Frequently Asked Questions about Recumbent
Q. What do you call that bike?
A. 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
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 design for
Recumbent Bikes and Trikes look comfortable, are they?
A. 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?)
Q. What physical problems can be
helped by recumbents?
A. Some common physical problems that encourage people to purchase a
Butt & crotch pain or numbness.
Wrist & hand problems i.e. pain, nerve trauma, Carpal tunnel
Neck, shoulder & and back pain & pinched nerves.
Male impotence and/or prostate enlargement (relatively rare.)
recumbent bikes difficult to ride?
A. 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!
Q. Do they climb well?
A. 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.
Q. Are they faster?
A. 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.
Q. Are recumbents easily seen by
automobile drivers on the road?
A. 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.
Are they safe?
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
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
Q. How do you steer it?
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
Q. Are recumbents a recent
A. 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.
Q. Is their much variety among
A. 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!)
Q. I'm still slow! How long till
my speed is back?
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.
Q. Tiller Steering?
A. 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 wont produce numb hands
or crotch" -
- Dr. David Smith, MD, Bicycling