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Exercise bikes are an incredibly popular and effective choice when it comes to workout equipment for the home. They go back a long way compared to some of the newer high-tech options and make a good choice for beginner and intermediate exercisers who sometimes like a bit of entertain in order to be motivated to workout. Since they are not as big as most ellipticals and treadmills, it’s easy to plant one in front of the TV. But do you know how to buy a stationary bike that’s right for you?
There are a few different kinds of stationary exercise bikes. Some are better for the back than others and some give you a more intense workout than others. Along with several other features to consider, the choices are endless. Our exercise bike buying guide will help you understand the different types of these machines available and what type of bike to buy for exercise workouts at home.
Table of Contents
- 1 How Good are Exercise Bikes for Losing Weight and Keeping Fit?
- 2 What Kind of Exercise Bike Should I Buy?
- 3 Types of Resistance
- 4 Types of Drives
- 5 What to Look for When Buying an Exercise Bike
How Good are Exercise Bikes for Losing Weight and Keeping Fit?
Exercise bikes encourage health, fitness, and weight loss or maintenance of weight by raising your heart-rate, exercising your muscles, and providing you with an easy and indoor cardio option. Because it is so easy to use one at any time, you don’t really have an excuse not to workout on it.
Compared to many other types of equipment, exercise bikes are low impact and safe on your joints. This is especially beneficial to users who may have bone, joint, or knee conditions. While running on a treadmill, for example, you can do damage to joints over time, while exercise bikes do not.
What Kind of Exercise Bike Should I Buy?
You can pick from three different kinds of bikes: Upright, Recumbent and Spin.
Upright BikeUpright exercise bikes require you to sit in an upright position during your workout. There is no backrest on the seat, unlike recumbent bike options, and the seat is almost directly above the pedals. It lets you simulate the experience of outdoor bike riding on a mostly flat road. When you stop pedalling, the flywheel will continue to spin for a while.
This type of exercise bike is especially effective for anyone who wants to focus on cardio with a glutes and leg muscles workout more than just leg strength. Additionally, upright exercise bikes are a great option for budget shoppers. They are typically more affordable than the following two options. It also allows you to watch TV on a screen in front of you.
One drawback is that most uprights don’t let you get off the seat to pedal and the drive system doesn’t allow you to pedal backwards for variety. Another possible drawback of this type of bike is the seat, which can be hard and fairly uncomfortable on most models. However you can add a padded seat cover to solve this problem. If you feel that you need more back support or plan on sitting on your exercise bike for longer periods of time, check out the next option. Otherwise, see what our picks for best upright bikes by budget are.
Recumbent BikeWhat is the best exercise bike to buy if you suffer from a bad back? Unlike upright exercise bikes, recumbent alternatives feature a backrest on the seat that you lean back into as you exercise. The seat is typically more level with the pedals of the bike, so this option is longer rather than taller.
The handles on recumbent exercise bikes are usually directly down at the sides of the seat. This is easier on users with back pain issues, as it doesn’t require leaning forward or hunching over. We also recommend certain recumbent exercise bike models for the elderly.
As opposed to upright bikes, which are excellent for cardio, recumbent bikes are better suited for users who want to strengthen their legs. They require you to push harder against the pedals from a leaned-back position. Recumbent ones are also typically more expensive than uprights but you can find a good one for less than $200.
Very short people, very tall people, or those weighing over 300 lbs will have a smaller choice of models to choose from because being able to reach the pedals properly and also getting proper leg extension is very important.
Indoor Cycle or Spinning BikeIndoor cycle or spinning exercise bikes very closely mimic the workout you would get if riding a standard outdoor road-bike or while racing. Like upright bikes, they have no backrest on the seat. The difference is that indoor cycle bikes require you to hunch completely forward over the forward extended handlebars during use.
