Best exercise bikes of 2024: Get cycling without leaving home

The best exercise bikes come at a range of price points and will do different things depending not just on how much you pay, but the type of exercise bike you buy.

At the most basic are stand-alone exercise bikes. These just let you sit on and pedal, with a dial to alter the resistance offered. They'll often fold away easily for storage and may be light enough to carry around the home. That means a low mass resistance unit, which doesn't give a ride feel that's much like riding a real road bike outdoors.

Then there are spin-style exercise bikes, of which the best known is Peloton, with Echelon hot on its heels. These provide additional functionality and allow you to join online classes for a workout. They usually work on a subscription basis; you pay for the bike at the start, then a monthly subscription to follow the online routines offered via the large screen that's typically fitted up front. There is a bit of a difference between indoor cycling vs spinning, but both types are broadly classed as exercise bikes. 

Finally, smart bikes are usually more expensive up front, but you're not locked into a high monthly subscription platform. You can pair them with your bike computer to follow a workout for free, or you can link up to an indoor cycling app, for which you'll pay a (usually smaller) subscription. They offer a ride feel that's much more like riding outdoors, and the resistance level can be varied automatically based on input from the app. If you're serious about your indoor cycling a smart bike is the best indoor bike for you.

Choosing the right exercise bike for you can be difficult. But here at Cyclingnews, we've ridden and reviewed a wide range of different options and are regular users of the tech and so can help point you in the right direction. Below, you'll find our pick of the best exercise bikes across all of the types available from the basic to the sophisticated. Towards the bottom of the page, there's a buyer's guide to how to choose.

Quick list: Best exercise bikes

Smart exercise bikes

Most feature rich

Wahoo Kickr Bike v2

(Image credit: Wahoo)

1. Wahoo Kickr Bike V2

The best exercise bike for ride features

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Type: Smart bike
Resistance: Electronic, electromagnetic
Adjustable crank length: Yes
Virtual shifting: Yes
USB charging port: Yes
Flywheel: 9.5kg

Reasons to buy

+
Tilts forward and back for more realistic climbing
+
Wide app compatibility

Reasons to avoid

-
No easy-access space for your tablet or phone

The Wahoo Kickr Bike is the brand's range-topping smart bike. Its unique feature is the ability to tilt up and down, driven by a motor, so that when you hit a climb in the virtual world of a training app, the Kickr Bike will change position, working the muscle groups you'd use on a real climb outdoors. 

A virtual descent will tilt the Kickr Bike downwards and its motor-driven resistance unit will kick in to give you a rest, as in the real world. It can simulate 15 percent downgrades as well as 20 percent ascents and its 2500 watts resistance should be enough for all but the most powerful cyclists.

The Kickr Bike's realism extends beyond tilting, with virtual shifting allowing it to simulate the gear ratios of 11 or 12-speed drivetrains from Shimano, Sram or Campagnolo. Along with variable crank length and quick, app-driven position adjustment, you can set it up to match your outdoor bike. 

We've reviewed the version one of the Kickr Bike, but among other enhancements the latest Kickr Bike V2 adds wi-fi connectivity for a more robust internet connection. You can also plug in the Wahoo Direct Connect dongle for a wired ethernet connection to help avoid wireless network dropouts and Wahoo is adding Race Mode, which increases data transmission frequency tenfold. 

The only thing lacking in the Kickr Bike, which you get in the latest Kickr Move turbo trainer, is forward and back motion and tilting as you ride, for a potentially more realistic ride feel.

Buy it if: You want Wahoo's top functionality and have the space for a smart bike

Don't buy it if: You like your trainer to move under you as you ride

Best for integration

Wahoo Kickr Bike Shift

(Image credit: Wahoo)

2. Wahoo Kickr Bike Shift

The best exercise bike for indoor/outdoor integration

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Type: Smart bike
Resistance: Electronic, electromagnetic
Adjustable crank length: Yes
Virtual shifting: Yes
USB charging port: No
Flywheel: 9.5kg

Reasons to buy

+
Electromagnetic resistance unit is quiet
+
More affordable than the Kickr Bike

Reasons to avoid

-
Nowhere for your tablet or phone
-
Doesn't tilt, unlike the Kickr Bike

The Kickr Bike Shift is a lower priced option than the Kickr Bike, making it a more direct competitor with less premium smart bikes, while still offering the benefit of Wahoo's really well-designed and well integrated ecosystem. 

