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What Is a Recumbent Bike?

Man riding recumbent bike

An Introduction to Recumbent Bikes

Spotted one an interesting looking bicycle riding around town? Chances are, it could have been a recumbent bicycle!

If you’re keen to find out more about recumbent bikes, you’ve come to the right place.

Throughout this short article, I’ll answer all of your recumbent related questions; what is a recumbent bike? what are the benefits of recumbent bikes? and who are recumbent bicycles suitable for?

Sit back, and get ready to become a recumbent cycling expert.

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    What is a Recumbent Bike?

    Recumbent bikes are bicycles which place cyclists in a semi-reclined or recumbent position as opposed to the usual upright position of traditional bikes.

    On recumbent bikes, cyclists are positioned to sit much lower to the ground with a larger seat that supports the back and spine more effectively. The increased comfort and support that recumbent bikes provide, make them a popular choice for people who enjoy cycling for leisure.

    Recumbents bikes are also a popular choice for disabled cyclists and those recovering from injuries.

    Individuals who may be unable to ride in an upright position on the small saddle seat of a traditional bike are accommodated by comfortable recumbent bikes.

    A popular variety of the recumbent bicycle is the recumbent tricycle. The main difference between the two is that the recumbent trike has an extra wheel and is normally lower to the ground than a two-wheeled recumbent bicycle.

    what is a recumbent bike?

    As a whole, recumbent trikes are heavier and easier to balance, making them less challenging to ride. They are, however, usually more expensive than traditional recumbent bikes.

    What Is a Recumbent Bike Used For?

    Recumbent bikes are suitable for any cyclist looking to spend more time outdoors and enjoy utmost comfort.

    Due to the head and neck positioning offered by these bikes, recumbent cyclists are able to take in more of the sights around them, making this type of bike optimal for taking in beautiful scenery and impressive landscapes.

    Physical fitness is also a widespread use for recumbents. Because of the reduced impact on the posterior chain, many users of recumbent bikes are able to travel for longer and further distances than they might on a traditional upright bike.

    Recumbent tandem bike
    A tandem recumbent bike provides a great way for two cyclists of different capabilities to enjoy a ride together!

    Riders benefit from increased cardiovascular and musculoskeletal strength and endurance. Stationary recumbent bikes are a widely utilized piece of fitness equipment. Many bike enthusiasts have stationary recumbents in their homes.

    Otherwise, you can find recumbents bikes that cater for a wide range of cycling disciplines. From road recumbents to recumbents comparable with gravel/trail bikes, there are many different shapes sizes and models of recumbent bike available.

    The History of Recumbent Bikes

    Recumbent bikes’ popularity has ebbed and flowed throughout history. Recumbents originated all the way back into the late 1890s, for there were a variety of designs and patents in place.

    Many of the earlier models were not successful, and the bikes did not receive much attention or intrigue.

    download

    The man responsible for one of the first well-known recumbent bikes was French car inventor Charles Mochet in the 1930s.

    In order to provide a more affordable alternative to cars during the economic downturn from World War I, Mochet invented a speedy four-wheeled “Velocar” bike, a variant of this is shown in the video above.

    This model inspired Mochet to create a version that was safer for turning corners, so the Velocar was tweaked and reduced to a two-wheeled recumbent bicycle.

    How Have Recumbent Bikes Progressed Over the Years?

    The modified “Velocar” model of the recumbent bike had success in breaking incredible speed records by cyclist Francois Faure.

    Despite this success, the UCI banned recumbents from entering cycling competitions by deeming them unqualified as “real” bicycles[1]. From then on, recumbents diminished in popularity for decades to come, until its resurgence and progression in the 1970s with the first mass-produced recumbent model.

    Nowadays, recumbents are quite popular for recreational use and are used by many cyclist commuters, for increased comfort on busy roads in urban environments.

    Who Should Use a Recumbent Bike?

    Recumbent bikes are fun and accessible to all ages and levels of ability. They are ideal for anyone looking for a more relaxed and leisurely ride due to their comfortable seat.

