Road bike advertisements love to use terms like “speed” and “efficiency”, while recumbent bikes are marketed towards individuals seeking “comfort” and “joint-friendliness.” But do we have this all wrong?
Are recumbent bikes actually faster and more efficient than upright road bikes?
The short answer is yes. Recumbent bicycles can outperform practically all road bicycles in terms of speed. This is due to several factors, including improved bike aerodynamics, lower center of gravity, and a rider’s body position being optimal for producing power to the pedals compared to an upright bike.
So how fast can you really go on a recumbent bike? For the rest of the article, I’ll go in-depth so we can learn more about recumbent bikes and what exactly makes them faster and more efficient.
Why Recumbent Bikes are Faster
Let’s dive into the primary aspects that contribute to a faster bike.
Aerodynamics is the most important reason why a recumbent bike is faster than an upright bike.
Air exerts force on you while you ride, which increases significantly as speed does. This force is caused by friction between you and the air, and is the most significant cause of resistance at high speeds.
The easier it is for your bike to move through the air, the faster it will travel. Straight forward enough, right?
With a recumbent bike, your seat is placed lower to the ground. Because of this position, your body presents a smaller target for wind to act upon, resulting in less wind resistance and increased speed.
That is to say, as there is less of you for wind resistance to affect on a recumbent bike compared to an upright bike, you can travel faster on average.
A recumbent bike also puts your body into a stronger position for pedaling performance. Though it looks comfier, sitting in a reclined position with your legs out in front of you actually allows your legs to produce more force compared to an upright riding position.
Think of the difference between a squat exercise and a leg press: no matter how much workout experience you have, you can probably leg press more weight than you can squat!
Are Recumbent Bikes More Efficient?
Recumbent bicycles are more efficient than upright bicycles. Recumbents are a terrific and really comfortable option for people of all ages and experience levels!
Here are some factors that make recumbent bikes more efficient:
1. Riding Position
The recumbent bike is very comfortable and reduces a lot of the strain an upright bike places on your back. Because of its ergonomic design, it is far less taxing on your body, especially the muscles in your back, wrists, hands, arms, and neck.
This design makes the recumbent a great option for anyone who has issues in any of those areas. And, this means you’ll be able to cycle for longer lengths of time and distances while feeling less tired.
Longer rides and less fatigue? Sign me up!
With how your body is positioned on a recumbent bike, you will have an easier ride with less strain on your body. The angle of your head also gives you a better field of vision, minimizing any concerns regarding visibility on your ride.
2. Center of Gravity
Your center of gravity is much lower on a recumbent bike than on an upright road bike, so you have much more control over bike stability, steering and braking.
Overall, this makes bike handling much more efficient, providing more safety, security and ease of use on your rides!
This design is also significantly safer as it is easier and faster to steer, slow, or stop yourself. And if you do crash, there’s no risk of going over your handlebars and injuring yourself more severely.
While crashing may not be a frequent occurrence for you, it is always a concern. On a recumbent, you are much closer to the ground which means a much shorter distance to fall. This further reduces your risk of injuries which is always a positive!
4. Longer Distance Capability
Recumbents are ideal for long-distance riding and leisure highway riding. As you can imagine, the speed and efficiency of recumbents make them an ideal choice for your daily commute or those long weekend rides.
The recumbent travels faster, smoother, and with much less effort due to less wind resistance from your improved aerodynamic position. Faster, smoother, and easier rides definitely make the case for the choosing a recumbent over an upright road bike.
Average Recumbent Bike Speed
Average recumbent bike speed is difficult to determine, as it will heavily depend on your level of fitness, the length of your ride, the riding conditions and terrain. But what can be determined is that many riders report being 2-5mph faster on recumbent bikes compared to their upright road bikes.
A first-time recumbent rider may not find this to be the case, but after learning how a recumbent works and getting comfortable on one, a beginner should have no issue reaching faster speeds that on a road bike.
It’s important to think about how your average speed is influenced by elements such as your age and fitness level. Your average speed on any given route is also affected by factors like your route’s terrain, so don’t worry too much about reaching a certain speed as it will differ greatly from case to case!
Recumbent Bike Speed Record
In 2016, a recumbent bike set the speed record for a human-powered bicycle, reaching 89.59 mph!
Charles Mochet designed a bike with recumbent seating circa 1933. It was first used by a cyclist named Francis Faure, who used it to win races and set so many records that the UCI eventually banned the use of recumbents.
In fact, recumbent bikes have broken speed records held by practically every human-powered machine. However, this isn’t widely known as official international cycling bodies don’t generally recognize records broken by recumbents.
How Do Recumbents Perform Up Hills
Some riders feel the recumbent is slower and harder to ride uphill without the ability to stand up on the pedals, but it is still achievable. Most recumbents are equipped with triple chainrings up front to give you enough low gears to make it up some pretty steep hills.
Unlike an upright bike, you can’t stand up and make use of your body weight to turn the crank on a recumbent, making it a bit harder for uphill rides. Additionally, the handlebars aren’t positioned to give you leverage like on an upright bike. Recumbents demand more energy output, so for most riders, riding uphill on a recumbent is more tiring and usually slower.
The best way to combat this for an easier ride is by reducing your gearing and slowly climbing at a high cadence. This is also something that comes with time as your muscles adjust to a new riding position.
Each bike style has its own advantages and disadvantages. Knowing these going in, uphill rides on a recumbent are still completely achievable and enjoyable with the right preparation. You may not be the fastest one to the top of the hill…but you can make up for it on the downhills and straights!