Are Recumbent Bikes Harder (or Easier) to Ride?

There can be a bit of a learning curve when you first try a recumbent bicycle, especially because most people learn to ride on an upright bike (i.e. a mountain or road bike). 

As a result, many cyclists wonder if recumbent bikes are more difficult to ride.

Recumbent bikes are typically easier to ride than upright road bikes, because of the reclined riding position and easy steering. However, recumbents take some time to get used to, and the first several rides will feel awkward. In addition, recumbents tend to be more difficult to ride on uphill terrain. 

I should point out one thing you probably noticed: recumbents are harder on hills. 

And I want to make it super clear what is (and isn’t) easier on a recumbent, so we’ll cover that in detail below.

Let’s get started.

When Recumbent Bikes are Harder to Ride

Because you are sitting in a relaxed position on a recumbent bike, it can be difficult to ride in situations where you need to exert more effort. Therefore, many hardcore cyclists prefer upright bikes.

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1. Riding Up Hill

Recumbent bikes can navigate hills, but not as efficiently as upright bicycles. Your weight is going to be distributed toward  the back of the bike, making it harder to climb hills.

Not only that, but the bike itself is going to be heavier than an upright bicycle. You also can’t stand up on the bike to get more power.

You can climb hills with a recumbent bike, but you’ll have to exert more effort. It will also take longer to reach the top. Still, most riders have found that they can accomplish it with the help of their bike’s lower gears.

2. Looking Behind You

Being able to look behind you is important when riding a bike, especially if you plan on riding on the road. Because of their reclined, chair-like design, recumbent bikes require more effort to look behind you. To solve this problem, most people install mirrors on their bikes or helmets. If you choose to do this, just be careful that there are no blind spots.

3. Steering (At First)

Riding a recumbent bike for the first time feels weird and unnatural. It feels quite different to riding an upright bike, and takes some getting used to.

In the beginning, you’ll feel more rigid and will be paying extra attention to steering and braking when you need to.

As you get used to the way the bike handles, this awkward feeling will go away, and you will become just as comfortable with your recumbent bike as you are with your upright bike. 

When Recumbent Bikes are Easier to Ride


1. For Beginners

The term “beginner” here can be used in a variety of situations.

Maybe you’re new to exercise in general. You want to start incorporating cardio exercises in your weekly routine, but you also know that cardio is hard and exhausting. A Recumbent bicycle provides a less intense cardio workout that still gets your heartrate up.

Maybe you’re new to biking or have never quite gotten the hang of it. Not everyone has the best balance, and steering an upright bicycle without falling can be difficult and stressful.

In these cases, recumbent bikes might be the better option because they’re more difficult to fall off or lose control of.

2. For the Elderly & People with Disabilities

Upright bicycles can be difficult for those who are elderly, have certain health conditions or disabilities. Many of these people still enjoy riding and want to stay healthy with exercise, but upright bicycles don’t offer much support and leave you hunched over the handlebars for extended periods.

This is where recumbent bicycles shine.

Recumbent bicycles are easy on joints while still providing a quality cardio workout. The reclined riding position puts less strain on the lower back and hips, making it ideal for anyone who has pain there and needs a less intense form of exercise.

For those who’ve suffered an injury and simply need a lighter form of exercise while recovering, the recumbent bicycle is a great option.

Sometimes, people with health conditions become discouraged by the limited exercise options available to them. They want to be able to stay healthy, but are limited by what their bodies can do. It is so important to have options like the recumbent bicycle available so that exercise is accessible to everyone.

3. When Comfort is Essential

Recumbent bikes aren’t just good for the elderly and those with disabilities. They’re great for avid exercisers and bikers as well who prioritize comfort, or just don’t like the fit and feel of a standard upright bicycle.

Recumbent bikes are more supportive and comfortable than a road bike, mountain bike or other standard bikes. When riding, you are sitting in a reclined position with your back and hips fully supported. 

The larger bike seat holds advantages over the usual small upright bike saddle, which can become uncomfortable or even painful over extended periods of time. 

The larger seat distributes your weight over a greater surface area, alleviating pressure points that normal saddle-users may experience. It also features more padding, which aids in comfort during prolonged use.  

The reclined position also means less of your body weight is balanced directly on the saddle. This can alleviate a lot of discomfort in the groin and make longer rides much more bearable. 

4. When Speed is the Goal

Unlike what most people think, recumbent bikes can reach very high speeds. They can even go faster than many upright road bikes: in fact, the human-powered land speed record was set by a recumbent bike, which reached a speed of 89.59 mph! Pretty amazing.

A recumbent bike’s ability to fly past an upright bike is due largely to two factors: its aerodynamic design, and the human body’s position while riding.

As a recumbent bike sits much lower to the ground than an upright bike, it suffers less from drag caused by wind resistance. Any rider who’s ridden into a strong gust knows how powerful the wind can be…and how much it can slow you down. A recumbent bike presents a smaller footprint for wind to act upon.

While seated on a recumbent bike, your legs are stretched out in front of you in a position that just happens to be ideal for producing power. Compare the following two exercises: a squat vs. a leg press. No matter how strong you are, you’ll be able to leg press far more than you can squat due to your body position and the angle at which the weight is acting upon you. 

An upright bike is a squat, while a recumbent bike is a leg press machine. More leg power equals more speed!

Why Aren’t Recumbent Bikes Popular / Common?

1. There’s a Learning Curve

Of course, despite the advantages the recumbent bike brings to the table, it is not going to be the best option for everyone.

There’s a bit of a learning curve when first riding a recumbent bike. The steering, braking, and pedaling position all feel quite different compared to an upright bike. Even something as basic as mounting and dismounting the bike takes a little practice.

Because of its design, you’re also limited to the types of places you can ride. For those that like high impact adventures with lots of hills and bumps, recumbent bikes simply won’t work.

2. The Price

Recumbent bikes are a specialty bike with added features and comforts. Because of this, they are going to cost more. For some, that cost is well worth it, but for most, they’d rather stick to the standard upright bike.

3. Their Look

It might be superficial, but some people don’t like to ride recumbent bikes simply because of how they look. They may feel self-conscious about how others perceive them when riding. Not only do recumbent bikes feel more relaxed, but they look more relaxed, and some bikers simply don’t like that.

4. Competitions

If you are an avid biker who likes to participate in competitions, a recumbent bike simply won’t be right for you. Unfortunately, they are not allowed in recognized competitions, so you will have to stick to upright bicycles.

5. Safety

Some people feel less safe on a recumbent around cars because they’re lower to the ground. They feel that motorists won’t be able to see them as well, but the opposite is actually true.

Recumbent bikes more closely resemble vehicles and are not as slim as upright bicycles. Their shape makes it easier for drivers to see them.

The bikes aren’t as low as you’d think, either. A recumbent biker will be sitting in roughly the same position as someone in a standard sedan.

Not only that, but visibility is better for the bikers themselves. Because you are sitting in a reclined position, you can better see what’s going on around you; unlike the hunched over, head down position you find yourself in on an upright bike.

Rob Marlowe

With years of experience as a dedicated mountain biker and an unwavering passion for research, I have cultivated a deep expertise in all facets of cycling—from the intricacies of bike mechanics and gear optimization to the subtleties of riding techniques. My journey has been one of continuous learning, driven by countless hours delving into the science and art of biking. It's this wealth of knowledge and practical know-how that I aim to impart, offering a trusted resource for novices to gain their footing and for seasoned riders to refine their skills and push their limits.

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