What is a Recumbent Bike? Everything You Need to Know

Author: Kier

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You may have noticed the elderly ladies reading books or knitting while pedaling away on a comfortable bike at the gym.

That, my friends, is a recumbent bike; yes, it does count as exercise! In fact, training on a recumbent bicycle can increase your strength and endurance, as you won’t have to contend with the posterior discomfort associated with upright bikes.

three recumbent exercise bikes in a fitness studio room

What Is a Recumbent Bike?

A recumbent bike is mechanically similar to a conventional bike. However, it differs because the rider is recumbent when operating the machine. This reclined position is easier on the lower back muscles, so it is excellent for anyone with back problems or the elderly.

Recumbent bikes often come with comfortable, bucket-style seats and additional lumbar support, making them significantly more comfortable to ride than their upright counterparts.

When pedaling recumbent bicycles, riders have their legs positioned in front of their body in a horizontal position. This exercises a different group of muscles and results in a different pedaling motion from that of a vertical bike.

The pedaling action of a recumbent bicycle is reminiscent of an elliptical machine. The bike’s pedal position also means that the rider is much closer to the ground, which gives the bike better aerodynamics than a standard bike.

The road versions of these bicycles are often modified to be tricycles, as three wheels give them more stability and better maneuverability.

What Is a Recumbent Bike Used For?

A recumbent bike is used for cardiovascular exercise. It is a wonderful alternative to the upright bike for those with lower back pain or mobility issues and the elderly. They’re also great for long-distance cycling as they are much more comfortable than standard road bikes.

They also have the added advantage of better views than the average road bike. The lower position of the bike gives you a better vantage point to enjoy the views along your journey.

You’ll often find stationary recumbent bikes in the cardio section of a commercial gym. They’re great for longer workouts and are an accessible option for the elderly and those with mobility issues. They’re also a great way to get some exercise while catching up on some reading!

A lady exercising on a recumbent exercise bike

Top Benefits of Recumbent Bikes

If you ask any recumbent bike fan what their number one reason for using this style of bike is, they’re sure to say comfort.

Recumbent bikes come with wider seats and lower back support and are closer to the ground, making them more accessible. The more horizontal leg angle makes them a good option for cyclists with knee pain.

Some models also come with lumbar support. This makes the ride even more comfortable, especially when tackling long distances. These extra supports allow those with reduced physical ability to enjoy outdoor fitness activities that they would otherwise miss out on.

Another benefit of the recumbent bike is that it is closer to the ground, reducing fall risk. And, if you do fall, the injury risk is much lower due to the closer proximity to the ground. The reduced height of the bicycle also makes it much more accessible to those with reduced mobility.

A recumbent bike’s closeness to the ground results in its rider’s center of gravity being much lower. This means the cyclist will have better balance and stability, making for a safer cycling experience.

Another of the fun recumbent bike benefits is its speed. Their lower height means that they have better aerodynamics than conventional bikes. This, along with the decrease in wind resistance, improves their ability to reach high speeds.

Some recumbent bikes are specifically designed to reach higher-than-average speeds and are used by racing recumbent riders. These often are enclosed to improve performance. The speed record for bicycle riding was set in 2016 on a recumbent bike, with a speed of 89.85mph (144.17 km/h).

History of Recumbent Bikes

Recumbent bikes were first introduced into the cycling world during the bicycle boom of the 1890s. The first versions were 3-wheelers that sat low on the ground and were available in various styles.

At the time of their invention, they were not very popular. The public favored the traditional bike, and the recumbent bike fell to the wayside due to poor sales and low demand.

Their lack of popularity remained until the 1930s when a French inventor named Charles Mochet became interested in the design and began to produce them again. His interest in recumbent bikes resulted from his search for an alternative to the motorcar other than the traditional bike. A more affordable form of transport was needed due to the onset of the Great Depression.

During his experimentation, Mochet designed a version of the recumbent bike that had four wheels. He called this the Velocar. During its many refinements, a two-wheel version of the Velocar was developed. This is the predecessor to the modern-day recumbent bikes.

Recumbent bikes slowly increased in popularity until they began to be mass-produced in the 1970s. They remain a popular yet lesser-known alternative to the traditional bicycle today.

Who Should Use a Recumbent Bike?

The great thing about recumbent bikes is that they are very accessible. This makes it suitable for a wide range of people, varying in age and ability, to use them.

They have an excellent level of comfort and offer great support. This makes it possible for both children and the elderly to enjoy some cardio without much difficulty.

Due to their extra comfort, improved accessibility, and excellent back support, recumbent bicycles are great options for especially people who:

  • are elderly
  • have knee pain or injuries
  • have lower back problems
  • want to increase endurance
  • are recovering from injury
  • are looking for a comfortable ride when cycling outdoors for fun
A lady pedalling on a recumbent exercise bike

Why Use a Recumbent Exercise Bike?

