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What Is A Recumbent Bike?

What Is A Recumbent Bike

Recumbent exercise bikes have been a feature of gym cardio rooms for some time. Lately, though, they have become a feature on our roads. These strange looking cycles have the rider sitting low to the ground and pedaling with their legs out in front of their body rather than under them.

So, what is a recumbent bike?

In this article, I’ll answer that, along with all your other recumbent bikes questions. I’ll lay out the pros and cons of riding a recumbent bike as well as providing some tips on how to get the most benefit from your recumbent bike workouts.

Recumbent Bike - What Is It?

A recumbent bike is a bicycle that puts the user in a recumbent position where their legs are horizontally positioned in front of the body. This differs from a standard bike where the legs are directly under the body.

As a result of the unique pedal position on recumbent bikes, the rider is much lower to the ground than on a conventional bike. The pedaling motion is also done in more of an elliptical manner than on an upright.

Recumbent bikes have a larger seat that is more supportive than on a conventional bike. Recumbent seats are often bucket style and feature a back support. This makes exercising on a recumbent bike a good option for people who have lower back problems. The comfortable seat also makes for a more comfortable ride, making it great for people who enjoy long sessions on the bike.

Recumbent bikes are often found in commercial gyms. Most gyms will have stationary recumbent bikes. On the road you will increasingly see a modification of the recumbent bike – the recumbent tricycle. As the name suggests, the tricycle has an extra wheel and is situated lower to the ground than a standard recumbent bike. The three wheeled version is a more bulky machine. However, it is also easier to maneuver than a two wheeled recumbent.

The low profile of recumbent bikes makes it easier for seniors and those with mobility problems to get on and off.

Go here for some great recumbent workouts.

What Is A Recumbent Bike Used For?

Recumbent bikes are a great choice for anyone who enjoys doing extended bicycle riding journeys outdoors. The more comfortable seating position on a recumbent bike makes it a far more pleasant experience than when you are on a standard road bike.

The lower position to the ground that you are in on a recumbent bike also allows you to get a better view of the sights along your journey.

Stationary recumbents are also used as fitness equipment for fat loss, cardio fitness and endurance training. Because they are far more comfortable to use than a conventional bike, recumbents are ideal for longer workouts. On conventional bicycles, more than thirty minutes will usually give you such a pain in the butt that you want to stop. You do not have that problem on a recumbent bike.

Most recumbent bikes are used by people who need extra lumbar support when doing their cardio. They are great for elderly people with limited mobility too, with their lower profile providing easier access.

Recumbent Bikes - The History Over The Years

Recumbent Bikes - The History

Even though recumbent bikes are a relatively new phenomenon on our streets, they have been around for a long time. They first appeared in the 1890s during the bicycle boom that swept the world. A range of different styles of low profile three wheeled bikes were patented during that decade.

In those early years, recumbent bikes were not nearly as popular as the upright version. Poorer sales led to a drop off in their production. However, they got a much needed shot in the arm in the 1930s when French inventor Charles Mochet began to produce them. Mochet was looking for an affordable replacement to the motor car as the great depression devastated the worldwide economy.

Mochet invented a four wheeled version of the recumbent road bike that he called the Velocar. The Velocar went through a number of refinements. One of them, designed to make turning corners easier, was a two wheeled bike that is the forerunner of the modern day recumbent.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that recumbent bikes were mass produced.

Looking for the best exercise bikes for at-home workouts? Click the link to find the best one.

Who Are Recumbent Bikes Suitable For?

Who Are Recumbent Bikes Suitable For

Recumbent bikes are suitable for people of all ages and fitness abilities. Because of their superior level of comfort and the extra support they provide, these bikes may be more suitable for both children and older riders than conventional bicycles.

Recumbent bikes are especially beneficial for the following groups of people:

  • The elderly

  • People who have lower back problems and knee pain

  • People who are recovering from injury

  • People who are looking to improve posture

  • Folks who want to ride for extended periods of time

  • People looking for a new challenge

  • People who want a better riding experience when riding in the outdoors for leisure purposes

Wondering what the difference between an exercise bike and a treadmill is? Read more here.

Who Are Recumbent Bikes Not Suitable For?

Great as they are, recumbent bikes are not for all people. Able bodied people who are after the most intense, calorie burning workout will be better off with an upright bike. The conventional bicycle position allows for a more intense, power driven riding experience than the horizontal profile on a recumbent bike.

Adventurous people who relish the thrill of off road cycling will not get what they want from a recumbent bike. Because recumbent bikes are usually significantly heavier than a conventional bicycle, people who are after a lightweight bike will be better off with an upright.

Recumbent bikes feel different to an upright. This takes some getting used to and may not suit people who are used to the traditional bike experience.

What Events Are Recumbent Bikes Used In?

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) is the governing body that oversees cycling events around the world. The UCI banned recumbent bikes from participation in their sanctioned event many decades ago. It was declared that recumbents were not real bikes and so did not qualify for competition.

Recumbent bikes, however, are allowed by the World Human Powered Vehicle Association (WHPVA). The WHPVA runs a large number of recumbent bike events and other speed races that allow recumbent bikes to participate.

Handcycle recumbent bikes are permitted in the Paralympics for use by athletes with qualifying disabilities.

Pros Of Using Recumbent Bikes

These are some of the advantages of riding recumbent bikes.

Pros Of Using Recumbent Bikes


The major advantage of using recumbent bikes is the greater level of comfort that it provides. The upper body is fully supported when you sit on a recumbent bike. That takes a lot of stress off your spine in the upright position.

The lower positioning of recumbent bikes provides a more pleasant riding experience. Recumbent riders are able to get a much better view of their surroundings.

