10 Reasons A Recumbent Road Bike is the Best Choice

 

What a lot of people don’t realize when it comes to recumbent bicycles is that they’ve been around for a very long time. In fact, even in 1892, recumbent bikes were being made and manufactured for the general public.

The recumbent form of biking then, isn’t some new fad or quirky design that’s only come to the fore in the last few years; it’s been around for ages. It even set some speed records that stood for over 50 years, finally only being beaten by a standard upright bike in 1984.

In fact, recumbent bicycles were actually banned by the UCI in 1938 because of the un-sportsman like advantage they held over the more traditional upright bike we all know today. So where did they go after that decision? Well, unfortunately, the UCI ban knocked them sideways and out of common knowledge for a long time after that.

Because people couldn’t race them at a recognized competitive level, bike manufacturers stuck to the market there was, and the upright bicycle remained the main type of bike. It wasn’t until almost 5 decades later that they started to make a reappearance.

Yes, they’re resurgence was slow, and at times teetered on the brink of falling back into obscurity, but recumbent bikes have, in the last 10 years made such a string impression on the cycling world that more and more bike manufacturers are beginning to make them, and are finally coming round to the fact that there is a market for them.

As more and more riders rediscover the recumbent form of cycling, that market is growing

So, what are the main differences between a recumbent bicycle and the ordinary everyday bicycles we all know?

A very good question. The answer is; not very much, and quite a lot. The major difference is of course the way you ride them. Instead of sitting upright as you would on an ordinary bike, on a recumbent bike you sit in a reclined position with the pedals in front of you instead of underneath you.

As a result, your actual style of riding does change somewhat from what you’re probably used to, but this change is more a matter of aesthetics than anything else. Getting used to one is very easy, trust me on that.

Recumbent vs road bikes

You’ve forgotten to mention how you look when riding one…

Yes, there is that. There is the perception that recumbent bikes look more like furniture than speed machines. In reality nothing could be farther from the truth! They also do look more cumbersome than practical, and everyone is going to look at you as you go past. Despite their growing popularity, they are still something of a rarity out on the road.

The hard cold truth of the fact is that recumbent bicycles handle very well, can go much faster than almost all road bikes and are very, very comfortable. And that comfort extends to even the high performance speed freak competitive variants as well! (Just not as much….)

Recumbent trike

Why recumbent bikes are different…and the rise of the recumbent grin…

Ok, so there’s no getting away from that fact. There I’ve said it. Starting and stopping and steering are all a little bit different on a recumbent bike than they are on ordinary bikes.

But they are fun to ride. And by ‘fun’ I mean actual fun. I don’t mean fun as in, adrenaline, riding on your wits at every turn, ‘fun,’ but just sheer enjoyment. Riders of recumbent bicycles often refer to a term known as the ‘Recumbent Grin’ as they ride.

The recumbent grin is a reference to the amazing feeling recumbent riders experience as they bank into corners and ‘swoop’ through them with the greatest of ease. It has been described as the same feeling pilots go through in small planes when they bank their planes in midflight.

Breaking the rules

Recumbent bikes…Break the rules

Recumbent bikes are the perfect fit for the little rebel in all of us. Bike design in the modern age hasn’t really changed at all in maybe over a hundred years.

When you think about it, the last great revolution in the biking world, was the invention of the mountain bike. That in itself was a refinement of a bunch of guys who took some beach cruisers down the side of a mountain and decided they wanted more.

Recumbents are the result of what would happen if someone had to design ‘the bike’ today from scratch. Once the whole idea that a bike must be made in a diamond shape is lost, then anything is possible.

But why is that so great, I hear you ask. You did ask that right? No? I’ll tell you anyway.

Blurred road

Recumbent bikes are…Fast

And that’s all there is to say about that. Except that the speed you go in them will be determined by your own level of fitness. But for us ordinary folks, we will still find ourselves going faster than on standard bikes.

Outside of the recumbent community few people realize that recumbent cyclists have actually broken almost every human alone powered machines speed record there is going. Seriously, they have.

