Recumbent Bike vs Upright Bike: Which Should I Choose?

Are you looking to add more cardio to your exercise routine? If the answer is yes an at-home bike could be your perfect solution. The next step is finding the bike that’s right for you. Recumbent bikes and upright bikes are two of the most popular at-home bikes. We’re going to talk you through their differences and help you find the bike of your dreams.

Difference Between Recumbent Bike & Upright Bike

Upright Bike

What Is It?

Upright bikes have been a popular choice by fitness fanatics and everyday athletes for years. Over these years, they’ve evolved into high-quality machines. Their style is simple yet effective. Your body is placed in an upright position and the pedals are located directly beneath your feet. Being in an upright position forces you to maintain good posture when cycling. 

A lot of upright bikes have some really cool features. Many are foldable which is great if you don’t have a lot of spare room. Just take it out when exercising and store it in a cupboard or corner when it’s not in use. Some upright bikes even have attachable desks. If you have a desk job this is a great way to add extra movement into your day. Pedaling while you work also means you won’t have to worry about fitting exercising around your work. 

Most upright bikes operate by a light flywheel. They’re manufactured using a crankshaft and bottom bracket which turns the flywheel via a chain or belt. Resistance is generated using fan, magnetic, or electromagnetic resistance. A lot of upright bikes will show you your heart rate, distance, speed, and calories burned while you cycle. Real-time data is an incredible tool to help you track your progress and workouts. Additionally, many upright bikes will have preset programs you can follow during your workout. Preset programs are a great way to add structure and variety to your training.

Upright Cycles: Pros & Cons

  • Foldable options available 
  • Some models include a desk
  • Body placed in an upright position 
  • Preset programs 
  • Displays heart rate, distance, speed, and calories burned
  • Simple to use 
  • Can be used for HIIT 
  • Comfortable, padded seat
  • Few anatomical adjustments
  • Can’t stand on the pedals 
  • Doesn’t feel like a real bike

Recumbent Bike

What Is It?

The first thing you’ll notice on a recumbent bike is its unique seat positioning. The recumbent bike has a backrest and a low seat. This angle makes it feel like you’re relaxing back in a chair. The pedals are in front of you so your cycling position is altered. Many people like the laid-back style of recumbent bikes as it allows them to watch television or read whilst exercising. If  you’re pressed for time and are choosing between exercise and relaxing, recumbent bikes are the perfect solution. Another benefit of the laid-back position is its lumbar support. If you suffer from lower back pain, lumbar support can help relieve it. Recumbent bikes also have a wide seat to add extra comfort and support.

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Similar to upright bikes, recumbent bikes also work using a light flywheel. The flywheel is connected to the pedals via a chain or belt and resistance is created using fan, magnetic, or electromagnetic resistance. Most recumbent bikes will display heart rate, distance, speed, and calories burned during your cycle. Many will also have preset programs you can use as part of your training. More and more recumbent bikes are also attaching resistance bands to their frame. This allows you to work your upper body muscles while you cycle. If you’re looking for a simple and effective way to train your entire body, this is the perfect solution. Just like upright bikes, some recumbent bikes are foldable.

Recumbent Cycles: Pros & Cons

  • Laid Back position
  • Hands-free
  • Lumbar support
  • Suitable for elderly people and those with lower back pain
  • Foldable recumbent bikes available 
  • Displays heart rate, distance, speed, and calories
  • Resistance bands available 
  • Few anatomical adjustments
  • Can’t stand on the pedals 
  • Doesn’t feel like a real bike

Differencies 

Body Position

One of the biggest differences between an upright bike and a recumbent bike is the body position. On a recumbent bike, your body sits within the frame. The seat is low and the pedals are in front of you. This creates an almost horizontal position for your legs. The added backrest allows you to lean your torso back into a comfortable position. On an upright bike, your body sits above the frame. Similar to how you would sit on a traditional bike. The pedals are below you to put your body in an almost vertical position. The laid-back position of a recumbent bike can reduce stress on your back and help prevent stiffness in the back and neck. But, an upright position is more suitable for performance. Which bike you choose will depend on what’s more important to you; comfort or performance. 

Seat

The seats on recumbent bikes are much wider than the seats on an upright bike. Some people find the narrow seat on an upright bike uncomfortable. But, narrower seats put your legs in a better position for cycling and can help reduce chafing during longer rides. If you’re looking to perform on a bike, an upright bike would be more suitable. However, if you’re looking for maximal comfort during shorter rides, a recumbent bike is the better choice. 

Pedal Position 

Pedal positioning affects which muscles you’re working during cycling. On a recumbent bike, the pedals are in front of you. This means your pedaling in an almost horizontal position. However, on an upright bike, the pedals are below you. Thus, you’re pedalling in more of a vertical position. Pedaling in a vertical position works your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and core. But, when you’re laid-back on a recumbent bike your core becomes disengaged. Although, a major benefit of the pedal position on a recumbent bike is it is lower impact. Less stress on your joints is ideal for older populations and those with injuries or neurological conditions. Again, it’s a choice of performance vs comfort. 

Space

Recumbent bikes and upright bikes are available in foldable options. If you don’t have much room to spare you can simply fold it up and store it away. But, recumbent bikes are much bigger than upright bikes even when folded. If you’re very limited with space make sure you measure out the dimensions before making a purchase. 

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Recumbent Bike vs Upright: Which Muscles Do You Work?

We mentioned pedal positioning influences muscle engagement. Recumbent bikes work the quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. But, due to their laid-back nature, they fail to engage the core. On an upright bike, you engage more muscles. An upright bike works your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, core, and upper body. Holding onto the handles of an upright bike helps work your upper body too. It works it to a lesser extent compared to the lower body but still provides more stimulation than recumbent bikes. 

Verdict: Which Is the Best for Me? 

Recumbent bikes and upright bikes are very similar in the way they operate. But, they differ vastly in terms of body positioning.

  • Recumbent bikes put your body in a laid-back position. This is more comfortable and provides more support, but isn’t best for overall performance or muscle engagement.
  • Upright bikes put your body in an upright position. This engages more muscles and aids performance but isn’t as comfortable.

Overall, recumbent bikes are more suitable for those who want maximal comfort. They’re best suited to older populations, people with back pain, or neurological conditions. Upright bikes are best for those who want to engage their full-body and work on their performance. 

Michaela Summers

Michaela Summers is a health and fitness content creator. She holds a Master of Research in Health and Wellbeing and a BSc in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of Exeter.She is on a mission to help people live a more fulfilling, impactful life through fitness and lifestyle. When she's not writing, she can be found in the gym, playing tennis, or exploring the great outdoors.