The Bike Rack

Recumbent FAQ

Recumbent FAQ



Q. What IS that thing ?!?

A. Well, it's called a 'recumbent' bicycle. The word recumbent refers to the seated position; many enthusiasts have also taken to calling them 'bents'. They usually have two wheels although some have three. They are most often powered by pedaling with your legs, but some bents are hand powered, some are both hand and foot powered.

Q. Are they comfortable?

A. They are very comfortable. Recumbents seats are larger and you actually sit in the seat. You aren't perched on top of a narrow saddle which can tend to cause numbness and chafing. The handlebars are either above the seat at shoulder level, or below the seat at a position where your arms hang down naturally. This combination creates a comfortable ride making long distance riding free from neck strain, saddle sores, and wrist pain.

Q. Are they difficult to ride?

A. No. It may take you a little time to get used to the feel and handling of the bike. There are variations in handling just as there are in uprights- some are fast, twitchy racing models and others are smooth, stable touring models. Be forewarned though, recumbents use different muscles, so even if you are a very fit upright rider, you will experience difficulty climbing hills until you develop the new muscle groups.

Q. Do they "do" hills?

A. Yes, they do "do" hills. Some people think that because you can't stand on the pedals, that you can't ride up hills. Recumbents do tend to be slower going up hills, but as long as you keep pedaling the bike keeps moving. Depending on how steep a hill you're climbing, you may want a low granny gear ( and a good set of lungs), which will enable you to spin your way to the top. Usually you can keep up with some of the upright riders, and if any time was lost climbing, you will make up for it on the downhills and flat ground.

Q. Are they faster?

A. Well, this is very controversial. In the IHPVA sanctioned events, all the land speed records are held by recumbent or semi-recumbent designs. The real question you are asking is, will you be faster on a recumbent?

The answer is, "maybe". There are so many factors involved; how long you've been riding, how long you've trained on the recumbent, style and weight of the bike, topography - hilly, mountainous, flat.

Since the biggest factor limiting speed is aerodynamic drag, if you want to go really fast, use a recumbent with a well-designed fairing or a full body. In this case, the answer is YES, they are faster.

Q. Are recumbents hard to see?

A. Since recumbents are relatively uncommon, they are "noticed"; "visible" is another question. You do sit lower than on a traditional diamond frame bike. Depending on which recumbent you own, you may want to make yourself a little more visible. You can do that by adding a flag to your bike on an extended rod (Burley style), and also by wearing a bright helmet or jacket/vest. To be fair to car drivers, whose attention and concentration are on everything except their driving, I would recommend doing something to get their attention especially if you're riding on heavily used roads.

Q. How do you steer it?

A. Generally, recumbents have either 'above seat steering' (ASS), or 'under seat steering' (USS). On the above seat steering bents, the handlebars are located at about shoulder height giving them the "chopper" look. On the under seat steering bikes, they are located just beneath the seat. If you are sitting on a chair right now, let your hands hang loosely at your side; this is where your handlebars would be.

Above seat steering looks more conventional and is therefore sometimes favored by beginners; but USS bents are really no more difficult to control.

Q. I'm still slow! How long does it take before I'm up to speed?

A. Since it takes time to develop new leg muscles it will depend on how often and the amount of time you spend on your trusty steed. For me, it took about two weeks commuting on it 20 miles a day. For others it may take up to a month or it may take less than two weeks. It all depends on your physical fitness and the how hard you choose to ride. By all means... don't give up !!

Q. How much do they cost?

A. Recumbents start at around $350 and can go as high as you want to pay. Because of their low production volumes, a recumbent tends to be more expensive than a mass-produced upright bike. So when comparing prices, bear in mind you're buying a custom or very low production bike. Expect to pay $800 or more for a high quality bike. This price range will give you very good components, a good frame and less weight.

Q. What are the different styles of recumbents?

A. The most noticable difference between the different styles is the length of the bike. There are long wheel base (lwb), short wheel base (swb), and compact long wheel base bikes (clwb).

A long wheelbase bike (LWB) is 65" - 71". Their ride is quite smooth, comfortable, fast and stable but due to their length, low speed maneuverability can be a bit tricky on busy streets or on narrow paths.

