A stationary bike is a great way to burn calories, boost your cardiovascular fitness, and take control of your overall health. They are small enough to fit into virtually any home or apartment and, considering a vast range of quality and prices, are affordable on just about any budget. But, which home cycle is the best?
There is no simple answer for everyone, but our stationary bike guide will give you the answers you need to make an informed decision.
Define Your Goals
Before you decide on buying a stationary bike, it’s best to outline your goals and personal needs. Cycling offers many benefits, including:
- Low impact. Stationary bikes offer smooth movements, which are perfect for people with joint problems. This type of exercise is an ideal alternative to jogging and hiking as it reduces pressure on the knees and ankles.
- Strengthening. Are you looking to tone, tighten, and strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, or calves? A home exercise bike is the perfect implement to do so.
- Weight loss. Depending on your size and how hard you ride, your stationary bike can help you burn around 500 calories every half an hour. Riding your exercise bike for just 2.5 hours each week can help you lose more than a pound in that time frame.
- Convenience. If you simply don’t have time to get to the gym every day, a stationary bike is a time-saving solution. When space is an issue, you can invest in an inexpensive compact model you can pull out and use any time the mood strikes.
Types Of Exercise Bike
There are more than half a dozen different exercise bikes for home use. These are:
- Recumbent. A recumbent exercise bike features a large seat similar to an office chair. The seat reclines slightly to reduce strain and discomfort on the body. This type of exercise bike features petals you reach by extending your legs forward. Recumbent-style exercise bikes are ideal for seniors and those with back and joint problems. Many physical therapists recommend recumbent bikes for those recovering from an injury.
- Upright. For those looking for a more intense workout, an upright bike may fit the bill. An upright exercise bike features a smaller seat and requires the rider to bend forward slightly, which may cause muscle soreness and fatigue. An upright exercise bike offers a more traditional home biking experience and is ideal for weight loss and endurance training.
- Hybrid exercise bike. A hybrid exercise bike typically combines the functionality of both a recumbent fitness cycle and an elliptical. These offer an opportunity to enjoy two types of workout on one machine, but those with experience using a stationary bike may find the lack of traditional pedals difficult to get used to.
- Studio bike. A studio bike is what you would think of if you were going to take a spin class. They offer many advanced features that can help you step up your fitness routine in much the same way you would do in a structured class. The Schwinn IC3 and IC4 exercise bikes are great examples of studio-style bikes.
- Self-powered exercise bike. A self-powered exercise bike may either be recumbent, upright, or hybrid. The defining feature here is that it does not require an outside power source. Some home fitness cycles must be plugged into an outlet before use to enjoy their full features. Basic display models may use a battery.
- Interactive exercise bike. An interactive bike does require an outlet, as they connect with different types of apps and outside services. Interactive home cycles are typically more expensive but can integrate with your smart devices, which may encourage you to work out more often.
- Air bike. An air bike, which is sometimes known as a cross-trainer bike, features two handles that control a fan to create resistance based on speed. The faster you go, the more intense the workout. These are extremely popular in the CrossFit circuit.
- Watt bike. A watt bike is similar to an interactive exercise bike in that it requires a power source. But, instead of simply connecting to your devices, a watt bike collects data based on performance. They are also designed to closely mimic riding a traditional bicycle on the road.
Parts of A Home Exercise Bike
Like traditional pedal-powered bicycles, home exercise bikes are made up of multiple components. These include:
- Flywheel. The flywheel of a home exercise bike is a weighted disk. These are often anywhere from 8 to 50 pounds and are placed where the front wheel on a road bike would go. The flywheel offers resistance and creates the feeling of forward movement. Not all home exercise bikes are flywheel-based. Some utilize a fan or magnet system for resistance.
- Saddle. Saddle is just another word for a seat. Home exercise bikes feature a performance saddle or a plush saddle. The former has minimal padding and is strictly for utility; the latter is a bit wider and caters to the rider’s comfort.
- Pedals. The pedal is where you place your foot to create movement. There are two basic types of exercise bike pedal: flat and toe clip. A flat pedal looks almost exactly like a petal on a traditional bicycle and is either metal or plastic. Toe clip pedals wraparound the front of a shoe to minimize foot slippage during intense workouts. You can also choose a hybrid pedal, which is often called a toe cage, that features a flat bicycle pedal with straps to keep your foot and shoe in place while you ride.
- Display. The display on your electric home exercise bike is usually an LCD screen that shows everything from calories burned to your heart rate. Basic home exercise bikes often have a very scaled-down display, while more advanced models might allow you to connect your music and give you much greater insight into your progress and performance.
- Magnetic and fan resistance. We briefly touched on magnetic and fan resistance above, but it’s important to note that these types of bikes offer a slightly different workout experience than a traditional flywheel. Magnetic resistance is considerably smoother and requires less maintenance. And, since it eliminates many connected parts, a magnetic home exercise bike operates in relative silence. A fan-style bike is also a slightly more advanced option than a flywheel and allows you to control the resistance by using speed alone.