While the Kickr Bike tilts on its axis to simulate climbs and descents, the Kickr Bike Shift has a static ride position. It benefits from a new resistance system, which Wahoo calls Eddy Current Brake which is said to be quieter than the Kickr Bike. Although its maximum resistance is slightly less than the Kickr Bike, this isn't something that most users are likely to find a problem.

As with the Kickr Bike, the Kickr Bike Shift's levers can be programmed to replicate gearing from the major brands and there's easy fit adjustability. The Kickr Bike Shift isn't the best-looking smart bike, but function takes precedence over form. 0

Wahoo offers tight integration between its exercise bikes (both the Kickr Bike and Kickr Bike Shift), its Wahoo X training environment and its Elemnt bike computers, so you can ride the Kickr Bike Shift or take your session outdoors if you prefer. 

Buy it if: You like Wahoo's trainers but want to pay less for a smart bike

Don't buy it if: You want a tilting gradient simulation

Best gym bike substitute

Stages SB20 Smart Bike review

(Image credit: Stages Cycling)
The smart exercise bike that most closely resembles the more traditional gym exercise bikes

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+
Type: Smart bike
Resistance: Electronic, magnetic
Adjustable crank length: Yes
Virtual shifting: Yes
USB charging port: Yes
Flywheel: Virtual 22.7kg

Reasons to buy

+
Quiet in use
+
Adjustable gearing
+
Wide app compatibility

Reasons to avoid

-
ERG mode gives a lot of leeway 

Nowadays, Stages Cycling is best known for its budget-friendly crank-based power meters, but it has long been in the world of studio bikes, so it knows what it's doing when it comes to exercise bikes. The SB20 is the brand's first attempt at the smart bike for recreational cyclists, and it was an immediate hit with us. 

Stages has clearly leant heavily on its fitness bike chops to build a stable platform that uses a Gates Carbon belt drive to spin the 22.7kg flywheel up to a resistance of 2,200 watts. We found this meant it was almost silent in use, and there were no concerns about durability.  

With an integrated dual-sided power meter, the SB20 is Bluetooth and ANT+ enabled so it will integrate seamlessly with Zwift and the like, or even allow the best bike computers or smartwatches to dictate your workout.

Mounted to the drop bars are a set of special TRP levers that feature electronic shift buttons, and separate sprint buttons which can be customised. We liked how this translated to easy shifting from multiple hand positions. There is a decent-sized mount for your phone or tablet, and a tray which allows you to keep your snacks to hand for those big Zwift workouts

Buy it if: You want a studio-quality smart bike

Don't buy it if: You need ERG mode precision

Read our Stages SB20 smart bike review for more.

Best smart bike for value

Wattbike Atom

(Image credit: Wattbike)
The best smart bike for value (in most cases)

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+
Type: Smart bike
Resistance: Electronic, electromagnetic
Adjustable crank length: No
Virtual shifting: Yes
USB charging port: No
Flywheel: Virtual 9.28kg

Reasons to buy

+
Aesthetics
+
The updated version addresses the original Atom's pitfalls
+
Wide app compatibility

Reasons to avoid

-
Tools needed for some adjustments

The Wattbike Atom is actually the second iteration thereof, and for a while was known as the Atom 'Next Generation'. But as the original has been replaced over time, the suffix has been dropped. 

They look identical, but the newer model uses a magnetic resistance unit that is much quicker to respond to workouts. Their visual similarity makes it quite difficult to know which one you're looking at, but check for a mention of "+/-1% power accuracy" to ensure it's the newer model. 

It looks great, is widely adjustable, and comes with both road and time trial handlebars. The drop bars feature what amount to dual control levers without the brake lever blades, and feature buttons which simulate shifting, while at the end of the time trial extensions, there's an adjustable screen holder that can hold smartphones and most tablet computers with ease. 

The handlebar and saddle are adjustable; height is tool-free, but to change the fore and aft you'll need hex keys. While the bike offers plenty of adjustment, the cranks are fixed at 170mm and can't be changed like some of the other smart bikes on offer. 