But you probably won’t have heard about that because no official international cycling organization recognizes records broken by any bike that isn’t made in a traditional diamond shaped frame. Boo.

So why are they faster? Because of aerodynamics. The riders seating position provides a smaller target for aerodynamic drag, and thus wind resistance. That’s it. Also, apparently wind speed is less, closer to the ground and that has an effect too. I’m thinking that might be more marketing blurb than anything else though, but trust me on the aerodynamics.

Recumbent with trailer

Recumbent bikes are…Comfortable

This is perhaps the main reason that most people start thinking about recumbent bikes. Be under no illusion, recumbents are comfortable. All the weight in a recumbent bike is on the seat you’re sitting on. There’s little to no pressure on wrists and arms, which is a good thing really, as there’s less chance of stress related injuries occurring.

If you ride 20 miles on an ordinary bike, your but will make you feel like you just rode 20 miles, and you’ll do the cyclists shuffle as you wander to the rest rooms, in order to accommodate the inner thigh chaffing. But you won’t on a recumbent. On a recumbent you’ll just walk normally after a long ride.

Also, you won’t ride out your padded bike shorts, ever on the plastic road bike saddle, because it doesn’t have one.

Recumbent bike

Recumbent bikes are…Safe

Yes, they are. They are no less dangerous to ride than any other type of bike. They actually have a lower center of gravity than normal bikes, and as the rider is lower there’s less distance to fall if you do ‘tip out.’ And if you do crash one it’s your feet that will take most the impact, as opposed to your head. Speaking of which, it’s almost impossible to go over the handlebars in the event of an accident.

Recumbents also make you more visible on the road to other road users, especially cars! There’s more of you to see through a car window than there is on an ordinary bike. The larger part of your body will be in drivers forward vision and you will have a larger silhouette, and thus less likely to blend in.

Recumbents also stop quicker than ordinary bikes as your weight will be mostly directly over the rear wheel.

Step hill

Recumbent bikes…Can do hills!

No, you can’t stand up in the pedals to get that ‘extra power,’ so it may take a bit of effort, but not anymore than on an upright bike. What you may find is that you are slower than you might be on an ordinary bike. But by selecting low gears you will probably be able to spin your way to the top with the greatest of ease.

In any case, you will more than make up for this on the downhill sections and on the flat, and probably sporting the ‘recumbent grin’ as you do so.

Stolen bike

Recumbent bikes are…Less likely to get stolen

And that’s got to be a good thing. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Firstly, it’s not like the thief would have an easy time selling your recumbent on to others, and secondly, he probably wouldn’t be able to ride it anyway, think about that!

Recumbent bikes…Come in a range to suit everyone

From the pro racer to the Trans America Tourer, there’s a recumbent for you. Many recumbents are designed with comfort to the fore, and others are built purely for performance. The great news is that at whatever level you are thinking about getting involved in, they are all pretty much very comfortable to ride in.

Recumbent rider waving

Recumbent bikes are…Fun with a capital F

They are novel, they will turn heads, and people will point at you, but in a good way. Be prepared to answer questions from anybody and everybody you meet on your travels. Everyone will wave as you go past as well.

And that’s all great, but the best thing is the sheer Fun factor to be had on a recumbent. Recumbents are just sheer pleasure. The closer you are to the ground you faster you feel you’re going, and you’re close to the ground in a recumbent. There’s just something so exhilarating about banking into corners like you’re on rails that is indescribable.

Road with nice view

Recumbent bikes…Give you a great view

It sound ridiculous, I know. You’re lower to the ground, you can’t see as much surely? It’s all a question of perspective. On an ordinary bike, you look down an awful lot. It’s a physical thing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MckKqYHoLJI

But on a recumbent you find yourself looking up, and you take a lot more in. It’s like having a wide angle lens suddenly fitted to your head. All of a sudden you want to take more of the world in, and that’s a good thing. Also, it’s much harder to take your eyes off the road, which is also a good thing.

