With all the high-tech equipment you can find in gyms these days, it’s easy to overlook the trusty old-school stationary bike. But exercise cycles provide many of the physical and mental benefits of cycling without having to face the elements (or the traffic) outdoors.
And with several affordable exercise cycles on the market, an exercise cycle can be a smart investment when you’re building a home gym or just looking for an easy way to get some cardio at home. But how can you choose the right exercise bike for you?
How to Choose the Best Exercise Cycle for You
If you’re not happy with your exercise cycle, you’re probably not going to commit to using it regularly. “Most people give up on their fitness equipment because it wasn’t what they thought,” says Courtney Grafton, a certified spin instructor and master trainer at Spokehaus Spin Studio in Toronto and cycling expert at ExerciseBike.net.
The first step is to find a bike that feels comfortable to you. (It should feel similar to riding a real bike, Grafton says.) According to the REI bike fitting guide, when you grip the handlebars with elbows slightly bent, your torso should ideally be at a 45-degree angle — not hunched over. And when the pedals are parallel to the ground, the knee of your front leg should be over your foot.
Grafton also recommends paying attention to these features when shopping for an exercise cycle:
- Smooth flywheel. “Not only will it feel better, but a smoother flywheel will also be quieter,” Grafton says. “This is important for those in apartments or looking to not disturb the whole house when [using the bike].”
- Bluetooth connectivity. This isn’t a necessity, but it can make it easier to track your workouts on an app.
- Seat comfort. “You’ll be sitting on it a lot,” Grafton says — and if you’re not a seasoned road biker, a narrow seat may feel uncomfortable. Grafton suggests looking for a bike with a wider seat or purchasing a cushioned seat cover.
- Handlebars and pedals. If your bike workouts are high-intensity, you may prefer a bike with clip-in pedals. (Just keep in mind you’ll need to buy compatible shoes.)
- Price. “Why pay for features you aren’t going to use?” Grafton says. “There are a lot of great bikes on the market that won’t break the bank.”
Recumbent vs. Upright: Which Is Better?
There are two main types of stationary bikes: recumbent and upright. “The main difference between a recumbent bike and [an] upright bike is your overall body positioning,” Grafton says.
A recumbent bike has a full seat back, so you’re in a reclined position while pedaling. “Recumbent bikes are great for seniors and those rehabilitating an injury, as they’re very low-impact,” Grafton says. “I would also recommend these for those with back or hip issues.” However, recumbent exercise cycles don’t provide as much of a core workout as upright exercise cycles.
An upright bike is the type you’d typically see in a spin studio — it has a smaller seat and requires an upright body position, similar to riding outdoors. “Upright bikes are great for those looking for a good cardio burn,” Grafton says. “An upright bike will work more muscle groups, and you have more riding options on an upright bike, such as sprinting or raising up out of the saddle to climb.”
So which type of exercise cycle is best for you? That depends on your current fitness level, your health goals, and any injuries, Grafton says. Whichever type of bike you prefer, here are some of the best options on the market.
The Best Recumbent Exercise Cycles
Stamina Elite Total Body Recumbent Bike (Amazon)
If you’re more comfortable on a recumbent bike but don’t want to simply “sit back and pedal,” this exercise cycle includes hand pedals to add an upper-body element to your workout. It also features an adjustable padded seat, eight resistance levels, and an electronic display that tracks speed, calories, heart rate, distance, and workout time.
Exerpeutic 400XL Folding Recumbent Bike (Amazon)
If you live in a tight space or you’re on a tight budget (or both!) this foldable recumbent bike is a great option. With a weight capacity of up to 300 pounds, the Exerpeutic 400XL is engineered with a quiet drive system, eight resistance levels, and a precision-balanced flywheel for a smooth ride. The LCD display tracks distance, calories, time, speed, and heart rate.
Schwinn 270 Recumbent Bike (Amazon)
Looking for a recumbent bike that does it all? This Schwinn model features a high-speed drive system, super-smooth flywheel, 25 levels of resistance, Bluetooth connectivity, built-in speakers and fans, and a USB for charging your phone while you pedal. And if you need workout inspiration, choose from one of the 29 pre-programmed workouts, download the Schwinn Trainer app, or sync with the free RideSocial app and ride virtually alongside friends.
Nautilus R614 Recumbent Bike (Amazon)
This recumbent bike is loaded with useful features, including a high-speed drive system, perimeter-weighted flywheel, 20 levels of resistance, 22 workout programs, adjustable sliding seat rail, vented seat back, and an LCD display with built-in goal-tracking. There’s no Bluetooth functionality, but that helps keep the price point down in comparison to similar models, and the console has an MP3 input and speakers.
The Best Upright Exercise Cycles
Schwinn 170 Upright Bike (Amazon)
A solid mid-range option, this upright bike features a backlit LCD display, 29 workout presets, and 25 levels of manual resistance. Padded handlebars, contour seating, and oversized pedals offer a comfy ride, while Bluetooth connectivity lets you connect to fitness tracking apps and the heart rate sensors help you work out at your target heart rate.
Marcy Upright Exercise Bike with Resistance ME-708 (Amazon)
If you just want the basics from your upright bike, check out this lightweight, space-saving option. Made from durable 14-gauge steel tubing, it features an adjustable seat, eight levels of magnetic resistance, and an LCD display that tracks time, speed, distance, and calories.
Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Belt Drive Indoor Cycling Bike (Amazon)
Not quite ready to drop a couple grand on a boutique bike? This higher-end model is a bit easier on your wallet, but still has most of the bells and whistles — including a durable steel frame, heavy-duty flywheel, magnetic resistance for a quiet ride, four-way adjustable seat and handlebar, steel toe-caged pedals, and a tablet holder so you can stream your favorite virtual workout.
Exerpeutic Folding Magnetic Upright Exercise Bike with Pulse (Amazon)
Another great option if you’re short on space, this fold-up bike packs a few key features into its compact design — including hand pulse sensors to monitor your heart rate, eight resistance levels, and a large LCD display to indicate speed, time, distance, and calories burned. It also has an extra-wide seat for maximum comfort, and its 300-pound weight capacity is higher than most folding bikes.