A type of bicycle on which you ride in a low seated position. Recumbent enthusiasts also call them "bents". Rather than leaning forward, like on a traditional diamond frame bike, you sit with your back against a raised seat and cycle with your legs out in front. This makes riding more comfortable because a lot of stress is relieved from your neck, shoulders, back and buttocks. Recumbents are not as new an invention as you would think; early models like the Challand's Normal Bicyclette have been around since late 1800s.

There are three main styles of recumbents: Long wheelbase (LWB), short wheelbase (SWB) and compact long wheelbase (CLWB) bikes. Long wheelbase bikes are comfortable, fast and stable but may be tricky to handle at low speeds due to their length. Short wheelbase bikes have the front wheel situated under or a bit ahead of the rider's knees and the crankset mounted on a boom in the front of the bike. Smaller size makes them easier to maneuver and transport than LWBs. Compact long wheelbase bike is basically a cross between the long and short models and is probably the easiest recumbent to learn to ride on.

Examples of recumbent brands:
LWB: Linear, Infinity
SWB: Counterpoint Presto
CLWB: BikeE, Linear

FAQ for Recumbent Bikes - http://www.ihpva.org/FAQ/
The North Texas Recumbent Bike Enthusiasts - http://www.rbent.org/

Recent recumbent converts often ask that since recumbent bikes are so obviously superior to upright bikes, why aren't they more popular these days? Here's one fairly plausible theory:

In 1933, a Frenchman named Marcel Berthet rode a recumbent bike to a new speed record of 50km/h. A furor arose in the UCI (Union Cyclist International), the general governing body for bicycle racing. After some debate, the UCI decided in 1934 to outlaw recumbent bicycles from competition, after which they fell out of favor with hardcore racers.

It should be noted here that the current human powered land speed record of 110.68km/h (68.73mph) was set in 1993 by a rider on a recumbent bike.

There are more reasons why recumbent bicycles are not seen as much as they could be. First and foremost though, is the vicious cycle* that recumbents have had to suffer since 1933 (as mentioned in vomsorb's writeup). If you can't race with them, they won't be as popular with the general public (Don't deny it, just look at the proliferation of Nike shoes among people who only wear them to the milk bar, and think about all the people with a racing bicycle that hardly ever gets ridden (I remember in one Seinfeld episode that Jerry mentioned his bike (that hangs in the background near the entrance to the bathroom) was 'just for show')). If something is not manufactured as much, there'll be less of them, they'll get less exposure, and less people will want them. So on and so on until all recumbent bikes are pretty much made for and by enthusiasts.

The lack of racing credibility isn't the only hurdle the recumbent bike has had to deal with - the fact is, that when you're riding one you look like an absolute idiot. You lean back with your feet out front like you're on a recliner, yet you're probably wearing bicycle shorts and pedalling like a mad thing. To boot, the steering is underneath where you sit, making you look like you're performing some sort of bizarre arse surgery on yourself. The short wheelbase ones are even worse - the pedals are higher than where you sit, and your feet stick out over and in front of the front wheel! If you want a bicycle for everyday use, get a mountain bike, if you want one that looks cool, get a lowrider or a dragster. If you want to look like the bicycling equivalent of a trainspotter, get a recumbent bicycle.

Safety is also an issue with recumbent bikes. For many people, riding a bicycle means riding it on a road at some point - conventional bicycles put your head above the roof level of most cars (Again, four wheel drives make things unsafe for another category of road users), enabling you to see well and keep your head and torso away from the initial point of impact in the event of a collision. Recumbent bikes have you very low to the ground, heavily limiting your visibility and also putting your entire body somewhere around the level of the bumper bar. Safe!

Finally, recumbent bicycles are expensive. There is virtually no mass-production of recumbent bikes, so each one is either part of a small production run, or made one at a time. This drives the prices up.

*Seriously, I didn't realise this until I re-read the entire paragraph.

A recumbent bicycle, or recumbent/bent, is a human powered vehicle which may have either two wheels or three. Sometimes the latter will be referred to as a "three wheeled recumbent bicycle".

Some allow the individual to pedal with their hand. These are called handcycles (or racing wheelchairs) and are typically more expensive than conventional recumbents.

As J. Totale notes, there is the question of visibility due to the height disparity between recumbents and automobiles. The solution to this would be to avoid motorways, but not all communities can boast of a proper bike path or track. This is a problem that has been mediated somewhat with the use of flags for those intrepid enough to ride with car traffic.

The idea that recumbents are not popular due to the stipulations of professional racers is a bit silly to me. More and more people today are using recumbents simply to make their heart race, not to haul ass. But yes, the recumbent will get up to a nice clip, if you let it. So a helmet is a good idea, as is being certain that your terrain is level and relatively free from debris.

Much like a decent bicycle, a recumbent will cost anywhere from 250 USD on up to a few grand, depending on how fancy a ride it is. Think of it as an investment for your health. 

Attaching a boombox to a recumbent is a good way to make your ride more exciting. 

People who use recumbents are typically older but not always—children's models are available.

A good resource for learning more about recumbents is the Recumbent Journal. Some builders are able to make special frames while others, such as Steve Schwartz of Bay Trail Trikes, can customize existing models to order.

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