Every bike has its good and bad points for a particular use. For example, you would not use a mountain bike for road racing. You would not use a road racer for grocery runs. You would not use a cruiser for rock hopping.
Similarly, recumbent bicycles are not the end-all be-all for every type of riding. However, when we are asked “how does it compare to a ‘regular’ bike”, we are being asked to compare a very limited aspect of both bikes – seat position and its impact on the basics of bike riding.
Recumbent bikes and trikes are the kings of comfort in comparison. Upright bikes range in body position from fully tucked to fully upright. No point in that range is comfortable for the shoulders, hands, back, or bottom. On a recumbent bike, your entire back and bottom are supported, often times with lumbar support. There is no pressure on your shoulders or hands, so you won’t need padded gloves or a full body massage after a ride.
Upright bikes allow you to shift your center of gravity up, down, left, right, forward, and back. As a result, the body can be used to counteract a variety of cycling conditions. Recumbents give you only left/right balance and are therefore limited in this respect. But you can take balance out of the equation altogether by riding a recumbent tricycle.
While some brave souls have taken their recumbent two wheelers out on mountain bike trails, it isn’t generally advised. For road, rail trail, and path riding, neither bike has a particular advantage. If you need to jump a curb, and upright bike is your only choice as you need to jump with the bike – tough to do if you’re lying down on it.
On an upright bike, you spin until that is no longer effective and then you stand. On a recumbent bike, you keep right on spinning and then push back against the seat when you need more torque.