Advantages of recumbent bikes:
There are two main advantages of riding a recumbent bike – speed and comfort. Recumbents are more aerodynamic than any other bikes (your legs are in front of you, not below you), so you slip through the air with less effort. Touring recumbents are probably about 5-10% faster, racing recumbent bikes can be 30% faster – even before you start adding aerodynamic fairings.
With a recumbent, you don’t really sit on the bike, you sit in it. Your back is fully supported, and there is no strain on your neck, wrists or back. Almost all the power comes from your legs, so you don’t need a death grip on the handlebars. All of this means that on a recumbent you are a lot more comfortable – nice for everyone, but wonderful if you have a problem which makes it painful to ride an upright bike.
Disadvantages of recumbent bikes:
There aren’t many, but you should be aware of what differences a recumbent makes:
To start with, you won’t be faster – in fact, you’ll be slower. This is because recumbent riding uses different muscles to upright riding, and it will take 2 months at least of riding for your muscles to adapt.
You will attract attention – recumbents aren’t for the shy and retiring! 99% of comments you’ll get are good ones, but don’t expect to blend into the background. Of course, this also means you are more visible to car drivers, which is always good…
Some kinds of riding aren’t possible – serious off-road riding, for example. You can’t get out of the seat, so you can’t hop the front wheel over obstacles. With a full-suspension recumbent, you can just hit things at speed to get over them (within reason!) but it’s not as slick as hopping the front wheel on an upright.
Learning to ride a recumbent:
Most people take 5 minutes to get the basics – the real trick is to relax. You should always be back in the seat – don’t sit forwards to start. Your shoulders should always be hard back against the seat. If you need to push hard on the pedals, push with your shoulders, don’t pull on the bars. You should never need to put any force on the bars – your hands should just rest on teh bars. If you find this hard, try holding the bars just with your thumb and index finger – you can’t force the bars by accident that way.
Starting, especially up a hill, is the hardest thing to learn. The trick is to rotate your “good” pedal to vertical, or a bit closer to you. Give a very good push on that pedal, and that will give you enough momentum to get your other foot up.
Types of recumbent bike:
There are two main classifications for recumbent bikes – the wheelbase, and the handlebar position:
Wheelbase – can be short, medium or long. Short-wheelbases (SWB) have the front wheel behind the pedals, almost under the seat. This is compact and fast, and also amnouverable. It is a bit trickier to get used to, as you can’t directly see the front wheel, but SWB recumbents are the best performing types.
Medium-wheelbases are also called compact long wheelbases (CLWB) just to be confusing… The front wheel is small, and directly below the pedals. CLWB bikes are very easy to get used to, and still quite compact.
Long-wheelbases (LWB) are now rather rare – the front wheel is out in front of the cranks. This design is very stable, and good for serious touring – though there are now SWBs which are just as good for touring without the disadvantages. LWB recumbents are heavy, take up a lot of space, and not very fast.
Handlebar position – the bars can be either over the seat or under it. Overseat steering is very direct, manouverable, aerodynamic and easy to get used to. Underseat steering is very comfortable – a lot better for touring.