Exercise bikes provide a convenient cardiovascular workout
If you have issues with high-impact exercise, or just love riding a bike, but can't always do so outdoors, an exercise bike might be a great choice for your home gym. Sometimes called stationary bikes, exercise bikes provide the cardiovascular benefits of pedaling a bicycle, with the convenient of keeping you out of the weather or off the street.
The main types of exercise bikes
Recumbent bikes replace the upright bicycle seat with a wide seat and full seat back, and place the pedals in front of the user instead of underneath them. This is known as a "step through" design, giving the bike a low profile that is easy to access. Users with hip, knee, foot and back issues usually find that recumbent bikes give them an effective aerobic workout without causing extra pain.
Spin bikes (also called indoor exercise bikes) are all the rage these days. Using the term "spin" bike is a bit like calling tissue "Kleenex," because spin, spinning, etc. are terms coined by Mad Dogg Athletics, with Spinning being the name it uses for its indoor bike line. However, the popularity of these bikes and of spin classes at gyms has increased to the point that using the term spin bike has become a generic expression. These indoor bikes are designed to more closely replicate the act of using a traditional bicycle. They typically use a weighted flywheel for a more intense session and feature reinforced construction. That allows users to stand and lean forward safely, just as they would if they were in a bicycle race or climbing a steep hill.
Upright exercise bikes are the classic style. They, too, mimic the riding position of a standard bicycle, with a saddle seat situated above the pedals. However, rather than a flywheel that you power, an upright exercise bicycle is powered by a motor, with programs that simulate different types of terrain or that aim to achieve specific fitness, weight loss or performance goals. One advantage of classic upright exercise bicycles is that their seats tend to be more ample and better padded than those of spin bikes.
To customize your workout, exercise bikes use a tension system to produce a harder or easier ride. Resistance is usually provided by one of three methods: magnetic resistance, friction belts or wheels, or air resistance using a fan, where the resistance increases as you pedal faster. Among those, many prefer magnetic systems for their smooth, quiet operation. The whisper-quiet operation of a magnetic resistance system is also the best option if you prefer a quiet environment for your workouts so you can watch television or listen to music, or don't want to disturb your roommates. Most of the recommended exercise bikes -- including some budget models -- feature magnetic systems.
While some exercise bikes include built-in heart-rate monitors, many users prefer to purchase a better monitor, and we name some top choices in a separate report. If you are not sure that an exercise bike is the right piece of fitness equipment for your, we also have reports on elliptical trainers, stair climbers, treadmills and home gyms to help you create the perfect workout room.
Finding the best exercise bikes
To select the best exercise bikes, editors consider how effectively the machine can provide a solid ride, how well components hold up after continued use, and the bike's features and comfort. The only expert review we found is extremely limited in scope, and the top choices in that testing are widely panned by owners. In our view, if actual users aren't happy, it doesn't really matter what the testing shows. As a result, we evaluated thousands of owner reviews to get the full picture of how an exercise bike performs at home, and over the long haul. We also look at how well the company stands behind its bikes should trouble arise.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Recumbent Exercise Bikes | Best Spin Bikes | Best Upright Exercise Bikes | Buying Guide | Our Sources