The Rise Of The Recumbent Road Bike: How To Choose The Right One For You

Recumbent bikes are pretty different from what most people regard as bicycles, but they have actually been around for a long time. These unusual contraptions originated in the 1800s and are making a comeback with more people buying them.

You may have seen someone ride a recumbent road bike and wondered why the rider doesn’t just ride a regular bike. Apart from standing out from the crowd, an outdoor recumbent bike has a few benefits that may tempt you to the laid-back cycling style.

In this article, we’ll be covering:

  • What Is A Recumbent Road Bike?
  • 4 Key Differences Between A Regular Bike and a Recumbent Bike
  • The 5 Different Types Of Recumbent Bikes
  • Why Ride A Recumbent Road Bike?
  • How To Choose A Recumbent Road Bike: 4 Vital Considerations

Let’s get into the details of recumbent bikes!

Rise of the Recumbent Road Bike: Title Image

What Is A Recumbent Road Bike?

A recumbent road bike sees the rider sit in a reclined position. Their pedals are out in front of the rider, putting them in an almost horizontal position as they ride.

You can buy a recumbent road bike with either two or three wheels. The three-wheeled versions are more popular, as they provide lots of stability and more comfort than their two-wheeled counterparts.

4 Key Differences Between A Regular Bike and a Recumbent Bike

When you compare a recumbent road bike to a regular bike, other than the riding position, you will notice some key differences. Many of these stem from the fact that the riding position significantly changes your riding style.

#1. They’re Super Fast

Although an outdoor recumbent bike may look cumbersome, they are, in fact, speed machines. You’ll be able to ride a recumbent bike faster than pretty much any road bike you can buy.

Recumbent bikes are so fast partly due to their excellent aerodynamics. The riding position allows you to cut through the air much better than a traditional bike, as you have a smaller front profile as you ride. The reduced drag also improves efficiency, allowing you to ride for longer before getting tired.

#2. Recumbent Road Bikes Are Incredibly Comfortable

Compared to a regular bike, a recumbent road bike is unrivaled when it comes to comfort.

The comfort comes from the ergonomic seating position, as your weight is distributed over a larger area. In addition to this, there is no stress on your arms and hands, and the wide cushioned seat supports your back, neck, and behind.

#3. They’re Very Safe To Ride

Recumbent road bikes are extremely safe to ride, especially the three-wheeled models, as you stand less chance of tipping over. On the rare occasion you might fall, you are closer to the ground, so your chance of injury is much lower than on a regular bike.

Also, as your feet are stretched out in front of you, they will take most of the impact rather than your head in a crash. And as an extra bonus, it’s impossible to go over the bars!

#4. Accessible To More People

The design of a recumbent road bike allows people of all abilities to enjoy cycling. For example, handcycles and other adaptive bicycles are regarded as recumbent road bikes. They enable people with mobility issues to get out and exercise.

The Rise Of The Recumbent Road Bike: How To Choose The Right One For You 1
Credit / License: ‘Off for a ride‘ by inger maaike is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The 5 Different Types Of Recumbent Bikes

Not all recumbent road bikes are the same. Aside from the two and three-wheeled versions, there are some differences you should know about if you are thinking about before converting away from your traditional bike.

#1. Tadpole Trikes

Tadpole trikes have one wheel at the back and two at the front. These recumbent bikes are low to the ground and have lightweight frames.

These models are fast in a straight line, but they are tricky to maneuver in small spaces.

#2. Delta Trikes

Delta trikes have the opposite wheel configuration of tadpole trikes. They have two wheels at the back and one at the front.

These are the most common types of the recumbent road bike. You will notice that the seating position is higher, so getting in and out of them is more manageable, and their excellent handling makes them very maneuverable.

#3. Racing Recumbent Bikes

Racing models are built for speed with their lightweight frames. They take everything to the next level in terms of high-end components, aerodynamics, and weight saving measures.

#4. Recreational Recumbent Bikes

Recreational models are for people that don’t want anything too serious and enjoy casual riding. These recumbent bikes are a pleasure to ride, as they benefit from lots of stability and comfort.

#5. Tandem Trikes

Tandem trikes are ideal for enjoying cycling with a friend or partner. They have two seats and two sets of pedals so that both riders can share the pedaling. Alternatively, one person can pedal while the other takes a rest.

