Exercise bikes offer an excellent way to improve your fitness in the comfort of your own home. These stationary bikes also strip away the excuses, like weather, cost, and journey time, helping users to stick to their exercise regime.
On top of that, exercise bikes are an accessible way to start down the road toward better fitness, even if that road isn’t a literal one. Almost anyone can ride an exercise bike, and riders can tailor the experience to suit their level of fitness. This makes exercise bikes a low-impact workout machine with few barriers to entry, but it also means they work just as well for fitness enthusiasts. In turn, that means there is a wide variety of options to choose from when buying an exercise bike.
In this guide, we look at what makes a good exercise bike and how to choose one to suit your needs. We’ll also give you our top picks for the best exercise bikes of 2020.
Our Top Picks: Summary
- Best Overall: Sunny Belt Drive Flywheel Bike
- Upgrade Pick: Schwinn IC3
- Best Recumbent: Nautilus R616
- Best Smart Exercise Bike: Echelon EX3
- Best for Small Spaces: XTERRA Fitness FB150
The Best Exercise Bikes: Our Top Picks
Why We Picked It
For the best overall exercise bike, we looked for a mix of quality materials, excellent performance and great value, for which we chose the Sunny Belt Drive Flywheel Bike.
The Sunny is a steel-framed bike with a 49-pound weighted flywheel, which is on the heavier side and offers an excellent cycling experience. An emergency brake will stop the workout immediately if needed, bringing the flywheel to a safe stop. The bike’s transportation wheels make it easier to move from place to place, which is appreciated with the heavy flywheel.
The seat and handlebars are 4- and 2-way adjustable, respectively, allowing most users to find their ideal workout position, and the handlebars are multi-grip to suit a range of grip styles. Toe clip pedals with straps will keep your feet from slipping as you pedal, and a bottle holder built into the frame makes it easy to stay hydrated.
All adjustments, including the resistance adjustment, are made with easy to grip adjustment knobs. The bike has a weight limit of 275 pounds.
Keep in Mind
While sturdy, the weight of the flywheel and lack of folding action on this bike makes it more suitable for riders who are happy to leave the bike out and set up.
In a Nutshell
- 49-pound flywheel
- Sturdy steel frame
- Maintenance-free belt drive system
Why We Picked It
New riders don’t need all the bells and whistles when starting out, but if you’re looking for an upgrade on your existing bike, then we recommend the Schwinn IC3.
The Schwinn is a flywheel-powered bike that allows for effectively infinite resistance settings, enabling you to push your workout to its limit. The flywheel is powered by a silent belt drive, so this bike is quiet when in use.
Dual SPD pedals allow you to tailor the experience to your preferences, ideal for riders progressing from novice to enthusiast. An oversized water bottle holder and media rack can help to keep you focused on your workout. You can slot a tablet device into the media rack to use any of the various fitness apps available, allowing you to create a Peloton-style experience.
The Schwinn also features padded handlebars and a race-style seat with both vertical and horizontal adjustment. The simple yet easily readable LCD display allows you to monitor your stats as you exercise.
Keep in Mind
This model isn’t foldable and has a relatively large footprint, unlike many entry-level bikes.
In a Nutshell
- 40-pound flywheel
- Media rack for tablet device
- Steel-built frame
Why We Picked It
Recumbent exercise bikes can be an excellent choice for people with mobility or weight problems preventing them from exercising in an upright position. For this category, we’ve chosen the Nautilus R616.
The Nautilus is a recumbent bike with 25 levels of resistance, featuring Bluetooth connectivity that allows users to monitor their progress via the Explore the World app. This app can also connect users to online courses and to scenic outdoor trails. The clear LCD display is backlit and offers room for 29 workout programs that users can customize.
The Nautilus also features a padded seat with back ventilation for comfort, and the seat provides a slidable adjust to suit most users.
Keep in Mind
Though ideal for heavier individuals who may struggle with an upright bike, the Nautilus has a weight limit of 300 pounds.
In a Nutshell
- 25 levels of resistance
- Bluetooth connectivity
- 29 pre-programmed/customizable workout routines
Why We Picked It
Smart exercise bikes, much like a smart TV, give you unparalleled control over the user experience. For this category, we’ve chosen the Echelon EX3.
The Echelon is a compact yet robust bike with 32 magnetic resistance levels, which can be adjusted by an easy-to-use resistance knob. The bike has a slim footprint of 3’ 5” x 1’10”. It also features a competition seat which can be adjusted by a lever.
The Echelon’s smart features consist of a large display monitor that can monitor your stats in real-time and connect via the Echelon Fit app to other users, certified cycle instructors and a library of on-demand rides. The app includes a 14-day free trial.
Your investment in the Echelon bike is protected by a money-back guarantee, so unsatisfied customers can return the bike within the first 30 days. A 1-year warranty further protects your purchase against faults.
Keep in Mind
Due to its smart features, this model has a higher price tag than non-smart bikes.
In a Nutshell
- Smart features including Echelon Fit app
- 32 magnetic resistance levels
- 30-day money-back guarantee
Why We Picked It
The main aim of an exercise bike is to make exercise convenient by transplanting it into the home. For people without much space at home, however, they may need to look for a smaller model. We’ve chosen the XTERRA Fitness FB150 for shoppers with limited home space.
