UPDATED, December 7, 2021
Whether you have fond memories of cycling through the neighborhood as a child or you’re just hoping for a new addition to your home gym, an exercise bike could be just what you’re looking for. However, with so many makes and models to choose from, the decision may not be as easy as strapping on a helmet and heading out for a bike ride.
To simplify the process from beginning to end, we’ve compiled a comprehensive exercise bike buying guide to help you find the best exercise bike for your home gym.
The Basics Of An Exercise Bike
Exercise bikes come in three basic types: upright bike, recumbent bike, and dual action bikes.
An upright exercise bike is perhaps the most familiar of the three, as it looks and functions similar to a road bike. You can sit or stand on this stationary bike depending on what’s most comfortable.
A recumbent exercise bike allows you to sit in a reclined position facing the screen, almost like an arcade game. The pedals are in front rather than underneath you.
Dual Action Bikes
If you’re looking for something totally unique, a dual-action stationary bike is for you. Unlike the others, this indoor cycling bike has moving handlebars that let you target your upper body muscles while working out (1).
Regardless of type, every exercise bike has a few things in common. It’s important to understand this “stationary bike lingo” before diving into the buying process.
- Saddle: Nope, it’s not for horseback riding—this type of saddle is just the seat of your stationary bike. Saddles come in different widths and most can be adjusted for height.
- Pedals: Some exercise bikes have traditional pedals while others have loops to hold your feet in place. Just like the saddle, pedals come in different widths and can be adjusted depending on your preferences.
- Display: Depending on the make and model of your indoor cycling bike, you’ll have different display options. Some have a set of LED lights that indicate settings, distance, or other details. The latest and greatest typically have large HD touchscreens, allowing you to interact with iFIT® cardio workout plans.
- Resistance Mechanism: This is what creates resistance when you pedal your stationary bike. There are a few different mechanisms available:
- Strap Flywheel: Many bikes have a weight disc mounted at the front. When this disc spins, the feeling of resistance is created. The result is a smooth riding experience. While you may see resistance straps on some models, they are less common.
- Friction Flywheel: This type of resistance relies on mechanically slowing the flywheel. You can control how much friction is applied, which changes the resistance level.
- Electromagnetic: Instead of a weighted flywheel, more expensive makes and models use an electromagnetic system to adjust resistance. A stationary exercise bike using magnetic resistance offers more control and takes up less space.
This wide variety of options makes the exercise bike a popular method for getting your cardio workout. However, that’s not all you can expect from indoor cycling.
Benefits Of Exercise Bike Workouts
Perhaps the most important benefit of fitness bike workouts is their accessibility. When exercise can be as simple as hopping on your stationary bike, you have one more way to meet the recommended amount of physical activity, which is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week (2).
That’s not all. Indoor cycling also comes with a long list of health benefits, including:
Cycling is a cardio workout that targets your cardiovascular system, which consists of your heart, blood vessels, and blood (3, 4). Regular physical activity may lower blood pressure, improve mood, strengthen the immune system, and may even provide benefits to memory and intellectual capacity (3).
Improved Muscle Strength
A stationary bike workout may strengthen muscles that include hamstrings, calves, quadriceps, and glutes due to the pedaling action. You may also work out your back and core by utilizing the handlebars (3).
Low Joint Impact
The joint impact level of an exercise is measured by how your body is treated during the activity. For example, during workouts like running, jogging, or jumping, joints may be twisted or pounded, which may stress the body and exacerbate existing conditions (3, 5).
Indoor cycling, on the other hand, is a low-impact workout because your feet don’t leave the pedals and the resistance is created artificially (3). That means joints like your ankles and knees may not take as hard of a hit like other exercises.
Increased Energy Metabolism
According to research by the University of Extremadura, indoor cycling may increase energy metabolism even after you’ve stopped exercising, though further research needs to be conducted (6). Metabolism may impact your health and achievement of each fitness goal you set for yourself, so it’s an important element to consider (7).
Improved Aerobic Capacity
Researchers also found that three months of indoor cycling may improve aerobic capacity (6). Enhanced aerobic capacity has many benefits, including improved flexibility, blood flow, oxygen utilization, and more (8).
Better Overall Health
- Lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Lowering the risk of certain cancers
- Reducing anxiety and depression
- Improving sleep
- Helping control body composition
Choosing Your Exercise Bike
Everyone has different needs when selecting fitness equipment. To find a stationary bike that fits your workout goals, space requirements, budget, and home gym needs, there are a few things you’ll need to take into consideration.