Its power can be measured to within 1% accuracy, and it can handle 2,500 watts of output, which is more than almost everyone will need. With both Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity, the Atom is universally compatible, meaning you can use any of the myriad training apps available - or any of the best bike computers - to control your workouts. The Atom also offers pedalling efficiency analysis, to help you work on your pedal stroke. 

I've called the Atom the 'best for value', but there's a small caveat to that. It's the cheapest smart bike everywhere except for the USA when buying at retail price, where the Stages SB20 is actually a touch cheaper. The Atom is occasionally discounted though, and if you're lucky enough to find it at a sale price, it swings it back the other way. 

Buy it if: You want a stylish smart bike

Don't buy it if: You want quick adjustability

Read our review of the Wattbike Atom for full details. 

Best looking smart bike

(Image credit: Josh Ross)
The best-looking smart bike you can buy

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+
Type: Smart bike
Resistance: Electronic, electromagnetic
Adjustable crank length: Yes
Virtual shifting: Yes
USB charging port: Yes (x2)
Flywheel: Virtual 125kg

Reasons to buy

+
Inbuilt fans, tablet holder and USB charging ports 
+
Upfront display of gearing and basic data
+
Low step-through frame

Reasons to avoid

-
Some assembly is required, and minimal crank arm adjustment

The Tacx Neo Bike Plus is the top product within the Tacx (owned by Garmin) range, and there's probably no coincidence that it's priced at the exact same amount as the Wahoo Kickr Bike. 

It uses a clever electromagnetic drive unit, meaning it can replicate the feeling of a 125kg flywheel for maximum realism. In usual riding, it doesn't feel much different to the ride feel of the Kickr or Wattbike, but it does mean you can use it without mains power, as it will regenerate the power from your legs. 

At the front, there's a pair of built-in fans that can be aimed directly at your face. The airflow can be tailored to track your speed, power or heart rate should you be after a more interactive experience. Unlike the older version of this bike, the shifters are now much more similar in shape to what you find on a normal road bike, and the buttons can be configured to replicate Shimano, Sram or Campagnolo shifting. 

A built-in display shows you which virtual cog you are spinning, in addition to metrics like speed, heart rate and power, and a tablet holder allows you to mount your iPad easily if you have one. The bike sees a standard saddle and bars, meaning these can be customised depending on your personal preference and all the fit adjustments can be made either with the included levers or a hex wrench. Cranks can be adjusted with five holes built in ranging from 165 to 175mm. 

The drive unit can generate up to 2,200 watts of resistance, simulate a 25 per cent incline and offer pedalling analysis to precisely measure how round your pedal stroke is. Tacx claims the power readings are within one per cent.

Buy it if: You want a good looking smart bike with detailed training analytics

Don't buy it if: You don't like the sticker price

Read our Tacx Neo Bike Plus review for full details.

Spin-style exercise bikes

Best budget Peloton alternative

Echelon Sport

(Image credit: Echelon)

6. Echelon Connect Sport

The budget Peloton alternative

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth
Type: Smart spin-style bike
Resistance: Manual, magnetic
Adjustable crank length: No
Virtual shifting: No
USB charging port: No
Flywheel: 7kg

Reasons to buy

+
Access to live and interactive workouts
+
136kg max user weight
+
Bluetooth connectivity
+
App provides more than just cycling workouts

Reasons to avoid

-
Low inertia 7kg flywheel
-
No display included
-
A closed ecosystem with a high monthly subscription

This budget Echelon exercise bike, the Connect Sport, offers much of the functionality of its higher-priced siblings but saves money by excluding a front-mounted screen. Instead, owners of this exercise bike will need to bring their own screen, which if you already own a smart device such as a tablet (or want the versatility of owning a separate tablet device) won't be an issue at all. Simply load up the Echelon Fit app on your device, connect the bike via Bluetooth, and you'll have access to all the classes you need. 

It comes with a 7kg flywheel, which left us wanting more on occasion, although the magnetic resistance did help to prevent the draggy feeling that can plague some of the more budget exercise bikes. A total of 32 resistance levels offer a good spread of difficulty levels, while the 96 x 51cm footprint is stable enough for all but the most rigorous efforts. 