Man with sweat stains

Recumbent bikes…require different clothes

I’ll never forget the time I was on vacation in Australia. I had been out for an early morning run through the center of Sydney and was enjoying a well-deserved coffee and watching all the antipodean workers scurry back and forth as they struggled bleary eyed to work in the brilliant sunshine.

I was just about to go, when I saw a cyclist arrive at this office block. He unslung his back pack, and starting stripping all his lycra off and began putting on a really smart suit. He covered himself in deodorant and then walked all disheveled and sweaty looking through the doors.

Inwardly I smiled, recognizing almost the exact same routine I had gone through myself for years before I started working for myself, when all of a sudden, this guy in a full 3 piece suit rocked up beside me on a recumbent bicycle.

I was amazed because I had never seen one before, and I asked him why he had one, and he said: ‘Strewth, shoot the crows, you little ripper, throw another shrimp on the barbie you little beauty.’ –OK no he didn’t; but he did say, his recumbent bike allowed him to cruise in and out of work in really good time, and he didn’t have to change when he got there as he was still fresh. At which point he pulled an apple out of his pocket, bit into it, and walked away.

So you don’t need Lycra to use one. In fact it’s quite easy to go a long way on a recumbent in a pair of jeans. I have and it worked out ok for me.

27 replies on “10 Reasons A Recumbent Road Bike is the Best Choice

  • Kim Tolhurst

    And the advancement of recumbent design came in the Australian front wheel drive Cruzbike. Incorporating the diamond frames special triangulated drive system. This triangulated format upfront gives a cruzbike rider, like a diamond.frame rider the opportunity for full body workout. The recumbent world is catching on to this one though the first time recumbent riders tend to find cruxbike from researching it.

    Reply
  • Julien Mauroy

    We find that making generalizations about recumbents doesn’t help newcomers to understand what the advantages are or which one to buy, because different advantages belong to different types of recumbents.

    You cannot, for example, say that all recumbents are faster than road bikes and then show a trike underneath, when that type feels fast and is a lot of fun but simply cannot keep up with road bikes because of third wheel’s extra drag.

    Many first time clients make the mistake of purchasing a recumbent bike that is the fastest in theory, then give it up when they find out it’s difficult to master or difficult to get comfortable on, or they buy a trike and expect to keep up with their friends on road bikes but are disappointed when they find out that they can’t.

    It’s a little bit like saying traditional/diamond frame/upright bikes can be used to take your kids to school! They can be used to win a time trial! They can be used to perform awesome tricks! They can be used to take you around the world! When it’s clearly different types of bikes that allow this, and why there’s separate articles about bakfiets, TT bikes, trials bikes, and touring bikes.

    We do use the keywords “recumbent road bike” ourselves, because the type of recumbent we produce ( http://www.schlitter.bike ) is as close as possible to what you would expect from a “standard” road bike. And that’s only before we come up with a new name, because as explained above, “recumbent” specifies only the position and does not help to figure out which use is expected.

    Reply
  • Adam Novak

    I mostly agree but to me the article addresses the recumbent world generally and does not point out the different bike types. As you have many different types of bikes in the world of standard bikes, you have the same differences in the world of recumbents. Not all of them are faster then road bikes and some arent comfortable at all. And as there is no perfect system in the world, there is no perfect bike: some recumbents can also have some disadvantages to upright bikes (turning circle, long chain, lower body position – not as safe, starting/stopping issue, etc.)…

    I generally think the world is changing amaizingly fast. I think, this general change will sometime discover recumbents “again” and will reach a greater audience, simply because today’s world is practical and recumbents are (or should be) a part of our practical environment.

