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What Is a Recumbent Bike and What Is It Good For?

By Editorial Team   /  Last updated - July 20, 2023   /  Advice, Guide, Recumbent bikes
woman riding a recumbent bicycle by the seaside

(Source: hpvelotechnik.com)

A recumbent bike is one of the most unique-looking bikes in the cycling world, so it’s no wonder we get so many “What is a recumbent bike?” questions in our inbox.

With its reclined and supportive seat, a recumbent bicycle provides a unique cycling experience that minimizes strain and maximizes comfort. 

Recumbent bikes are a popular choice among rehabilitating cyclists who suffer from back problems or other health issues, but they are a go-to option for some regular cycling enthusiasts as well. 

What benefits does a recumbent bike offer and how does it differ from a regular upright bicycle? These are just some of the questions we will answer below.


What Is a Recumbent Bike?

A recumbent bike is a type of bicycle that positions the rider in a reclined, laid-back posture. The design of recumbent bikes varies, but most models feature a large supportive seat with a backrest and pedals placed at the front of the bike, rather than underneath. 

man riding a green recumbent bike by the seaside

This riding setup eliminates the hunched-over riding position seen on regular bicycles, making the recumbent much more comfortable and less strenuous on long rides. 

Traditional bikes focus a large percentage of a rider’s weight on a narrow saddle, which can cause lower back pain, as well as pain in the shoulders, neck, and hands. Instead, a recumbent bike distributes the rider’s weight over a much larger area, including the entire back and buttocks.

Recumbent bikes come in all shapes and sizes including road recumbent bikes, off-road recumbent bikes, trikes (with three wheels), handcycles, and so on. 

What is the difference between a recumbent bike and a stationary bike?

The terms “recumbent bike” and “stationary bike” can cause confusion as they are sometimes used interchangeably, but actually mean different things. 

recumbent exercise bike

A stationary bike is any type of bicycle that is designed to stay in one place for exercise purposes, such as in a gym or a home. There are a few different types of stationary bikes, such as upright bikes, spin bikes, and recumbent exercise bikes

On the other hand, a real recumbent bike has the same riding position as a recumbent exercise bike but is designed to be ridden outside. 

Therefore, a recumbent bike can be stationary (for indoor workouts) or mobile (for outdoor cycling), and a stationary bike can be designed as an upright bike or a recumbent bike.


 Who Should Use a Recumbent Bike?

man riding a recumbent bike in the mountains

(Source: hpvelotechnik.com)

Due to their unique design and ergonomic benefits, recumbent bikes can be useful to a wide range of users with different needs and fitness levels, such as:

  • Seniors or riders with balance issues
  • People with chronic pain
  • Rehabilitation patients
  • Fitness enthusiasts

Recumbent bikes provide ease of use for seniors and riders with balance issues thanks to their low center of gravity and a large supportive seat. 

People with chronic back pain or joint pain can also greatly benefit as the recumbent bike reduces the stress on low back muscles and hip/knee joints thanks to its reclined riding position. 

Those who are rehabilitating from injuries can find recumbent bikes to be beneficial due to their low-impact nature of exercise. These bikes encourage movement without the excess strain that you sometimes get with traditional upright bikes. 

Finally, recumbent bikes are a great option for regular fitness enthusiasts as well. If you enjoy cycling but don’t like the uncomfortable riding position of an upright bicycle, a recumbent bike can also provide an intense workout, improving cardiovascular health, boosting endurance, and aiding in weight loss.


Recumbent Bike Benefits

Even though they are not as popular and widespread as regular bicycles, there are numerous recumbent bike benefits that make them a good choice for a variety of riders.

woman sitting next to a recumbent bike with blue panniers

(Source: hpvelotechnik.com)

Here are some key ones:

1. Enhanced Comfort: Recumbent bikes are a lot more comfortable than traditional upright bicycles. Their ergonomic design provides a comfortable ride, and the large seat distributes weight more evenly, eliminating pressure points on the buttocks, back, and hands. 

2. Improved Safety: Even though recumbent bicycles look strange, they are much safer than regular bikes, especially for people with balance issues. They have a low center of gravity that makes them more stable, reducing the risk of falls.

3. Reduced Strain: Recumbent bicycles are a great option for long-distance cycling such as randonneuring as they reduce strain on the body and joints, so you can spend more time in the seat pedaling. 

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4. Efficient Workout: Even though comfort is the main benefit of recumbent bikes, they also provide a great cycling workout, improving cardiovascular health and burning calories. However, they do not provide as potent an exercise for the upper body as upright bikes.

5. Increased Lower Body Strength: Recumbent bikes, just like traditional bikes, can help you build muscle strength in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. 


What Are the Disadvantages of a Recumbent Bike?

While recumbent bikes offer a wealth of benefits, they also have a few disadvantages that you should consider before buying:

man and woman sitting on recumbent bicycles and waiting for a train

(Source: hpvelotechnik.com)

1. Limited Upper Body Engagement: Standard upright bikes typically engage your entire body, including the arms and torso. However, a recumbent bike only engages your lower body, whereas the upper body muscles are mostly inactive. Therefore, you can’t get a full-body workout on a reclined bike. 

