History and Types of Recumbent Bikes

Picture of Lowracer Recumbent Bicycle Frame

Bicycles with non-standard seating positions started being made from the moment first bicycles entered on the market in late 19th century. However many of those early designs were totally unsuccessful, and were made mostly as attractions and test designs. However, inventors from all around the world did not want to give up on the idea of a bicycle driver sitting in a laid back position that provided much easier time to cycle over long distances. After first models failed to capture imagination of the audience (historically speaking the earliest recumbent bicycle was Fautenil Vélociped made in France in 1893), several decades went by until modern examples of successful recumbent bicycle models were introduced. During that time, recumbent designs were mostly used in tricycles and pedal-propelled cars that reach height of popularity during WW2 when much of Europe experienced significant reduction in availability of automobile fuel.

First time when recumbent bicycles received significant attention was during 1930s. This resurgence was fueled with the inventions of French bicycle maker Charles Mochet who not only made several customizable models of recumbent bicycles, but also personally hired the services of professional cyclists who used his models to win several important races on both road and track. His “Vélo-Velocar” smashed several records during 1930s, including fastest bicycle, fastest average speed and several long-distance records. Sadly by the end of 1930s, sporting and cyclist governing body “Union Cycliste Internationale” deemed recumbent bikes illegal to use in events where normal upright bicycles were used. This event singlehandedly almost totally destroyed popularity and presence of recumbent bikes on roads and sporting events for decades to come.

Popularity of recumbent bicycles returned in 1970s with the establishment of several sporting events that popularized this form of cycling. In 1979, first mass produced modern recumbent bicycle was put to sale, the popular “Avatar 2000”. This model and several of its competitors managed to smash several records during next 10 years, all the while popularity of recumbent designs grew around the world. By the 1980s, first electric models started being introduced, and in 2000s many international organizations admitted that recumbent bicycles easily outperform upright bicycles over long distances. Modern records and governing of recumbent bicycles is today managed by “International Human Powered Vehicle Association”. The fastest ever recumbent bicycle achieved speed of 133.78 km/h, maximum traversed distance in one hour is 90.60 km (upright bicycle is only 51.1 km).

Recumbent bicycles are today used for dozens of use-case scenarios, and because of that many of them are optimized with different accessories, frame and wheel designs, seating positions and more. Modern recumbent bicycles can be separated into following types:

  • Lowracers – Designs where drivers sit very close to pavement in between of front and back wheel.
  • Highracers – Higher seating position of these bikes allows easier maneuverability. Both lowracers and highracers are usually produced to be used at sporting events.
  • Mountain bike recumbent – Reinforced bicycle designs that can be used in off-road environments, even though seating position does not allow as accurate steering control as with traditional mountain bikes.
  • Semi-recumbent – Mostly created for casual drivers, with seating position placed between lowracers and highracers design.
  • Tandem recumbent – Two wheeled recumbent bicycles that house multiple seats and multiple pairs of pedals.
  • Recumbent tricycles or quadracycles – This type of recumbent bicycles is used both by casual users and professional cyclists. Variants such as “handcycles” or “hand-and-foot recumbent tricycles” are also very popular with paraplegics and other disabled cyclists.
  • Folding or Couplers - Recumbent bikes who are manufactured either to be foldable when not in use, or can be easily separated into several basic components that can be stored in small cargo area.