Less Strain On Joints

The horizontal pedaling position that your lower body is in on recumbent bikes provides less strain on your joints. The hip, knee and ankle action is more natural, allowing for a smoother action. This is a big factor for seniors, many of whom have developed weak joints, often with such aggravating conditions as arthritis and osteoporosis.

Easier For Beginners

Recumbent bikes are easier to get on and off than a traditional bike. The greater level of support, easy pedaling action and low profile makes this a great option for beginner exercisers.

Safe Option For Those With Injuries

If you are working out with an injury, recumbent bikes are a smart option. As well as all the extra lumbar support you will get, the lower profile means that you are much safer. If you do happen to lose your balance and fall, recumbent riders only have a few inches fall instead of several feet!


Those people with balance issues will find it much easier to maintain their balance and stability while training on a recumbent bike than an upright. The lower profile and wider seat contribute to a greater level of stability.

Better Option For Seniors And Obese

Obese people and the elderly will find recumbent bikes to be a much safer, more user friendly option than a traditional bike. As previously mentioned, the recumbent has easier on/off access, is safer on the joints and allows for a more comfortable overall experience.

Efficient Lower Body Workout

When you ride on recumbent bikes, you will be working your lower body muscles slightly differently than when you ride in an upright manner. You are able to get a fuller range of motion to fully extend the quads and hamstrings. Recumbent pedaling is also more focused on the glutes and hamstrings than upright cycling.

Increases Cardiovascular Fitness

Your average calorie burn power minute isn’t quite as high on a recumbent as on an upright bike. This is offset by the fact that riding on a recumbent is more comfortable, leading to longer sessions on recumbent bikes. As a result, most recumbent workouts end up burning more calories than traditional bike workouts.  

Cons Of Using Recumbent Bikes

There are a few negatives regarding riding a recumbent bike, especially when you take it out on the road.

Poor Visibility

The low to the ground body positioning makes it harder to see other vehicles around you. It also makes it harder for drivers of cars to see you. For that reason, we strongly recommend that you place a triangular orange flag on a raised pedestal.

Hard To Go Uphill

It is harder for recumbent riders to pedal uphill on recumbent bikes than it is on an upright bike. That is because you are unable to move your weight forward in order to provide leverage. So, if you are planning to take a route that involves going up and down hills, you will struggle on recumbent bikes. Furthermore, taking too many steep hills on a recumbent bike could lead to overexertion injury.


Recumbent bikes are usually more expensive than a traditional bike. Because they are nowhere near as popular as uprights, you may also find it a challenge to find replacement parts.

Not As Calorie Efficient As Other Forms Of Cardio

You will not burn as many calories per minute as you do on standard bikes. That’s because it is slightly easier to pedal a recumbent than an upright.

The difference is not very much (around 0.5 calories per minute) but will add up. The counter to this is that many people work out for longer on a recumbent because it is more comfortable.

Recumbent Bikes & Environmental Impact Of Using Them

Recumbent Bikes & Environmental Impact

Recumbent bikes make for an environmentally friendly way to get from A to B. Using a recumbent as your mode of transport will significantly reduce your carbon footprint. People who are unable to use an upright bike will especially benefit from a recumbent bike as their mode of transport.

What Clothes Are Best When Riding A Recumbent Bike?

When riding recumbent bikes, you should wear the same type of clothing you would wear when riding  a standard bike. However, because of the reclined position when you are on a recumbent, your face, neck and shoulders may be more exposed to the sun. Recumbent riders are well advised, therefore, to wear sunglasses, visor and sunblock.

You should also wear a bicycle helmet when riding a recumbent bicycle.

What Accessories Are Recommended When Using A Recumbent Bike?

The most important accessory that you should attach to your recumbent bikes is a safety flag. This will make you more visible to other traffic on the road. The flag should be extended about six feet above the base of the bike so that drivers of cars will be able to clearly see it.

We also recommend that you affix a mirror to the bike to increase your visibility. Light mounts will also increase your visibility when natural light is low.

A bike rack will also make your recumbent bikes more user friendly.

Tips For Using A Recumbent Bike

Tips For Using A Recumbent Bike
  • Adjust your seat by sliding it forward or backward for ideal body positioning
  • Do some dynamic stretching before going on the bike
  • Maintain an upright position (don’t lean forward)
  • Be sure that your bike has a prominent flag
  • Stay well within the cycle lane

Frequently Asked Questions

The main difference between an exercise bike and a recumbent bike is that recumbent bicycles have the pedals out in front of the body rather than under it. Recumbent bikes also have a much lower to the ground profile and a larger, more comfortable seat. Recumbent bicycles may also have three wheels. They are more balanced and easier to use than standard bikes.

Yes, recumbent bicycles are good for cellulite. It will burn a significant number of calories to help you to get rid of the cellulite that is sitting around your butt, hips and thigh muscles. Working out on a recumbent bike works slightly different muscles, targeting your glutes, hamstrings and inner thighs where cellulite often accumulates.

Yes, recumbent bicycles are good for the knees. Exercising on recumbent bikes is an example of a closed chain exercise. That means that the feet do not lose contact with the foot pedals so there is less strain on the knees. The horizontal leg motion on a recumbent bike is also more knee-friendly than when pedaling on conventional bikes.

Recumbent bikes are not very popular for a number of reasons. Their low profile to the ground makes them questionable in terms of road safety. People who are used to riding in an upright position also may view the recumbent riding position as unnatural and uncomfortable.

Serious bike riders choosing between a recumbent and upright, may also not view a recumbent as a “real bike”. There is also the difficulty of riding uphill, which may put some potential buyers off.


What is a recumbent bike?

Recumbent bikes provide you with a user-friendly, back-protecting way to cycle. Its enhanced level of comfort, greater lower body focus and improved biomechanics make it a good option for many people. Recumbents are especially beneficial for seniors and other people with mobility and lower back problems.