, like a skier uses poles to push off, they can get going, right themselves when needed, and push through flat areas."
Kneeling isn't necessarily the most comfortable position for extended recreation, but the KneeFlyer attempts to make it functional and ergonomic. A contoured knee and shin cavity adds comfort, and a seat extension helps keep the rider's weight off the ankles. A set of straps secure the rider inside the binding. KneeFlyer mentions casually that the system is a little heavier than a traditional pair of snowboard bindings, but we'd like to see an actual weight before we believe that – it looks a lot bigger and bulkier than typical bindings.
In addition to kneeling, you can also sit in the KneeFlyer. Simply spin the board around, sit down, and you have a sort of snowboard-sled (i.e. one of the most expensive sleds on the market).
We had a bit of a question about KneeFlyer's claim that "getting buried in powder is epic!" Powder is great, but getting buried is not so epic when you're literally getting buried, stuck-in-drift/suffocation-style. That's a possibility on any snow equipment, particularly when deep tree wells are present, but odds would seem to increase when you cut your height in half by kneeling on your board. The KneeFlyer straps seem like they would hinder you when trying to stand up and get out.
"The KneeFlyer is very easy to get in and out of the strapping system with the large buckles," Inventor Chris T. Brown told us when we asked about this issue. "In the event that you do get stuck in super deep snow, you would simply unstrap, stand up and walk it out, just like on skis or snowboards. I have personally ridden as much as 30 in (76 cm) of fresh snow and found that you do have to think about keeping your speed up, just like on anything thing else, but that when you do hit deeper pockets of snow that the low center of gravity of the KneeFlyer helps to keep better momentum to force the board through. You don't get thrown forward in the same way as you do when you go in and out of powder on skis and snowboards, where your body weight and center of gravity are far higher."
"Also, the KneeFlyer is intended to be used on more mild runs in normal conditions and good sense should be applied when riding the KneeFlyer. It should not be used in super extreme condition or runs where your safety would be at risk."
If you enjoy snowboarding on your knees, you can pull the KneeFlyer off your snowboard in the spring and mount it to a skateboard, longboard or mountain board. It comes with mounting hardware for skateboards, requiring you to drill four holes in the deck.
We're not all too sure that the KneeFlyer really represents an improvement for the average snowboarder. With an estimated retail price of US$550, it is considerably more expensive than a pair of snowboard bindings. It will more than double the cost of many snowboards, all while making you wonder why you're buying a snowboard to begin with – why not just save some money and buy a sled? Balancing, stopping and carving a snowboard does take some practice, as KneeFlyer contends, but we don't think it is so hard that you need to double down on a proverbial set of training wheels.
It's also unclear whether KneeFlyer will be allowed at ski resorts. Unlike skis and snowboards, which remain attached to the feet on the lift, the KneeFlyer requires the rider to take it off and carry it onto the lift, taking up extra space.
"When you are ready to mount the chair, you just walk out carrying the board at your waist and as the chair comes around you just slide the board onto the chair next to you as you sit down," Brown explains. "This does take up the seat next to you on the chair, but is the safest way to hold it on the lift and no different than any other carry-on devices, like snowbikes and snow skates. Carry-on devices are becoming more widely accepted by ski areas looking for ways to increase lift ticket sales. It will be up to the resort to decide."
While its benefits for traditional snowboarders and skaters are questionable, KneeFlyer may help empower individuals that don't have the option of standing up and riding traditional boards. The company has met with adaptive groups around Colorado to get feedback about the device's potential. It came away from those meetings with the idea that it isn't an ideal fit for all needs, and would need to be applied on a case-by-case basis, but it could work well for some groups, such as amputees, people with mild muscular issues, and former skiers and snowboarders who left the sport because of injuries. Ski resorts would undoubtedly be more willing to open KneeFlyer lift access to adaptive groups.
There are always people that fight convention and rethink popular sports equipment with the goal of making something more comfortable, fun or functional – hand bikes, belly boats, snowlerblades, dualie snowboards, etc. Sometimes they create a longterm hit, (the snowboard itself could be considered one such success), sometimes a cult sport, sometimes a short-lived fad, and sometimes a soon-to-be-forgotten dud. The future will tell which category the KneeFlyer falls into.
If you dig the idea behind the KneeFlyer, you have the power to help get it off the ground. Brown and crew are offering it for early bird prices as low as $425 in a Kickstarter campaign launched last week.