Recumbent Bike | Recumbent Cycles History
We tend to think of recumbents as a "new" type of
bike, but as Solomon observed "there is no new thing
under the sun." The recumbent has been around, in
one form or another, since before the turn of the
20th century. These pictures show that many features of
"modern" recumbent design have been around quite a
"The Horizontal Bicyclette normale" -
M. Challand, picture from "La Nature"
Exhibited in Geneva this innovative bike had
horizontal pedaling to allow greater thrust on the
pedals. The lower seat allowed easier mounting and
improved stability. Commonly called the “Challand
recumbent” nowadays, it never became popular, maybe
because it weighed about three times as much as its
"THE LATEST IN CYCLES" (text from 1905) "A novel
bicycle has been built in London which has been
pronounced "as comfortable as a rocking chair" and
which shows remarkable mechanical ingenuity. This
new machine is fitted with an anti-vibrating easy
chair-like saddle which affords wonderful relief to
a tired back and which proves a luxury when coasting
down long hills. The ladies' machines are meeting
with particular favor. They are of exactly the same
construction as are the machines built for the men.
The illustration gives some idea of the comfort
found in these new bicycles. Besides the chair like
saddle, the machine has another improvement. Note
the position of the handlebars. They are almost
directly under the saddle. It is this arrangement
that enables the woman to ride the diamond frame
with ease. The steering gear is under perfect
controle and it will be seen that a smaller circle
can be described on this machine than on any other.
The first machine of this make was built by P.W.
Bartlett, of Richmond, England, for a Java resident.
He was so pleased that he has now placed an order
for twelve more of the same construction. The weight
is somewhat greater than that of the light-weight
racing machines, but as these bicycles are built for
comfort and not alone for speed this is no
detriment. The cost is the same as of any other high
This bike is the first USS (Under Seat Steering)
recumbent I know of. It may also be the first
production recumbent, the customer ordered 12 more.
Notice the rod steering linkage, still popular on
USS recumbents. Notice also that the reviewer found
it not only comfortable but also easy to control.
You can see that using a 26" rear wheel on a CLWB
(Compact Long Wheel-Base) bike raises the seat
considerably. I wonder why the woman's model was
more popular. Can you imagine how they got on and
off with the long skirt of the day?
Here is another iteration of the "Recumbents are
slow" error that pops up several times over the
years. It seems that it was assumed that a comfy
bike could not be fast, I've gotten similar comments
form traditional road bike riders as I past them. As
much was stated in 1919, see below. Check out the
1933 Velo car info which should have pretty much put
that line of reasoning to rest. To bad it didn't.
Doesn't this SWB recumbent look remarkably modern?
But then you probably would not notice if your
typical 1890 upright bike passed you on the street.
This recumbent picture is dated 1914.
"Armstoel-fiets" is Dutch for "Armchair Bike." Its
derailleur is similar to a 1932 Benelux 3-speed
derailleur I have on a French woman's bike (wedgie.)
"The easy-chair bicycle is obviously built for
comfort and not for speed”
"It has remained for a French mechanic to design a
bicycle which is really comfortable. Indeed, while
the conventional bicycle has been made in much the
same manner for years, motorcycle manufacturers did
not take long to provide their cars with special
backs for the seats, so as to reduce fatigue and
increase comfort. Now there comes this bicycle which
reminds one of an easy chair. The easy chair bicycle
is provided with a steering wheel and horn,
following French automobile practice. Judging from
the reclining posture of the rider this bicycle is
designed for comfort rather than speed."
The "experts" of the day made the same mistake
many people do today. They assumed that because a
recumbent looks comfortable it must be slow. Fifteen
years later, in 1934, it would be outlawed from
racing by the UCI (though it doesn’t look like this
gentleman would care.) That seat looks pretty
comfortable, don't you think? In 1919 it was noted
that "the conventional bicycle has been made in much
the same manner for years." After another 80 years
of refinements conventional bikes still haven't
changed much, have they? Should we blame it all on
the UCI who kept recumbents from public view by
banning them from their races? The more things
change, the more they remain the same!
This 1921 recumbent, labeled "J-fiets"
(translated J-Bike) has treadle drive. (Did anyone
really think "Alenax" was the first treadle bike?)
Again, notice the high seat height when a CLWB bike
has a 700c. rear wheel
In 1933 Francis Faure, a Frenchman, rode a recumbent
28 miles (45 km) in an hour, a new record. In 1934
the UCI (Union Cyclist International) outlawed
recumbent bicycles, and has not relented to this
day. In 1938 Francois Faure rode the recumbent
streamliner "velocar" 50.5 km/hour, another new
record. Francesco Moser surpassed this mark on a
wedgie. Moser rode 51.1 km/hour, but not till 1984,
46 years later!
The Velocar's first race. From left: Plassat,
Lemoine, Faure 1933
The most prestigious record was distance in one hour
which stood at 44.247 km. Oscar Egg, held the hour
record at that time, which made his name a household
word in France.
Along came the self-taught engineer, Charles Mochet.
Charles had invented a four wheel pedal car that was
gaining popularity It occurred to him that it would
be lighter and faster with only two wheels. There is
no evidence that he knew of the previous recumbent
bikes, but he may have. He seems to have developed
his two wheel design from the four wheeled pedal
cars he manufactured. Named "Velocar" after his
popular four wheel vehicle, his recumbent bike was
ready to race in 1933. Mochet interested Francis
Faure a French 43 year old "second rate racer" in
the bike. Faure hoped to set a new hour record on
In 1933, Francois Faure, a Frenchman, rode a
recumbent 49.99 km in an hour, a new record. The day
of Faure's hour attempt the other racers jeered at
him and his bike. Stand up and pedal like a man they
joked, lying down will make you sleepy. Their
laughter died as he out paced two professional
riders. Faure went on to beat the world hour record,
going 45.055 km in one hour. In 1934 the UCI (Union
Cyclist International) ruled that the Velocar was
not a bicycle and could not be raced in UCI events
of for UCI records.
Faure's record was relegated to a foot note
in cycling history with the stroke of their
bureaucratic pen. The recumbent was faster, and they
didn't want to have to compete with it. They have
not relented to this day.
In 1938 Marcel Berthet rode a streamlined velocar
50.5 km/hour, another new record. Francesco Moser
surpassed this mark on a wedgie. Moser rode 51.1
km/hour, but not till 1984, 46 years later!
Without the UCI's endorsement to race or have the
record, Mochet's recumbent never had a chance to
become a mainstream item. That is why recumbents
have not been mass-produced until now. Who knows, if
the UCI hadn't banned recumbents from racing you
could have been riding a recumbent years ago.
The rest of this page is pretty jumbles, sorry. I
would like to work on it more (especially USA
recumbent history!) but that will probably wait till
I include this prone-recumbent (if that isn't an oxymoron) lest we think that horizontal means comfortable. I wouldn't look forward to a century ride on this one. How well could you breathe on climbs? It does however have the advantage of a short chain line!
Windshield for cyclists with the aid of which Berthet has beaten some indoor records.
There is a wedgie in that fairing. Berthet saw the advantage of aerodynamics long before he raced recumbents. The UCI wouldn't allow either.
These are modern racing recumbents with fairings. They are all record holders. They show that aerodynamics is still the name of the game for top speeds.
Some other images of intriguing bikes of the past...
"I've become convinced that the recumbent is the
bike of the future. It is comfortable to ride for
long periods, and it wont produce numb hands or
crotch" ~ Dr. David Smith, MD, Bicycling Magazine.