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My wife thinks that she can't use a recumbent on the roads, as a car driver will not be able to see it. What’s the solution?

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    If she doesn't feel safe riding a recumbent why are you trying to push it? Let her ride a standard bike if she wants.
    – Kibbee
    Jul 6, 2011 at 18:38
  • @Kibbee standard bike and trikes are not stable enough
    – Ian
    Jul 7, 2011 at 8:28

9 Answers 9

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Getting a high safety flag is common on recumbents (and trailers), at least in the US. alt text

Photo credit

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    I want that to work, but I can't imagine it possibly being any use (other to make the 'bent cyclist feel better). Sep 3, 2010 at 0:36
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    Today I saw one with 4 flags, 2 on each side.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 7, 2011 at 2:52
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    @TomHawtin-tackline so the flag addresses exactly the problem the OP is talking about - the rider feels less visible. Add a flag, she will probably feel more visible, regardless of the facts in both situations.
    – Móż
    May 2, 2016 at 2:10
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Sorry for the late answer.

The solution is to persuade your wife that she will be seen.

Obviously you can make the bike more visible, as the other answers suggest, but this is probably an emotional issue rather than a reasoned one. She feels less visible on the recumbent. The solution to the feeling is not so much reasoned argument as it is to start riding and focus on riding in places that she feels safe. Try to balance that against being exposed to motorists, so look for quiet back streets and places where bike paths cross roads. Avoid car parks because those are insanely dangerous even if they're low-speed.

If she doesn't have a recumbent yet, a velomobile might also help. The combination of feeling somewhat enclosed and actually being surrounded by a huge blob of colour does wonders. Not to mention the (almost always positive) comments the velo gets. Faling that, a tailbox is a useful addition - it provides storage as well as a block of colour.

velomobile being admired

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I've never had a car not see me, who would have seen a bicycle. That said, it's crucial to bike safely and to stay where the cars are looking: in the street, not the gutter or sidewalk. I also use a flag and reflectors. I particularly like reflectors on my body and helmet, since we perceive body motion more easily than machine (straight line) motion.

That said, flags don't help the worst visibility problem: when a car is approaching from a side street and not looking in your lane. Your front gears may be the only part visible, and they blend in at night. You need to grab that car's attention, so I have reflective tape all over the sides of my pedals.

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    Hmmm - as a tall rider I experience the opposite. I can see over cars on a regular bike and can't see through them when on a recumbent. Occasionally I can see "under" a truck, but that's rare.
    – Criggie
    Dec 11, 2021 at 23:34
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Overall, you are probably going to be safer on a recumbent than a conventional upright bike.

Remember, a conventional bike can be hidden by vans and buses. The key thing, in my limited experience, is to stay well out of the gutter. Refuse to be intimidated by cars behind wanting you out of the way. Make sure you are where you can be seen. For instance, if two cars facing each other are turning right (across the road in the UK), just hang back away from the curb.

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    Yes, I second this. I find that if you stay in near the gutter then you are seen as a stationary object (e.g. parked car) and cars are always tempted to 'just nip past' you, regardless of how close they are to you. Whereas if you stay out and force them to cross the dotted line into the oncoming traffic lane to get around you then they become much more conscious of their actions & therefore more cautious.
    – Kevin
    Sep 1, 2010 at 20:14
  • While I strongly agree that maintaining a good lane position will make any rider more visible, recumbents are not necessarily safer than normal bikes. Both have pros and cons for visibility.
    – darkcanuck
    Sep 2, 2010 at 0:57
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    Recumbents can be ridden in the gutter, and uprights can be ridden in the lane, and vice-versa. I see nothing in this answer that supports the statement that recumbents are safer than uprights despite the lower visual profile. Dec 21, 2010 at 20:23
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A recumbent has a single negative and several positives to balance.

The negative is YES you are lower, and therefore easier to be obscured by other items. This is similar to how a low-slung sport car might be invisible beyond a larger vehicle on the roadway.

