Exercise Bike Buyer’s Guide: What You Need to Know
Exercise bikes are fast becoming one of the most popular pieces of home gym equipment – and for good reason. They’re an affordable long-term investment that offers a great overall workout without taking up very much space.
Indeed, interest in exercise bikes has grown exponentially in general. This is evidenced by the current spin class rage. Head to nearly any gym in the country and you’re sure to see a nearly full sign-up sheet for that day’s spin class. Purchasing an exercise bike for use at home is simply a way to extend the spin class experience. They are also an excellent way for avid outdoor cyclists to stay in great shape during bad weather.
Yet choosing the best exercise bike for you is not always the easiest task. There are so many options to choose from that the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. Exercise bikes are often advertised with a number of words and jargon that, while important, make little sense to the average user.
And then there is the fact that different types of exercise bikes are better suited to different people. The best exercise bike for you depends on your needs, preferences, and fitness goals.
Below we run through the exercise bike basics you have to know. If you’re in the market for your first exercise bike or your fifth, the information below will help you find the perfect one for you.
Benefits of Exercise Bikes
The benefits of riding an exercise bike on a regular basis are numerous and cannot be overstated. They are simply one of the best tools to get in shape from the comfort of your own home. The most common practical benefits of exercise bikes include:
- Convenient – All-in-one piece of workout equipment. Simply get on and ride.
- Stowable – When your workout is finished, simply stow your exercise bike to the side. Most don’t take up much space and many break down for even more space savings.
- Easy to Use – Almost anyone can use one. There is a very small learning curve. You’ll be working out in minutes!
- Beginner Friendly – Exercise bikes are the perfect tool for those that aren’t used to exercising. They are also great for those that are very overweight.
- Low Risk – There is very little risk of injury on an exercise bike. They’re safe and don’t stress your knees, ankles, or joints like other forms of cardio exercise.
And then, of course, there are the actual health benefits of riding an exercise bike. These health benefits include:
- Burn Calories – Riding an exercise bike is an excellent form of cardio exercise. It helps burn calories, which helps you burn fat and lose weight.
- Build Muscle – At the same time that it burns calories, an exercise bike also builds muscle, primarily in your legs.
- Increase Mobility – Riding an exercise bike improves the mobility and flexibility of your joints without causing unneeded stress.
- Improve Endurance – As you become a more experienced exercise cyclist, your endurance will improve. You will be able to go for longer, more intense rides with the same amount of effort.
- Increase Metabolism – Cardio boosts your metabolism, increasing your overall health and helping you maintain a healthy weight.
- Improve Heart Health – Riding an exercise bike works your heart. Like any other muscle, it needs regular exercise to stay in great shape. Cardio improves heart function and reduces the risk of many diseases including heart disease.
- Boost Brain – Riding an exercise bike not only benefits your body. It also benefits your mind. Cardio boosts the levels of healthy chemicals in your brain, reducing stress, improving mood, and increasing memory and concentration in the process.
Now that you know all the benefits of riding an exercise bike, what is stopping you from investing in one for your own home?
Types of Exercise Bikes
Head down to your local health and fitness store or browse online and you’ll come across a handful of types of exercise bikes. Each of these has its own specific set of pros and cons. It is essential to find the one best suited to you personally.
One of the most popular types of exercise bike, the upright stationary exercise bike is designed much like a traditional road bicycle. The seat is located almost directly over the pedals with the handlebars at a near equal height to the seat.
Upright stationary bikes have a high center of gravity and force the user to lean slightly forward. For this reason, they are often uncomfortable for users suffering from back or neck pain.
They are also difficult for elderly people to use. On the other hand, these exercise bikes are the cheapest and most versatile. They allow you to stand up while riding for even more effective fat blasting workouts.
On a recumbent stationary exercise bike, the seat is located almost in line with the pedals. The rider is essentially in a seated, nearly laidback position with their arms at their sides.
Recumbent stationary bicycles are the ideal option for elderly users and those suffering from back or neck pain. They are also far more comfortable than upright exercise bikes.
Using a recumbent exercise bike is much like sitting on a piece of furniture – except your legs get a great workout. Unfortunately, they are not as diverse a choice and do not allow the user to stand up. They are also a far cry from normal road bicycles in design.
Dual-action stationary exercise bikes are the most popular option after upright and recumbent. However, they are also very different from a traditional road bike.
Dual-action exercise bikes combine the movement of bicycling pedals with moving handlebars. This allows you to squeeze in an upper body workout in addition to your lower body workout. It’s a great low-impact aerobic workout for building muscle.
At first glance, indoor cycles look very similar to upright stationary exercise bikes. They both use an upright seat and forward handlebars. Indeed, they are both designed in much the same way as a normal road bike.
