Easy Rider – Is A Recumbent the Best Bike for You?
Are you tired of getting saddle sores and aching joints each time you wheel your bike out? No doubt you will have tried gel saddles, cycling shoes or upgrading to a suspension system for you bike: the trouble is, since its invention, the modern upright bicycle as we know it is not the best design, ergonomically speaking;
Why cycling can (sometimes) be bad for your health
Conventional bike saddles have been known to cause problems as severe as atherosclerosis, saddle sores and erectile dysfunction, whilst the typical riding position (hunched over) associated with sporty bicycles can put immense amounts of strain on the back and neck; beyond a poor riding position and problematic saddles, anyone who has travelled over a bumpy road on a conventional bike can attest to the high levels of stress placed on the wrists, elbows and shoulders.
Imagine if driving a car was like riding a bike…
Would you ride a car perched atop a narrow tube, your posterior only protected by a thin piece of leather-covered plastic? Imagine how it would feel driving over a bumpy road, only to have each and every vibration rattle through the steering wheel and into your wrists: then there is the matter of seating position: how would you fancy driving all day with your back and neck hunched over the dashboard?
Clearly no bicycle can be as comfortable to use as a modern car: big, padded seats, high-tech suspension systems and a low-stress seating positions contribute to this: however, if we are ever going to see the environmentally-friendly activity of cycling become more commonplace, perhaps the solution lies in designing ergonomic bikes which can level the playing field…
Recumbent bicycles are designed to make the activity of riding a bike a much more comfy experience:
- Rather than sitting upright, the rider adopts a laid-back posture, where the entire body weight is much more evenly distributed.
- Extra support is given via a seat-back section.
- With the rider’s legs pointing towards the nose of the bike, a much more efficient aerodynamic profile can be achieved.
- Higher speeds are possible without the associated strain of a more conventional design.
It is not all plain sailing with recumbent bikes, however:
- They are typically much more expensive than regular bicycles.
- Their bulky size means that, unless you invest in a folding recumbent, you might not be able to take it places where you could with a regular bike (like the train, for example).
- Then there is the problem of safety: such low riding positions mean that visibility is reduced: both in terms of the rider being able to see what is around them and how easy the rider is to spot by other road users.
- A steep learning curve makes riding these bikes pretty tricky at first.
The alternative to recumbent bikes
If recumbent bicycles are not for you, an easy solution is to invest in a quality conventional bicycle with an upright, less hunched seating position: by keeping your back straight, it is possible to avoid some of the issues caused by the more sporty bikes out there; some manufacturers are now coming up with nose-less saddles, which can help to reduce some of the nastier effects of sitting in the saddle too long; suspension forks and wearing padded cycling gloves can help to dampen some of the vibration when travelling over bumpy ground.
If possible, take breaks when cycling over vast distances: stop to wheel the bicycle over sections of your journey if you have the time – prolonged periods in the saddle should be avoided.
Born to be wild?
If you want to get the best of both worlds and combine the more ergonomic seating position and extra support offered by a recumbent, with the compact dimensions and improved visibility offered by an upright, some manufacturers are coming up with long-wheelbase commuting recumbent bikes, which feature long handlebars that are positioned above the seat: this gives these kind of cycles an appearance similar to American ‘Chopper’ motorbikes, but unlike those road-hogs, commuting recumbent bikes offer a quiet and eco-friendly way to head out on the road, the next time your heart is set on ‘looking for adventure’.
Hans Müller is an avid cyclist who has tried every kind of bike on the market: from recumbent bicycles to high-tech hybrid bikes.