Choosing the right exercise bike can be easy
Sometimes called stationary bikes, exercise bikes provide the cardiovascular benefits of pedaling a bicycle without stepping outside. There are many different types to choose from, so consider your personal fitness goals and what you need or expect from your exercise bike.
The primary difference between exercise bikes is the position of the user, either recumbent or upright. If you have joint trouble or a bad back, consider a recumbent model. The reclining position will support your back and relieve much of the tension on your hips and knees. Many people consider recumbent bikes to be a trade-off between comfort and gains, but experts say they're no less effective than upright exercise bikes. How many calories you burn will depend on your weight and how fast you pedal. This calculator from Self magazine can estimate what to expect from your workout with either an upright or recumbent exercise bike.
Still, there are reasons why some people might choose an upright stationary bike. Many prefer the familiar upright position, and an upright bike better simulates a road bike feel if you're in training. Consider the bike's size if you have limited space; recumbent models tend to be a bit larger than their upright counterparts.
Resistance on exercise bikes is usually provided by one of four methods: magnetic resistance; friction belts or wheels; air resistance using a fan, where the resistance increases as you pedal faster; or hydraulics. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages according to your needs and preferences. If you prefer a quiet environment for your workouts where you can watch television or listen to music, the whisper-quiet operation of a magnetic resistance system may be the best option. If a durable, low-maintenance machine is more important to you than peace and quiet, air resistance systems are your best bet. Any style you choose has the potential to offer a challenging workout, but be sure to test out the bike before you buy if possible.
Exercise bike features can vary greatly. Look for exercise programs and variable resistance levels, except in most air-resistance bikes. Heart rate monitors, although not always accurate, are also highly prized. High-end stationary bikes might have novel bells and whistles like iFit customizable workouts, while simpler models may display only speed and distance. Small touches such as water bottle holders and reading shelves add comfort and convenience; others, such as built-in speakers and fans, sometimes deliver less than they promise. Some stationary bikes that are meant to imitate the feel of a road bike may be bare-bones but high-quality.
Prices also vary widely, from less than $200 to more than $2,000. Features play a role, as does build quality. However, there are excellent performing and highly durable exercise bikes available for less than $500, and some good light-duty choices costing less than $200. On the other hand, we found one higher priced, highly featured exercise bike with lots of feedback, which was mostly bad because of questionable durability and poor customer service.
We consult reliable expert sources and hundreds of user reviews before selecting our Best Reviewed recumbent and upright stationary bikes. We also name some budget-friendly models that deliver quality that outstrips their selling price. We consider performance, of course, as well as other factors such as ease of use, durability and how well the company stands behind its bikes should trouble arise. In addition to our top choices, we name some other exercise bikes worth considering for some users, and some models that are best avoided by most.