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Diamond Frame (DF) vs Recumbents

Last update 2008-01-29

Once in a while a discussion arises why there are so few people riding recumbents. I already mentioned recumbents tend to be:

  • pricier, more expensive
  • heavier frame and overall weight therefore
  • slower climbing a mountain fast as you can't get up out of the saddle

Often recumbents are sold with the argument that they are ultra-fast, and actually most bicycle speed records are held by recumbents, peak speed at 130km/h, and 24 hours apprx. ~1000km. Does it also mean touring, randoneuring or bicycle racing ala Tour de France recumbents are also most fast?

Some discussion arose at

about this - and it made me think. Vik blogging The Lazy Randonneur discovered he wasn't most fast doing brevets in randonneuring events, whereas I shared my experience being really fast as touring cyclist, with baggage and hardly ever passed by DF with baggage at all, but I recall one time when a lowracer passed me with +10km/h speed yet without baggage. It turns out that the recumbents (low-, short- and longriders) have their own unique advantages, as the established DF has as well.

My speculation is, that the ability to use the body weight and swing it when going out of the saddle is the major difference to the recumbents, where this is not possible; swinging and instrumentalizing the body weight allows to deliver a peak power on the pedals, whereas recumbents do not allow this and one stays in a tighter range of power delivery on the pedals, forcing one to ride more evenly, and maybe slower thereby in some cases. Peak force or power delivery is useful for races, whereas more evenly distributed power deliver better for endurance application, such as touring, or even distance records attempts.

At Wikipedia on Recumbent Bicycle I found this quote:

A study by Bussolari and Nadel (1989) led them to pick a recumbent riding position for the Daedalus flight even though the English Channel crossing was accomplished in the Gossamer Albatross with an upright position. Drela in 1998 confirmed "that there was no significant difference in power output between recumbent and conventional bicycling." (Dave Wilson: Bicycle Science)

If this were true, the recumbents with their mostly improved aerodynamics play out their advancement at higher speed, where air resistance really starts to become major factor.

In a way it can be summed up that recumbents (long-, short- and lowriders) are faster:

  • when you can reach high speeds >30km/h to take advantage of improved aerodynamics
  • when you are adjusted to the recumbent, and are able to cycle at high pedal frequency uphill, given good gear ratio range and experience how to use it
  • when you can ride steady, without much stops or slowdowns due sharp curves, as increased frame weight is inertia harder to accelerate

Vik pointed out, that DF riders usually ride in groups and provide each other windshields - that's indeed true. When doing brevets or racing with a recumbent you might not provide each other windshields and an additional aerodynamic advantage, be aware of this as well.

My rough numbers (steady riding for 6 hours, no additional winds, no climbing, good road condition, with or without baggage given hard tires):

For a lowrider or lowracer I have no personal experience yet, and will update this as soon I can.

My Fateba L1 Longrider
I grew up with bicycles, when friends got motorcycles or cars, I still rode bicycles, but then lost interest while living in a larger city due traffic, and I reclaimed my enthusiasm with the longrider recumbent - since then I ride it exclusively:

  • to shop (3-10km) with sometimes 2-3 bags attached (5-20kg) or
  • with a bicycle trailer (up to 100kg),
  • visit friends (2-3 days tours ~200-400km),
  • or make big tours (~800-3500km).

And in 4 years and 11'000 km I fell off the longrider at full speed only twice, causing minor woundes on the arm and once on the knee due the low seat height of apprx. 50cm which I found much safer than riding a DF, where one falls much higher from.

It's just me, but I found what suits my needs (don't own or drive a car) - it may change, who knows!

Riding a longrider recumbent gave me a way to ride long (6-12 hours a day), far and rather fast again - without being exhausted and without pain on wrist, neck or butt anymore. I started to enjoy riding a bicycle again!

The longrider recumbent convinced me by experience . . . maybe you too, if not, fine too!

PS: If you like to promote recumbents as recumbent rider, offer curious people riding your recumbent, no evangelism required - but first hand experience.

Bicycle Science

(End of Article)

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