While similar to upright bikes, the main difference between the two is that indoor cycle bikes allow you to stand while you’re using them. Lifting off the seat allows you to get a more intense leg and cardio workout. What to look for when buying a spin bike? The flywheel on these bikes is heavy and is weighted to further work your muscles and heart-rate. It also stops as soon as you stop pedalling but you can pedal backwards for more variety in your workout.
Out of the three options, spinning bikes are usually on the higher end when it comes to price. You can check out our top picks for a spin bike for home use in any price bracket. If you want the most affordable options, we have good ones for under $300 or just a bit more at under $500.
Types of Resistance
There are two different methods of brake-based resistance: traditional friction and an eddy current magnetic method.
Bikes that use traditional friction break-based resistance feature a flywheel at the bike’s front. This flywheel is rotated by a belt or chain that’s connected to the pedals as you workout. While the flywheel is weighted, additional resistance is necessary to exercise effectively. A brake in the form of a contact pad is rested against the flywheel, and the friction between the two creates resistance. Unfortunately, this friction will eventually wear down the contact pads and they’ll need to be replaced.
In most newer exercise bikes, you will find the eddy current magnetic method of resistance. This method is becoming far more popular than standard friction types. Instead of a contact brake, magnets lying on either side of the flywheel are used to create resistance. As they move closer together, more resistance is created. Without the use of friction or direct contact, there is no need to replace any part. This also makes for a completely silent experience.
Some bikes use a resistance fan rather than a flywheel. The bikes look similar, as the fan replaces the flywheel, and is similarly attached to the bike’s pedals by a drive system. As you pedal the bike, air rushes beneath the fan blades and creates resistance against your pedaling. You cannot adjust the intensity on air resistance bikes, but rather must pedal faster to create a stronger resistance. Pro Crossfit athletes love this option for training indoors, as it gives them the most challenging workout of all the other bikes.
If you want to exercise both your upper and lower body, a fan resistance bike is great, as the handlebars move along with the pedals.
Types of Drives
Chain drives are a great option for club gyms or for people who plan on using their exercise bike extremely frequently. This is because, unlike belt-drives, chains are durable and don’t become stretched out over time.
However, this type of drive does require maintenance. If you don’t oil the chains regularly, then they can become incredibly loud during use. Even with frequent oiling, chains are much louder in general than belt drives. However, if you want longevity and durability, then chains are your best option.
Belt DriveBelt drives are typically sufficient enough for a home gym bike that isn’t overused. They are quiet and require zero maintenance, unlike chain alternatives. However, they will wear out or become stretched over time, so you may find yourself replacing them once in a while.
One thing you need to keep in mind is that belts will wear out faster if the bike’s flywheel isn’t properly aligned. If you are using a high-quality exercise bike and workout at home, then a belt-drive can be a fine option.
What to Look for When Buying an Exercise Bike
Different bikes will have different levels and methods of resistance, so it is important to consider this before purchase. If you want a bike that allows for simple resistance settings, then consider an option that allows for button control rather than using a knob on the flywheel brake. Knobs can be effective but aren’t as precise as computer settings.
Some bikes have several levels of resistance, while others have basic high/low options. Be sure that you are purchasing the correct type of bike for your personal goals. A broad range is good if more than once person will use it and if you think you’d like to start at an easy beginner’s level and gradually progress through more advanced levels. Keep in mind that fan-based bikes can’t increase resistance without you manually increasing speed by pedalling harder.
Some bikes feature built-in workout programs that you can choose from the console. These allow for a more personalized experience, as you can workout for your own goals such as weight loss, calorie burning, heart-rate, or strength. This also gives you more variety, as a program can include interval training (speed variation) and variation in resistance.
If you want a completely customized experience, look for a bike that allows you to create and save your own workout program. Some options allow you to input your goals and personal information at startup. While these options are a little pricier, your exercises will be more effective.
Check that the bike you are buying has a good display screen. If it is too small, you may have a difficult time reading it, especially from the leaned-back position of a recumbent bike. A back-lit display will be much easier to read than a standard display.
