What the best exercise bikes have
- Quiet resistance. For adding
tension, experts say magnetic systems are the best because they are quieter and
more durable. Well-made belt and chain-drive bikes can also offer an effective
workout, but tend to be louder, so keep that in mind if you plan to listen to
music or watch TV as you work out.
- Well-calibrated resistance levels. The best
exercise bikes offer a broad range of tension settings, challenging users of
all levels from beginner to advanced/professional.
- Workout programs. A
top-of-the-line exercise bike will include built-in programs to add variety and
more challenges to your workout. Some models allow users to customize the
workout with their own goals.
- Heart-rate monitor. Many exercise
bikes include a contact monitor built into the hand grip, but the best models
can also link to a separate chest-strap monitor for more accurate results.
Precise heart-rate monitors can help you maintain optimum intensity during your
workout or push you to train even harder. A very few exercise bikes have
heart-rate control programs that will work with the monitors to vary your
workout level to keep your heart rate within a preset range.
- Easy-read display. The computer
screen should clearly show statistics such as distance, time, speed and
calories burned. The best computers have a backlit display for low-light
conditions, with a screen large enough to show all the information at once.
- Comfortable, adjustable seat and
handlebars. The best exercise bikes use adequate padding and a
comfortable design, with enough adjustments to achieve an ideal fit. Some find
bicycle-style seats somewhat or completely uncomfortable. Recumbent exercise
bikes usually have a wide, more comfortable seat as well as built-in back
support. As with regular bikes, you can always add a padded seat cover to
- Durability. Even a less
expensive stationary bike should be well made and feel solid when pedaling.
Look at things such as weight capacity and warranty terms for indications of a
sturdy exercise bike.
- Warranty. The best brands cover their stationary bikes for at least two to
three years on the major moving parts, and cover labor costs for one year.
Frame warranties are longer -- with lifetime coverage on the very best exercise
bikes. Experts say extended warranties generally aren't worth their extra cost.
Know before you go
What type of indoor cycling do you want to do? If you have joint or back trouble, the reclined position of a recumbent
bike is strongly recommended. If you want to most closely mimic the experience
of riding a bicycle outdoors, the type of bike used in group bike classes in
gyms is the way to go. Those are built to allow users to do things like stand
on the pedals and lean forward for greater speed or to tackle "virtual"
inclines. Classic upright bikes put users in the same seating position as a
real bike too -- with the rider above the pedals -- but you can't stand on the
pedals to simulate racing or climbing as you can on the type of indoor bike
that's used in group classes.
Test drive the bike first. Experts recommend trying out different models before you purchase an
exercise bike, if possible. "Make sure the bike fits you properly," says
exercise physiologist Kelli Calabrese in a WebMD.com article. She
recommends getting help from the merchant or a trainer "to be sure the seat
height is correct and you're not sitting too far away from the handlebars."
What are your
fitness goals? Choose an exercise bike that will best help you
reach your fitness goals. For example, if you need help tracking your intensity
and progress, look for a model that tracks distance, speed and calories, and
includes a built-in heart-rate monitor.
How much space
do you have? Before you purchase something as large as a
stationary bike, you should know where you plan to use it. Measure the
available space, and don't forget to measure your ceiling height; upright
exercise bikes add 6 to 12 inches to your overall height. Also factor in the
weight of the bike. If it's light enough, you may be able to use the bike in an
open space and then move it into storage. Some exercise bikes fold up and can
be put away between uses.