Buy it if: You want a cheaper Peloton alternative

Don't buy it if: You don't have a suitable tablet computer at home

Best budget Peloton Bike

Peloton bike

(Image credit: Peloton)

7. Peloton Bike

The budget access to the Peloton ecosystem

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Type: Smart spin-style bike
Resistance: Manual, magnetic
Adjustable crank length: No
Virtual shifting: No
USB charging port: Yes
Flywheel: 17kg

Reasons to buy

+
Access to Peloton classes
+
Integrated touch screen with WiFi connectivity
+
App provides more than just cycling workouts

Reasons to avoid

-
A closed ecosystem with a high subscription cost
-
Doesn't have ERG mode capabilities

Exercise bikes have been in gyms for as long as we can remember, but Peloton has changed the game and reinvigorated a segment of indoor training for the masses beyond the Zwifters. In terms of the Peloton Bike itself, it's really not all that revolutionary; a knob near the handlebars adjusts the resistance, a 17kg flywheel maintains inertia, the saddle and bar position are adjustable without tools and there is no freewheel so you can't coast.

But it's not the bike itself that has created the phenomenon, it's the sweatproof 22-inch touch screen at the front. This enormous head unit is WiFi, ANT+ and Bluetooth enabled and runs the Peloton app which features thousands of pre-recorded classes as well as live classes run by professional instructors. 

One thing the app doesn’t do is adjust the resistance; you’ll have to do that manually to hit your targets. The higher-priced Bike Plus, seen below, can offer this functionality. 

As with any of the other training apps, the sessions range in difficulty from easy spins to disgustingly difficult; there are scenic rides too. Peloton has also added a community aspect to its ecosystem; you can follow and chat with other people who are doing the same class, and see live rankings on who is pushing the most watts. 

Buy it if: You want the cheapest Peloton bike option

Don't buy it if: You want to avoid Peloton's high recurring fee

Best premium Peloton alternative

echelon EX5s

(Image credit: Echelon)

8. Echelon Smart Connect EX-5S

The best premium Peloton alternative

Specifications

Connectivity: WiFi
Type: Smart spin-style bike
Resistance: Manual, Magnetic
Adjustable crank length: No
Virtual shifting: No
USB charging port: Yes
Flywheel: 13kg

Reasons to buy

+
Included 21.5in display
+
Direct connection to the app via home WiFi network
+
App provides more than just cycling workouts

Reasons to avoid

-
A closed ecosystem with a monthly subscription

The EX-5S is a more premium step into Echelon's ecosystem, and in this case, there's no need to bring your own screen, since it comes with a large 22-inch sweatproof HD screen mounted up front. A slightly larger footprint helps to offset the top-heavy weight added by the screen, so it remains stable in all workouts, and it's widely adjustable, so it's fit for most of the family.

The same 32 levels of resistance provide the variable resistance, however, unlike even the budget smart bikes, it still doesn't offer 'erg' mode, so all resistance changes will need to be done manually, rather than electronically. 

Buy it if: You want a full function Peloton alternative

Don't buy it if: You want automatic resistance changes

Best Peloton exercise bike

Peloton Bike +

(Image credit: Josh Croxton)
The best Peloton exercise bike

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi
Type: Smart spin-style bike
Resistance: Manual & electronic, magnetic
Adjustable crank length: No
Virtual shifting: No
USB charging port: Yes
Flywheel: 17kg

Reasons to buy

+
23.8in screen included
+
App provides more than just cycling workouts
+
Resistance can be set by the instructor or the workout

Reasons to avoid

-
A closed ecosystem with a high monthly subscription on top of the initial investment

Peloton's most recent response to the rise of the smart bike is the Bike Plus. This takes the original Peloton Bike and adds a slew of updates like a larger screen that is more adjustable, more speakers, a better camera, Apple Watch integration, USB-C charging and more. However, for us, it's the integration of 'auto follow' that sets this Peloton apart from its direct competitors. 

Auto-follow - perhaps better known as 'ERG' mode among the smart bike scene - allows the app (in this case, the Peloton app) to control the resistance, rather than relying on the athlete to twist the knob on the top tube (though this does still exist). It also includes a power meter to more accurately measure and report on a rider's output. In use, this could be a little delayed at times, but it mostly made life easier, not having to remove your hand from the bars to adjust the resistance. 