Also, keep in mind how much information you want to be displayed at once. Some small screens can only give one piece of data at a time. Other displays, especially dual-screen options, can show you everything all at once. This is helpful in tracking your progress hands-free.
Heart Rate Monitor
If tracking your heart rate is important to you, then you may want to have a monitor included on your bike. Most come with pulse rate monitoring through sensors on the handlebars, while a few come with chest strap monitors. Some products will be listed as “heart-rate compatible” but require the monitor be purchased separately.
Pay attention to where the monitor is located if it is the pulse rate type. Some bikes have multiple sensor positions on the handlebars so that you can adjust your grip, while others feature only one option.
There is another option for tracking your activity and fitness goals, especially if you at least part of the time exercise outdoors. A fitness tracker watch that comes with GPS is very useful for outdoor runs and biking and even training for a triathlon. If cycling is your main form of exercise, the GPS watch should also be compatible with power and cadence sensors.
Comfortable to Use
Comfort is probably one of the most important factors to consider while shopping for an exercise bike. Some seats are cushioned and supportive, while others are hard and even painful. A comfortable seat will encourage longer workouts. However, you can buy a separate seat pad to increase comfort on a model that you otherwise like. Make sure that the seat and handlebars are adjustable so that you can find your most comfortable posture.
If you frequently experience discomfort in your back, then a recumbent bike is probably going to be the easiest and most comfortable for you to use. However, upright and cycle bikes can be sufficiently comfortable with a padded seat and adjustable handles.
Machine’s Weight Limit
All exercise bikes will have a recommended maximum user weight, so always check to make sure that your weight is underneath this number. Recumbent bikes typically have a maximum weight limit of 300 lbs., while cycle and upright bikes typically fall between 200-300 lbs. maximum.
Heavier users can buy bikes specifically made to handle more weight, and some options reach a maximum of about 425 lbs. These options are more expensive than standard options because they require more durable materials. If you’re looking for a larger weight capacity machine, check out our best exercise bikes for a heavy person and best recumbent exercise bikes for heavy people.
Durability and Maintenance
If you don’t check that the bike you’re buying is durable and constructed with solid materials, then you may end up with a shaky and unstable machine. This is extremely unsafe, so pay special attention to this element.
Remember that some bikes, like those with chain drives, require oiling and maintenance. If you want to avoid this, choose a belt-drive option. Keep in mind, though, that no bike is completely free from maintenance, and you should regularly check your belt and flywheel for signs of wear.
Size and Storage Space
If you are using your exercise bike in your home, then it is important to consider how much space it will take up and where it will be stored.
Some bikes, especially upright options, can be folded for easy storage. Many options even have wheels that make them easier to roll from room to room.
Recumbent bikes typically take up the most floor space and also tend to be the heaviest option. It is best to have a set area for these bikes, as it isn’t easy to move them and they are too large for regular storage.
As with any product, exercise bikes sometimes break or become damaged. If you want to avoid shelling out money to replace your bike, then pay special attention to the warranty.
The most affordable bikes typically only have a 3-month to one year warranty. After this, you will have to replace or pay to fix the bike if anything happens to it. Bikes on the higher end of prices have much better warranties, with some of the more expensive options even including limited lifetime plans.
If you like to have things with you when you workout, then make sure that your bike has room for accessories. For example, it is always a good idea to have a bike that accommodates your water bottle. A fan would be nice too. Some display consoles offer room for books, tablets, iPods, and other forms of entertainment. While accessories usually raise the price of a bike, they can be incredibly useful and encourage you to workout more often.
Hopefully, you now know how to choose an exercise bike that fits your budget and fitness needs. Before you go, you should also know that if you own an outdoor bike already, instead of getting a separate indoor cycle, get a bike trainer that holds the rear wheel of your bike and provides resistance through a different mechanism.