Read this article about the most important question: Why doesn't everyone ride one?
What is a recumbent?
Why ride a Recumbent?
Are they comfortable?
Are recumbents difficult to balance and ride?
Are recumbents twitchy handling?
Are recumbents fast?
Do they climb well?
Are recumbents safe?
Are recumbents hard to see?
Have recumbents been around a while or are they a recent invention?
How to you transport a recumbent?
How much do recumbents cost?
Do recumbents require special components?
What are the different styles of recumbents?
How do I choose a style?
Ergonomics - Which configuration will work best for me?
What are the different types of seats?
What are the types of recumbent steering?
What kind of wheels do recumbents use?
What about those long chains?
Do I need suspension?
How do I start off on a recumbent?
I'm still slow! How long does it take before I'm up to speed?
The term "Recumbent" refers to the seating position and means: "lying down." Or to be supine!
RECUMBENT: re.cum.bent adj.
1. Lying down, especially in a position of comfort or rest; reclining.-re.cum.bence or re.cum.ben.cy n. -re.cum.bent.ly adv.
2. Combining comfort and speed on a bicycle. Very fast, comfortable, different and cool! The bicycle for the next century!
3. A long and kind of odd sounding term that describes laid back and comfortable arm-chair bicycling. Often referred to as: semi-recumbents, recliners, comfort-bikes, HPV's (Human Powered Vehicles) or "bents" as slang for recumbent. Most often recumbents have two wheels, sometimes three, recumbent tricycle, and sometimes four, as in a pedal car.
The first and foremost reason to consider a recumbent bicycle is comfort. When you ride a recumbent bicycle your body feels good - no pain. Your arms and wrists are totally relaxed, as they do not support your weight. Your neck and shoulders are relaxed because you're looking straight ahead. The recumbent seat offers full ergonomic back and base support. While riding a recumbent, you should not experience any pain, chafing, or numbness.
Another benefit of the recumbent seating position is a more open chest and diaphragm that makes for easier breathing. You'll be able to ride longer with less fatigue and arrive at your destination feeling refreshed. You'll have a better view of the road and your surroundings. Recumbents are great for touring and day rides.
Some common physical problems that encourage people to purchase a
1. Butt & crotch pain or numbness.
2. Wrist & hand problems i.e. pain, nerve trauma, Carpal tunnel syndrome.
3. Neck, shoulder & and back pain & pinched nerves.
4. Male impotence (relatively rare.)
Recumbents are extremely comfortable. The seats are the most high-tech bicycle
seats on the face of the planet. They are light, comfortable and made to sit on
for many hours. They have full support for your buttocks and back. Seats are
generally either a composite shell with foam and covering or a breathable mesh
covered sling frame made of aluminum or steel or a hybrid of the two. You
actually sit in the seat. The handlebars are either above the seat in front of
your chest, known as over-seat steering (OSS), or below the seat known as
under-seat steering (USS). Recumbent bicycles do away with neck, shoulder and
wrist pain and offer a very comfortable ride unlike any other bicycle type that
you have ever tried.
There are variations in handling just as there are in
uprights- some are fast, twitchy racing models and others are smooth, stable
touring models. For most riders on comfort level models, you'll be able to ride
in a few minutes or so. It is recommended that you start out on a low pedal
long-wheelbase or compact long wheelbase for your first ride. Recumbent balance
can be different - they actually require less balance. Riders unfamiliar tend
need to become familiar with their new bike, relax and not be so stiff/tense as
they are riding an upright bike. Consider the 20-20-20 rule. First time riders
will gain balance in 20 feet, they will be very stabile in 20 minutes and will
feel like an expert in 20 miles.
A recumbent may initially feel foreign to you: too
sensitive, overly quick, or it may take you some time to get accustomed to the
closer-to-the-ground position. These are traits of the recumbent newbie. The
word to remember is RELAX! Lean back in the seat and enjoy the ride. Many
problems can be traced directly to the habit of upper-body stiffness from riding
your conventional bicycle. Allow your body to relax and stay loose.