Here’s one thing to keep in mind when it comes to price: The more features an exercise bike has, the more expensive it will be. However, features also allow you to personalize and control your workout—so it’s important to know your options.
- Display Type: Although exercise bikes come with a wide range of display options, it’s up to you to decide how much information you’d like to see during your workout. For example, you’ll probably want to see details like time, speed, RPM, resistance levels, and calories burned. Higher-end displays can tell you more about your exercise and even provide entertainment along the way.
- Pre-Programmed Workouts: If you don’t like planning every minute of your routine, you’re not alone. That’s why many exercise bikes come with built-in workouts. In fact, iFIT-enabled exercise bikes give you access to certified personal trainers who automatically control your speed and resistance virtually to take the guesswork out of indoor cycling.
- Resistance And Incline: Different bikes have a variety of mechanisms for managing resistance. Some even have incline settings. Depending on the type of workout you want, good adjustability may be high on your list.
Software updates are a part of life at this point, and your exercise equipment should be no exception. If your bike make and model includes software of any kind, you’ll need to know why, how, and when those updates are conducted.
This doesn’t just provide new, engaging content on a regular basis––although that’s a definite plus). It’s also an important step in helping your stationary bike continue to perform the way it should.
Make sure to review every bike’s warranty when reviewing your options. Having a warranty could change the answer to “should I buy an exercise bike?” from a no to a yes.
Many exercise bike warranties are divided between the frame, parts, labor, and electronics. Some brands even offer additional packages that provide extended guarantees.
Warranties also help you manage the cost of maintenance. However, in order to be valid, most of these protections require certain steps on your part, so make sure to read the fine print and know your options at purchase.
As with all purchases, buying an exercise bike needs to be based on your budget. The best exercise bikes are often priced at several thousand dollars, but entry-level bikes can be found for a few hundred. Think about what you can afford and how much value you expect to get from your bike. You may even save a big chunk of money when investing in an exercise bike at home when compared to attending regular cycle classes, gym memberships, or paying for one-on-one personal training sessions that add up throughout the year.
Personal Fitness Goals
Finally, remember your workout goals. Are you trying to get in daily activity, get toned, prepare for a big race, or achieve some other fitness goal? Your intent is a big part of deciding which bike to buy. Think about where you currently are in your fitness journey and where you’d like to be in a few months or years.
Another thing to consider is the type of exercise you’d like to do on your indoor cycling bike. For example, if you want workouts that combine cycling with a dumbbell routine, you should consider an iFIT-enabled exercise bike. iFIT cleverly incorporates a challenging bike workout with a strength training session, on and even off of your bike. And depending on which bike you choose, dumbbells may come along with your bike purchase.
Top Exercise Bike Options
Now that you know the different types of exercise bikes, the benefits of cycling for exercise, and the features you should consider, it’s time to start looking at specific bike models. It can help to explore exercise bike reviews, especially if you’re looking at some of the most popular brands:
As one of the top names in the fitness realm, NordicTrack has a lot to offer. The NordicTrack Their Commercial Studio Cycles boast quality engineering and virtual training capabilities with iFIT—and these models are among our favorites. The company also sells recumbent and upright bikes to help achieve different goals.
ProForm offers high-quality bikes in different styles. For instance, the Studio Bike Pro exercise bike has a huge HD touchscreen to provide a workout experience unlike any other. To learn more about the Studio Bike Pro, check out the following review.
ProForm also offers recumbent and upright bikes, plus a hybrid machine that combines a stationary bike with an elliptical. Not to mention their unbeatable financing program.
Freemotion offers gym-quality exercise bikes, including recumbent and exercise models. Their indoor bikes are sturdy for regular use and may be familiar if you frequent your local gyms. Here’s how they stack up.
For many home gym users, owning an exercise bike can be a great experience. Compared to other forms of exercise equipment and paying expensive gym fees, they are relatively affordable and always accessible.
Remember, you don’t have to buy an exercise bike with all the bells and whistles. Entry-level models have fewer features but retain similar basic qualities, allowing you to add one to your home gym right away. With this guide in hand, you’ll be well on your way to achieving fitness goals with the best exercise bike for your needs.
Want to learn more? Remember to check back here to explore all the latest exercise bike models, features, tips, and tricks.