Tired of your boring old upright bike? Sit back, relax and get close to the road, says Rachel Shields

When Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park started to look dull, I realised I was tiring of my daily cycle. Unwilling to admit defeat and resign myself to the Tube, I resolved to spice up my cycling life. A little internet browsing later, and I hit upon just the thing – a recumbent.

For the uninitiated, a recumbent is a bike where the rider adopts a laid-back riding position, sitting on a padded seat with their legs stretched out in front. Rationalising that any form of exercise in which the participant reclines on a chair-like structure couldn't be all bad, I decided to give it a go.

With recumbents starting at roughly £1,000, I thought it best to adopt a "try before you buy" strategy and set off for Dulwich, home to one of the few parks that hires out these bikes. Having never ventured far south of the river in London before, even the swift 10-minute train ride from Victoria to Dulwich was a bit of an adventure.

Situated just inside the park gates is London Recumbents, the stuff of every cyclist's dreams. With more than 50 bikes of different shapes, sizes and colours to choose from, it is a veritable Aladdin's cave.

The company, established in 1993 when owner and cycling enthusiast Nigel Frost found himself unexpectedly unemployed, employs seven staff and does a roaring trade throughout the summer months.

Overwhelmed by the range of tandems, trikes, recumbents and tandem-recumbents on offer, I deferred to the experts. They directed me towards their most popular bike, a red three-wheel recumbent. Very low to the ground, and with two back wheels, this machine is basically a go-kart with pedals.

As the contraption doesn't have any handlebars, you have to lean your body in the direction that you want to go. Although this is pretty simple and very safe, finding myself so close to the asphalt was a little unnerving at first –not least because even the most unthreatening of dogs looks pretty scary when you are eye to eye.

Avoiding the animals and children intent on blocking my path, I set off around the park, which proved to be surprisingly scenic. With a pretty lake, tennis courts and a Mr Whippy van, Dulwich even looked nice through a veil of drizzle.

As soon as I'd got the hang of this one, I was levered out of it and on to something much snazzier looking; a big orange Spirit recumbent. With handlebars, gears, two brakes, panniers, a bell and one of those little round wing-mirrors that you get on motorbikes, this one had more mod cons than my car. At £1,800, it's probably worth more, too.

Reassured by the expense, and the fact that this one can go on-road, I climbed into the sturdy grey mesh seat. This confidence turned out to be misplaced, as the Spirit had no stabilisers, making it much more difficult to master.

It felt like learning to ride a bike all over again, right down to the man trotting alongside me holding on to the seat back and making sure that I didn't fall over. This worked well until he let go, yelling: "Now you've got it!" in the manner of a proud parent – whereupon I lost my nerve and fell off.

In spite of this faltering start, I actually got to grips with the Spirit pretty quickly and was soon zooming about the park as fast as my horizontal legs could go. Much to my surprise, this was considerably faster than on an upright bike. Apparently, better aerodynamics mean that recumbents can travel 30 per cent faster than normal bikes, which explains why they are banned from international racing.

While I may have been some way off breaking the cycling land speed record – 80mph, and held by a recumbent rider – I certainly enjoyed swapping my bog-standard bike for something a little different. Whether I'll be brave enough to face the London traffic lying down, however, remains to be seen.

Some models and prices

Roadster Trike: £1,000. Suitable for beginners, this model has an adjustable "comfort seat", non-slip pedals, hydraulic brakes and rear suspension.

HP Velotechnik Spirit Recumbent: £995. City bike with light aluminium frame, cable disc-brakes, three hub gears and eight derailleur gears, and it carries two full-size panniers.

Kettwiesel Ride: £1,700. Top-of-the-range aluminium recumbent has quick releases so that it can be collapsed for transport or storage, 27-speed gears and hydraulic disc brakes.

www.londonrecumbents.co.uk; 020-8299 6636

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