Among this genre, we see the Peloton Bike Plus as the most complete device currently available, but in our opinion, from both a technological and user interface standpoint, smart bikes still win out due to the addition of gradient replication, power measurement accuracy, and the varying choice afforded by third-party app connectivity. 

Buy it if: You want automatic resistance changes in Peloton

Don't buy it if: You find the price hard to stomach

Read our comprehensive review of the Peloton Bike+ for more.

Budget exercise bikes

Best for features on a budget

A side-on view of the Domyos Basic 100 exercise bike

(Image credit: Domyos)

10. Domyos Basic 100

A good ratio of price and features on offer

Specifications

Connectivity: None
Type: Basic exercise bike (fixed flywheel)
Resistance: Manual, mechanical
Adjustable crank length: No
Virtual shifting: No
USB charging port: No
Flywheel: 12kg

Reasons to buy

+
Low cost
+
Reasonably heavy flywheel
+
Clear digital display with useful metrics

Reasons to avoid

-
100kg maximum user weight is quite limiting
-
Extra screen holder is an additional purchase
-
Cannot connect to apps or offer electronic resistance

The 'Basic Exercise Bike 100' from Domyos is a very simple design, but while the overall number of features is low, each one is a welcome inclusion that adds to the experience without unnecessarily adding to the overall cost. 

Up front, there is a multi-position handlebar that offers no fewer than 10 different positions. There's a small LCD display at the centre, and that offers the basic ride metrics like speed and time. 

There are a couple of small caveats: at higher resistances, the resistance pad can start to heat up and smell due to the friction. This isn't detrimental to its performance, but will likely accelerate wear over time. Secondly, the Domyos exercise bike's stability can falter during all-out sprint efforts, as it's not the most planted of things. A small trick here: if your floor is flat enough to do so, remove the adjustable feet and place the bike onto an indoor trainer mat for grip. This lowers your centre of gravity by a couple of inches and helps keep it a little more stable. 

Those aside, if you're after a simple exercise bike without the big expense, the Domyos 100 is a good place to look. 

Buy it if: You want a low priced design that does the basics well

Don't buy it if: You want to avoid too much maintenance

Best fold-away exercise bike

Pro Fitness FEB2000 folding exercise bike

(Image credit: Pro Fitness)

11. Pro Fitness FEB2000

Best for the space-conscious beginner

Specifications

Connectivity: None
Type: Basic exercise bike
Resistance: Manual, mechanical
Adjustable crank length: No
Virtual shifting: No
USB charging port: No
Flywheel: 3kg

Reasons to buy

+
Included heart rate sensor
+
Lightweight at 16kg
+
Foldable for storage

Reasons to avoid

-
A small footprint isn't very stable
-
3kg flywheel makes for quite an unrealistic pedal feel
-
100kg max user weight is limiting
-
Cannot connect to apps or offer electronic resistance

Not everyone wants or needs a high-tech exercise bike with masses of resistance and oodles of stability. For many people in this world, a simple exercise bike that tracks basic metrics in use, before being compact enough to fold away afterwards is the perfect solution. 

Enter the Pro Fitness FEB2000. FEB stands for a folding exercise bike, and this little unit weighs just 16kg, so is easy to carry up the stairs and put away in cupboards when you've finished your workout. 

Now, of course, there are some trade-offs: the 3kg flywheel provides about as much inertia as an ant rolling down a hill and is a good few kilos lighter than the Domyos flywheel. This means the pedalling feel is pretty unrealistic, and it's easy to unbalance if you get enthusiastic in your sprinting, but for someone who wants to get the legs moving and elevate the heart rate, this is perfectly up to the task, and the inbuilt heart rate sensors will help you keep an eye on your progress too. 

