Recumbent vs Upright Road Bike – Which One Is for You?

Recumbent bikes have always been considered strange. Are there really any benefits to choosing a recumbent over an upright road bike? In this recumbent vs upright road bike comparison we show you what benefits you can enjoy from recumbents and some comparable benefits in other bikes.

I have not been able to ride my road bike for a couple of weeks thanksto a back injury. One of my fellow riders recommended a recumbent bike in the meantime. Are these strange looking bikes really worth a try?

Here is a recumbent vs upright road bike comparison to shed light on these little understood bicycles.

 What Are the Differences Between Recumbent And Upright Road Bikes?

Recumbent bike
Upright road bike
Very comfortable (no strain on muscles and joints)
Uncomfortable ( significant strain on muscles and joints)
Laid back , unaggressive
Nimble, aggressive
Can ride long distances
Cannot ride long distances without breaks
Hill climbs
Very slow at steep climbs
Climbs can be fast (can get of seat and stand on pedals)


Recumbent vs Upright Road Bikes – How Do They Compare?


The first and most obvious difference between recumbent and upright bikes is the position in which the rider sits. As their names suggest, in recumbent bikes, the rider is laid back, in a reclined position.

In an upright road bike, your back is almost straight with only a slight lean forward.


As enjoyable as regular cycling can be, it is not the most comfortable activity. Comfort is one of the reasons recumbent bike owners love these bikes so much. In a recumbent road bike, the seat is wider and generally bigger.

Your weight is supported by your back and buttocks which rest on a large seat. Weight is evenly distributed so there is no strain on any part of the body. Sitting in a recumbent bike is like lying in a lawn chair with your legs stretched out in front of you.

In an upright road bike, you are seated on a small seat which bears most of your weight. You are holding yourself up and the handlebars bearing the rest of your weight. Weight is unevenly distributed and this is why it is almost impossible to take a long ride on an upright bike and not experience strain or pain in the back and buttocks.


The feel of a bike can be difficult to describe.  Even different kinds of upright bikes give different riding experiences.A recumbent bike gives you a laid back, unaggressive feel. Taking turnshas to be gradual and in a light swooping manner.

With an upright road bike, you get a more aggressive stance. You feel lighter and you can make faster, more agile movements. Turns are sharper and can be taken faster. There is more precision in turns in an upright road bike than in recumbent road bikes.

Although neither of the two feels can be said to be better than the other, it boils down to what a rider values. If that sense of agility is what you enjoy, then you would prefer an upright road bike to a recumbent bike.


Riders who regularly use both recumbent and upright road bikes say they can ride longer distances in a recumbent road bike than on an upright road bike.  They can cover 30% to 40% more in mileage in a recumbent without tiring out.

The reason behind this goes back to cycling positions. In a recumbent bike you are more or less relaxed with only your legs doing the work of cycling.

In an upright road bike you are not only spending energy to cycle but also holding yourself up on the handlebars. The arm and shoulder muscles are also working to hold the weight of your upper body up.

Hill Climbs

Despite their ability to build and maintain fairly high speeds, recumbents are really poor at steep climbs. With an upright road bike, when you get to a steep climb, you get off the seat and pedal harder to build sufficient momentum to take the hill. It is more tiring but it works. It is something you do subconsciously because you have done it so many times.

In a recumbent bike, you can’t sit up let alone get off the seat, stand on the pedals and swish from side to side like you would on a road bike to generate more wattage.

Secondly, recumbents are heavier than road bikes so the weight you are hauling up the hill is more. The average weight of a road bike is 17.5 pounds (8kgs) and the average weight of a recumbent bike is 44 pounds (20kgs).

When you get to a hill you have to be at peace with moving at snail’s pace as you pedal harder to inch along. If you happen to stop pedaling, it can be very difficult to get going again. The trick is to keep pedaling no matter how slow. Just don’t stop.

