At first glance it looks comical, like a clown bike or a novelty ride to rent to tourists at the beach.

For Shari Bernhard, her recumbent bike is the only reason she is still a serious cyclist.

The hunched-forward position in riding a conventional bike aggravated an old neck injury. The pain became unbearable on long tours. Bernhard, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., feared she would have to give up the sport until a friend suggested trying a recumbent. Voila, no pain.

“I couldn’t believe it. My first tour on a recumbent, I had no pain on a nine-day tour,” she said. “I don’t ride an upright bike any more. I don’t see the need to torture myself.”

Now Bernhard sits back and enjoys her ride.

If visually unorthodox, recumbents are more ergonomically friendly to the rider than traditional bikes. While at a disadvantage going uphill, they can fly over flat ground. Veteran recumbent rider John Schlitter has won the 167-mile Race Across Florida several times, beating conventional bikes – he set the record of 6 hours, 38 minutes on a high-tech Bachetta Ti-Aero in 2004.

Some recumbents look like human-driven rockets, such as the streamliners with aerodynamic faired bodies.

“For a lot of people, the attraction is it’s more comfortable to ride. Others like the speed and feeling like you’re on a go-cart,” said Bernhard.

“I’ve had people sit on the bike and take off like they’ve always ridden it. Others get on and can’t do it. A lot of it is mental attitude.”

Recumbent bikes are as varied as the preferences of their riders. Some of the more imaginative designs appear to have come off DaVinci’s drawing board. While a high-tech racer might run $6,000 or more, expect to spend about $1,200 for a decent entry-level recumbent.

“They talk about the recumbent smile,” Bernhard said. “If you have a good attitude, you try it and you come back smiling.”