Recently I’ve become more aware of the number of bicycle riders who are riding recumbent bicycles, which allow them to ride while basically lying down. I also remembered a 2006 study which revealed the best bio-mechanical sitting position which lo and behold was pretty close to the recumbent bicycle positioning. A few months ago I wrote about how the traditional bicycle saddle can impact rider’s genitals and reproductive health and why experts are recommending using a split saddle. Perhaps, the better solution lies in, lying down.
The word recumbent comes from the Latin word recubere which refers to the state of lying down. With a recumbent bicycle, the seat positions the rider in a reclining position usually situated between the two wheels, with the feet activating pedals that are at the same height as the knees. One of the most often cited reasons that riders mention when switching to a recumbent bicycle is comfort. The reclined position eliminates body weight on the hands, arms and shoulders and allows for a more comfortable neck position because the head is in a more natural position for better forward visibility. Additionally, there is reduced pressure on the base of the pelvis (or sits bones), because more of the body weight is absorbed along the lower back.
This is verified in the 2006 study, conducted in Aberdeen, Scotland. That study compared three different sitting positions: upright 90 degree position, slouched forward position, and a 135 degree reclining position, similar to the alignment on a recumbent bicycle. Measurements were taken with a positional MRI that measured spinal angles, vertebral disk height and disk movement related to each position.
The research found that the position where there was a 135 degree angle between the thighs and the body produced the least amount of disk movement indicating that there was less strain placed on the disks and corresponding muscles and ligaments. Additionally, the reclined seated position produced the least amount of compression of the vertebral disks.
To tie this in with the split seat post mentioned earlier, having less pressure on the floor of the pelvis will also relieve the incidents of reproductive issues associated with a standard saddle on an upright bicycle.
So while there are differences in riding characteristics between an upright and a recumbent bicycle, the clear winner with regards to comfort and lower risk of injury to the spine and genitals is the recumbent bike.