Whatever reason you choose to work out at home, whether it’s moving your cycling habit indoors over the winter, or just wanting to lose some weight and build your cardio fitness in the comfort of your own home, there are plenty of exercise bikes to choose from. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the options, don’t worry, because our handy guide here will help you decide which type of exercise bike you need, plus we’ll help you narrow down your choices.
While cycling isn’t the only way you can train indoors - you can run on a treadmill, for instance - it is the most interesting, thanks to the variety of virtual platforms available that help you recreate that outdoor cycling sensation. Platforms like Zwift, Sufferfest, and TrainingPeaks, among others, can help transform a boring indoor cycling session into something that’s both fun and rewarding.
How to choose an exercise bike
First things first, you should know that cheaper exercise bikes don’t feel like riding a real bike. If you want a realistic feeling, then you’d be better off with a turbo trainer. However, if you just want to get moving while at home, whether it’s a pre-work blast, a lunchtime break from the desk, or even a desk-based bike that allows you to pedal while you work, this list has got you covered. There are a lot of options out there.
Types of Exercise Bike
Before you consider anything else, you first want to decide which type of exercise bike it is you want. The type you get will affect your riding position, which in turn will suit different people for different reasons. For example, those with back issues might want to consider a recumbent, which is much easier on the joints as well. Whereas if you want to do your best impression of Greg LeMond, you should consider a more
Upright Exercise Bikes
Upright exercise bikes tend to be the most popular by far, because they put the rider in a seated position that somewhat replicates a regular cycling position, but with a much more upright and comfortable position.
On-board computers tend to come as standard on an upright exercise bike, and while their features will vary, most will have pre-set workouts, the ability to control the workout length and resistance, plus a view of current heart rate level, cadence, and calories burned.
Upright exercise bikes are best for medium-intensity workouts with a reasonable level of comfort. They’re a great option for beginners, as they don’t deliver on serious athletic training.
Recumbent Exercise Bikes
In complete contrast, the recumbent exercise bike positions the body in a more relaxed seated posture. Instead of a regular saddle, the recumbent will have a large seat with a backrest, with the pedals placed in front of the rider.
Recumbents may not appeal to everyone, but they’re the best option for anyone with lower back issues or joint pain. By positioning the body in a more seated posture, it’s better for building leg strength and doesn’t do much for the core. They’re not just for people with these physical needs, however, anyone can get great enjoyment from riding a recumbent exercise bike. It feels more relaxed, which would be great for anyone who struggles to motivate themselves.
Indoor Cycling Bikes
These are the types of indoor exercise bikes that you’d find in a spin class. It puts you in a more realistic riding position, and recreates the authentic feeling of momentum that you wouldn’t experience on an upright exercise bike. The handlebar is lower, forcing you into a lower position, which is great for more serious workouts that train your core as well as your legs. However this can put some strain on the lower back, so it’s best avoided if you experience pain there.
More often than not you’ll find dual-sided pedals on an indoor cycling bike, allowing you to ‘clip in’ with SPD cleats (though these require specific cycling shoes). They essentially fix your foot to the pedal, in order to generate additional power.
Indoor cycling bikes are the best option for cycling enthusiasts and athletes looking to up their training since it works all the same muscle groups as an outdoor bike. Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that they tend to be completely mechanical, so it’s less likely that you’ll find one with advanced features that you’d find on uprights or recumbents.
Another thing to consider is the type of resistance you want to train with. With exercise bikes, this usually comes from magnets or friction. Friction resistance is the most common type and tends to be the cheapest option. You simply turn a mechanical knob to adjust the resistance up or down, to make cycling harder or easier.
Some exercise bikes do use magnets, where you change resistance through your onboard computer, through dynamic pre-set workout programs. The variance of resistance comes from changing the distance between the magnet and the wheel.
In order to feel more like a ‘real’ bike, often at the front of the exercise bike there is a flywheel. This will either be enclosed or perimeter-weighted (like on a spinning bike).
How much the flywheel weighs, determines how smooth the ride feels. A lighter wheel will be easier to get going but will feel bumpier, whereas a heavier wheel takes a bit of effort to start, but feels much smoother once it’s going. Generally, 13-18lbs is recommended for beginners, while 19-33lbs is better for those looking for more advanced training. Heavier flywheels are also available if you’re an experienced rider looking for a serious workout.
How much space do you have?
You should give serious consideration to how much room you have to play with, and whether your exercise bike will be a permanent fixture or something you’ll need to fold up or wheel away into storage. A recumbent exercise bike, for example, has quite a large footprint because it positions you in a seated posture with your legs extended in front, whereas an upright bike takes up significantly less room. There are also foldable exercise bikes available if you’re really short on space.
Adjustable handlebars and seat
Indoor exercise bikes are a great way to get a low-impact workout, but if you’ve not got them set up properly, you can still experience repetitive strains on your joints. Look for an exercise bike with adjustable handlebars and seat height, so you can set it up to fit you comfortably. This is especially important if you’re taller or shorter than average.
As with most things, there are always extra features to choose from, so it’s a good idea to think about what is a priority to you, to help you narrow down your choices. These may include built-in heart-rate monitors, bottle holders, or book rests, for example.
Incredible number of features, plus the comfort of a recumbent
Schwinn is a brand synonymous with good quality products that are built to last, and this 230 recumbent bike is an excellent mid-range piece of exercise equipment. It may be a stripped-down version of the higher-end 270, but the two are almost identical in features, save for a few resistance levels and programs, plus the 270 has Bluetooth and heart-rate monitor connectivity.