    Though recumbent bikes can work for most riders, they are especially great for some specific populations, including:

    • Riders with physical disabilities
    • Elderly riders
    • Injured cyclists
    • Cyclists wanting to improve their posture
    • Cyclist looking for a new challenge
    Older cyclist riding a recumbent bicycle

    Who Shouldn't Use a Recumbent Bike?

    If you are an adventurous, daredevil of a cyclist, recumbent bikes may not be the best fit for a lifestyle of off-road biking and extremely bumpy courses.

    Furthermore, most recumbent bikes are heavier than standard bikes, so someone who wishes to travel easily with their bike should look for a lighter type of bike.

    Although recumbent bikes work wonders for many riders, it takes time and effort to master the overall movement and unique method of steering.

    Recumbent bicycles work similar muscles to a traditional bike but the majority of work is done with slightly different muscles. Thus, recumbents bikes might be difficult for beginners to get the hang of.

    What Competitions/Events are Recumbent Bikes Used In?

    As mentioned earlier, the UCI has played a role in preventing recumbent bikes from biking competitions back in the 1930s until today.

    However, under the World Human Powered Vehicle Association, they are allowed to compete in bike races and offer a plethora of speed races available for recumbent enthusiasts.

    At the Olympic level, handcycle recumbent bikes are permitted to be used in the Paralympics for certain athletes with qualifying physical limitations and balance issues.

    In the Paralympics, recumbents are one of the bikes used for competing in para-cycling events, which originated in the 1980s[2].

    Benefits of Recumbent Bikes

    The main benefit that attracts riders to the recumbent bike is comfort. The reclined position and wide bike seat reduce neck, back, and knee pain[3].

    Lumbar supports are available in some recumbent bike models, further increasing their comfort and ability to alleviate back pain. Those who may not have the physical fitness level necessary to ride a traditional upright bike can comfortably ride a recumbent.

    If you suffer from pain whilst cycling, a recumbent bike might be a better choice than a conventional bicycle.

    Elevated comfort allows recumbent bike riders to travel for longer distances, resulting in increased strength and endurance.

    Recumbent bikes happen to be a great deal closer to the ground than a traditional bike, minimizing fall injury risk. If a rider falls a few inches to the ground from a recumbent bike as opposed to several feet from a traditional bike, the injuries sustained will be much less severe.

    The rider’s centre of gravity is also significantly lower, which provides increased balance and stability.

    If you are looking for a swift ride, the recumbent bike will satisfy your need for speed. Although speed varies depending on the rider, recumbent bikes are designed to be fast due to their aerodynamic design. Decreased wind resistance also allows them to accelerate quickly.

    recumbent bike vs road bike race

    Enclosed recumbent bikes are even more aerodynamic than the classic models. A high quality recumbent will allow you to achieve exceptionally high speeds. In 2016, a speed record for bicycles was set on a recumbent bike hitting 89.85mph (144.17 km/h).

    Risks Associated with Recumbent Bikes

    Any bike riders who elect to ride in vehicular traffic are at an increased risk for accidents, but the danger may be greater for recumbent riders.

    Recumbent bikes are lower to the ground resulting in particularly decreased visibility to vehicles. To ensure visibility, a noticeable, tall flag should be placed on all outdoor recumbent bikes.

    Recumbent bikes are excellent going downhill yet have difficulty moving as well uphill. Due to the reclined position riders rest in, they cannot shift their weight forward for leverage when riding up steep hills.

    As recumbent bikes are so low to the ground, it's important to use a safety flag when cycling on roads

    Conventional bicycle cyclists can shift their centre of gravity when climbing, whereas recumbent riders maintain a static centre. Recumbent riders may therefore put themselves at risk for injury if they overexert effort while biking up hills

    A challenge to keep in mind when considering a recumbent bike is cost. Recumbents are both expensive to buy and maintain. Parts are significantly more pricey for a recumbent than an upright bike due to their lower scale of production.

    As this bike style is less popular than traditional bikes, finding a professional to repair and provide appropriate parts for your recumbent bike can also be difficult, but not impossible.

    Environmental Impact of Using a Recumbent Bike

    From an environmental standpoint, recumbent bikes are an environmentally conscious mode of transportation.

