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.
  • 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 computer 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Experts say extended warranties generally aren't worth the extra cost.

Know before you go

Do you want an upright or a recumbent exercise bike? If you have joint or back trouble, the reclined position of a recumbent bike is strongly recommended. Still, many people favor an upright seating position for a number of reasons, including that it better mimics the experience of riding a standard bicycle. Both types of stationary cycles deliver the same workout quality, according to experts.

Test-drive the bike first. Experts recommend trying out different models before you purchase an exercise bike. "Make sure the bike fits you properly," says exercise physiologist Kelli Calabrese. 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.

Safety around children and pets. "Stationary bikes are quite safe in general," say editors at ExerciseBikeCentral.com, "but if you have young children around, it is best to look for a bike that is largely enclosed so that children do not get their small body parts stuck in moving components of the bike."

Back to top