Today I took my first real ( not stationary ) bike ride in decades and I took my first recumbent bike ride.
Mount Airy Bicycles is out in semi-rural Maryland between D.C. and Baltimore. The day was sunny and the bike shop was located on a country road perfect for a mile long test drive.
After being on the first bike for about 5 minutes I fell in love. I was amazed at how comfortable the bike was and how easy it was to pick up the balance. This is saying much as they look very awkward and uncomfortable. However, the riding experience is the exact opposite. I was skilled enough to get out of the parking lot and on the road in about 6 minutes.
I would advise any organization trying to get more people to bike to find a way to get people to put their ass into the seat of a recumbent bicycle for a test drive. Within moments most people will impressed with the superior comfort and power of the recumbent bicycle.
True to what I read about them, recumbent bikes are easier to peddle, worked great on hills, are kinder to your knees, MUCH kinder to your crotch, back, and neck, make it much easier to enjoy the view during your ride and are safer. You are lower to the ground. If you wipe out ( and it is harder to wipe out from the position you are in ) you are more likely to get road rash on your thigh than a head or a neck injury.
The bike shop people were experts and very helpful. They suggested I test drive two different designs that were good for beginning recumbent bike riders. The big difference between the two designs was the position of the peddles. The first bike had my feet lower than my knees. The second bike had my feet and legs parallel to the ground. Both bikes had touring handle bars for steering instead of having the steering mechanism by the seat.
The first bike was easier to steer and gave the muscles over a 4 inch area above my knee caps a good workout. Though I was pumping out tremendous pressure, I felt very little pressure in the knee joint itself. Instead my thigh muscles took the pressure. On stationary bikes I tried and as with various leg exercises I could never feel the work in my outer quads/thigh muscles, just my inner leg muscles. The first bike worked everything all around my knees toughening a whole range of muscles.
The second bike, the one that held my legs parallel to the ground, spread the work out over a larger area of my legs. The power for the bike came not only from my knees and thighs, but also my hips, the back of my legs and my buttocks. This greatly increased the power and speed I could generate. Basically, I was putting my whole leg into the thrust., instead of just a small part. It was also much more of a complete workout. Whoever regularly uses that bike will get strong legs, toned hips, and rock hard ass muscles. The horizontal leg position did make it slightly more awkward to steer. My legs and feet kept getting in the way of the handle bars when I took sharp turns, though I think that would clear up with a few days of practice.
Having been on these bikes it is now my firm belief that the world really made a wrong turn in going with upright bikes for the past century. I think anyone test driving a recumbent bike would come to the same conclusion in about 5 minutes.
The only negative thing about these bikes were the price tags. Since they are not as popular as uprights and come in a multiplicity of profoundly different designs they are not massed produced, making them expensive. The cheapest one there started at $600. The two I tried were about $1000 each. Not much for serious bike enthusiasts, but a bit steep for the casual rider who does not know how much use s/he is going to get out of the bikes. However, after having tried them I think they are worth the price.
The bikes were very fun to ride and very healthy. The recumbent design is far superior.