Recumbent Biking for Fitness, Function and Fun
Author Carrie Jackson can be seen riding her recumbent bike on trails across the Chicago area.
Photo: Matt LaFleur
With smoother aerodynamics, improved ergonomics and a sleek presentation, recumbent bikes are quickly gaining a new audience. In the last several years, more people have started turning to recumbent biking for cardiovascular exercise, off-road adventures, an alternative to driving or just to explore the neighborhood.
Joe Reichert is the owner of Amlings Cycle in Niles. He says that riders are switching to recumbents for their performance, comfort and style. “For over 40 years, we’ve focused on unparalleled support and service for the entire biking community, which led to a specialization in recumbent bikes and trikes.”
Neal Ney has been a member of the Evanston Bicycle Club since 1993, and bought his first recumbent in 1997. The club offers meetings, resources, group rides, camaraderie and a community with a focus on safe recreational riding for adults. Of the more than 600 members, Ney says that only a handful ride recumbents, but that number is slowly growing. “They are more comfortable and make bicycling accessible to people who might otherwise not be able to ride. You can see more stuff. I am almost always the first person on a group ride to spot the hawks.”
Dr. Chris Codina is a chiropractor and functional movement specialist at Whole Life Chiropractic, in Hoffman Estates. He works with his clients to restore function, eliminate pain, increase mobility and prevent injuries. “The body was meant to move, and when it doesn’t move properly, things get out of alignment and everything has to work harder to restore balance,” he says.
Codina says that the benefits of recumbent biking are myriad. It gets people outside, promotes cardiovascular activity, improves strength and range of motion, increases endorphins and is relatively easy on the body. “Biking in general is a great low-impact alternative to running or even walking, which can be hard on the knee and hip joints. Because you’re not hunched over the handlebars, recumbent biking takes even more pressure off of the wrists, elbows and lower back, and reduces the likelihood of tension and scar tissue in the upper body. It also allows for more free movement and more range of motion in the hips, and is great for people who have hip or back injuries,” says Codina.
Dr. Peter Kozlowski is an Elk Grove Village-based functional medicine doctor who says that riding a recumbent bike can increase many aspects of overall health and wellness, as well as ward off dementia and other degenerative conditions. “We use a functional matrix to address healing. At the core is mental, emotional and spiritual health, and at the base is sleep and relaxation, exercise and movement, nutrition, stress and relationships. Studies show that aerobic exercise can literally improve memory and brain function, increase the size of the hippocampus, and decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Recumbent bikes and trikes are a great option for people who can’t tolerate a regular bicycle,” he says.
Besides the physical benefits, recumbent biking is just cool. “You may as well be driving a Ferrari for all the attention you receive. Motorists, pedestrians and other cyclists do double-takes as they watch you breeze by, seemingly without effort,” says Reichert. “There aren’t many things that a 70-year-old man can do that teenagers think is cool, but riding a recumbent bike is one of them. People smile and stare when you ride by,” adds Ney.
Being lower to the ground does offer pros and cons. Riders are more able to put both feet down, making stability more efficient. “A lower center of gravity enhances cornering and handling, and recumbents tend to stop faster and more smoothly,” says Reichert. At the same time, the lack of height does pose a risk that motorists won’t be able to see the bikes. Flags and reflectors attached to the back of the bike help with visibility, and many riders find that the notoriety of the bikes makes them more discernable, as well. “Since you’re looking forward and not down, you have more opportunities for eye contact with motorists,” says Ney.
Whether it’s for fitness, function or just fun, recumbent bikes and trikes can be safe and effective for people of all ages and activity level. Many people find a restored level of activity and enjoyment with them. “When I made the move to a recumbent bike, it was primarily because of neck problems, but I’ve found the bike more comfortable for my back, wrists and shoulders, as well. I fell in love with bicycling in the 1980s, but with age, I had gotten the point that I had to ice my neck after every ride. The exciting thing about switching to a recumbent was that I felt like I was back on a high-performance machine. I am riding more miles now than I did 30 years ago,” says Ney. “People find they’re cycling longer and father than before, and arriving at their destination refreshed.”
“Once you’ve experienced a recumbent, it’s difficult to ever go back to a conventional bike,” adds Reichert.