Why ride a recumbent bicycle?

Neptune almost riding a recumbent bike at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York.
Neptune almost riding a recumbent bike at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York.

There’s a reason for that big smile.

Short wheelbase recumbent bikes work well in urban biking environments. HP Velotechnik and Cruzbike recumbent bikes, for example, are built higher off the ground than some other brands of recumbents, so drivers can see you and you can easily see them. You also get a great view of the world as well as of road hazards up ahead.

Recumbents are particularly good for riders who find “upright” bicycles uncomfortable, a pain-in-the-neck, a pain-in-the-back, a pain “down there,” a pain in the hands and wrists, needlessly tiring and less than perfectly dignified. Kids love them, as does everyone who recognizes a good thing in life.

More comfortable.

People usually find recumbent bikes more comfortable than “upright” or “diamond-frame” bikes. Your body weight is supported by your entire rear-end and back, instead of on your wrists and sit-bones. Your head, neck and spine are in a relaxed position which removes back and neck stress. Also, since you don’t put body weight on your hands, there is no arm, wrist or hand pressure.

Better for American-sized commuting distances.

I find it easier to maintain speed on a recumbent, both due to the comfort factor as well as the fact that a recumbent bike rider is more aerodynamic than on a diamond frame bike which is designed with a similarly upright sitting position. I also find it easier to cover a fair distance without noticing the effort or breaking into a sweat. In short, a recumbent bike gets you there faster and with your dignity in tact.

For New York City commutes, where 6-20 miles roundtrip is common, it’s easier if you have a bike built for the distance and the job. Besides, recumbent seats generally don’t put wear marks on your work clothes.

Safer.

I, personally,¬†can see better, can stop faster, have better eye contact with drivers and I especially love the fact I’m not riding head first down a road of potholes and unexpectedly opening car doors So, I say yes, unequivocally.

If you’ve ridden a bike on New York City¬†streets — or anywhere, for that matter — you may readily agree that safety is a primary concern. Safety is arguably a combination of a cyclist’s habits, road conditions and terrain, weather, bicycle quality, and how a cyclist interacts with other street users, like motorists and pedestrians. Many riders feel recumbent bikes have an edge on safety for three reasons: riding position, center of gravity and line of sight. The SWB recumbents we carry — such as the HP Velotechnik Street Machine or Cruzbike Silvio — are high-sitting (but with a low center of gravity). Your eye level is around the same as the eye level of the driver of a sedan and slightly below the eyes of an SUV driver; on these recumbents, you can see and be seen. (The Scorpion fs tadpole trike positions the rider about 10″ lower, with an eye level nearly equal to that of a driver of a Corvette.)

On a recumbent bike, the riding position is feet-first, not head-first as on a diamond frame bike. And let’s be frank here. In a front-end collision (like from a dooring or a vehicle turning into your path), your feet are nearest the obstacle and your head is furthest away, dramatically lowering the possibility for a life-threatening injury. Statistics show that most serious bicycle accidents are from front-end collisions, so this is a vital difference. (Sorry to be morbid here, but I am not one to hide my head in the sand.)

With the low center of gravity of a recumbent bicycle, you can aggressively apply your front brake without flipping the bike over the front wheel (unlike on a diamond frame bike). You’ll find that the tires skid before the bike is anywhere near a flip, similar to braking quickly in a car. (In fact, a common recumbent “contest” is to see how quickly various recumbent bikes can brake to a full stop.)

A better view.

On a recumbent bicycle, with your head upright, you see better and you look more dignified. Speaking generally, you see road hazards sooner than on an upright bike, because you are riding head-up, not head down. You have better eye-contact with car drivers. And recumbent bikes are unusual and cool-looking, so they encourage long looks and caution (which is a good thing).

It also seems that cars give me more respect and object less when I take the lane with a recumbent bike. Could it be that I look more serious on a recumbent? Or because my rear end isn’t in their faces? Maybe a bit — or a lot — of both.

A cyclist on a recumbent bike in the Harlem Valley, enjoying a sunny fall day in Dutchess and Columbia counties.
A cyclist on a recumbent bike in the Harlem Valley, enjoying a sunny fall day in Dutchess and Columbia counties.