Tandem recumbent road bike owners often use their bikes to take their kids with them or someone with different fitness levels and abilities.

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Credit / License: ‘Erie PA recumbent bicycle‘ by Ted Van Pelt is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

How To Choose A Recumbent Road Bike: 4 Vital Considerations

As we’ve highlighted, you can buy an outdoor recumbent bike in various styles. But how do you choose the right one for you?

As with buying any bike, you will notice that there will always be a compromise, so you have to focus on the characteristics that are most important to you before you buy.

Here are the 4 things you need to consider:

#1. Budget

Unfortunately, most of us are restricted by our budget, and recumbent bikes are typically more expensive than regular bikes. Their extra price stems from the fact that they are considered a niche product, as they are not yet produced in large numbers.

Another factor contributing to their price is that the comfortable seat is akin to a high-end office chair, which is never cheap!

At the lower end of the market, you can find recumbent bikes for around $500. However, as with anything, you get what you pay for, so don’t expect a lightweight speed machine. These cheaper models tend to be heavy but easy to ride.

If you want to spend a little more, you can buy a mid-range recumbent road bike for $1,000, suitable for casual riders who don’t want anything too fancy.

A high-end recumbent road bike can set you back up to $7,000. These bikes are high-quality and lightweight. You can expect suspension, carbon fiber, and plenty of pace at this price point!

#2. Your Height And Weight

Recumbent bikes are built to suit a specific height range for the rider. Shorter riders need a lower seat height and will benefit from a smaller front wheel.

Taller riders can get by on pretty much any style of recumbent road bike. But larger riders, and those with circulatory issues in their legs, should avoid short wheelbase (SWB) bikes, opting for a long-wheelbase (LWB) bike with a low bottom bracket height instead.

Riders who don’t suffer from these issues or prefer a sportier ride may prefer a SWB recumbent bike.

If you have circularity problems in your arms, a recumbent road bike with under-seat steering would be a great choice. But bear in mind, a recumbent with above-seat steering is faster due to improved aerodynamics.

#3. How You Like To Ride

Like regular bikes, you can buy a recumbent road bike with different characteristics to suit your riding style. For example, some have a design focused on performance.

High-performance recumbent bikes are still pretty comfortable, but they come at a higher price. Models priced around $1,000 typically strike a good balance between price and performance.

However, if you want to ride fast on quiet roads, a recumbent racing bike is a good option. These models are aerodynamic and have a high top speed.

But if you ride on busy roads and often have to climb hills, a recumbent road bike designed as an all-rounder would be a better choice. You’ll benefit from its efficient drivetrain and the increased visibility from its higher riding position.

When you look at the various models available, look at the height of their bottom brackets. A recumbent road bike with a high bottom bracket and a more laid back riding position needs more skill to ride.

On the contrary, a recumbent road bike with an upright riding position and a lower bottom bracket is much easier to ride.

#4. Consider Your Fitness Level

Your fitness level is a significant factor in which recumbent road bike you buy. If you only ride occasionally and keep it casual, don’t buy an expensive recumbent bike. Models under $1,000 are comfortable and easy to ride; however, you won’t be breaking any speed records.

The more you ride, the more you can justify paying the extra for higher-end models. If you buy an expensive recumbent road bike for occasional use, you may be disappointed in how fast you can ride. It would be best if you had the fitness to match the style of recumbent you buy.

If you have a good fitness level and already ride a road bike, it won’t take long for you to match or exceed how fast you can ride your road bike on a recumbent. However, it will take a few months for your muscles to get used to performing in the new riding position.

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Now You Know All About The Recumbent Road Bike

So a recumbent road bike is faster and more comfortable than a traditional bike. The chief downside is that they are more expensive – and you’ll need to get used to drawing attention to yourself every time you ride!

However, these quirky but speedy machines offer lots of fun. So much so, owners have coined the phrase “recumbent grin” to describe the faces of those who have adopted them over traditional bikes.

The happy face comes from how entertaining recumbent bikes are to ride, their comfort, and how they satisfyingly glide around corners!

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One of BikeTips' regular content creators, Tom lives in the French Alps. When he isn't writing, he can be found charging downhill on a mountain bike or snowboard. Tom's other passion is fitness, which goes a long way to help him make the most of the Alpine lifestyle.

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