Are recumbents good for commuting? Is there a difference between a two-wheeler, a trike, a quad, or a velomobile? Those are pretty important questions for somebody who plans to buy a recumbent, and the primary intention is to ride it to work often.
In my article “12 basic fast you should know about recumbents“, I wrote that recumbents are not very good for commuting in the city and that buying a dedicated bike for pure city riding is better. I stand behind this statement, but there are situations in which different types of recumbents will perform very well. Or even better than any upright bike. Let’s have a look at them.
Riding longer distances between two municipalities
It is the perfect example of how recumbents will excel and how I use my recumbent for commuting (see the video below). Riding from one town to another, with city traffic in just a short part of the trip, but quiet roads or cycle trails for most of it. I have it 20 km / 12.5 miles one way with only about 5 km / 3 miles in the traffic. On such a route, a recumbent is faster and more comfortable. Although studies say that the maximum distance that makes sense on a bike while commuting is around 30 km / 19 miles one way, you can do even more on a recumbent road bike and far more in a velomobile. Using recumbents for such commuting was very popular in the Netherlands, for example, but the recumbent dealers have been reporting a decline in such use since the boom of e-bikes has started. Still, you can ride faster on a recumbent than on an e-bike with a European limit of 25 km/h (15.5 mph) and greater comfort, of course. Not talking about a velomobile that are even better for such a purpose.
Balance issues or a fear of falling
Just from looking at them, you see that recumbent trikes are stable. However, for using them in city traffic, you must sit pretty high to be visible and see-through car screens, which is very important. There are trikes offering a pretty high sitting position, like the HP Velotechnik Scorpion Plus, HASE Lepus, or others. They are a good solution if you are looking for a commuting bike but have a balance issue or a fear of falling from the bike. However, the higher you sit, the less stable the trike is. And here come quads. Four-wheelers. There are not so many of them on the market. And not all of them are suitable for commuting. I very much like the Pony4, and if you read RECUMBENT.news regularly, you are not surprised, but there is also the ZOX 4, for example, or even the XYZ Cargo Fourwheeler. The additional wheel improves the stability significantly, so the design can be adjusted to commuting needs, and the seat can be positioned higher.
Cargo bikes are more and more popular worldwide now, especially those with e-assists, but most of them are upright types. However, the number of models with comfortable recumbent positions has been increasing ever since, and besides the Pony4 or XYZ Cargo Fourwheeler, a few others are available as well. You can find some recumbents capable of carrying a serious amount of cargo in the recumbent catalog here. And then, there is the Radnabel. A German unique urban cargo recumbent bike capable of carrying up to two children in the child seats. It is not yet included in the catalog but will be soon.
If you miss some weather protection on your bike, there are several ways you can solve the issue with a recumbent. Of course, the first and best one is the velomobile. They provide perfect weather protection, but riding them only in city traffic might not be the most enjoyable practice. Then, there are fully-faired, primarily quads, that are part of the large group of LEVs – Light Electric Vehicles – but that don’t have their own name still. I have written about them in my article “The future of transportation has recumbent bike elements”. Or you can opt for a trike and add some canopy to it. You can find a list of recumbent accessory manufacturers here.
Maximizing the comfort
And, of course, if you just like the concept of recumbent bikes and their comfort, you may want to ride them also when commuting only within the city area. There were good bikes for such a purpose in the past, like the BikeE, HP Velotechnik Spirit, or any other Compact Long Wheelbase (CLWB) bike. Nowadays, only the Canadian Maxarya Ray seems to be widely available. The advantage of such a bike is the relatively high and upright sitting position and lower bottom bracket. That gives the rider a secure feeling, good visibility, and a good view. Other suitable recumbents for city riding could be the two-wheelers with 20″ front wheel and 26″ rear wheel with higher sitting position and a bottom bracket positioned below the level of the seat bottom. Something like HP Velotechnik Street Machine, AZUB SIX, or Bacchetta Giro A20. Also, Bacchetta Bella would be a good commuter.
Here are three videos to give you a closer idea about recumbent commuting. The first one with me as an actor was made for the Czech edition of the Bike to Work contest, the second from experienced recumbent and velomobile rider Saukki, and the third one about pure velomobile commuting.