Performance is a hotly debated topic; however it is
important to remember recumbents do hold all of the human-powered land speed
records. This is primarily because they are aerodynamically superior to
conventional bicycles; less frontal area means less wind resistance. A recumbent
currently holds the Race Across America speed record of five days and one hour
and a recumbent ridden by Fast Freddie Markham was the winner of the DuPont
Prize for breaking 65 m.p.h. You can currently buy production versions of these
record setting bicycles. Fairings for street use are common and optional
equipment on most commercially built models. They protect you from rain, cold
and wind with up to a 30% reduction in drag. The general rule for ideal
conditions (reasonably flat terrain), is that a recumbent is about 10% faster
than a conventional bike. With a fairing, it can range from 15%-25% faster. With
a full body it can be even more, perhaps 40%? Recumbents for street use are not
always faster than conventional bicycles.
the aerodynamic advantage of most recumbents, they are often a bit slower than
their upright counterparts in real world riding. The fastest recumbents are
lowracers, highracers, faired SWB's, and LWB OSS models with front fairings
(though not necessarily in this order). The bike that will perform best for you
will depend on which type fits your body type, riding style, locale and how much
bike you can handle (or adapt to).
they do. Some think "if I can't stand on the pedals, how can I climb a hill?"
Recumbents climb (and descend!) like tandems. You may climb more slowly on a
recumbent, but if you keep pedaling, the scenery keeps moving. For steeper
hills, most quality recumbents come with a low "granny gear" so you can spin
your way to the top. Usually you can keep pace with most upright riders, and if
you do lose any time climbing, you get it back on the downhill and flat ground.
Recumbents use different muscles, even a very fit upright rider will climb more
slowly at first until they develop their gluteus muscles.
Yes - as long as you're on a model
that you feel safe on. For on-road city riding, you'll need to at least be at
eye level with motorists. Practice riding on quiet streets or a closed parking
lot until you're familiar with your bike. Be sure to ride with safety gear,
cycling shoes, reflective gear, helmet, rearview mirror(s) and perhaps a safety
recumbent riders should use a rear-view mirror, as turning to look behind you is
more difficult on a recumbent than on a diamond-frame bicycle. Riders should
also use bicycle safety gear such as reflective clothing, a helmet, a horn, a
safety flag, and lights when riding at night.
Since recumbents are relatively
uncommon, they are "noticed". Which are you more likely to notice when you are
driving, a mini van or a Ferrari? But you say a Ferrari is so low to the ground!
Making yourself "visible" is another issue. You do sit lower than on a
traditional diamond frame bike. Depending on which recumbent you own, you may
want to make yourself a little more visible. You can do that by adding a flag to
your bike on an extended rod, and also by wearing a bright helmet or
jacket/vest. To be fair to car drivers, whose attention and concentration are on
everything except their driving, I would recommend doing something to get their
attention especially if you're riding on heavily used roads.
Recumbents have been around since
the mid 1800's with the Macmillan Velocipede and the Challand Recumbent. In 1933
Charles Mochet built a supine recumbent named the "Velocar". Between the years
of 1933 and 1938 pro racer Francois Faure, while riding the Velocar, set several
speed records for both the mile and kilometer. In Paris on July 7, 1933, Francis
Faure broke the 20 year-old hour record of 44.247 km. by going 45.055 km.
Unfortunately Faure's hour record created a controversy amongst the Union
Cycliste Internationale (U.C.I.), the governing body for bicycle races. The
controversy was based on whether the Velocar was a bicycle and whether the time
records were legal. In February 1934, the U.C.I. decided against Faure's record
and banned all recumbents and aerodynamic devices from racing.