2. Learning Curve: The experience of riding a recumbent bike is completely different from riding an upright bicycle, which means learning how to do it requires an adjustment period. The pedaling mechanism, balance, and steering work differently from those on traditional bikes, which may be a challenge initially for some riders. 

3. Size and Portability: Recumbent bikes are not as easy to store and transport because they are larger and more cumbersome than traditional upright bikes. Therefore, if you live in a small apartment, they might not be the best choice for you.

4. Visibility and Accessibility: Recumbent bikes are not as visible to motorists as upright bicycles because they sit lower to the ground. Depending on where you ride, this poses some safety risks. Moreover, they are not able to navigate curbs and uneven terrain as easily as traditional bikes, so you may need to get off more often.

5. Cost: Finally, most recumbent bicycles come at a premium, so they can be more expensive than similarly equipped upright bikes. Before buying, you will need to consider whether the added cost aligns with your budget and fitness needs.


Is a Recumbent Bike Good for Weight Loss?

The key to a successful weight loss is creating a calorie deficit (which is burning more calories than you consume) and a recumbent bike can definitely help you achieve this. 

man and woman exercising on recumbent bikes

(Source: hpvelotechnik.com)

Just like regular bikes, recumbent bikes provide a good aerobic workout, helping you burn calories and lose weight over time, if your diet is on point. 

Moreover, you can adjust resistance levels by shifting gears and choosing the terrain you ride on, so you can gradually increase your effort to burn more calories as you get fitter. 

When it comes to the calories burned on a recumbent bike, there are no definitive answers. Most online sources claim that you can burn around 400 kcal per hour at a moderate pace, but the exact number depends on a lot of factors. 

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Your caloric expenditure depends on whether you’re a male or female, how much muscles and fat you carry, what tempo you ride at, how fit you are, and so on. 

But it’s safe to say that an average person can burn 300-400 kcal an hour while riding a recumbent bike at a moderate pace, which makes it a great choice for weight loss. 

Is it better to walk or ride a recumbent bike?

Walking is an excellent activity for weight loss as it doesn’t require any special equipment and pretty much anyone can do it. However, a recumbent bike has a few advantages that could help you burn more calories with the same amount of effort. 

Recumbent bikes put less strain on your joints than walking, especially if you’re obese and your knees and other joints are not used to carrying all the excess weight. Moreover, most people can ride a recumbent bike for longer than they can walk before getting too tired, which means you can burn more calories overall. Finally, the supportive seat provides comfort and relieves stress on the low back, which can be beneficial for those with back issues. 

However, recumbent bikes can be prohibitively expensive for a lot of people, so if walking is your only option for exercising, we say go for it! You can still burn a ton of calories by just going for a stroll.


Muscles Worked on a Recumbent Bike

Have you ever wondered “What muscles does a recumbent bike work?”

man working out muscles on a recumbent bike

(Source: hpvelotechnik.com)

Riding a recumbent bike mostly targets the muscles of the lower body and the cardiovascular system, working several major muscle groups for a complete workout. Unfortunately, it does not work the upper body, unlike traditional bicycles, where you get some exercise for your shoulders, arms, and core muscles.

Here are the key muscles engaged:

1. Quadriceps: These are the primary muscles worked when you ride a recumbent bike. As you press down on the pedals, the quadriceps engage as the main driving force that propels you forward.

2. Hamstrings: The hamstrings work in tandem with your quadriceps to complete the pedal stoke and primarily activate when you pull the pedal up during the cycling motion. You will get much better hamstring activation if you ride clipless pedals. 

3. Glutes: The gluteus maximum is the largest muscle in the human body, working together with your hamstrings and quadriceps to complete each pedal stroke.

4. Calves: The calves have an important role in stabilizing your legs and feet while pedaling. They activate during the pushing motion of the pedal stroke and will activate more during the pulling stage if you ride with clipless pedals. 

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5. Hip Flexors: These muscles are located in the front hip area and get more activation on a recumbent bike than on a traditional bike. They are most active during the pulling stage of the pedal stroke, so they will work hard especially if you ride clipless. 

While the focus of a recumbent bike workout is on the lower body, the exercise also offers cardiovascular benefits. Consistent cycling gets the heart rate up, improving heart health and boosting endurance over time.


Final Thoughts

So, to sum up, what is a recumbent bike? It’s a reclined bicycle that prioritizes comfort and helps you get a good workout despite your age, balance issues, or injuries. 

woman preparing to go on a recumbent bike ride standing in front of a church

Recumbent bikes offer a refreshing approach to cycling, combining comfort with an intense workout.

Whether you’re a senior citizen, a fitness enthusiast, or rehabilitating from an injury, there are at least some benefits of a recumbent bike that apply to you.

While they may not target the entire body like an upright bicycle, they engage significant lower-body muscle groups, providing excellent strength and cardiovascular benefits.

With the possibility to assist in weight loss, these bikes make an attractive choice for those looking to switch up their exercise routine. Yet, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons as per your individual needs, fitness goals, and budget. 

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