    They are an excellent asset for commuters looking to reduce their carbon footprints by decreasing their use of cars or public transit. Recumbents are especially helpful for individuals who wouldn’t have otherwise been physically able to commute on a traditional bike. 

    By making cycling more accessible to the public, recumbent bikes have a good impact on the way we travel.

    Does the Recumbent Bike Require a Special Area to be Ridden?

    Traditional recumbent bikes are suitable for city and natural environments with paved roads and trails. Due to their comfort and speed, recumbent bikes are ideal for long-distance rides when compared to traditional bikes.

    For those who may want to venture onto more rugged territory, recumbents bikes are available with suspension that can withstand bumpier paths and surfaces.

    However, as Saukki says in the video above, if you want to ride technical paths with ramps and rock gardens, you’ll want a conventional bike as recumbents aren’t made for this.

    Recumbents can also be used for professional handcycle racing, a form of cycling that pedals with the hands instead of legs. 

    What to Wear When Riding a Recumbent Bike

    Considering recumbent bikes are usually used in lieu of a traditional road bike, they do not require additional specialized clothing or protective gear.

    Sunglasses, a helmet with a visor, and sunblock are helpful wardrobe additions to keep in mind as your face, neck, and chest are more exposed to the sun in this reclined position. Though recumbent bikes are lower to the ground, one should still wear a helmet for protection whilst riding a recumbent bicycle.

    What Accessories are Recommended When Using a Recumbent Bike?

    One of the most significant concerns for recumbent riders is visibility to other vehicles, as recumbent bikes are significantly closer to the ground than standard bicycles.

    A necessary accessory to ensure that cars are aware of your presence is to add a safety flag that extends a distance above the bike. Noticeable flags are produced specifically for this purpose.

    Bike mirrors and light mounts will also help with visibility for both you and other drivers and cyclists as the design of the recumbent bikes makes it difficult to view objects behind the rider. 

    Specialized recumbent bike racks available which make recumbents a suitable option for bikepacking over long distances.

    Recumbent Bike FAQs

    Recumbent bikes place less strain on the spine, shoulders and neck of their riders by supporting their riders in a reclined position.

    The seat of a recumbent bike is also much wider and disperses pressure over a wider area than the saddle of a conventional bike. 

    These features make recumbent bikes suitable for disabled cyclists and those who simply prefer a more comfortable ride.

    Recumbent bikes are built for support and comfort, they sit their riders in a reclined position, hence the name ‘recumbent’.

    Whilst riding a recumbent bike less strain is placed on your joints and muscles which makes them more suitable for disabled and injured cyclists.

    Conventional bikes are slightly easier to get the hang of than recumbent bikes. They’re also much better at tackling difficult terrain and dealing with steep inclines, something recumbents struggle with.

    A 150lb (68kg) person riding a recumbent bike at a moderate intensity will burn 4-7 calories per minute, meaning after 30 minutes they’ll have burnt roughly 120-210 calories.

    Recumbent bikes are totally different to conventional bicycles, they feel different to ride and cater for cyclists who prefer comfort as apposed to handling difficult terrain. 

    Due to their lower stance, recumbents are less visible to other road users, which might put interested cyclists off.

    If you’re looking at buying a new recumbent bicycle, you can expect to spend anywhere between $1000-3000 (£750 – 2250). 

    Whilst recumbent bikes are more expensive than conventional bicycles, they provide a plethora of benefits for their riders!

    Summary - What Is a Recumbent Bike?

    So there you have it, if you’ve made it this far you should now understand what recumbent bicycles are, the benefits they provide and who they’re suitable for. 

    If I failed to answer any of your questions, drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you with answers!

    As with any bike, it’s important that you know how to lock it properly and use a top-quality lock to secure it!

    [1] https://bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/59406/why-are-recumbent-bicycles-and-velomobiles-illegal-in-uci-bicycle-racing
    [2] https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/aboutpara-cycling?c=EN
    [3] https://spinenation.com/wellness/exercise/best-bikes-for-back-pain

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    Hello! My name’s James, I’m an avid cyclist and the lead editor of BikeLockWiki.

    I’ve invested over four years into researching & studying bicycle security. Now I want to share the information I’ve learnt, for free, with the online cycling community.

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