Frequently Asked Questions about Recumbent Bikes:
Some interesting terms come up when people inquire about recumbent bicycles – we’ve seen & heard names like Incumbent Bikes, Recumbant Bikes, Human Powered Vehicles or HPVs and some aficionados refer to them as ‘bents.
It’s called a ‘recumbent’ bicycle. My dictionary says recumbent means “leaning, reclining, lying – as in the recumbent position of the Romans while they ate their meals”. We use it to name bikes that allow riding in a seated position. Most recumbents are powered by conventional leg pedaling. Some are hand powered and some use both hand and foot power. They come in two wheel (recumbent bikes) and three-wheel (recumbent trikes) versions and there are tandem recumbents designed for two riders.
Very comfortable thanks. From my butt to my neck, my body gets along with my recumbent very well. On an upright bike (a “wedgie”) the seat can’t be very wide, or it will cause chaffing between your legs. With its pedals in front of the seat a recumbent doesn’t have this limitation, the seat can be as wide as we are! Because the seat doesn’t fit between your legs, it doesn’t put any pressure on your anatomy there either.Your lower back is relaxed, and well supported. You are not leaning on your hands. Your arms aren’t holding you up, feeling every bump through the handlebars either. It the seated position you don’t have to crane your neck to see where you are going either. You can ride long distances in comfort, free from saddle sores, wrist pain and neck strain. (Can you tell, I like recumbents?)
Some common physical problems that encourage people to purchase a recumbent are:
- Butt & crotch pain or numbness.
- Wrist & hand problems i.e. pain, nerve trauma, Carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Neck, shoulder & and back pain & pinched nerves.
- Male impotence and/or prostate enlargement (relatively rare.)
No, It may take you a mile or two to get used to though. They feel and handle differently, but you soon learn to lean back and relax. When my family goes to a campground, we usually take recumbents. We ride them around till someone stops us to ask a question. We invite them go for a spin and everyone does fine after 100 yards or so. Recumbents fit rite in with the relaxed atmosphere at a campground. Different recumbents handle differently, no mater which recumbent you are interested in we will start you out on CLWB for your first ride. Come dressed appropriately and, hey, my daughter could ride one when she was only 8!
Yes, 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 you most quality recumbents come with a low “granny gear” so you can spin your way to the top. Usually you can keep up with most upright riders, and if you lost any time climbing, you get it back on the downhills 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. I live 1/10 mile from a hill, a big hill. It climbs 425 vertical feet in 11/2 miles. I’ve climbed it on a few different recumbents, and I’m 45 years old! Let me brag a minute. Last fall I rode a Lightning P-38 twenty two miles with a big road club. I started in the middle of 70 people and caught the leaders in about two miles. I easily out climbed and out sprinted them the whole ride. I could have left them behind if I’d known the route. Once as I lead up another hill one of the roadies said “that will be enough of that!” He jumped out of his saddle and sprinted, but I lead to the top of the hill. At the end of the ride a roadie told me they had heard recumbents were slow, but they guessed no one had ever told me! I told them I’m 44 and ride under 1,000 miles a year. They seem to have trouble believing I could be fast on a bike that looks so comfortable.
In the races where they are allowed, recumbent bikes hold all the records. What you really want to know is, will I be faster if I buy a recumbent? The answer is, yes, but not right away. How long it takes depends on how often, how far and how hard you ride your recumbent. Just like any exercise, persistence yields results. You will develop some new leg muscles, (and speed) if you don’t give up. You will be fast if you buy the right recumbent, ride on pavement and if you train on the recumbent as long and hard as you did on a wedgie.
Since most of a cyclist’s energy is consumed pushing air out of the way, the smaller frontal area of a recumbent makes it faster on level stretches and down hills. A recumbent with a well-designed partial or full fairing can be even faster. So the short answer is most people, after an adjustment period, except on really big hills, are faster on a recumbent.
After a French rider on a recumbent set a new world record in 1933 the UCI outlawed them in 1934. After Tim Brummer, designer of Lightning Cycles won a US national championship on a lowracer the USCF outlawed them in 2005. When a reporter asked Lance Armstrong about recumbents he said he would try one if they were legal.