    Reply
  • alan decosta

    i use a catrike expedition
    and use a kona jake ,so far i have about 3000 miles on catrike i often do the same routes on both bikes, i do notice that riding the jake i can go allot faster uphill and my average speed does go up
    but when i ride the catrike it seems way easier to get where i am going , and its nowhere as much work to get there
    on reg bike i definitely breathe way harder and work way harder to get where i am going
    my catrike is equipped with a fairing ,makes it allot easier gearing on catrike is wider range great on hills just gear down and take a break going uphill.
    i use the bike for errands in the city because its narrow and can cut traffic at lites and i can carry it in places like post offices or stores
    but for longer trips 20 miles to other towns i use exp catrike

    Reply
  • Phyllis Ruper

    I am an avid road bike tourist. I have done many long rides including the coast to coast tour. I’m looking to buy a short wheel base, light weight, fast recumbent bike. I’ve had my neck surgically fused from c-5 to t-1. I will never give up cycling. I had a vision, short wheel base bike in 1999 and I’m looking to sell it because it was to high off the ground for starting and stopping. I am 5 ft 3 inches tall with short legs, inseam about 28″. I weigh 130 lbs. I would love to have the electronic shifting, as I’m loving that on the road bike I bought last year.. Is there a light weight, preferably carbon, short wheel base, above seat steering, recumbent with electronic shifting and hydraulic brakes. That’s what my road bike has and I would love to stick with it. I do have pretty bad arthritis in my hands and wrists. I love riding in the mountains and the brakes and shifting really is sweet. Please help me find this recumbent…I know somebody must make one!

    Reply
    • Julien Mauroy

      Hello Phyllis
      If there’s one thing our Schlitter Encore excels at, it’s keeping road cyclists rolling without requiring them to give up the experience and riding partners that a road bike provides.

      It is indeed fast, smooth, and it cohabitates very well with fellow road cyclists especially as it won’t be left behind in climbs.

      Full carbon fiber, road 700c wheels, road components, and electronic shifting and hydraulic brakes (disc or rim, not sure which you have experience with) aren’t a problem.
      In recumbent enthusiast jargon, it is indeed short wheelbase and above seat steering (SWB, OSS), of the “open cockpit” variety.

      We are recumbent enthusiasts and athletes, one of us is even an industry pioneer who was previously behind two of the largest brands. Over the years, we have designed, built, tried and refined many different configurations and continued to benchmark them against the latest in road bikes.
      We believe that we have now managed to boil the recumbent experience down to its essence: the enjoyment of riding longer and farther, in good company (including that of road bikes!) with as little as possible getting in the way.

      Since we custom size each frame, ours is probably the only one that can accommodate your size while keeping seat height to a minimum, quite a bit lower than a Vision I believe. Ours is also the only model in that category to accept both disc brakes and wider tires that can extend your playground to neglected and gravel roads.

      I invite you to visit http://www.Schlitter.bike and to email us:
      John@vitebikes.com if you are in the USA,
      Julien@Schlitter.bike if you are in the EU or anywhere else.

      Reply
    • Alexander Lopez

      I wonder if you have already found your recumbent bike. Carbon recumbents are expensive, but their weight is similar to an aluminum-frame road bike.

      Schlitter are certainly up to the task, as well as Metabikes. Both are pretty much the best choices for carbon recumbents.

      I’d like to invite you to take a look into http://www.bentrideronline.com/ In that site there are tons of information and better yet, long-term test rides of almost a hundred recumbent bikes and trikes and related products.

      Have fun!

      Reply
    • Barry

      contact Dana Lieberman at Bent Up cycles in LA. They make a carbon one that they will customize for you. Be prepared to fork over about $6K

      Reply
  • Bo

    Awesome article, I picked up my trike, a GEKKO, in July 2015 on for my birthday, so far its been the best thing I have ever done. this was after being away from biking cine I left Denmark, roughly 25 years of no bicycles because the infrastructure in Los Angeles at best is scary. because of that I regrettably use the trike mostly for exercise, on established bike trails, nothing like doing laps on the trail between Malibu and Palos verdes, I mean where else can you ride 80 miles and climb less than 500 feet. 🙂
    I miss the nimble-ness of my diamond frame bikes in the eighties, but enjoy longer sessions on the trike much better.

    Reply
  • Paul Brough

    I suffered a cerebellum stroke last year and my balance issues mean I can’t ride my road bike or hybrid any more. A trike may be a way back into cycling for me. Does anyone have experience they can share or recommend good trikes?