That is the reason why recumbents have not gained popularity in the racing
scene, and why they have not been mass produced by bike manufacturers. For over
a century since the introduction of the Rover Safety Cycle, built in England in
1884, the design of the basic diamond frame bicycle has hardly changed. For
"the rest of the story" see the article "Winning
Some smaller recumbents (CLWB and SWB) may fit on
normal trunk, bumper, hitch or roof racks. There are custom extended trays to
fit most recumbents to roof racks. On a vehicle with a relatively long roofline,
you can use roof rack with a fork clamp mount to the front fork and rear wheel
tray for the rear wheel or lay a piece of foam in the tray and rest the frame
tube (just in front of the rear wheel). There are lightweight trailers that
will accept bicycles. Having truck or van is also helpful, but not necessary.
Your best recumbent transporting advice will come from your bike's manufacturer
or your local recumbent dealer.
Recumbents can be expensive. The price can be 50% higher or more than for a
comparably equipped upright bike. Recumbents are often more expensive because
they are built by smaller manufacturers and use fewer standard bicycle parts and
more proprietary pieces. Recumbent seats are a good example. They must be
lightweight and very comfortable. So while comfort-level recumbents can cost
around $450 and up, serious riders can expect to spend $1,000-$2,500 or more.
Most recumbents use
a mix of components and wheels from road bikes, mountain bikes, BMX bikes and
folding bikes. Most parts are fairly standard, though often will need to be
purchased from a recumbent specialist.
Mid-drives, two-chain drives, independent pedaling options, hydraulic brakes,
and/or other proprietary parts can complicate your bike and make service and
parts replacement more difficult, time consuming, and costly. We recommend that
you keep a cache of spare parts for your specific bike in case of a problem. You
should consider keeping a spare tubes, tires (one of each size), mid-drive
cassette, suspension shock, etc.
The most noticeable difference between the different styles is
the length of the bike. There are long wheel base (lwb), short wheel base (swb),
and compact long wheel base bikes (clwb).
Though it seems like an impossible task, with a bit of education, and a few test
rides, you'll quickly get an idea of what works best for you.
are some considerations to help with your decision.
- Set a budget.
- Understand what
each recumbent style is best for:
-- SWB are sport/sport touring bikes
-- LWB are touring bicycles, though are very
versatile and can be quite fast
-- CLWB (compact) are recreational, urban commuter
and light touring bikes
-- Delta trikes are mostly for recreational riding,
touring and hauling cargo
-- Tadpole trike are for sport riding and touring
- Choose a style:
SWB, LWB, CLWB (compact), trike or tandem.
- Ride each type that
you are interested in. Be sure to ride the first bikes you try a second time.
- Choose a type of
steering: under-seat, above, above-remote (rod linkage).
- Decide on
suspension or no suspension.
- Are you a
competitive racer type rider, or are you a tourist who likes to kick back and
enjoy the scenery?
- Do you have enough
storage space for the bike you're considering?
- Do you have a way
to haul the bike you're considering?
There is no such thing as typical recumbent ergonomics.
Some models have upright seats, others have-laid back seats. Some have low
pedals (in the same position as a diamond-frame bike) and others have very high
pedals (up to 9 inches higher than your seat base).
user-friendly ergonomics include a moderate seat height of around 20 or so
inches off the ground, with pedals mounted noticeably lower (a similar height to
a diamond-frame bike). This design would place the rider in a fairly upright
position which places much of the rider's weight on their bottom, which for some
riders, can make for recumbent butt. This position is similar to driving an
pedal height is increased, the seat can be reclined more, thus taking some of
the weight off the rider's bottom. Often, however, raising the feet can cause
foot and toe numbness, may require clipless pedals; it can also take a second or
two longer to get your feet to the pedals or back to the ground. When the pedals
are raised way up and the seat is reclined way back (what we describe as an
extreme position), there can also be neck fatigue, as one has to lower one's
chin to neck fatigue, as one has to lower one's chin to look straight ahead.
