Recumbent vs Upright Stationary Exercise Bikes

Upright Exercise Bike
Recumbent Exercise Bike
Upright Exercise Bike Compared to Recumbent Exercise Bike

Upright stationary exercise bikes have been around a long time but recumbent stationary exercise bikes have become very popular. And there is no doubt that you can readily find someone willing to debate which type of exercise & fitness bike is the “Best Exercise & Fitness Bike.”

Upright Stationary Exercise Bikes vs. Recumbent Stationary Exercise Bikes

While each type of exercise & fitness bike has its’ advantages and/or disadvantages I believe it depends on your personal riding needs and fitness & rehab needs.

Personally, I put my Physical Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy (PT) needs ahead of my thoughts about what a bike should look like. This is why I prefer the recumbent exercise and fitness bikes over the upright exercise bikes. Recumbent exercise bikes are better suited to help me achieve my fitness, PT and Rehab goals.

Let’s go over a few benefits of recumbent exercise bikes:

The recumbent exercise and fitness bike is far more ergonomic & bio-mechanically correct frame and handlebar design:

Recumbent exercise bike riders train in the optimum training position for maximum fitness results. For example; our XTerra Fitness SB-540R recumbent fitness bike is also equipped with an anatomically designed saddle for peak comfort at all times which in turn leads to a more comfortable cardiovascular & rehab workout.

Look at the diagram below and you’ll see the benefits of recumbent exercise bikes; the ergonomics, the bio-mechanics and anatomical design:

For the sake of comparison, we’ll take a brief look at the two different types of stationary indoor bikes; the upright stationary exercise bike compared to a recumbent stationary exercise bike.

Upright Exercise Bike
Recumbent Exercise Bike
Bike Frame in Gray
Seat & Pedals in Red
Rider Position in Blue

Upright Exercise & Fitness Bike

Recumbent Exercise & Fitness Bike

Rider sits well above the bike frame
Rider sits into the bike frame

Designed like a more traditional road bike, the seat is located almost directly over the pedals.
Designed like a recumbent bike, the seat is located almost in-line with the pedals.

The rider has a very high center of gravity making the bike a bit less stable.
The rider has a very low center of gravity making the bike and rider very stable.

Sitting upright and leaning forward causes some riders to experience sore hands, wrists and arms as a result of the weight and resulting stress put on them by leaning forward on them while riding.
Sitting reclined, leaning back with the arms hanging naturally to your sides eliminates sore hands, wrists and arms because there is no weight or stress stress put on them by leaning while riding.

“Glutes” – the gluteal muscles of your butt do not get the same workout benefit on an upright bike unless the rider is standing.
“Glutes” – the gluteal muscles of your butt get a better workout in a reclined position naturally working the gluteus maximus.

Seat Position

Rider must lean forward (over the bike frame) and bend neck and back slightly.
Rider is in a natural, reclined position without need to bend head or back.

Saddle Sore – is the term used by many upright bike riders. No matter how comfortable the seat padding or thickness is in the showroom – riders get saddle sore while riding.
Naturally comfortable seat – described by many as similar to sitting in a piece of comfortable furniture. Less aches and pains in the butt, resulting in a more comfortable workout.

Cycling in a less natural position of body alignment produces fatigue that is of no benefit to the rider. That is; it is not normal fatigue from the workout itself.
Cycling in a more natural position of body alignment reduces fatigue and increases both the ability and the desire of the rider to continue the workout.

People who have lower back issues find upright bikes to be far less comfortable or enjoyable.
People who have lower back issues find recumbent bikes to be far more comfortable and enjoyable.

People who have neck pain issues complain they are far less comfortable from the way their head and neck must be bent or even “hanging” to workout.
People who have neck pain issues are far more comfortable without having to bend  their neck or hang their head throughout the workout.

The “Q Factor”
Simply put, the Q factor of a bicycle is the distance between the pedal attachment points on the crank arms.

Many upright bikes (and even some of the recumbent bikes) tend to have a wider Q Factor to allow for the braking mechanism, pulleys, drive components and cosmetic covers. Since those bikes are wider, so is the distance between the pedals – the Q Factor.

Upright bikes having wider Q Factors are less ergonomically correct as they force the rider to pedal at a wider angle from the hip than the natural in-line movement of the legs and feet as we walk normally – taking steps in a narrow and more natural pattern.

While some of the recumbent exercise bikes may have a wider Q Factor to allow for the braking mechanism, pulleys, drive components and cosmetic covers. Through research performed with a leading sports scientist and physical rehabilitation expert the engineers at XTerra have developed a breakthrough in pedal design. The result is the XTerra Fitness SB540r has the smallest Q Factor on the market today. A narrower Q-Factor is ergonomically superior because it more closely matches the nearly inline pattern of human footsteps.

Proper Seat Adjustment

With your heel on the pedal your leg should be straight or a bit over extended. Then you pedal with the ball of your foot on the pedal and there is a bit of flex left in your knee.

  • Pain in the front of your knee usually means too much leg bend.
  • Pain in the back (rare) usually means to little bend.

Now, this is not to say that upright exercise bikes are without merit. Upright bikes still have their place in the exercise and fitness market.

There are those who would argue that upright stationary bikes offer a more “intense” workout simply because recumbent stationary exercise bikes are more comfortable. The thinking behind this argument is that if a rider is more comfortable on a recumbent bike; they may not push themselves as hard to achieve the desired fitness levels.

I would say this in response to that theory…

Riders who desire to push themselves to the maximum level of performance can and will do so no matter what type or style of exercise equipment they choose to use.

Why not be comfortable while you are exercising so you can do your very best toward realizing your fitness and rehab goals?

In fact, whether you are:

  • An athlete in training looking for a stamina building recumbent bike,
  • An off season cycling enthusiast looking for a fitness cycle,
  • A PT – Rehab patient recovering from an injury or surgery looking for a belt driven, magnetic recumbent exercise bike for smoothness and reliability,
  • Or just trying to lose some weight and tone your body

The support and comfort offered while sitting in a a reclined – recumbent seat position may very well enable you to cycle for longer than you might do on an upright, thus getting a better workout and achieving your fitness and/or rehab goals.

No matter which type of bike you are considering – test ride if at all possible and take your time doing so. The more comfortable you are with your stationary exercise bike ~ the more comfortable you will be using it. And that is what matters most.