Recumbent Bicycle Touring

Posted by James Anderton on December 24th, 2018

recumbent

adjective: (especially of a person or effigy) lying down.

noun: type of bicycle designed to be ridden lying almost flat on one's back.



Cycling around the world on a Recumbent bicycle

We’ve all seen them. Those odd looking bicycles with people sat on them like their reclining on a chaise longue. Many upright cyclists wonder why anyone would want to cycle lying down. However If you talk to someone who tours on a recumbent bicycle you will often hear a glowing report of the advantages of cycling in a reclining position. It’s all a case of personal preference and you won’t know until you try. I once cycled in Bolivia with a couple of French guys on recumbent bicycles and it gave me an insight into the pros and cons of cycling lying down. I also cycled with a Russian on a recumbent for a few days in Turkey and one day we swapped giving me, an albeit brief, experience into the world of recumbent cycling. It is still a niche in the cycling world but is becoming more popular all the time.

Comfort:

Whether recumbent bicycles are more comfortable for long tours than upright bicycles is up for debate. It can certainly vary from person to person. There are definite positives. On a recumbent the cyclists weight is distributed comfortably over a larger area, supported by back and buttocks. There is less strain on your neck, back and wrists. If you have ever had neck, back pain or sore wrists whilst cycle touring it may be worth considering switching to a recumbent bicycle. You also have more of your body in contact with the bike, so painful pressure points are reduced. Many recumbent cyclists report better breathing when climbing. This could be extremely helpful when cycling at high altitude. Recumbents can also help alleviate bottom pain. Something all cyclists can appreciate. Upright saddle designs have improved immeasurably in recent years but if saddle soreness is beginning to affect your enjoyment of upright cycling then it may be worth giving a recumbent a go.

That said on a recumbent you tend to feel the bumps more. You can get recumbents with suspension. This is recommended if touring a country with not a lot of tarmac. Although breathing can be better on a climb being locked into one position can be a problem. On an upright bicycle many cyclists will alternate between cycling in and out of the saddle on a tough climb in order to use slightly different muscles which can be helpful when you are at your limit. You are also more exposed to the sun and rain on a recumbent.

With the French guys entering La Paz. Thomas and Alex center and right are riding recumbents

Adjusting:

Recumbents use different muscles to normal bikes, and it takes 6-8 weeks for your legs to adapt. It can also take a while to master riding them, although most people have the basics after 15 minutes.

Speed:

Recumbent cyclists have actually broken almost every human powered machines speed record there is. You are much more aerodynamic on a recumbent and the centre of gravity is much lower making the bike more stable. This means you can go much quicker downhill and can take bends at a quicker speed without breaking. Many recumbent cyclists report this as the greatest things about cycle touring lying down. The improved aerodynamics also means you can cope with head winds better. You will of course still be affected but anyone who’s cycled into a massive headwind will appreciate how anything that it makes it slightly easier is heaven sent.

Enjoyment:

Not only is descending a ball on a recumbent but you get to enjoy the view more. The reclining position means you get a better view of the sky, the birds and all around without having to crane your neck. Although the slighly lower position means you won't be over to see over flora and fences quite as well.

Attention:

You will get lots. You will get a lot of double takes. People will film you on their phones. People will stop by for a chat to find out what on earth you are riding. You will have to pose for a lot of photos. Personally I love the brief meetings I have with the local people from all different parts of the globe. It also always amazes me that anyone would want to have their photo taken with me. This is of course can get a little tiresome if it’s for the tenth time that day and once again you are having to explain what a recumbent bicycle is.

Safety:

The unusual nature of recumbents certainly makes you more visible to other traffic on the road. However being lower down you are potentially less visible. Turning your head to see behind you is difficult on a recumbent bicycle so a rear view mirror is essential. You could argue that recumbents are less dangerous as there's less distance to fall to the ground if you do fall off. Recumbents also stop quicker than ordinary bikes as your weight will be mostly directly over the rear wheel.

Handling:

They handle beautifully descending. You can bank into corners and swoop through them. Although many recumbents have a larger turning radius, so you can’t take very tight turns. You can’t pull up the front wheel to quickly jump on a sidewalk. Recumbent bicycles tend to be slightly heavier than upright bicycles. Not only more to cycle but a little trickier to get over any obstacles on the road. Gear shifting can be problematic. Starting to pedal on a recumbent in a high gear is notoriously difficult (and close to impossible on an uphill) and will make you loose balance quickly. Not something you want to experience in a frequent stop start scenario in a city centre. Rohloff speed hub is particularly well suited for touring recumbents, because you can change gear in a fraction of a second even when stopped and with heavy luggage.

Costs:

Recumbent bicycles are not mass produced so are relatively expensive compared to upright bicycles but the difference is not great and specs tend to be of a high quality. Being heavier recumbents often result in increased excess baggage fees as well as more bike to fit in your bike box.

Spare Parts:

Most spare parts on a recumbent bicycle are standard so this isn’t a big problem but if you have an issue with the seat or steering in a remote country you will find spare parts difficult to come by.

Recumbent cyclists on the Pamir Highway

Theft:

There's definitely a case to say that recumbent bikes are less likely to get stolen. Firstly, the thief would have a hard time selling your recumbent on to others, and secondly, he probably wouldn’t be able to ride it anyway.

Conclusions:

No decisive conclusion. Everyone is different. It all comes down to personal preference. You will never know until you try. Many good bicycle shops will let you rent one for a few days. They will make the necessary adjustments so the bike is a good fit for you. Then you can find out for yourself.