- Wi-Fi connection. Interactive stationary bikes allow you to connect to your phone or to your home’s wireless internet. Some even offer the option to watch movies or TV directly from the screen.
- Live classes. Although a subscription is likely required, some home fitness bikes allow you to log in and participate in live or pre-recorded cycling classes led by an experienced instructor. Echelon EX-series bikes are an example of home fitness cycles that offer access to classes.
Budgeting For A New Exercise Bike
Your new stationary bike will depend not only on your goals but also on the money you have available to spend. If your budget is bare, you can pick up the Lanos folding exercise bike on Amazon for around $199. If you want all of the bells and whistles – more on available features below – and you don’t mind the $2495 price tag, the Peloton Bike+ is an option. However, know that a hefty price doesn’t necessarily equate to a better stationary bike. At a lower price point, you’ll get more basic setup, but you can still enjoy an effective workout. As you continue the pricing ladder, you’ll have access to features that enhance your workout or encourage you to continue when you’re ready to quit.
A Word About Warranties
Even if you’re only spending $200, an exercise bike is an investment. Because of this, you’ll want to research warranties before you shell out any money on exercise equipment. Similar to treadmills, stationary bike warranties are broken up into different components, usually frame, parts, electronics, and labor. There are a few brands that offer a lifetime warranty, while others leave you on your own for manufacturing mishaps after one year. A common warranty is five years for the frame, two years for mechanical and electrical, and one year for labor. Many brands offer expanded protection for an added cost. The Schwinn IC3 Indoor Cycling Bike (currently $599) is a great example that offers a basic warranty with the option to add what equates to a full-service protection package for an additional $89.
Still have questions? Here are a few answers that might help.
Q: What is the best bike for small spaces?
A: If you live in a small home or apartment or have roommates that don’t want a dedicated workout area, you are likely better off with a slimline, foldable exercise bike. The Slim CycleStationary Bike ($199 on Amazon) is one of the smaller recumbent bikes on the market. You might also look into a minibike, which Home Cyclists has suggested before for tight spaces. These are essentially a freestanding flywheel and pedal system that allows you to exercise your legs from any seat. They are also small enough to fit under the bed and portable enough to travel with you.
Q: What is the best speed?
A: To improve your overall health, strive for approximately 15 to 17 MPH . However, once you have some experience under your belt or are training for an athletic event, you may increase your intensity and up your speed to between 20 and 25 mph.
Q: How long should I ride?
A: The Mayo Clinic suggests riding an indoor cycle for approximately 45 minutes three times each week. This is a sufficient workout to increase your good cholesterol levels and lower your body fat percentage over the course of about three months.
Q: Should I buy an adjustable bike?
A: The vast majority of stationary bikes offer, at minimum, an adjustable-height seat. However, if you plan to share your exercise equipment with others, a home cycle that allows you to adjust the distance between the petals and the seat is beneficial.
Q: What is the correct saddle height?
A: That depends on your height and leg length. From a seated position, you should be able to reach the pedals at their lowest position with a slight bend in the knees.
Q: Should I use an exercise bike with a lighter flywheel?
A: You can, yes. Flywheel weight is not an indicator of quality. Even a 10-pound flywheel offers enough resistance for novice home cyclists. A heavier flywheel creates more momentum, which is why spin classes typically feature bikes with a flywheel of at least 40 pounds.
Q: What if I don’t like my home cycle after purchase?
A: Many manufacturers back their products with a money-back guarantee. However, be aware that you may be required to pay return shipping. NordicTrack’s return policy, for example, doesn’t refund shipping or delivery charges, and returns are subject to a $250 restocking fee. If possible, visit your local fitness center to confirm that indoor cycling is for you before making a purchase.
Q: Are stationary bikes safe for teens/children/pregnant women, etc.?
A: Stationary bicycles are typically safe – and potentially safer – than a road or mountain cycle. Although Sanford Children’s Health estimates that a child can ride a traditional bicycle between four and eight years old, your child’s pediatrician may approve or reject the idea of starting a stationary bicycle early. Women who are pregnant should also consult their primary health care provider before they begin any new fitness regimen.
Q: Do all home exercise bikes work the same?
A: Fundamentally, yes. An exercise bike is meant to provide a whole-body workout that can strengthen your leg muscles and improve your cardiovascular fitness. Be aware that there are subtle nuances, such as how a recumbent bike takes strain off the shoulders and a fan-resistance stationary bike changes intensity based on speed. Ultimately, your bike choice should be based on your comfort, budget, and fitness goals.
Q: How much maintenance does an exercise bike require?
A: The majority of stationary bikes require little to no maintenance. However, a belt-driven model may need to be oiled or serviced occasionally. Stationary bikes with digital components may also need service if the screen or electrical wiring becomes damaged.