Because recumbents are still pretty rare, they are eye-catching. Which are you more likely to notice when you are driving, a mini van or a Ferrari? But a Ferrari is so low to the ground! (On most recumbents my head is higher than the roof of a Corvette, and I wear a bright colored helmet!) Depending on the traffic you ride in, you may want to make your bike more visible (even on a wedgie). Try wearing a bright colored helmet or adding a flag. I often ride with a bright yellow “tailbox” behind the seat of my bike. It has storage space, is more aerodynamic than the seat alone and is quite bright. “Lowracer” recumbent bikes and many recumbent trikes are much lower and harder to see in traffic.
On traditional bikes ~80% of the accidents that cause a rider to go to the hospital involve a car and ~80% of those cars didn’t see the bike till it was too late. Being seen is very important. This involves more than being high off the ground (I had a Highwheel bike and didn’t feel that safe in traffic). Wearing bright colors is a great idea. I like the safety gear available at www.alertshirt.com.
When a traditional bike has an accident you are likely to arrive headfirst. On a recumbent you will likely arrive feet first. On a bent you may be less likely to get a concussion but more likely to break an ankle. If you are at risk for osteoporosis you should consult your doctor to see if they think you would be safer on a trike where you are less likely to fall over and hurt yourself.
There are two common ways to steer a recumbent. OSS (over seat steering), or USS (under seat steering.) With above seat steering the handlebars are at shoulder height. This is by far the most common type. On bikes with USS, the handlebars are just beneath the seat. Sit on a chair; relax your hands, hanging them at your side. This is where USS handlebars are. Above seat steering is often (but not always) easier for first-timers and looks more conventional. Recumbents, unlike conventional bikes are not steered much by the shifting your body weight, and few recumbents can be ridden “no hands” (it’s illegal anyway.)
On our recumbent history page you will find pictures of recumbents dating from 1896, 1905, 1914, 1919, 1921 and 1933. Over the winter I hope to add a page on USA recumbent history from ~1950 to ~1990. Our recumbent display includes a Tour Easy hand made by Gardner Martin in 1978, a 1980 Avatar 2000, serial #0024 and the first recumbent to compete in Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1985 Linear and an Infinity from about 1986. These are on display in our shop when not loaned out to museums.
Oh yes! They are mainly classified by wheelbase and handlebar position. Wheelbase is the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels of the bike. Some are long wheelbase (LWB), some are short wheelbase (SWB). LWB bikes (64″ – 72″ wheelbase) are comfortable, fast and stable. They are great on the open road but U turns and navigating narrow, twisting paths can be awkward. Examples: all Easy Racers, Rotator Pursuit, RANS Stratus & Velocity squared.
Short wheelbase bikes (SWB) are 34″ – 45″, with fewer and fewer being made under 39″. Their front wheel is behind the pedals. They are nimble and easy to maneuver. They transport and store easily due to their size. Examples: all Lightnings and Haluzaks, RANS Rocket & V-Rex, most Bacchettas.
In between are the compact long wheel base (CLWB) bikes. A CLWB is 50″ – 64″. Some riders find these to be the easiest recumbents to adjust to. They are responsive, stable, and with a higher seat – they are more visible in traffic, they are great commuting bikes. Examples: Sun EZ-1, RANS Tailwind, Maxarya Ray-1.
The Burley Canto is convertible from LWB to SWB. Talk about versatile (but hard to classify!)
It depends on how much (and how hard) you ride your recumbent. Some riders find they are faster almost immediately. Some riders take longer to develop speed on a recumbent, especially riders who have trained and raced upright bikes. Just like any exercise, persistence yields results. You will develop some new leg muscles, (and speed) if you don’t give up.
Tiller steering is when the handlebars move side to side when you steer. Some recumbents have it, some do not. Some riders find even a little tiller objectionable, others do not.
“I’ve become convinced that the recumbent is the bike of the future. It is comfortable to ride for long periods, and it won’t produce numb hands or crotch”