The key difference is on the inside. Indoor cycles use a weighted flywheel connected to the pedals through a transmission system for resistance. This setup closely mimics a road bike. Upright and recumbent exercise bikes generally use electromagnetic induction for resistance.
For these reasons, serious outdoor cyclists are generally best off using an indoor cycle for training during the off season. Indoor cycles are also the most common type of exercise bike seen in gym spin classes.
Interactive exercise bikes feature high-quality LCD screens with virtual courses. This makes it feel like you’re actually riding a bike outside while training. On the other hand, folding exercise bikes, as their name implies, simply fold down after use for better storage.
How to Choose an Exercise Bike
It is essential that you choose the right exercise bike for you. The right bike will increase the overall effectiveness of your workouts, ensuring that you meet your fitness goals. Below are a few of the most important factors to take into consideration when shopping for your next exercise bike.
As discussed above, knowing the type of exercise bike best suited for you will narrow down your search considerably. Though it varies from person to person, upright are best suited for those on a budget, recumbent are for those that require the most stability and support possible, and indoor cycles are great for hardcore fitness enthusiasts and die hard outdoor cyclists.
Exercise bikes come with so many features these days – they are a far cry from the bare bones bikes of the past – that the best way to find the right machine is to try before you buy.
Even if you’re planning on purchasing online (where the best deals are found), heading down to a local fitness supply store for a test ride is essential. Though most exercise bikes are adjustable, this ensures that you find one in a good size for your body.
The most important factors to look at in addition to size and type are discussed in greater detail below.
- Display – A clear display is essential. Look for one that shows heart rate, calories burned, speed, revolutions per minute (RPM), resistance levels, time, and distance. You might also consider an interactive display that shows virtual courses.
- Programming – Consider a machine that is highly programmable. Many have routines that can be adjusted to your fitness level, age, weight, and gender.
- Heart-Rate Monitor – A heart-rate monitor can help you make the most of your workout. Those with chest straps are best but contact monitors work well too. (You can also invest in a separate stand-alone heart-rate monitor if your exercise bike doesn’t have one.)
- Resistance – Select a machine with easily adjustable resistance. Though it might not seem like it now, you will progress. And you will want to make your workouts harder.
- Extra Features – Consider extra features like water bottle holders and book rests. Do you require these?
- Storage – How easy will your exercise bike be to store? Is it a folding model? Does it come with child-safety locks (if you have children)?
Keep your eyes out on warranties. Look for one that provides at least two years (if not three) of coverage on major moving parts. Coverage for a year of labor is also preferred.
Naturally, price is something else that everyone needs to consider. Compare features of exercise bikes within your budget. Though there are great budget value bikes out there, spending a little bit more money will net you a more durable machine that will last for much longer (and often provide a better workout in the process).
Using Your Exercise Bike
Getting started on your exercise bike for the first time can be intimidating. Luckily, it really is very easy. The two key parts of using your exercise bike are the set-up and the workout.
Proper set-up is very important. It will give you an effective workout and greatly reduce your risk of injury. The four factors to consider include:
- Seat Height – With one leg fully extended on your upright stationary bike in the pedal, you should have only a small bend in your knee (maybe 10 degrees). Ensure you can pedal comfortably without having to point or flex your foot. Recumbent bike seats adjust back and forth. Make sure your legs almost fully extend, with a small bend in the knee.
- Seat Fore & Aft – On an upright bike, you must adjust seat fore and aft (forward and backward) in addition to height. Make sure that your knees are closely aligned with your ankles during pedaling.
- Handlebar Height – The last thing to adjust on an upright bike is handlebar height. Make sure they are in a comfortable position that you can reach easily. Raise the handlebars slightly higher to alleviate lower back stress.
- Foot Straps – If your exercise bicycle has foot straps, make use of this feature. Tighten them snugly to your feat. These will help you to both push and pull, a much more efficient pedal stroke.
Now, that your exercise bicycle is properly set up, it’s time to workout. Naturally, your specific workout should be individually tailored. However, it is worth noting that adding resistance simulates hills and inclines.
It is also smart to note that both pushing and pulling on the pedals (with foot straps firmly tightened) creates a more effective workout. If your exercise bike features programmed routines, you can try one of these for your first workout to gauge your fitness level.
30-Minute Bike Workout Blasts Calories and Fat
This 1-10 scale seems way more complicated than it really is, but it's a great and easy way for anyone to monitor her exercise intensity when doing cardio. What's more? It requires no equipment. Here is how you use it:
Congratulations, an exercise bike is one of the best tools you can buy for home fitness! We hope that the information above – as well as the rest of the information and reviews on our website – will help you find the best exercise for you.