There are two main types of exercise bikes. Upright bikes are pretty much how they sound -- you sit upright in the saddle as you would on a road bike, and your feet extend down to the pedals. You reach forward to grasp the handlebars. Recumbent bikes, however, don't have a traditional bike seat. Rather, you get a wider seat with a back pad, which gives you some back support. Your legs extend out in front of you to reach the pedals. Experts say it's a matter of personal preference, but many people find recumbent bikes more comfortable because of their back pad. They are also a better bet for anyone with back trouble. We saw numerous complaints that the seats on upright bikes are uncomfortable, since they put more pressure on sensitive areas of your body. On the flip side, serious cyclists usually prefer upright bikes because they more closely replicate riding a bike outside.
Among recumbent cycles, we found the best reviews for the Schwinn 240 (*Est. $450) . This exercise bike, which has a 300-pound weight capacity, comes with 16 resistance levels and 17 workout programs. It's also loaded with features like a handgrip heart-rate monitor, adjustable seat and an under-seat storage bin.
The Schwinn 240 recumbent bike receives high ratings at a variety of review sites, including Amazon.com and Buzzillions.com. In fact, the bike attracts more than 1,000 reviews at Buzzillions.com, where owners praise the quality construction and stable ride. The 16 levels of resistance provide a lot of variety, and the bike runs quietly. "It is unbelievably smooth, quiet and sturdy," says one owner at Amazon.com. "I'm used to the loud noise of my treadmill and it's almost creepy how silent this bike is," says another. Although the Schwinn 240 is heavy at 117 pounds, reviewers say it's relatively easy to move from room to room, thanks to the integrated transport wheels. There are also few durability complaints compared to other exercise bikes. However, some users find the assembly process challenging because they say the written instructions aren't very clear. A few reviewers also say the console is not intuitive, especially when programming custom user settings.
It is a little more expensive, but the Vision Fitness R1500 (*Est. $600 to $1,100) earns several recommendations, including a nod from Prevention magazine. The bike has an adjustable seat, handgrip heart-rate monitor and a 300-pound weight capacity. It comes with three console options, including the Simple (*Est. $600) , Deluxe (*Est. $900) or Premier console (*Est. $1,100) . The consoles differ in the number of workout programs and how much workout data they track. The Premier console also supports wireless heart-rate monitoring.
At the review site Bestcovery.com, Jeff Wilson says the Vision Fitness R1500 can accommodate users at all different levels. "Three different options of console take this from an absolutely incredible value at around $600 up through a feature packed monster at just under $1000," he says, in a 2011 review. Quiet operation and a comfortable seat are additional benefits. Megan McMorris of Prevention magazine also praises the comfortable seat. "The cushioned lumbar supported seat is so comfy, you may not want to get off," says McMorris.
If you prefer an upright exercise bike, reviews point to the Schwinn Airdyne (*Est. $620) . This unusual bike doesn't work -- or look -- much like most exercise bikes. Instead of using magnetic resistance, the Schwinn Airdyne uses an air-resistance system, so the resistance will automatically increase the harder and faster you pedal. As a result, the Schwinn Airdyne provides nearly unlimited amounts of resistance and can accommodate beginners to advanced cyclists. It also has moving handlebars for an upper-body workout. A 30-year warranty is another plus.
Users at both Amazon.com and Buzzillions.com praise the Schwinn Airdyne. Of the more than 150 reviews posted at Amazon.com, 90 percent give it a 4- or 5-star rating. Users say the Schwinn Airdyne, which has been manufactured for decades, is a durable piece of equipment that will last for years. "I've owned my Airdyne for 12 years and it has been perfectly reliable the whole time -- and it has been moved 3 times and has taken a real beating," says one owner at Amazon.com. Reviewers say the bike is intuitive and easy to use, since you can get on and start pedaling without figuring out resistance levels or other programs. In addition, the air-resistance mechanism acts like a fan and cools you down while exercising. "It really does feel great when you are working up a sweat to feel that cool air in your face," writes one reviewer. Users also report very few breakdowns or mechanical problems, and if a mishap occurs, it's likely to be after years of ownership.
However, there are some downsides compared to the traditional upright exercise bike. For one, the Schwinn Airdyne makes more noise, which can make it hard to watch TV or listen to music without pumping up the volume. Some also find the seat uncomfortable. There are also a few complaints that the assembly instructions are confusing.
For those who want a more traditional upright exercise bike, the Sunny Health and Fitness Pro Indoor Cycling Bike (*Est. $260) is worth a look. The seat and handlebars can be adjusted to achieve a good fit, and the resistance is adjustable using a dial underneath the handlebars. Reviewers at Amazon.com and Buzzillions.com give the Sunny Pro exercise bike relatively high ratings. Many reviewers use the bike for Spinning, a high-intensity workout that combines various resistance levels with different positions on the bike. The sturdy frame and smooth ride are also high points. "This bike is solid -- the frame is sturdy, the flywheel is smooth and heavy, and it rides as well as most of the bikes in my current gym," says one owner. However, some users say the bike is noisy at high resistance levels, and many say the seat is hard and uncomfortable. Reviewers also say they wish the bike came with a display so they could track their distance and calories burned. The Sunny Pro Indoor bike comes with a one-year frame warranty; parts are covered for three months.
There are some benefits to buying a club-quality exercise bike -- as long as you have the money to spend. For one, these bikes are designed for intensive use, so they're a good choice for serious exercisers or multiple users. They are durable and have longer warranties than most exercise bikes. You'll also find lots of nifty features, including wireless heart-rate monitoring and numerous fitness programs. In addition, less expensive exercise bikes typically have weight limits of 250 to 300 pounds, so a club-quality bike can be a good choice for those who exceed those limits. On the other hand, most people aren't ready to spend more than $1,000 on an exercise bike.
No specific club-quality exercise bike stands out in reviews, but several models earn at least one recommendation, including the Spirit XBR25 recumbent bike. Its 350-pound weight limit is higher than most exercise bikes, and 20 resistance levels ensure plenty of workout variety. A lifetime warranty on the frame and brake is another plus. The Spirit XBR25 is the top-rated model in one independent test of nine exercise bikes. It is rated on a variety of criteria, including ergonomics, ease of use and construction quality, and it receives excellent scores across the board. In fact, it's the only tested bike that earns an excellent rating on every criterion. Unfortunately, there are no user reviews to back up this professional opinion.
Among upright exercise bikes, the Keiser M3 (*Est. $1,700) has a sleek frame and race-oriented positioning that is designed for indoor cycling at home. The Shimano pedals have a strap to keep your feet secure, or you can use clip-in cycling shoes for more control. The handlebar and seat are adjustable, and the magnetic resistance has 24 "gears" to replicate cycling on the road. Depending on the retailer, the display is sometimes included and sometimes sold separately, so be sure to check the product listing.
Roy Wallack tests the Keiser M3 for the Los Angeles Times, and he says the bike has no obvious downsides. During his testing, the bike runs smoothly and quietly, and he likes that the resistance is easy to adjust. The bike also earns near-perfect ratings at Amazon.com from more than 30 reviewers. Users acknowledge that the Keiser M3 is expensive, but all say it's worth the cost to get a bike of this quality. In fact, most users say they first used the Keiser M3 at a gym or health club. "This is a first rate bike for anyone who is serious about biking and wants something to use indoors that feels like biking outdoors," says one owner. The exercise bike is quiet and stable, even when cycling at high speeds.