We’re all familiar with the traditional, upright style, bicycle. If you’re an avid cycler or considering getting into cycling, then you may also be familiar with recumbent bikes. If you’re not, or you’re still deciding if a recumbent bike is your best option, this guide is for you! We’ll dive into all the details of recumbent bikes, including their benefits and drawbacks and how they compare to upright bikes.
If you’re not familiar with them, recumbent bikes may look a little funny. You may have seen them out and about—their riders look like they’re almost laying down. Recumbent bikes are designed so that the rider is in a leaned back sitting position with their legs stretched out in front of them. This results in the rider’s weight being distributed over a larger area to reduce discomfort.
Many riders of recumbent bikes share that they feel less pressure on their sit bones, arms, wrists, and knees. Due to their more ergonomic design, recumbent bikes are particularly popular among seniors, people with disabilities, and people who are overweight.
Because they’re less traditional, recumbent bikes aren’t currently mass produced like upright bikes. This makes them more expensive and more difficult to find. Today, there’s a small, growing community of recumbent bike enthusiasts.
The most obvious benefit of recumbent bikes is their ergonomic design, which results in less discomfort than a traditional, upright bike. The lower center of gravity provides more stability and makes any falls a lot less severe. However, the height can cause safety issues on roads and high traffic areas. The higher cost also makes recumbent bikes less accessible to a wide population. Take a look at a full list of the pros and cons of recumbent bikes:
You know the pros and cons, but how does a recumbent bike stack up against a traditional (aka upright) bike? Understanding the key differences in design, cost, and safety will help you choose the right bike for your preferred cycling experience.
The design is easily the most obvious difference between recumbent and upright bikes. Upright bikes generally come with a small, heart-shaped seat that many people—especially new riders—find uncomfortable. Of course, there are more comfortable seat options available. Some come with extra padding and others even provide back support. Recumbent bikes, on the other hand, have a large seat with ample back support and a reclined position that results in less pressure on your back, sit bones, and knees.
The handlebar placement is also different between upright bikes and recumbent bikes. Recumbent bike handlebars are often on the side or above the lap. Upright bike handlebars are generally below your shoulders, and some riders experience discomfort in their arms and hands during long bike rides due to putting their weight forward.
One of the biggest drawbacks of a recumbent bike is the price. Because they’re not as common, they’re not as widely produced as upright bikes, and are therefore more expensive. With a growing community of recumbent bike enthusiasts, hopefully the price of these bikes will decrease to make them more accessible.
When it comes to safety, recumbent bikes and upright bikes have their own pros and cons—and neither is perfect. As a result, no matter which type of bike you choose, you should always wear a helmet and reflective gear and be mindful of your surroundings.
The lower level of gravity you get with recumbent bikes means there’s less chance of toppling over. If you do happen to crash, you won’t be thrown over the handlebars, and your feet will actually hit first. If you fall, the odds are it’s more of a tumble at that height.
Sitting lower isn’t ideal for high-traffic areas though, especially where there are cars that may not see you at all. Generally speaking, if you’re doing more city biking, you may want to go with an upright bike that makes you more visible to drivers.
Cycling is a great way to get or stay active because it doesn’t require a ton of equipment and is a fairly low impact exercise. If you don’t yet have a bike or are in need of a new one, there are a lot of options for both upright and recumbent bikes on the market. If you’re having trouble deciding on which bike is best for you, the biking community is incredibly friendly and eager to help out.