Like indoor exercise bikes, upright bikes put the user above the pedals, just as would be the case on a standard bicycle you would use outdoors. However, unlike indoor (spin) bikes, classic upright exercise bikes are not meant to be used like outdoor bikes and are not designed for users to stand while cycling, or lean forward for greater virtual speed. As such, they produce a lower-impact but still highly beneficial workout -- and are a better choice for seniors, those rehabilitating injuries and others who might desire a less intense workout that what's typically done using spin bikes.
For those with an ample budget, we saw some good feedback for the Sole Fitness B94 Upright Bike (Est. $800). It's a Best Buy upright exercise bike at About-Bicycles.com. The editors there note that while Sole does not bill this exercise bike as a "commercial" model, it "has the same quality, durability and features that you see on many commercial grade models but for a much more reasonable price." Daniel Borden at BestFitnessAdvisor.com notes that its price might put the Sole Fitness out of reach for some buyers, but adds that "if you can afford it then you can be sure that you'll be getting a quality upright bike that will make for more comfortable and entertaining workouts." User reviews are largely positive, though not very plentiful. It earns a 4 star rating at Amazon.com following 20 reviews.
The Sole Fitness is feature packed. Highlights include two different heart-rate control programs, which will vary workout intensity automatically depending on your heart rate. Heart rate sensors are built into the handlebars and a chest strap is included. Other programs vary the workout based on a pre-selected "course" with varying terrains. Feedback is displayed on a large 9-inch LCD console.
For maximum comfort, both the seat and the handlebars can be adjusted vertically and horizontally to fit most riders. One area of concern is the seat as we saw some feedback that for some users, the gel seat proved uncomfortable. That's not unusual with upright bikes. Though they typically have a more ample seat than those found on spin-type indoor bikes, it's still a bicycle seat and not everyone enjoys the experience of using one of those. Keep in mind that recumbent bikes use a broader seat with back support that some users might prefer more. See our discussion of recumbent bikes elsewhere in this report for more information.
Though a small number of reliability complains can be found, most users have few issues on that score and expert reviewers largely praise build quality. Assembly is simple, says BestFitnessAdvisor.com, but not quick. Borden says to budget up to an hour for the task. One plus is that all tools required are packaged with the bike. The warranty is excellent for an upright bike -- lifetime on the frame, three years on parts and electronics and one year in home service and labor. The weight limit is 300 pounds.
While we rate the Sole Fitness B94 as the best upright bike you can buy, you can get an excellent workout from a bike that costs much less. The Schwinn 170 (Est. $400) is half the price of the Sole Fitness B94 and is among the top 10 best upright bikes at BestFitnessAdvisor.com. It actually has more fitness programs than the B94, but no heart-rate control program and, while it's compatible with a wireless chest strap, one is not included.
Again, the Schwinn 170 uses a bicycle-style seat, but Borden reports that comfort is relatively good. He adds that with most upright exercise bikes, users "often have to constantly fidget or even pause their training just to recover from the numerous aches and burns related to an uncomfortable seat, but, with this particular item, I found that I could very easily work out for over an hour without having to stop." Seating position isn't as flexible as with the B94, but you can adjust the angle of the handle bars and move the seat forward and back so most should be able to find a comfortable fit. Assembly is a bit more complicated. While Borden finds few challenges, he notes that assembling the 170 takes longer than claimed -- up to an hour, and longer than that if you find the illustration-based manual hard to follow in spots.
While there's a lot more feedback for the Schwinn 170 than for the B94, there are also more complaints about bikes that arrived damaged or inoperable. For their part, Nautilus staffers (Schwinn is a Nautilus brand) seem pro-active on Amazon.com in reaching out to dissatisfied customers and trying to put things right. The warranty is weaker than for the Sole B94 -- 10 years for the frame, two years on mechanical parts, one year on the electronics and 90 days labor. The weight limit for the Schwinn 170 is 300 pounds.
Those on even tighter budgets can find inexpensive exercise bikes that can still produce a heart-pumping workout. Exerpeutic 1200 Folding Magnetic Upright Bike with Pulse (Est. $150) looks like a terrific value, and a terrific exercise bike. As noted above, upright bikes often have bicycle seats that are, well, a pain in the rear. The Exerpeutic Folding Magnetic Upright Bike with Pulse has something different -- a wide, well-padded seat "Indeed, the wide, adjustable seat will keep your back well supported while you pedal your way to fitness," Borden says. Adjustability is limited however; the company claims that this exercise bike can accommodate users between 5-foot, 3 inches to 6-foot, 3-inches, user feedback indicates that comfort isn't great as you approach those upper limits.
The Exerpeutic 1200 is a fairly basic model. There are no programs, just 8 levels of resistance. Heart rate sensors are built into the grips and the LED display provides workout feedback such as distance, calories burned and more. One big plus for some is that this is a folding model that can be stowed away between workouts.
User feedback is strong -- 4.4 stars at Amazon.com and 4.5 stars at Walmart.com following more than 2,200 reviews between the two sites. That said, we do see some complaints regarding durability and the warranty is short -- one year for parts, 90 days for labor. The weight limit is 300 pounds. Assembly is very easy as the bike comes nearly fully assembled, the instructions are good, and all tools are included.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Best Reviewed Exercise Bikes: What's the difference between upright, indoor (or spin), and recumbent exercise bikes? Editors offer insight and name top models and budget-friendly options
Best Recumbent Exercise Bike: If you suffer from back problems, or just find a standard bicycle seat to be a literal pain in the rear, a recumbent exercise bike could be the ticket to a comfortable but very effective workout. We look at the best choices.
Best Indoor Bicycle: Do you dream of racing up and down the French Alps in the Tour de France, but don't have the time to get away? Indoor spin bikes replicate the feel of bicycle racing to provide the most intense exercise.
Buying Guide: Not sure what type of exercise bike is right for you? We discuss what factors to consider to help you make the right choice
Our Sources: These are the expert and user sources we consulted in finding which exercise bikes please their owners, and which are most likely to disappoint. They are listed in order from most helpful to least.