Why a recumbent?
You are certain to increase your cycling mileage on a recumbent bike or trike because it doesn’t hurt --- not even a little bit. Except for a short period of getting used to the bike or trike and developing a slightly different muscle group, there is no downside. The upside is more riding, more fun and all the health benefits that go along with the additional exercise. If you’re like most of us, you probably don’t feel you get enough exercise. My personal philosophy is, “If it is fun, it gets done.” Recumbents make exercise fun.
Is it really that comfortable?
Yes! You are sitting on a real seat, with no pressure on your wrists, seat, neck or shoulders. Your back is fully supported and at the end of your ride, nothing hurts. As an added bonus, you get a full view of the scenery instead of looking down at the road and front wheel. On most recumbents the seat is an integral part of the bike, so look for bike or trike models that offer different seat styles and sizes to make sure it fits you properly.
Are they fast?
Yes! Many two-wheeled recumbents place the rider in a naturally aerodynamic riding position. The new breeds of high racers on the market are noticeably faster than uprights. Most riders cannot stay in the aerodynamic tuck position on conventional bike for more than a mile or two without discomfort while a “recumbent tuck” is completely comfortable and is the position you always ride in. Francis Faure set speed records for the mile and kilometer in 1933 on a recumbent. The Union Cycliste Internationale (U.C.I.) promptly banned recumbents from racing because they felt recumbents provided an unfair aerodynamic advantage. As a result, recumbents have not been used since in main-stream racing and have not been mass-produced until recently.
Do recumbents climb hills?
A good recumbent climbs about the same as a good road bike. You have tremendous leverage against the back of the seat even though you can’t “stand” on the pedals. You will be using a slightly different muscle group so plan on a month or so before your “recumbent muscles” are as strong as your “upright muscles”. After the first month or so you should climb hills about like you would on your regular bike. The best recumbents for climbing have very stable and supportive seat systems and a very efficient chain line.
Are recumbents safe?
On a recumbent you ride feet first so you always have a full view of where you’re going and your center of gravity is lower for stability. Most recumbent bicycles position the rider more than high enough to be seen as easily as an upright bike, and many trikes now come with higher seat heights and safety flags. Because there are so few recumbents on the road drivers actually notice you sooner and give you a wider berth than conventional bikes (along with a few stares and waves!)
Are recumbents as visible as regular bikes?
Many people think recumbent riders sit so low that automobile drivers cannot see them. In fact, overall rider height on a recumbent bicycle is not significantly lower than on a road bike. Many recumbent bicycles position the rider’s head at the same height as an automobile driver’s, making eye-contact easy. In over 100,000 miles of recumbent riding I have never had the feeling that automobile drivers could not see me.
Are they easy to transport?
Most short wheel base bents fit on a number of standard auto racks. Easy seat removal and reattachment is very helpful when transporting your bike, so make sure you consider it when looking for a bike. Tandems and long wheel base bikes are more difficult to transport, but should fit on racks with a tandem attachment. Trikes can be the most challenging, but most will fit in the back of station wagons and mini vans, and most new models fold up quickly to fit in a hatchback! New receiver-mount racks are being continually innovated to carry any style of bike or trike on the rear of your car.
Should I consider a recumbent tricycle?
Recumbent tricycles are very popular and a lot of fun to ride. Trikes are great for anyone seeking total stability, and work well for commuting, especially year round, recreational riding, touring and fitness rides. ICE, TerraTrike, Catrike, Greenspeed, HP Velotechnik and Hase make high-quality tricycles that many two wheel enthusiasts find appealing. They are very stable in the corners and extremely easy to ride.
Delta Trikes vs. Tadpole Trikes:
A Delta trike is configured with two wheels in the rear and one in the front. Conversely, Tadpole trikes are built with two wheels in front and one behind the rider. Tadpole trikes are more compact, easier to transport and store, and come in variety of styles that include rigid frames, suspended frames, folding frames, and high and low seat heights. Delta trikes usually have a higher seat height and don’t have the frame cross member just ahead of the leading edge of the seat which makes it easier to sit down and get up. You can simulate this difference in a regular chair at home:
Tadpole trike simulation: Place your heels 3" ahead of the leading edge of the chair and try to stand up without using your arms to push off.
Delta trike simulation: Place your heels 1" behind the leading edge of the chair and try to stand up without using your arms to push off. See how much easier it is to get up in situation #2? This is what it's like when you don't have the tadpole cross members to force your heels ahead of the leading edge of the seat. Now add to this the seat height difference and you really have a substantial difference in ease of standing up from the seated position.
