On a tandem ride the other day, my astute stoker pointed out that of all the other bikers we encounter, it seems like recumbent riders always look the happiest. We have other theories about the mental state of our fellow trail users (most notably that runners seem to be in a constant state of searing pain, just based on their expressions), but this was the first time one of us had observed a tribal mindset within our own wheeled brethren.
My flip answer was, "You know that pain you're feeling in your ass right now? Recumbent riders don't have that." Doesn't seem like an awful theory, really. Even the most comfortable upright bike is going to eventually do a number on your contact points. Take away that pain (even if it's just a small, nagging one) and you're much more likely to smile.
But on further reflection, I think there's more to it than just pain relief. As any recumbent zealot will remind you, sit-down bikes were banned from competition by the UCI in 1934, and have been riding around on the fringes of the sport ever since. That means everyone you see on a recumbent today has at some point walked into a bike shop, taken a look at the rows of "normal" upright bikes that everyone else rides, and said, "Nope, not interested. I want that weird one over there." Maybe it's just for the comfort, maybe they can't ride an upright any more, or maybe it's an innate desire to be different. Who knows? But that person made a choice to get outside the mainstream, judgment be damned. That has to be pretty liberating, don't you think? Suddenly, the "rules" of the "regular biking world" don't apply. Maybe that's why so many of them have those orange flags -- it's the recumbent rider letting his or her freak flag fly.
I know I have a couple Steves among my regular readers who have 'bents in their fleets, so I'm hoping they can enlighten me on this one -- or tell me I'm full of hot air. Maybe they can also explain why recumbent riders are required to grow beards.