To balance that out:

  • Once you have been seen, then you're really hard to ignore. There's an "autopilot" in our brains that takes over semi-autonomous functions like breathing, and after time driving. A driver in this state will effectively "zone out" and it takes something out-of-the-ordinary to be noticed. A recumbent is odd-enough to kick this thought up out of the lizard brain and into the higher brain, where the driver takes notice.
    I ride road bikes too, and there's a distinctively larger gap left when my bent is being passed by cars, vs when my road bike is being passed by cars. This suggests the drivers are proactively acting more.
  • Rear vision - it is hard to see behind you while on a bent. Turning your head isn't enough and you can't turn your shoulders easily. So most bent riders have at least one mirror of some sort. This increases your awareness of what's behind you much more than a road bike. I would not ride a bent without a mirror now.
  • Speed - going faster means your "Time Exposed to Danger" (or "TED") is lower. I'm more confident to "take a lane" if that's what I need to do for my own safety.
  • Field of Vision - being lower means things get in your way a bit more, but also the angle of the seat means you have a comfortable field vision spanning 180 degrees without even trying. A road bike tends to aim your head down more.
    This FOV contributes to general alertness, combined with the speed increase means it's really hard to zone out. You're almost always paying good attention.

Justifications: I've done about 20,000 km on two recumbents in the last ~4 years, around a quarter on higher-speed narrow rural roads.

SUMMARY: Yes recumbents are different to a regular, taller bike. Better in some ways, and worse in others.

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I feel the thought behind this question is wrong.

Some recumbents are lower than upright bikes.

But on my recumbents my head is on the same level as road (racer) bike riders with their hands on the hoods and higher than their head when they are on the drops.
And my bike is a mid level, there are many recumbent bikes which are higher than mine.

My field of vision is very open, I can easily see all in front of me and to my sides, while they can see the ground just before or under their front wheel.

If car drivers can not see me, can they see those road bike riders? (And a valid question in the Netherlands, can they see children on their bikes?)

These days many cars are so high that even on a tall sit up and beg Dutch bike I can not look over the top of them, and nor can the drivers of other cars see over them to see me. Seeing through cars is not easy either. And ever been able to see through the corner of a building? I have had three days in a row I stopped at a corner (where I have right of way) due to traffic approaching that corner too close to the parked cars and buildings along the road. (Better to stop when you hear a car coming.) Whatever the bike I had been on, they would not have seen me in time to stop for me.

So if someone wants to ride a bike, any bike, teach them to be seen and to be careful when they can not be seen.
But the type of bike, recumbent or sit up, is not making that much of a difference, until you get to the very low ones.

Low racers and low trikes (often the tadpoles) are below the nose of the normal cars and have to take even more care to be seen. Adjusting speed might be part of the solution. I personally do not want to ride those in traffic, but that may change when I have tried it for real. Never having used a bike that low I can not tell how cars react.

Added:
I now ride a velomobile and those are low. It helps that it is a big blob of colour, yellow in my case, and with good reflection all around. But I never feel 'unseen' where I would be seen on a higher bike, except when the green on the verges is higher than me, in which case I come to a stop at any crossing path for other traffic, including bikes.
quest with bicycles behind it
My velomobile, a Quest, with standard sit-up bikes behind it.

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I'd add that getting reflectors and a flashing tail light, along with some sort of front flasher, will increase visibility.

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  • Some people claim flashing lights make it harder to judge distance (and they are a pain to look at if you happen to be a cyclist behind or facing them.)
    – Willeke
    Dec 11, 2021 at 21:34
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Get a really high and visible safety flag.

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  • Flags are only seen from the side and then many people will think 'child' and 'slow'. Besides, the flag may make you feel seen, giving you a false feeling of security while your flag may only be a 1 by 10 cm (1/2 by 4") line on a thinner stick from the angle of the driver. Flags are not the solution.
    – Willeke
    Feb 12, 2022 at 18:17
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I mounted a rechargeable flashing warning light on mine after someone almost rear ended me. It's been a game changer. Haven't had a "near miss" since. You get these on Amazon and then I just used an "L" bracket I already had. With this, I feel confident I am as safe as a normal bike. I still use a flag but feel they help more with people coming from you left or right at a 4 way stop, for example. YouTube link is below.

enter image description here

https://youtube.com/shorts/YSnK0S5S5AU?si=BhlBSvFpUU19ourU

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    This answer (adding lights) has already been submitted. Is there some additional information you could add that is unique?
    – Ted Hohl
    Apr 13 at 4:02
  • Welcome to the site - I've lifted two stills from your video and made them inline. Youtube "shorts" aren't as versatile as regular youtube links which can be embedded.
    – Criggie
    Apr 14 at 3:14
  • I see one downside - there's no red light as legally mandated in most locations around the world, and if you did have a red it could be obscured by the high light levels coming out this yellow/amber light.
    – Criggie
    Apr 14 at 3:15

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