Buy it if: You are short on space

Don't buy it if: You want a realistic ride feel

Best budget spin bike

Schwinn IC7 exercise bike

(Image credit: Schwinn)

12. Schwinn IC7

Best budget 'spin' style exercise bike

Specifications

Connectivity: None
Type: Basic exercise bike (fixed flywheel)
Resistance: Manual, Mechanical
Adjustable crank length: No
Virtual shifting: No
USB charging port: No
Flywheel: 18kg

Reasons to buy

+
Sturdy 136kg max user weight
+
Heavy 18kg flywheel makes for a more fluid pedalling feel
+
Included bottle and screen holder

Reasons to avoid

-
Cannot connect to apps or offer electronic resistance
-
Need to move the tablet computer to get to your bottle stowed behind it

The Schwinn IC7 is a good at-home replica of the 'spin' bikes you'll likely know from the gym. Its fixed freehub and 18kg flywheel take a little bit of extra torque to get going, but the inertia generated helps to prevent that 'pedalling-through-treacle' feeling you can get with cheaper, lighter flywheels. 

The IC7 comes with an LCD display that shows your speed, time, distance, RPM, and estimation of calories burned. Its 58cm width and 45kg weight help to make it stable, and while it's certainly possible to unsettle it, that doesn't happen during normal use, even when sprinting. 

It also comes with dual-sided pedals, which include SPD 'clipless' pedals as well as a toe clip side so you can wear your normal shoes, and this also means it's rideable straight out of the box. Like other simple exercise bikes, you will have to bring your own entertainment, but it comes with a screen holder at the front, as well as a bottle holder for your hydration. And finally, its fit is widely adjustable, so it'll be good for the whole household. 

Buy it if: You want the spin bike experience at home

Don't buy it if: You want a more interactive experience

The best exercise bikes compared

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 ConnectivityTypeResistanceAdjustable crank lengthVirtual shiftingUSB charging portFlywheel weight
Wahoo Kickr BikeBluetooth, ANT+, WiFiSmart bikeElectronic, electromagneticYesYesYes9.5kg
Wahoo Kickr Bike ShiftBluetooth, ANT+, WiFiSmart bikeElectronic, electromagneticYesYesNo9.5kg
Stages SB20 smart bikeBluetooth, ANT+Smart bikeElectronic, magneticYesYesYesVirtual 22.7kg
Wattbike Atom (Next Generation)Bluetooth, ANT+Smart bikeElectronic, electromagneticNoYesNoVirtual 9.28kg
Tacx Neo Bike PlusBluetooth, ANT+Smart bikeElectronic, electromagneticYesYesYes (x2)Virtual 125kg
Echelon Connect SportBluetoothSmart spin-style bikeManual, magneticNoNoNo7kg
Peloton BikeBluetooth, ANT+, WiFiSmart spin-style bikeManual, magneticNoNoYes17kg
Echelon Smart Connect EX-5SWiFiSmart spin-style bikeManual, magneticNoNoYes13kg
Peloton Bike +Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFiSmart spin-style bikeManual & electronic, magneticNoNoYes17kg
Domyos Basic 100NoneBasic exercise bike (fixed flywheel)Manual, mechanicalNoNoNo12kg
Pro Fitness FEB2000NoneBasic exercise bikeManual, mechanicalNoNoNo3kg
Schwinn IC7NoneBasic exercise bike (fixed flywheel)Manual, mechanicalNoNoNo18kg

How to choose the best exercise bike for you

With such a wide array of different options competing for the title of best exercise bike, making a decision on which to buy can be daunting. In this section, we'll run you through a few questions to answer and considerations to make, which should steer you in the right direction. 

Here at Cyclingnews, we've reviewed an extensive array of exercise bikes, including many of the best smart bikes and also Peloton options. We're keen indoor cyclists too, and can point you to the best indoor cycling apps and best indoor cycling workouts

With so much time spent riding indoors, we understand what features to look out for in the best exercise bikes to make the experience rewarding and hassle-free. 

Firstly: what types of exercise bike exist?

Firstly there are Smart Bikes, which employ the technology developed for the best smart trainers and use it in standalone devices. These devices use ANT+, Bluetooth and WiFi technology to connect to your smart device, whether that be a laptop, smartphone or tablet, which you can then use to run indoor cycling apps on. These apps have control of the smart bike resistance to provide structured workout sessions which are realistic and engaging. The best smart bikes have a high level of realism with some even tilting back and forth to mimic gradient.

