3 Types of Exercise Bikes
Choose an upright bike for the classic exercise bike experience; a recumbent bike to be gentler on your joints; or an indoor cycle trainer for the best approximation of riding an outdoor bike.
We've selected the three best upright bikes based on a culmination of sources. Check out our top picks...
Upright bikes are the most traditional exercise bikes. They are usually what’s meant by “stationary bikes.” Some upright bikes provide only light resistance, but some can challenge people who are very fit. These bikes are designed for cardiovascular training, weight management and toning the lower body.
Indoor Cycle Trainers
We've selected the three best indoor cycles. Check out our top picks...
Indoor cycle trainers support the most intense exercise. Also called spin bikes, indoor cycle trainers have the heaviest drives. Even more so than upright exercise bikes, they support riding positions you’d have on an outdoor race bike. Most importantly, their resistance systems best reproduce the sensation of riding a regular bicycle. Their pedals are often compatible with clip-in cycling shoes.
We've selected the three recumbent bikes. Check out our top picks...
Recumbent bikes are the gentlest exercise bikes. Recumbent bikes have chair-like seats with lumbar support, and they let riders lean back to cycle. These are the most appropriate bikes for physical therapy and for preventing exercise-related injuries. They are called “low impact” because they put minimal stress on joints, but recumbent exercise bikes can nonetheless support cardio training, calorie burn and muscle toning.
Important Features of an Exercise Bike
- Heavy Flywheels: All things being equal, heavier flywheels support smoother rides. They also offer more challenge at their highest tension levels. Indoor cycle trainers or spin bikes generally have the heaviest flywheels; these weigh 40 pounds or more. Recumbent and upright stationary bikes typically have flywheels weighing from 12 to 32 pounds.
- Workout Programs: There’s lots of variation in number of preset workout programs. Most upright bikes and recumbent bikes guide riders with programs, but some have none. Most spin bikes don’t have any workout programs at all. (A nice exception is the Diamondback 910Ic Indoor Cycle Trainer with 18.) The type of programming varies too. Many bikes at least lead trainees through basic programs such as 5K rides and hill climbs. Some have more advanced heart rate controlled workouts. Some of the most advanced bike workouts involve interactive video. Some of the most engaging workouts are offered by NordicTrack, ProForm, Horizon Fitness and Vision Fitness.
- Adjustable Handlebars and Saddles:Most bikes let you adjust the handlebars and seats, but the amount of adjustability varies. This isn’t so important to people of average height, but can really matter to short people and tall people. Also, there’s variation in the grip types and stances that handlebar designs support. This can be especially important to competitive cyclists.
- Easy-Read Display: Most exercise bikes provide workout data. At minimum, they show distance, time, speed and calories burned. Ideally they show heart rate data too. The best console screens are backlit for low-light conditions. Some bike consoles have rather old but sufficient technology, such as monochrome LCDs. Others get full-color touch screens.
- Entertainment:Some of the most popular exercise bikes provide distractions from exercise. They have sound systems, web browsers, tablet computer holders and/or magazine racks. NordicTrack bikes are good examples.
- Warranty: Warranties for exercise bikes have three main parts: the frame, the parts, and labor. Parts coverage is almost always shorter for commercial exercise bikes, yet these will almost always last a long time in home gyms.
- Power Source: Power sources for exercise bikes today include AC cords, batteries and riders! Some exercise bikes generate power from trainees’ exercise.
- Wireless Heart Rate Monitors: Getting an accurate pulse reading can help you exercise much more efficiently. Tracking your heart rate over time is a great way to assess your fitness progress too. The best exercise bikes have wireless heart rate receivers. Usually the required chest strap is sold separately. Cheaper non-wireless pulse readings are provided on exercise bikes at all price points. These tend to be inaccurate.
- Comfortable Seating: Recumbent bikes are known for their comfortable seats, which look something like office chairs with good lumbar support. For upright exercise bikes and spin bikes, some brands provide nicely contoured seats with a good amount of cushioning, and others don’t. We have noted complaints about uncomfortable seats in some of our exercise bike reviews. However, adding a gel-filled seat topper can usually alleviate the discomfort. Sometimes you can customize the seat because it’s interchangeable with those made for road bikes.
- Good Pedals: On cheaper exercise bikes, pedals are often a problem. They are among the first parts to break. Exercise bike pedals usually have toe cages and/or toe straps. Some are oversized, letting people reposition their feet during exercise. Others are made especially for clip-in cycling shoes and are interchangeable with those from road bikes.
- Water Bottle Holders:Most exercise bikes have water bottle holders. These are a simple yet much-appreciated feature.
- Resistance Type:The main types of exercise bike resistance are mechanical and magnetic. A well-made magnetic resistance system would be more durable and operate more quietly than one using a mechanical system. Mechanical resistance involves parts of the machine touching, creating friction. Magnetic resistance (also called eddy current resistance) involves no physical contact between parts. Some people prefer mechanical systems though. These systems more often let the rider control tension with a knob (instead of digitally with buttons), so they have infinite options instead of being restricted to 20 or so discrete resistance levels. An example of a spin bike with mechanical resistance is the low-priced Schwinn IC2, which uses felt brake pads. The popular Keiser M3 spin bikes, which cost more, use magnetic resistance. A few exercise bikes we’ve reviewed use air resistance. The rider pedals against the flow of air from a fan. This is very smooth and can adapt to any fitness level. However, air bikes aren’t as quiet as magnetic resistance bikes.