This is usually found on high- performance and racing recumbents and may not be
suitable for average riders.
riders, the best place to start is a compact or LWB with low pedal height. If
you're an athlete or more advanced rider or if you have a special need, finding
the optimum riding position and model for you may take some time and patience.
Notes - If you're 5'4" to 6' 4" tall you can ride most any recumbent. If you're
shorter or taller than average, you should check out recumbents that come in
multiple frame sizes. Shorter riders may want to check out LWB's, trikes, and
SWB's with 16- inch front wheels. Models with full-size wheels may be too tall
for you. Larger and/or taller riders might want to try LWB's and longer SWB's
(those with wheelbases of 40 inches or more). Look for stiff, strong frames and
low pedal heights with more moderate or open riding positions. Ask about weight
limits, capacities, and warranties. Opt for fatter tires if possible (20- and
26-inch tires offer the most options).
1. Hammock mesh offer the most breathable
comfort. Due to their design, a mesh base can make the bike difficult to hold
up at a stop (even for a tall rider). Mesh seats can also pinch the outside
one the riders' buttocks. Mesh seats are rare these days.
2. A molded seat with foam and cover offers a more
firm base to push against, though it may be less comfortable. Euro molded
seats have a distinct lumbar curve and are designed to for a very laid-back
3. A combination seat includes a mesh back
and a molded, foam covered base. This is a good compromise seat. This is the
most popular style of recumbent seat.
There are two basic types of recumbent steering;
1. Over-seat steering (OSS):
This is the more common, normal, user-friendly, and performance-oriented (in
most cases) type of steering. These are your basic upright handlebars that
connect to a stem or riser into a head tube (or false head tube on some models).
2. Under-seat steering (USS): These are the handlebars
that are down at your sides underneath the seat. USS is considered more
comfortable by many riders, though it can take more time to become accustomed
to. USS adds more complexity to designs because of fork modifications and
Some recumbents have linkage (steering rod and rod-end
bearings) which are more complicated and require frequent inspection.
The 26-inch (559 mm) rear wheel and 20-inch (406 mm)
front wheel combination is the most popular. Reasons for using other sizes would
be more performance (650c or 700c), lowering of the seat (combos using 20- and
16-inch wheels), or making a bike more compact (20/16 combos). Small wheels
don't perform as well, wear more quickly, and have less gyroscopic inertia than
their larger counterparts. Small rims and tire sizes can be more difficult to
Tires: Consider using fatter tires than you would
normally use. The reason is that you cannot deweight your wheels when riding as
you can on a diamond-frame bicycle. Fatter tires are more comfortable, less
skittish to ride, and have fewer flats.
Recumbents use standard bicycle chain times two or
three - sometimes more. The chains are connected by your chain brand's quick
link. Replacing a recumbent chain can be expensive, so take care of it. 9-speed
chains are the most expensive.
A cushy ride can be wonderful and may spoil you. It
works even better with small wheels (20-inch drive wheel). However, it can
complicate the bike: fender and rack mounting, added weight, more moving parts
(shocks, swing arms, pivot bolts) and suspension parts need to be serviced at
smaller wheeled models, achieving acceptable gearing (with a small drive wheel)
is also a consideration. CLWB's and LWB's can best utilize rear suspension.
SWB's can best utilize front suspension (first) or full suspension.
Sit down on the recumbent seat, grab the brake handle
so you won't roll backward, place your power-foot in the 1:00 position, give it
a goose of power, catch your balance and go. It's best to start out in a quiet,
closed parking lot with little car traffic. Have a friend or bike salesman stay
with you until you are riding. Be sure you're dealing with the shop's recumbent
Since it takes time to develop
new leg muscles it will depend on how often and the amount of time you spend on
your trusty steed. For some, it may take two weeks commuting on it 20 miles a
day. For others it may take up to a month or it may take less than two weeks. It
all depends on your physical fitness and the how hard you choose to ride.
Whatever happens... don't give up!