Next up, there are 'Smart Spin Bikes' which are connected versions of the more typical exercise bikes. A prime example is the Peloton Bike Plus. These bikes take the classic spin-class bike with a fixed, heavy flywheel and manually adjustable resistance and then integrate Bluetooth and WiFi to connect your exercise bike to live group classes with real-life instructors and other cyclists from all over the world, all without leaving home. 

Lastly, there is the original. These 'Basic Exercise Bikes' are pretty much exactly the same as the ones you will find in many gyms. These units rarely offer connectivity to third-party apps but will often have a small LCD screen displaying metrics like speed, distance, and time. They also sometimes have an electrical heart rate sensor that you can hold onto. These exercise bikes come in a variety of shapes and sizes from ones that mimic a regular riding position to recumbent-style bikes where you sit behind the pedals.

Each of the above styles of exercise bikes has its place in the industry and each can cater to a variety of riders' needs and requirements. 

What do you want from your exercise bike?

Now you know what types exist, you need to consider what you want to get out of it. Do you want to ride in group classes online? Follow a training plan? Ride on Zwift? Race? Just want to ride? 

At first thought, you might think there's only one answer to this question, but once you dig into the details of indoor cycling, you'll start to notice there are a lot of ways to answer. If your idea of indoor cycling is of group spin-style classes with an instructor at the helm shouting instructions with loud music in the background, then a smart spin-style bike will replicate that for you at home. These are mostly reliant on a subscription, and the bike itself is commonly tied to a single software platform.  

If you wish to replicate the real-world experience as closely as possible, then a smart bike is likely the best choice for you. This will enable you to connect to indoor cycling apps like Zwift or Rouvy, which will put an avatar of you on the screen in front of you. The gradients of the road will then be translated to your pedals, and you can ride with - or against - other avatars being controlled by like-minded cyclists around the world. This opens up group rides, races, and even the eSports World Championships if you're good enough of course. In addition, if you wish to follow a training plan or a standalone workout, alternate apps (like TrainerRoad and Wahoo Systm) will allow you to do this. Most of these exercise bikes come with their own free app, but a subscription to a third-party app will help you make the most of the gamification available. 

Thirdly, if you don't want the added complexity and cost of connecting to apps or online classes, and you simply want to jump on, stick some music on and ride, then the budget end of the spectrum will have you covered. Basic exercise bikes are just that: basic. They forego connectivity in favour of cost, and they are therefore often much less expensive than their smart counterparts, and there's no ongoing subscription to factor into the price. 

How much are you willing to pay?

As with most purchases, your budget - or how much you're willing to spend - will dictate your purchase, because smart bikes, smart spin bikes, and simple exercise bikes all come with different pricing models. 

Smart bikes, such as the Wahoo Kickr and Tacx Neo (both of which retail at £3,499/$3,999) have a high initial price, but the ongoing cost of ownership is zero, aside from any third-party apps you might choose to subscribe to. 

Smart spin-style bikes have a slightly smaller initial cost. For example, Peloton's Bike is £1,345/$1,445, but with a £39/$44 monthly subscription to the Peloton app. 

Basic exercise bikes start as low as £100/$100 and grow to close to four figures for those with extra features and improved build quality. 

Fixed or freewheel?

The 'smart spin style' and 'basic' exercise bikes will have a fixed flywheel, meaning the pedals and flywheel are locked together. The flywheel will drive the pedals forward, meaning you cannot stop pedalling like on a normal bike, and must slowly decelerate until you are able to overcome the inertia of the flywheel. 

Smart bikes, meanwhile, are fitted with a freehub, which allows the flywheel to spin independently of the pedals. This is a closer replica of real-world bikes, and allows you to stop pedalling to 'freewheel', or even pedal backwards while the flywheel continues to spin. 

Heart rate, cadence or power?

Some of the best exercise bikes measure cadence, others measure your pulse rate or heart rate via electrical sensors on the handlebars, and others again measure power in watts pushed through the pedals. 

All of these metrics can be valuable when used correctly, but power is the most useful if measuring your training for improvements over time. If you're considering a device with electrical heart rate sensors, consider the price difference and how it compares to standalone heart rate monitors, which can be bought for around £25/$30 and paired to your phone. 