Center of gravity is important on a trike, so you'll want to find the balance of ease-of-use and performance that fits your needs best.
Are recumbents hard to learn to ride?
First time recumbent bicycle riders frequently feel a little shaky but most can ride without tipping over almost immediately. An unsteady, wobbly feeling for the first mile or so is normal and then your body will quickly become accustomed to the new position. It usually takes about 20 to 40 miles to become completely relaxed and confident. Then --- look out! There are reports of smiles that had to be surgically removed.
Do people without medical reasons find recumbents better?
The answer to this one is very close to home. I made the switch about seven years ago due to problems in my neck and resulting nerve damage. Doctors told me I was going to have to have major surgery. I stopped riding regular bikes and switched to recumbents 100% of the time and two things happened. First, I started going on longer rides. Within one year I was almost totally symptom free from the neck problems and all without surgery. My wife Barb, on the other hand, has no physical problems. She rides about three thousand miles a year and didn't feel she needed or wanted a recumbent. Until, that is, we went on our first recumbent tandem ride on a Double Vision. The ride was a fairly long one, about eighty miles, with a tough head wind for the last thirty miles or so. She couldn't believe biking could be that comfortable and she got her first recumbent two days later. We sold her carbon fiber road bike several months later and she has no desire to ever ride a conventional bike again. Incidentally, Barb feels she is a little faster in the head winds and is at least as fast when going up hills. I found the same to be true.
What are the medical reasons that cause people switch to recumbents?
The most common physical problems people are complaining about when purchasing a recumbent are as follows: Pain in the neck, shoulders and back. Pain in the hands, wrists and butt. Carpel tunnel syndrome. Impotence for males. Nerve impingement in the neck. Nerve trauma in the hands.
What are the differences between SWB & LWB?
Short wheel base (SWB) bikes are generally lighter, have more responsive steering, a higher crankset, may be a little better for climbing hills, and are easier to transport. Long wheel base (LWB) bikes give a little softer ride, allow a shorter reach to the ground, usually have lower cranks in relation to the seat, and have more forgiving steering.
What's best, under seat steering (USS) or over seat steering (OSS)?
OSS puts the rider in a more aerodynamic position, makes it easier to walk the bike and provides a better place to mount mirrors and computers. Some riders find USS to be a very comfortable position, but it’s difficult to implement effectively in a bicycle design, which is why many manufacturers don’t offer it as an option. The newly-refined open cockpit design (as found on Volae recumbents) offers the best of both worlds.
What about rear wheel sizing?
It is my opinion that a 24" wheel is the smallest that can be used as a rear wheel without making sacrifices in the areas of rolling efficiency, gear ratios and weight. 20" rear wheels are fine on around town and commuter bikes but we do not recommend them on bikes designed for touring and longer day rides. They require heavy and somewhat inefficient internal hubs or cross-drive systems to achieve appropriate gear ratios. Also, the 20" rear wheel, which typically carries at least 50% of the rider weight has less rolling efficiency than a 24", 26" or 700c.
Seat Height vs. Crank Height:
Examine how the crank height compares to the seat height on the recumbents you are considering. If the crank height is about the same as the seat height you will be in a more powerful and aerodynamic riding position. On the other hand, the lower crank height found on many LWB recumbents may make the bike easier for some riders to get used to and works better if you plan to ride without clipless pedals and shoes.
How do recumbent tandems compare to upright tandems?
Recumbent tandems are awesomely comfortable and great performers as well. Superior aerodynamics plus good uphill performance means you won’t be sacrificing speed to get all that comfort. Recumbent tandems are making enormous inroads into the tandem world. We have been at tandem events where as many as 25% of the tandems were recumbents. Good recumbent tandems and good upright tandems are about the same price, and after many years on recumbent tandems we can’t think of any reason that we would want an upright tandem.
How can I relieve the "sleeping feet syndrome" I sometimes get when riding my recumbent?
Make sure your shoe soles are as stiff as possible. Make sure your shoes are not too tight in the ball of the foot. Try lacing them a little looser. More supportive insoles can make a huge difference. Offerings from companies like Sole are very affordable alternatives to custom insoles. Shift down to a lower gear and work on "spinning" more. During the spinning stroke you should actually be pulling down and backwards for a short time. This helps me when my right foot occasionally starts to burn and fall asleep.