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I noticed a bunch of people riding recumbents a few days ago, as well as upright bikes, for an event happening in my town. What struck me was the low ride height and poor visibility (by others) of the recumbent riders, and, yes, they had flags.

While I hope it never happens, I couldn't help but think that if one were to get hit by a vehicle on a recumbent, it seems like one would be more likely to get run over/squashed/crushed under the tires, whereas on an upright bike, it seems more likely one would just fall off the bike if one were to get struck by a vehicle.

This is what has happened to me when I've been hit by cars in the past; I got injured but kind of just flew off the bike and to the ground. I have never ridden a recumbent so I'm not familiar.

I know closing speed, impact angle, preparedness, etc. all factor into how bad one is hurt or not during an accident and I would like to know, on average, is a recumbent more fatal in an accident than a regular bike? Are there any statistics that speak to this?

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  • You also need to consider if one style is less prone to being in an accident / more able to avoid one in the first place.
    – mattnz
    Jun 28, 2018 at 21:18
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    There's a huge bias here - "normal" bikes are common and there will be a lot more inexperienced riders. Recumbents are rare, expensive, and like learning to ride all over again, so should be a small percentage of accidents, AND be underrepresented because of more-experienced cyclists. Almost noone starts cycling on a recumbent - its upright diamond frame bikes for newbie riders.
    – Criggie
    Jun 29, 2018 at 1:33

2 Answers 2

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I have been riding a M5 recumbent for the last couple months. It is a highracer so higher than a lowracer, and puts me at about even face height with sedan drivers. That's roughly even with the saddle on my road bike. I have a flag but its not much above my head.

  • You're harder to see because you're behind cars rather than peeking over cars

  • As a rider you have more limited visibility of other cars for the same reason

  • BUT as something highly unusual on the road, drivers seem to perceive you better - the visual image passes from the lizard brain to the conscious brain and other road users notice you more. I experienced the same thing when riding a tandem either solo or together, or when towing the kiddy trailer - vehicles gave significantly more passing room than they do when I'm on my boring upright road bike.


To address the "more fatal" part - an upright rider is higher than a sedan, so an accident is more likely to hit the bike and "scoop" the rider up and over a bonnet/hood/windshield. With a lower bike, an impact will be more of a "push" or "shove" leading to more impact and sliding, than a "lift" which would be more throw and impact with the ground or other objects.

Personally, I'd prefer to ride defensively and avoid the potential accident all together, regardless which bike I am on.


Four years later, I have racked up 17,000 km on the M5 `bent and 5000km on a HP Velotechnik which is a 20/26" and slightly lower/faster than the M5. All my comments above hold up without change. I have never hit nor been hit by another vehicle. Other things I've learned:

  • Young kids love it! Riding past a bunch of primary-school kids frequently gets a "OOOO LOOK!!!" whereas high-school kids are too cool to react.
  • Bents are not faster than a road bike. Instead they're more efficient, but you can't put in power from your arms/core. There is no "standing" position so you build speed slower. So you can't drag-race a road bike from a stopped position, but you can often blast past one after a minute of catchup.
    Bents are faster than a roadbike in a headwind.
  • Slower acceleration means that catching a draught/draft is much harder and rarer.
  • Airhorn - just get one. I have an AIRZOUND and its loud enough to be heard in most vehicles.
  • Bents cannot Endo or throw you OTB even under the most aggressive braking.
  • You can skid the rear wheel easily, which creates thin/bald spots. This is despite a bent having a 50:50 weight split whereas a DF bike is rear-biased.
  • If you're going to fall, it will probably be a sideways fall. I did, and caught myself with my right arm, which has permanently damaged my right shoulder. Had the same happened from a DF bike, I'd probably have caught it with my right leg sooner.
  • Slow Falls If you fall, its more-likely going to be at slow-speed rather than full speed. Since you're sitting, you can't move your bodyweight around for balance so slow manoeveurs tend to have large steering inputs. I've noticed I "lead with my head" which is 1/7 of your body weight, so can help to establish a lean before a turn.
  • Night time riding is extra hard - you're more in the beam of headlights from passing cars, and a mirror goes both ways so you're frequently dazzled.
    Bents are low, so your bike's lights are probably low, making it easy to be obscured. Ideally you'd have a light on your flagpole, probably blinking amber.
  • Luggage is hard - there are fewer places to put things when riding. You can't wear a backpack, most riding shirts have back pockets which may not work with your seat, and things fall out of hip pockets while riding. I can carry a laptop and a sandwich in a specially-homemade left-side bag, and strap a rolled raincoat to the outside but no more.
  • Riding bike paths can be a challenge if there are lots of chicanes, bollards, and mantraps. The extra length means I'd have to get off and wheelie the bent through the railway line crossing. So I just ride on the road at places like this:

https://www.google.com/maps/@-43.5659275,172.4432866,3a,75y,116.2h,66.72t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sjP5oMLwh_956Cffh0zeEpA!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

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    Secondary thought - a recumbent is lower than a DF bike, and will brake better because of that. Tyre adhesion and grip on the road is still the ultimate limit on hard braking, but a bent will stop quicker than a DF bike.
    – Criggie
    Jun 29, 2018 at 1:35
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    The scooping vs pushing and or crushing is more or less what I first thought.
    – ebrohman
    Jun 29, 2018 at 4:25
  • @ebrohman Thinking about modern sedans because they're most common vehicles - a DF bike rider is more similar to a standing/walking adult than a recumbent rider, so the taller bike would benefit from the car design safety features for pedestrian impact. A recumbent would not benefit much.
    – Criggie
    Jun 29, 2018 at 8:20
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    I'm definitely noticed more on a recumbent or in velomobile. In fact I've nearly caused an accident because the drivers were looking at me and not the road. >.< Feb 11, 2022 at 11:56
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    I recently read the results of an accident in which a velomobile had been pushed by a car for 6 meter and while it had clear damage and the rider some sore spots, non of those where life threatening. The VM needs the front wheels and steering system repaired and some outside carbon/paint work. You could not have that on any open bike.
    – Willeke
    Feb 12, 2022 at 18:13
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While I know of no accident statistics that differentiate between types of bikes, I would argue that riding a recumbent is probably less likely to cause severe head injuries as the rider won't cartwheel over the handlebars or fall to the ground from up high. Being close to the ground probably makes injuries less severe in cases where the collision wouldn't have caused death anyway. Both types of bikes would get crushed under a truck's wheels at a right-hand corner when unnoticed in the blind-spot, for example.

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