Recumbent  vs.  Upright



Which to choose...
a standard upright bike (what we're all familiar with) or one of those funny looking bikes with the comfortable seats?  What are the advantages and disadvantages?  Let's take a look.

Let me start by asking a question:  When your body is telling you that you've ridden far enough for the day, is it your leg muscles that give out first, or something else?  With me, it was because my hands were tingling, my arms were tired, my neck and shoulders hurt, and my rear end was sore from sitting on something that is euphemistically called a seat!  On a recumbent bike, all those issues go away!!!  The only factor is the condition of your leg muscles.  As a result, I can ride much farther in a day on a recumbent bike because of the comfort level.  After a 70 mile ride, the only parts of my body that are tired are my legs.  I would never be able to say that about an upright bike!  I can ride several times farther on a recumbent, because it is less taxing on my entire body.  I have heard the story many times; someone who has been an upright cyclist for many years is faced with having to set their bike aside because of a health problem.  They reluctantly make the move to a recumbent as a "last ditch" effort to keep riding.  After a short time their response is something like:  "This is fantastic, why didn't I switch years ago?"  (Regarding comfort, check out the "Ferrari vs. Towncar" page)

I am always asked if recumbents are hard to ride.  They are not easier or harder, just different.  I guess two analogies come to mind as I think of both my first experience, and watching that of others.  It resembles either a little kid wobbling down the street with dad running along behind, or a drunken sailor trying to ride a bike back to his ship!  Your center of gravity is totally different on a recumbent, so it just takes time to get your brain "rewired" in how to keep your balance.  Eventually it becomes just as natural as what you are used to on an upright.

  Some people think recumbents are slow. 
This probably comes from two things, the relaxed look to the design, and that fact that they can tend to be a bit slower on hills.  On an upright bike you have the option of standing on the pedals as you climb a hill for extra power.  Obviously that is not possible on an recumbent because of their design.  However, when I rode an upright, I rarely stood on hills.  I would gear down and stay seated, that's just the way I liked to ride.  If you compared riding on an upright without standing, to climbing the same hill on a recumbent, I don't think there would be that much difference.  So how do they compare overall?  Upright bikes do have an advantage going up hill.  But recumbents are faster downhill and on flat ground.  So, the bottom line is that if you have equally trained athletes, one on an upright and one on a recumbent, the rider on the recumbent will have the advantage.  As far as overall speed is concerned, nearly all bicycle speed records are held by recumbents!  The maximum speed record on a flat track is 82 mph!  Even more amazing the most miles traveled in one hour (also on a flat track) is 54 miles! 
So why don't you see recumbents in most bike races?  Both the U.S. and international biking associations won't let them race.  They say they have "an unfair aerodynamic advantage."  In other words, they beat and embarrass the uprights!  I don't think things are likely to change since much of the sponsorship money for the races comes from the manufacturers of upright bikes.  In a 2003 interview, Lance Armstrong was asked about recumbent bikes,  He said: "If it were legal, we would have tried it by now... aerodynamically, it's far superior." 

The Race Across America
Recumbents are allowed in this race.  The route is over 3000 miles, touching 14 states and climbing over 100,000 feet.  Teams have a relay format and race 24 hours a day. Solo racers have the challenge of balancing a few hours of sleep each night against race deadlines.  This truly is a race. Unlike other famous races, like the Tour de France, RAAM is not a stage race, once the clock starts on the west coast, the clock doesn't stop until each racer reaches the finish line on the east coast. RAAM is 30% longer than the Tour de France and solo racers finish in half the time with no rest days. 

In June of 2009, the 4 man team event was won by a recumbent team riding RANS bikes!  That is the same company that makes our tandem.  So much for the notion that recumbents are inherently slow!  As you can see from the banner, they completed the route in 6 days, 3 hours and 40 minutes!


Just for fun, let's talk about nick-names.  The word recumbent  is often shortened to "bent."  Those in the recumbent community sometime refer to an upright bike as a "wedgie" (for obvious reasons)!

My conclusion:  I am a major convert to recumbent bikes.  I can go much father with more comfort on a recumbent, therefore I can have a lot more fun on my rides than I could on a "wedgie."

Here's a good "FAQ" page on recumbents:


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