Interesting Recumbent vs Upright Result

My e-bike was getting a tune-up when I went on this week’s group ride, and we were going on a route without too much climbing, so I decided to take my recumbent. There were no e-bikes on the ride, just me and nine other people on uprights. I was always right up at the front until we did the only serious climb, up Day road, which leads up into the hills southwest of Morgan Hill. This is mostly uphill, with some steeper sections, interspersed with flatter or slightly downhill parts. I would get passed by the entire group on the steeper uphills, then pass them back and be up at the front on the flat and downhill sections. This is pretty much as expected, recumbents are known to be slow climbers, but I have a slight aerodynamic advantage on the flats over most upright bikes.

The really interesting part was when we headed back, which was completely flat with a decent headwind. The strongest rider in the group disappeared up ahead, but my recumbent ended up pacing everyone else, who drafted in a line behind me. This includes some riders I consider stronger than me. I have heavy-duty tires with thornproof tubes, so I should have higher rolling resistance. Maybe my aero advantage is more than slight?

The fact that recumbents don’t climb as well is interesting. Most people dismiss it as “of course, it’s because you can’t stand up to pedal”. But recumbents are still slower up steep climbs compared to seated climbing on an upright. I know this to be true for me, I can climb the same steep hill on my upright, seated, and my recumbent, and I’m always faster on the upright. Also, recumbents have what should be an advantage: you have the support of the seat’s backrest, so when you need higher pedal force you can push against it. This feels kind of like doing a single-leg press at the gym. The only explanation I’ve heard for the recumbent disadvantage climbing was offered by the dealer I’ve bought bikes from, Zach Kaplan. He thinks it’s because on a hill your feet are considerably higher than your heart on a recumbent, so your heart has to work harder to get enough blood supply to your legs.

In any case, this turned out to be quite an enjoyable ride. I recently got some lighter tires and tubes for my recumbent which I’ll try out soon. I’ll be interested to see how much faster I can go with the same effort with less rolling resistance.

Here is some of the nice scenery we passed in the hills West of Gilroy:

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