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REGULAR versus RECUMBENT cycling

Leo Rogier Verberne

Tour de France: faster end time when riding recumbent

In 1934 the UCI excluded recumbent bicycles from cycling races and that ban is in force up to the present day. It concerns not only one-day cycling races but also the Grand Tours like the Tour de France. That’s why, for example, the question whether or not a competitive cyclist on a recumbent bicycle could win the Tour de France has never been answered. Based on calculations in a Tour-model that question gets a theoretical answer in this booklet.

high racer

Carbon high racer (photo M5 Recumbent bicycles)

An appropriate recumbent bicycle to compare 1 to 1 with a regular racing bicycle is not available. The lightest recumbent bike, the carbon high racer, still is 2 kg heavier than the racing bicycle of a professional cyclist. And the pedaling power is considerably less when cycling recumbent compared to sitting in the regular position, even after a period of thorough training. Which are two major disadvantages of the recumbent bicycle when comparing. Still, the cycling professional is approx. 9% faster on a high racer when riding on level roads according to calculations in this Tour model. However, when climbing 4% and 8% slopes he is 9% and approx. 20% slower respectively on the recumbent bicycle. But when descending the same slopes he is again 24% faster than on his regular bicycle (table).

Differences in speed in a model of the Tour de France


level roads

77 41.55 45.16 +8.7

4% climbs

6 31.34 28.52 -9.0

4% descents

6 45.46 56.38 +24.0

8% climbs

6 21.74 17.51 -19.5

8% descents

5 73.83 91.57 +24.0


100 +3.8

So the difference between these two bicycles (with the same rider) in terms of end time, when arriving in Paris, depends on the route of the Tour: more mountain stages, and especially when finishing on a mountain top (thus more climbing than descending), are detrimental to the recumbent bicycle. Nevertheless, across the entire route of the model Tour, the speed of the professional cyclist is approx. 4% higher when riding recumbent and his end time is over 3 hours shorter compared to the riding on his regular racing bicycle. So the UCI was and still is right in forbidding mixed cycling races: it would be unequal competition.

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© Leo Rogier Verberne