This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.
1) Do recumbents climb hills well? Yes they do, although climbing on a
recumbent requires a different technique, you must gear down and spin.
Maintaining an efficient spin takes some practice & conditioning, once
mastered, it takes less physical effort to climb hills. Depending on
your riding style, your speeds can range from slowwer to even faster
than on a conventional bicycle.
2) Can recumbents be seen in traffic? Recumbents with a higher seating
position may be better suited for riding in traffic than some of the
low-slung designs. The use of use of proper safety devices such as
safety flags and reflective devices is recommended. Recumbent bicycles
are different, futuristic and they get noticed. Many riders feel they
get more respect from motorists while on their recumbents.
3) Are they safe? Recumbent's are safer than a conventional bicycle.
Due to the low centre of gravity, they stop faster. Brakes can be
evenly applied to both wheels simultaneously providing more traction
without throwing the rider over the handlebars. In crash situations,
the rider goes down to the side absorbing the impact with the hip and
leg rather than flying over the handlebars and absorbing the impact on
your head and shoulder. Straight ahead vision is also better on a
recumbent, however, rear view mirrors are necessary for proper
ubject: 7.12.4 RECUMBENT PAST HISTORY
Why are recumbents such a rare sight? Space age technology? New
type of bicycle? Not really, recumbent bicycles actually go back as
far as the mid to late 1800's with the Macmillan Velocopede and the
Challand Recumbent. In the 1930's, a series of events took place that
changed bicycling history. A French second category professional
track cyclist named Francois Faure rode the Velocar, a two wheeled
recumbent bicycle designed and built by Charles Mochet, to
record-shattering speeds, breaking both the mile and kilometre records
of the day. This created a storm of controversy within the U.C.I.
(United Cycliste International), bicycle rating's governing body. The
debate centred on whether the Velocar was a bicycle and were these
records legal? In 1934 they ruled against the Mochet-Faure record,
banning recumbent bicycles and aerodynamic devices from racing. Were
U.C.I. members worried that the recumbent bicycle would displace the
conventional design? Did they realize this would freeze bicycle and
human-powered vehicle development for the next forty years? This is
why bicycles of taday look very similar to the Starkey and Sutton
Safety (upright/conventional) of 1885. Just think where bicycle
technology would be today if the U.C.I. decision had gone the opposite
ubject: 7.12.5 MODERN RECUMBENT HISTORY
Recumbent development was fairly quiet until the late 1960's. Dan
Henry received some media attention for his long wheelbase design in
1968. In the early 1970's, the human-powered revolution was starting up
on both the U.S. east coast by David Gordon, designer of the Avatar, and
on the west coast by Chester Kyle. These pioneers recognized the need
for further development of human-powered vehicles. In the late 1970's
and early 1980's, this lead to the first commercial recumbent bicycle
designs such as the Avatar, Easy Racer and Hypercycle. In 1990, the
Recumbent Bicycle Club of America was founded by Dick Ryan who currently
manufactures the Ryan Vanguard and was also involved with the Avatar
project in the early 1980's. In 1988 recumbent promoter Robert Bryant
got his start writing "Recumbent Ramblings," a column for "HPV News."
In the summer of 1990, Robert founded the "Recumbent Cyclist Magazine,"
and in a short two years, RCM has become the source for recumbent bicyle
information in the world today.