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?

  • 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 '18 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 '18 at 1:33

I have been riding a recumbent for the last couple months. Its a highracer so higher than a lowracer, and puts me at about even face height with sedan drivers. Thats 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 peaking 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" 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.

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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 '18 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 '18 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 '18 at 8:20

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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