While recumbent bikes can look like an easy way to relax at the gym, don’t be fooled! Recumbent bike workouts provide excellent cardiovascular exercise. They also help to improve endurance and strength.

Cardiovascular Fitness

A regular recumbent bike workout routine will give you a regular form of cardiovascular exercise that will positively impact your overall health.

Your heart health will improve with a lower heart rate and improved blood pressure, and you will also improve your lung function and capacity over time.

Cardiovascular exercise is known to help with stress relief and improve mood. This is due to the endorphins released in the brain during this type of exercise.

Regular workouts on a recumbent bicycle that raise your heart rate and cause you to sweat will positively impact your cardiovascular health and fitness.

Muscle Strength

Adding recumbent bikes to your workout can help improve the strength of the quadriceps, hamstrings, shins, calf muscles, and glutes. Recumbent bikes are a great cardio workout to add to leg day, as they warm your muscles well and are also a good way to cool down after the workout.

Like any exercise, steady, consistent use of recumbent bikes in your day-to-day routine will improve your strength and fitness.

Range of Motion

Recumbent riders also increase their range of motion through regular exercise on recumbent bikes. The position of the legs and hips is gentler than that of a traditional bike.

Using a recumbent bike regularly helps your muscles to stretch and become more elastic over time, which improves your range of motion.

Using recumbent bicycles improves circulation, which impacts muscle elasticity and function. This positively impacts your range of motion and overall vascular health.

These factors make recumbent bikes a great choice of exercise equipment for those in recovery from an injury. The gentle movement helps strengthen your muscles and improve flexibility without as much risk as other cardio machines.

As you get stronger, consider alternating between a stationary recumbent bike and a standard upright bike. This will help you exercise a wider range of muscle groups and reduce your recovery time.

Cons Of A Recumbent Bike

While recumbent bikes have many positive attributes, a few negatives are worth considering. As with any purchase, it is important to weigh up both aspects to ensure it is the right option.

The first is their price point. Recumbent bikes are very pricey, and this is due to their unique design and lower demand. It is much more affordable to purchase a conventional bicycle than it is to buy a recumbent bike.

Secondly, they are bulky to store. Most recumbent bikes made for road use are recumbent tricycles, so they are much wider than your standard bikes and take up more room. They will likely take up as much space as two to three standard bikes if they’re being stored vertically on your garage wall.

All this being said, the recumbent bike benefits, such as increased comfort and accessibility, may outweigh any cons and make them the superior choice to the conventional bicycle. Why not try one out and decide for yourself?


Is a recumbent bike better than an upright one?

This depends entirely on what you want to achieve with the bike and if you have any mobility difficulties. A recumbent bike is better for those who need to be gentle on their core, lower back, or knees.

It is also a good choice for those who want to go on long bike rides. Your reclined position makes the recumbent riding position much more comfortable than a conventional bike.

Using a recumbent tricycle or bike makes for a much more enjoyable journey. You are more comfortable and have a better vantage point from which to enjoy the views.

Are recumbent bikes as good as walking?

Whether stationary or not, using a recumbent bike is equal to, if not better, than walking. Most recumbent bikes offer better cardiovascular and muscle development opportunities than walking, and they can result in better overall strength and fitness.

Recumbent bikes have the additional benefit of being easy on the joints than other activities, such as walking. This makes them more accessible to a wide variety of people.

What should I look for in a recumbent bike?

If you’re looking for a stationary recumbent bike, you’ll want to look for the same things that you would when choosing a standard stationary bike. Stationary recumbents are available as either handcycle recumbent bikes or the more common foot-powered versions.

Features to look for are all the measurements you want, displayed on a clear and easy-to-read screen. Ideally, there should be built-in workout programs, adjustable seats, handlebars, and pedals. A heart rate monitor is also an excellent addition.

Are recumbent bikes suitable for the elderly?

Modern recumbent bikes are the perfect exercise machine for seniors. Stationary recumbents are safe to use and easy to get on and off, which is essential when one is older.

Recumbent bikes are designed to be easier on the joints. Their recumbent cycling position puts less pressure on the lower back and core than conventional bicycles.

Final Thoughts

These lesser-known bikes should be significantly more popular than they are! They are way more comfortable than a standard road bike and much better for your joints. They can also reach much more impressive speeds, which is never bad!

So, when looking for a road bike next, why not consider riding a recumbent instead?

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Kier focuses on improving all things bike, and is always looking to take his ability to a new average (hopefully a higher one!). When not on the bike Kier is normally downing coffee and cake.

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