A short wheelbase bike (SWB) is 33" - 45". Their front wheel is underneath or a little ahead of the riders knees, with the crankset mounted on a boom. They have quick handling, are easy to maneuver, and they are more compact, making it easier to transport and stow than a lwb.

  A compact long wheelbase bike (CLWB) is 46" - 64". These bikes are the easiest bikes to learn on. They are responsive, very stable, and with a higher seat- they are more visible, making great commuters.

Above was taken with permission from

The International Human Powered Vehicle Association

BIKE or TRIKE - Which should I buy?

One of the most interesting questions I get asked is "Should I buy a bike or a trike?" Many people coming to recumbents from riding upright bikes automatically think about a recumbent BIKE, and find riding a trike "strange". I started off building Short Wheel Base (SWB) recumbent bikes, but was not really happy with them, as they seemed to require more concentration to balance than an upright, and I worried about hitting something on the road and falling off. Then a cycle shop owner showed me a road test of a recumbent TRICYCLE in a UK magazine. This looked to me like a good idea, and having built 150mph road race side-cars, I was sure I could do better.

When I got my 1st trike on the road, I found it was a delight to be able to just concentrate on pedalling and not have to worry about keeping the thing upright! At 1st I just rode on bike paths, but eventually found them too limiting, and ventured onto the roads.

Here I found an extra bonus! Whereas before the cars had cut me fairly close as I wobbled along on the SWB, now that I could ride as straight as an arrow, they gave me much more room! And the big trucks were the best, always waiting for a full, clear, lane before overtaking - at last I felt safe cycling on the roads!

However as bikes seemed more popular overseas than trikes, I expected to sell more bikes than trikes, when I started building and selling Greenspeeds in 1991. So I offered the SWB bike 1st to people who visited my shop to buy a recumbent. I found that many people were most impressed with the SWB, but usually once they got a ride on the trike, they forgot about the SWB. Thus we have ended up building and selling more than ten times as many trikes as bikes, and now people coming here are often surprised to find there are two wheeled recumbents as well as three wheeled recumbents!

So why are the trikes so popular? What advantages do they have? For me it's mainly the stability. For some it's the FUN - like riding a GO-KART with pedals - no need to bank the machine over like a bike -just move the handle bars and you get an instant change of direction! No more worries about coming down riding over a dropped water bottle, or shoulder on the road - touch one wheel against a kerb and it rides up effortlessly. Want to go touring? No worries - load it up and it's still quite easy to ride. Have a balance problem and can't ride to two wheeler? - just get on a trike and ride straight off. And those traffic lights - no need to unclip, attempt a track stand, or find something to lean against - you are as steady as a rock, comfortable, all clipped in, and ready to GO with both feet! And when you get to the end of your trip, or just want a rest, no need to get off the machine - you already have a stable chair for a rest or meal.

Like to STOP quickly? Well with a Greenspeed trike you get TWO front brakes, and you will find you can stop as quick as a car. Need MORE speed? A trike allows you to use a fairing without worrying about being blown over in a wind.

On the other hand, all things being equal, (which they seldom are - e.g. seat angle, wheel size etc.) the bike will be faster due to lower weight and less aero drag, cost less, be easier to store and transport, and for some, gives that extra feeling of freedom, as it banks for one side to another.

Some people worry that a trike is so low you will be run over by the 1st truck which comes along. As far as I am concerned, low is safe - it means I am LESS likely to go under a truck because the lower the trike, the less likely it is to turn over and dump me on the road, where I could get run over. I believe I am also FAR safer than on a bike, where all you need is a patch of oil or sand/gravel to bring you down and you can go under someone's wheels. I feel MUCH safer on my trike in peak hour traffic than I do on a bike, where IMHO the height merely gives an illusion of safety.

Some say the trikes don't win races. At the 1996 national HPV Challenge in Canberra, Greenspeed trikes came 1st and 2nd overall (GS SWB 3rd) - you can go a bit faster when you are confident of not going down :-)

The only time I ride a SWB now is for demos and road testing - we've just build a new SWB prototype with a lower seat, and are still searching for a bike design that's as easy to ride as a trike - an impossible dream???

The Above was taken from GREENSPEED with permission.



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