A Simple 2-Question Exercise Bike Buying Guide
Buying an exercise bike? You have a lot of choices – some you probably don’t even know about.
This exercise bike buying guide will tell you what you need to know before buying so you can find the best bike for you.
Exercise Bike Buying Guide: Question #1
1) What Type of Bike Do You Want?
You have several options here.
A) Recumbent Bikes
Recumbent bikes are some of the most popular exercise bikes on the market with the chair-like or bucket seats.
Your body is placed in a semi reclining position and your legs angle out in front of you, tilted downwards to reach the pedals instead of hanging down as on an upright bike.
Many people find that recumbent bikes are much more comfortable – especially for longer workouts. Many offer lumbar support and are easier to get on and off.
The downside is that many experts feel that you don’t burn as many calories on these bikes as on upright bikes.
They can also be more limited in terms of cycling options.
If you want to learn more about buying a recumbent bike, check out our Recumbent Bike Buying Guide here.
B) Upright Bikes
These are also called “Stationary bikes” although this term is now becoming a catch-all term for both upright and recumbent bikes. These are the traditional exercise bikes that have been around for years.
These bikes are similar in form to traditional outdoor bikes where your legs hang below you to reach the pedal and you sit upright on the seat.
The traditional upright bike – with the heavy base and tension resistance knob – is one of the most affordable options when it comes to exercise bikes.
However it’s also the most limited. And people have complained about the one main problem with these bikes for years – hard, uncomfortable seats.
A fairly new type of upright bike has come onto the market in the last few years – the spin bike, indoor cycle or studio bike. This is similar to the bikes that you see in the health club used for spinning class.
These are usually more expensive than your classic stationary bike and built for much more intense workouts. They also tend to have more comfortable seats that are easier to adjust to your body frame.
These bikes are ideal for people who want more of an outdoor cycling feel.
If you want to learn more about these bikes, check out our Studio Bike Buying Guide here.
Another offshoot of the standard upright bike is the ‘Dual Action’ Stationary bike like the Schwinn Airdyne. These bikes have movable bars or levers on arm handles to incorporate your upper body into the workout.
They tend to use air resistance instead of magnetic resistance. The harder you pedal, the more resistance you get. They can be windy – which can keep you cool – but it can also be a bit loud and blow your papers or light objects around.
So those are some options for you to consider when looking at types of bikes. That leads us to the second question:
Exercise Bike Buying Guide – Question #2
2) What’s Your Budget?
The next thing you need to decide on is your budget.
There are really 3 price categories with stationary bikes:
1) Under $600
2) Between $600 – 1200
3) $1200 +
Think of the price categories as starter, mid-range and premium bikes.
While there are some average exercise bikes under $600, don’t expect to get a top quality machine for this price. You’ll have to pick through a lot of bad quality bikes to find a gem here, with skyrocketing manufacturing costs and high inflation nowadays.
In this price category you’ll find a lot of plastic parts that break easily, hard-to-read, non-backlit consoles and squeaks that develop after the first month of use.
You also won’t get very good ergonomics or comfortable seats.
Still, if you’re prepared to hunt around, you can still find a decent option here. If you don’t plan on using your exercise cycle much or if you’re on a strict budget, this may be a good price point for you. Two of the more popular brands in this category are the Proform and the Schwinn models.
Between $600 – $1200:
You can usually get a decent quality exercise bike for your home in this category – even with inflation being what it is today.
Most exercise bikes here offer a smooth ride, magnetic resistance and better backlit consoles that give you feedback on your workout. You should also expect several built-in workout programs, foot straps and heart rate monitors.
The downside is that you won’t get as many workout or streaming options as premium bikes. And adjustability of the seat or handlebars might be limited.
Popular brands in this category to check out include Nordictrack and Sole.
These exercise bikes are either the cream of the crop for the advanced home exerciser, ‘indoor cycles’ or they’re commercial grade for the health club. You’re going to enjoy proper ergonomics with less strain on your joints, knees and hips.
These bikes also tend to have more adjustment options – so you can find the right fit for your frame (and family members can find the right fit for them.)
You’ll also get more of the fancy “fun” stuff like streaming workouts, full-color, HD-touch screens, connectivity and more.
Popular brands in this category include Nordictrack, Sole and Diamondback.
These are really the 2 most important features to decide on: the type of bike and the price you can afford. Here are a few more features you should know about when buying an exercise bike.
There are several different types of resistance you’ll find in your exercise bike
1) Direct Tension – offers you a manual adjustment of resistance
2) Air – resistance is provided by pedaling against the airflow of a fan blade (only found on dual action bikes)
3) Magnetic Resistance – this is the most sophisticated type of resistance allowing magnetic currents to create and track the resistance. It generally allows for a greater variety of workout levels.
Magnetic resistance is generally viewed as the best option since it tends to be quieter and provides a more even feel when pedalling.
- Workout Programs / Console
Most exercise bikes give you information on speed, distance travelled, and time of the workout. The more sophisticated you go, you’ll also find things like total calories and fat burned, resistance level, heart rate and program mode.
You can also get exercise bikes now with Bluetooth connectivity, streaming workouts and world trail rides.
Many people find that streaming different workouts or riding trails using different programs like iFit, Zwift or Ridetheworld bring a whole new level of excitement and fun to their training.
If you prefer to do something a little more relaxing, there are also bikes that include a media rack. So you can attach your phone or tablet near the console and watch your favorite shows or Youtube videos as you cycle.
There are endless options here these days. So the important thing is to know what you want in a bike as far as console and workout program options.
Exercise Bikes come with a variety of warranties from 90 days to lifetime warranties on different parts of the bike. For example, parts and labor may be covered for 6 months, electronics for 1 year and the frame for a lifetime.
In general keep in mind that a longer warranty is indicative of a higher quality machine. Manufacturers will easily give you a longer warranty when they don’t expect the bike to break down.
Try to avoid the ultra-short 90 day warranty if you can. It’s usually slapped on the cheapest bikes or parts.
- Proper Ergonomic Design
This is another factor that gets better, the higher up in price you go. Higher end bikes usually have more comfortable ergonomic design (i.e. foot pedals lower than your seat, easy seat adjustments, adjustable handlebars)
The seat design is also important, especially with recumbent bikes (since these seats are harder to change out than an upright bike seat). Higher quality bikes usually have some type of lumbar support and comfortable padded seats which can also adjust based on your height.
So those are a few things to look at before buying an exercise bike. Unlike treadmills or ellipticals – exercise bikes are relatively easier to buy.
There are really only a few “must-have” areas you have to consider. Make sure you go with a good brand and a style of bike that suits your needs. And then get excited about using your new home exercise bike!