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REGULAR versus RECUMBENT cycling

Leo Rogier Verberne

Various bicycles

According to the Central Statistical Office, there are almost twenty million bicycles in the Netherlands, including ± 815,000 racing bikes (1) and approx. 50,000 recumbent bicycles. And so the number of recumbent bicycles in the Netherlands is around 1 out of every 400.

Regular racing bicycle
Racing bicycles are made as lightweight as possible as this reduces the rolling resistance. A reduction in weight is mainly achieved by the use of light materials: the steel frame was replaced with aluminum or titanium, and later by carbon (2). Some present-day racing bicycles weigh less than 7 kg. My regular racing bicycle was still made of steel and it had a ready-to-ride weight of 10 kg. In this booklet, the term ‘ready-to-ride weight’ is understood to mean: the weight of a completely assembled sports bicycle with a cycling computer, bell, pump, a small saddle bag with spare tires and tire levers, and a filled 750 ml water bottle (figure 1).

mijn racefiets

Figure 1 Regular racing bicycle made of steel, ready-to-ride weight 10 kg

Recumbent racing bicycles
There are over 40 different types of recumbent bicycles, with either two or three wheels; with the wheels of a child’s bike, a mountain bike or the wheels of a regular bike; or with different wheels at the front and back. They either have handlebars next to the hips or in front of the body. Some have an aerodynamic tail section or an aerodynamic shell for streamlining. The weights vary between approx. 10 to more than 40 kg. I felt insecure on very low recumbent bicycles: you are lying only a half meter above the road surface and are therefore easily not observed by inattentive motorists. And it is difficult to have a conversation with companions on a regular bike, as your head is so low.

Street legal
An older recumbent bicycle model is the street legal (figure 2). Its frame is made of steel, the ready-to-ride weight is 18.5 kg. The side-positioned handlebars ensure an unobstructed view, but they make the bicycle less maneuverable. With a 26-inch front wheel and a 28-inch rear wheel, this model was the largest recumbent bicycle for a long time. With mudguards, a baggage carrier and a large bag, it is very suitable for pleasure rides. But somewhat steeper hills are a problem: when cycling up an overpass, I created a gap between myself and the group of cycling buddies on racing bicycles. However, after clearing the top, I did easily catch up to them on the way down.

street legal

Figure 2 Street legal made of steel with side-positioned handlebars, ready-to-ride weight 18.5 kg

A titanium shock-proof (with suspension) weighs 13 kg. With only 20-inch wheels, the height is rather low and the rolling resistance is higher. A regular racing bicycle has 28-inch wheels; and larger wheels have less resistance (3). The shock-proof has front-positioned handle-bars (figure 3).

shock proof

Figure 3 Shock-proof made of titanium with front-positioned handlebars, ready-to-ride weight 13 kg

Low racer
The low racer has an aluminum frame, a carbon fork and front-positioned handlebars. The front wheel is 20-inch, the rear wheel is 26-inch and it weighs 10 kg. You are positioned approx. 30 cm above the road surface (figure 4) and you must be wary of motorists who fail to observe you. You cannot look backwards without sitting upright first. You are leaning far back so that your front surface is limited. Which makes you fast on a level road. But your climbing speed is lower due to decreased pedaling power when riding recumbent (chapter Climbing).

low racer AdH

Figure 4 Low racer made of aluminum with front-positioned handlebars, ready-to-ride weight 10 kg

High racer
The carbon high racer has two 28-inch wheels and a weight of 10 kg (without the mudguards and the bag). Your leg length must be at least 90 cm if you are to be able to reach the pedals. You are leaning far back; and so your front surface is small, as a result of which you are fast on a level road and when descending (figure 5).

high racer

Figure 5 High racer made of carbon with front-positioned handlebars, ready-to-ride weight 10 kg
(not including mudguards and bag)

The carbon high racer is the most appropriate when making a comparison between a regular and a recumbent racing bicycle: both have the same 28-inch wheels. If equipped with the same tires, then the recumbent high racer will have the same rolling resistance as a regular racing bicycle of the same weight. Which is why the choice has been made in this booklet for a regular racing bicycle and a carbon high racer, both with a ready-to-ride weight of 10 kg, for speed comparison.

1. One out of every four hundred bicycles in the Netherlands is a recumbent bicycle.
2. There are over forty greatly varying types of recumbent bicycles; most of them cannot be compared to a regular racing bicycle.
3. The recumbent carbon high racer is best compared to a 10 kg regular racing bicycle.

1. Ned. Toer Fiets Unie: Nederlandse wielersportmonitor 2014
2. Wikipedia.nl: Ligfiets
3. Wikipedia.nl: Racefiets  
4. Wikipedia.nl: Rolweerstand

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© Leo Rogier Verberne