Cadence is a useful metric to have access to, but unless gearing and resistance are kept consistent at all times, it's not a great single metric with which to measure your training. 

A technogym recumbent exercise bike on a white background

(Image credit: Technogym)

What is a recumbent exercise bike?

Most exercise bikes put you into a standard cycling position, with the saddle broadly above the pedals and the handlebars out in front. A recumbent exercise bike, meanwhile, positions the rider in a more laid-back position, with the seat behind the pedals, not too dissimilar to a driving position. 

It can be a good option for those with back issues or limited mobility, as it's easier to get onto and stay sat on.

Thinking of buying a smart bike?

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If you've decided that a smart bike most closely matches your needs, then there is one more thing to consider: do you already own a bike? If so, and you'd be happy to use it indoors, then you might be better served by a smart trainer instead. This would offer most of the same features, but instead of a standalone bike, you would mount your own bike to a pared-down version that lets your bike provide the touchpoints. 

However, with a smart bike, once you have replicated the fit from your road bike, all you have to do is jump on and start pedalling. There is no need to wheel your road-grime-splattered bike through the house and remove your rear wheel. Dedicated training bikes are also noticeably more stable than your standard smart trainer and most will be quieter too. 

While these features are all well and good, we think the main selling point of a smart bike is the fact that it takes some stress off your bike and components. Wearable parts like chainrings, chains and cassettes are expensive, which adds to the cost of a turbo-trainer-plus-bike. 

Thinking of buying a smart spin-style exercise bike?

If you want to join online spin-style classes such as those from Peloton, then a smart spin-style bike will provide the best exercise bike for you. The next big decision to consider is which of the various software programs most interest you. When you buy one of these, you will be tied into a proprietary platform, so make sure you do your research on what each of the platforms offers. 

Thinking of buying a basic exercise bike?

If you're looking for a basic exercise bike, the key things to consider are flywheel weight, stability and adjustability. A lightweight flywheel will have less inertia, meaning it will be harder to keep spinning, and can often feel like pedalling through treacle. A heavy flywheel can take a little more effort to get up to speed, but once you're there it provides a slightly more natural ride feel. 

On the adjustability front, this might not be an issue if you're of average height, but for anyone who's on the shorter or taller end of the bell curve, you'll need to make sure it can be adjusted to a suitable fit for you. 

Which exercise bike would we buy?

Of the three branches available, we would lean towards the smart bike sub-genre of the best exercise bikes. Sure, they come with a higher initial cost, but once that cost is paid, the ongoing expense is much lower / zero. 

To compare: The most popular third-party app, Zwift, has a monthly subscription of £12.99 / $14.99, whereas the most popular of the closed ecosystems, Peloton, is £39.00 / $44.00 per month. That's a price difference of £26.01 / $29.01 per month, or £312.12 / $348.12 per year, every year. 

Smart bikes also offer 'open' compatibility with third-party indoor cycling apps, meaning if you get bored with one, you can move on to another, and most smart bikes are accompanied by a free app from the manufacturer if you want to keep the monthly costs down. With smart spin-style bikes like Peloton, you are buying into a closed ecosystem, so if you fall out of love with the entertainment on offer, there are no alternatives short of reverting to the functionality offered by 'basic' exercise bikes.

What's more, technologically, smart bikes are more advanced. They use a power meter to measure your output and they can control resistance electronically, meaning software can set your resistance automatically to help you follow set workouts or hold a specific wattage. Freewheels allow you to coast downhills, and extra features such as tilting, braking and steering add to the realism and interactivity of the ride. It's closer to the experience of riding outdoors, and for us, that's what we want from our indoor cycling, though of course, we appreciate not everyone will agree. 

For a feature-rich system, we'd go for the Wahoo Kickr Bike, but for maximum value for money, it's hard to overlook the Wattbike Atom if you can get it where you live. 

In addition, we believe the more 'basic' exercise bikes will always have a place in the market for those who can't justify the higher investments of a smart device. They forego any of the interactivity, but there are plenty of workout videos you can follow on YouTube, or you can simply lose yourself in Netflix while pedalling. 

Whichever you choose, if it gets you pedalling more and helps you to get fitter or feel better, then in our opinion, it's a win.