With 20 resistant levels and 22 pre-programmed workouts, plus heart-rate monitoring in the handlebar grips, built-in speakers with iPod or MP3 player input, USB data transfer to Schwinn Connect, and a high-speed, high inertia drive system with a perimeter-weighted flywheel, this budget-friendly exercise bike outperforms others that are more than twice its price. It delivers a smooth and consistent ride feel and lets you store ride data, including overall time, interval time, RPM, watts, distance, pulse, speed, calories burned, and resistance level.
If that’s not enough, it comes with a media shelf so you can prop up a book or a screen to really enjoy your exercise, a water bottle holder to help you stay hydrated, and a built-in 3-speed fan to help keep you cool. If you need to move it away for storage, it has wheels for easy mobility.
Quiet and smooth, perfect for watching TV while exercising
If you don’t need something that’s all-singing-all-dancing, then consider the Marcy Recumbent instead. Its step-through design makes mounting and dismounting super easy for anyone, regardless of their mobility and joint health. In fact, this would be an excellent choice for anyone who’s not as sprightly as they used to be. It’s designed with comfort in mind, featuring an ergonomic seat and back-pad, which is covered in a high-density foam for support. The handles are also foam-covered, offering extra support to the arms and back. The weighted pedals also make it easier to pedal with complete control, while adjustable foot straps help you to keep pedaling efficiently.
The Marcy Recumbent has 8 levels of magnetic resistance, which you can adjust by turning tension knobs. These actually simulate different terrains as well, and not just perceived difficulty, which is a nice feature. While pedalling, the ride feel is smooth and the whole thing is very quiet, so it’s ideal for anyone wanting to watch TV while exercising.
In terms of on-board computer, this is where the Marcy Recumbent is quite limited. It features a small LCD screen, where you can see your speed, distance, calories burned, and the time.
Very basic, but easily stored away for convenience
This semi-recumbent folding exercise bike from Xterra Fitness is constructed from durable steel tubing, and forms an X-shape that can be folded away for convenient storage. Wheels at the bottom help to make it mobile, while the whole thing is pretty light, at just 42lbs. It should be easy for most people to fold up and put away when not in use.
It features 8 levels of magnetic resistance and a very lightweight flywheel; at 3.3lbs, it’s going to deliver a fairly bumpy ride feel, but that’s the compromise for convenience. For this reason, it’s best kept to quite casual workouts. You should always remain seated while using it, as it doesn’t support spin workouts or climbing out of the saddle.
The on-board computer shows the time, speed, distance, odometer, calories burned, and your current heart rate. There’s also a Scan mode, which rotates all these metrics so you can see them all for four seconds each.
The seat is adjustable in height, and is approximately 14 inches wide with a contoured surface and internal foam padding for extra comfort. There’s also a backrest to support you while you’re cycling.
Ideal for heavier riders, up to 330lbs
Vigbody exercise bikes have a positive reputation for a reason. This particular bike is incredibly sturdy, and can support riders weighing up to 330lbs despite its modern, minimalist design. The bike itself only weighs 64lbs, which is relatively light compared to many of its competitors.
With a 24.2lbs flywheel, belt-drive system and pedal straps, you can really lean into your exercise and get a decent workout on the Vigbody. In fact, you can lean in, quite literally, because it puts you into a more traditional cycling posture. The seat and handlebars are easily adjustable, while the friction resistance can be adjusted using a tension knob.
Up front is an LCD screen which provides various ride data, including time, cadence, and calories burned. While it’s not the quietest exercise bike on the market, it’s not the loudest either.
A 40lb flywheel delivers a very smooth workout
This indoor cycling bike from Sunny Health & Fitness is ideal for anyone who prioritises an authentic ride feel over fancy features. It’s an affordable and practical piece of equipment that would suit anyone from absolute beginners to advanced enthusiasts.
It may be lightweight, but it’s both solid and durable, and comes with several adjustability options, including the seat, the handlebars, and the level of resistance via a small knob.
Its best feature has to be the heavier-than-usual 40lb flywheel coupled with a chain drive, which helps it to mimic the real momentum from cycling on the road. With its steel frame construction and heavy duty crank, it’s a very solid indoor cycling bike for an unbeatable price.
Of course, a great price means some compromise, and in this case it’s a lack of computer features. It’s simply a mechanical machine that gets the job done.
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Mildred joined as Reviews Writer for Cyclingnews and BikePerfect in December 2020. She loves all forms of cycling from long-distance audax to daily errand-running by bike, and does almost everything on two wheels, including moving house, and started out her cycling career working in a bike shop. For the past five years she's volunteered at The Bristol Bike Project as a mechanic and session coordinator, and now sits on its board of directors.
Since then she's gone on to write for a multitude of cycling publications, including Bikeradar, Cycling Plus, Singletrack, Red Bull, Cycling UK and Total Women's Cycling. She's dedicated to providing more coverage of women's specific cycling tech, elevating under-represented voices in the sport, and making cycling more accessible overall.
Height: 156cm (5'2")
Rides: Liv Devote, Genesis Equilibrium Disc 20, Triban RC520 Women's Disc, Genesis Flyer, Whyte Victoria, Cotic BFe 26, Clandestine custom bike
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