    Reply
    • Sandra Fraction

      I have also had a stroke and have balance and strength issues. I recently got a TerraTrike, and consider it one of the best decisions of my life. It is fun, and so much easier to get out for my daily ride than to get on an exercise bike. It also gives me a sense of control and agency that I haven’t really experienced since the stroke. My left leg is noticably stronger, I don’t fatigue nearly as quickly, and I’m able to ride long enough to actually work up a real sweat. Also, I feel like I’m doing much better on stairs, though that may be just my perception. I would highly recommend it, especially if you are missing sports and outdoor activities.

      Reply
  • Ken Morrill

    I have arthritis in both knees as well as meniscus damage. I had to abandon riding with pedal cleats and now even just riding a traditional upright causes quite a bit of swelling for me. Every time I see a recumbent, my brain tells me that would be a better solution for me. It’s very difficult, however, to find people who can help me select a good one. Even the high end bike stores in our area that carry a variety really don’t know much about them.
    I want a two wheel cruiser that doesn’t sit too low to the ground, and I really don’t want to spend more than $1k on a solution. Can you point me in a good direction for finding good quality options?

    Much obliged
    -Ken

    Reply
  • Alvaro Caso

    You say: “Recumbents also stop quicker than ordinary bikes as your weight will be mostly directly over the rear wheel.” Actually that is not the reason. This is why: When you brake, inertia shifts your weight to the front wheel and away from the rear wheel, both on a recumbent and on a traditional bike. On a traditional bike you break mainly with the rear wheel (else you go over the handlebar), but you have to breake gingerly because that is the wheel that is not supporting your weight. However, since you can’t go over the handlebar on a recumbent, you need not break with the rear wheel; you simply break hard with the front wheel, which is the one that wil not skid as easily because your weght is on it. THAT is what makes recumbents stop in a shorter distance.

    Reply
  • Jane

    Thanks for sharing these insights!
    I am starting to do workout for health improvement. I do a lot of biking for starter. This would really help me.

    Reply
  • Candice

    Great read – for all the bike riding I’ve done, I’ve never tried a recumbent bike on the road – only a stationary recumbent at the gym. I’ve been toying with buying a recumbent tricycle though. I’m worried that on a 2 wheeler I would be concerned about tipping over – particularly when turning or taking on hills. Also a little worried if I would be unable to start and stop. I’m newer to biking as a regular activity. Thanks again for the awesome read!

    Reply
  • Geoff Roberts

    Great article. Almost 20 years a good friend of mine and I were huge into inline skating. After years of it, we decided to try cycling some as an alternative activity. His wife (also a skater) just couldn’t handle the upright bike saddle, too painful for her. He saw a Bike E at a store, and purchased it for her. He took it home, and test rode it around the neighborhood. He went right back to the store and bought another one for HIMSELF, LOL! (Yeah, my friend had “deep pockets”)
    So that meant he had two, and I could ride his wife’s Bike E when she wasn’t riding with us.
    It only took a few rides on it before I was hooked. Bought myself one, and I still have it.
    Keep in mind I was in my early 30’s, and in excellent health/shape then. I didn’t experience any undue pain discomfort on my upright Mountain bike, but the recumbent was just plain more fun.
    Not too long after that, I got married myself, and started using that Bike E to commute to work, and did that for almost 3 years, 16 miles a day, five days a week.

    20 years later, riding any of my uprights (have 2) does cause me some aches if I go a good distance, now. I almost ALWAYS choose my recumbent Bike E whenever I ride, which I do recreationally at least 4X a week.
    I can totally understand and appreciate an upright bike’s advantages for things like off-road, or even BMX tricks in a stunt park.
    But to this day it just BAFFLES me that recumbent bikes still aren’t the NORM/plurality when it comes to almost any other application, ie on just about any paved surface.
    I still keep my uprights, and always will, though I barely ride them anymore. But I know if I had to choose only one bike to keep and ride for the rest of my days, I wouldn’t miss a beat making my decision: Gimme that recumbent bike!

    Reply

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