Recumbent vs Upright Road Bikes – A Comparison Overview

Recumbent Road Bike Overview

Recumbent road bikes or ‘bents’ as they are often referred to in America are not new to the market. They have been around for years only that they have never managed to garner a significant market share in the industry.

In fact many recumbent bikes you see around were tinker projects assembled in garages using parts from old bicycles. That said there are more than a few manufacturers of high quality recumbent bikes in the world.

These bikes don’t just look different, they are different in many other ways. They ride differently, steering is different and starting and stopping requires a different kind of skill.

They are most popular with riders with repetitive stress injuries to body parts which take significant weight when riding an upright bike. This could be the back, the neck or the wrist. Even people with light leg injuries find it more comfortable to ride a recumbent that an upright bike.

Where safety is concerned, many cyclistsbelieve an upright bike is safer than a recumbent. It is actually the other way around. Recumbents are safer than upright bikes because they are lower and therefore have a lower center of gravity.

It is almost impossible to topple over or fall off a recumbent. If you did you would not have far to fall. In the event of an impact accident, it is again almost impossible to go over the bars as riders in regular bikes do. This means the few recumbent accidents that happen cannot result in serious injuries to the rider.

If you are considering getting a recumbent bike, maintenance is one aspect to keep in mind. Although the drive system is more or less like what it is in a regular bike, there are some parts which are specifically for recumbents.

These can be hard to find simply because there are not as many recumbents out there. It may also be difficult to find a bike mechanic who has seen a recumbent bike and knows how to work on one.


  • Comfortable
  • No seat pain after riding
  • Can ride longer distance
  • Ideal for people with injuries
  • Very safe
  • Ideal for riders with injuries


  • Unaggressive ride feel
  • Cant climb hills
  • Maintenance is difficult
  • Heavy
View price on Amazon

Upright Road Bike Overview

The upright riding position goes back to the earliest days of cycling. Road bikes are one of many types of bicycles such as touring, commuting and mountain bikes.

Distinct features in road bikes have to do with what they are designed to do. A very light frame and wheels works well for users who often need to carry or transport their bikes. Narrow wheels and tires are used because the bike is intended for paved surfaces such as roads or paths and not rough, unpaved paths. This is also why it has no front or rear suspension.

Most road bikes have a flat bar which means the rider maintains an upright position. This is important because it allows them a better view of their surroundings if riding in traffic or busy city streets.

You must have noticed that road bikes have significantly narrower tires compared to mountain bikes for instance. The narrower the tires the less rolling resistance.  This makes riding easier due to reduced friction. The drawback is that you end up with a smaller surface area which comes into contact with the ground hence reduced grip.

Road bikes are quite common so there is a wide range to choose from. They generally come on men’s and women’s’ styles in a wide range of sizes.


  • Nimble, aggressive feel
  • Lightweight
  • Narrow wheels
  • Flat handlebar
  • Available in a range of styles and sizes


  • No front or back suspension
  • Little grip on rough roads.
View price on Amazon


Recumbent and upright road bikes are very different bikes which give you very different riding experiences. With a recumbent, you can sit back and take it easy because all you need to do is pedal with your feet. Upright road bikes require you to pedal as well as support your weight on the handlebars.

Both are fun to ride. Your choice depends on the kind of ride you are looking for.

Verdict: So which is better? Recumbent road bike or upright road bike?

If you are recovering from an injury or just looking to avoid much strain on your back, the recumbent bike is a better choice for you. These weird looking bikes are not as impractical as they look.

You can get around just as you would on an ordinary bike and achieve the same or better speeds. All this with no pain in your rear even after long rides. One drawback to look out for is that you will have to be very patient when climbing steep hills.


If recumbent bikes are so great, why aren’t there more people riding them?

For one there is not much information about them so many people just find them strange. They look different and many people don’t want to do anything that makes them look different.

Cost is another factor. They are more expensive so riders go for what is more affordable.

Can I swap drop handlebars on a road bike to flat bars?

It can be done. Swapping involves replacing the bar, the brake levers and shifters. It should be done by a professional.