The XTERRA features a simple x-frame design that users can collapse down when not in use. In its collapsed form, the XTERRA takes up only 18.1 x 18.1 inches of floor space, which means the bike can easily slot into a corner or other storage space when not in use, while transport wheels on the base make it easy to move from place to place.
The XTERRA features 8 levels of resistance which can be controlled through an easy to use dial. A large LCD screen mounted between the handles allows users to keep an eye on their stats as they exercise.
In terms of accessibility, the XTERRA has a large, ergonomic seat suitable for most riders and the handlebars are padded and can be gripped in a variety of positions. The handlebars also include heart rate sensors.
Keep in Mind
The XTERRA only has basic features but is a great entry point for most users.
In a Nutshell
- Foldable with small footprint
- Large seat suits most people
- 8 levels of manual resistance
How We Chose the Best Exercise Bikes
To choose the best exercise bikes, we looked at several key areas to provide a complete overall picture of each model’s quality and value.
Programs and Controls
Most riders want to keep things simple with their exercise bike, allowing them to stay focused on the workout itself. We looked at how easy it was to program settings and view your stats as you work out, so we could assess the overall usability of the bike. We favored bikes that were easy to use and kept out of the way of your exercise regime.
Adjustability allows an exercise bike to accommodate a wide range of riders. Riders of all different types use exercise bikes, so an adjustable bike will be suitable for a larger customer base.
We noted how each bike could be adjusted to suit riders of different heights and weights, along with adjustments that could be made for fitness level. We also noted where bikes could accommodate different grip styles.
Exercise bikes provide the “burn” of exercise by the resistance settings they offer, which allows the rider to keep pushing toward their limits.
In flywheel exercise bikes, the weight of the flywheel determines its momentum and resistance, so a heavier flywheel gives a more realistic feel of travel and greater resistance control. Most flywheels weigh between 40 and 50 pounds. Some bikes use magnetic or direct contact methods to generate resistance, which uses braking mechanisms instead of a heavier flywheel to generate higher levels of resistance.
We looked at the number of resistance settings on offer for each bike and noted the flywheel weight where relevant.
Most customers aren’t unfettered by their budget when buying an exercise bike, so price always forms a crucial part of the selection process. We looked at each model to see how it performed in terms of value for money, including the features on offer and the bike’s durability.
We also looked at whether the bike’s price meant it was better suited to newcomers or budget-conscious shoppers, or whether it offered a high-end experience with the appropriate price tag. More expensive bikes needed to work harder to justify their price tag, as cheaper equivalents are often available.
The customer experience can make or break an exercise bike, so we looked at customer reviews to see what riders were saying. This gave us a better idea of how the bike performed in the standard home environment under the pressure of regular use. This also allowed us to note any quirks, such as unexpected noise levels.
What is an Exercise Bike?
An exercise bike is one of the most common home exercise machines. It functions much like a regular bicycle, but is stationary, allowing riders to peddle indefinitely without leaving their home. The average exercise bike features settings to adjust the difficulty of the experience up and down, and many feature display screens, which give visual feedback on stats such as the number of calories burned.
Exercise bikes allow users to get a full-body workout without leaving their home. Many choose to use them because they remove common mental and physical barriers to working out, like the distance to the gym, adverse weather, or expense. Unlike riding outdoors, an exercise bike keeps the focus on the regular burn of peddling, removing considerations like navigation and steering.
One other popular aspect of the exercise bike is its broad appeal. Individuals at a wide range of fitness levels, overall health, age, and workout experience can hop on an exercise bike and experience its full benefits.
Who Should Buy an Exercise Bike
Almost anyone can benefit from using an exercise bike. The experience can be adjusted up or down to suit different riders, and even riders with physical conditions may find they can use variants like the recumbent exercise bike. Exercise bikes are naturally safer than their mobile counterparts, too, meaning they’re more accessible to people who may not want to take the risk of riding in roads and parks.
Riding an exercise bike is a low-impact activity, which means it carries a low risk of injury and places relatively few physical demands on a person beyond the energy needed to exercise. In this respect, it resembles activities like swimming as a broad-appeal way of working out.
However, there are a few caveats. An exercise bike can be a costly initial purpose and some have a large footprint, both of which can make them unsuitable for customers who have a limited budget and who are, in turn, more likely to be working with limited space.
Exercise bikes also can’t deliver some of the other benefits of working out, such as increased fresh air intake, social contact, and the mental health boost that comes with being in green spaces. Like most forms of exercise, bikes work best when paired with other, complementary forms of exercise.
Types of Exercise Bike
Exercise bikes come in four primary designs. Each has its pros and cons, but all have the same basic purpose. Variants from the common upright option generally target certain niches, like heavier individuals or those without enough space for multiple machines.
- Upright: Most people are familiar with upright exercise bikes, and these most resemble their non-stationary counterparts. Uprights are suitable for most riders, but they can be difficult for people in higher weight classes or those with mobility problems such as spinal issues.
- Recumbent: Recumbent exercise bikes look superficially like indoor rowers, another popular indoor exercise machine. Recumbent bikes are popular with people who can’t ride an upright bike for prolonged periods, as they place less strain on the back and often feature more comfortable seats.
- Combination: Combination bikes combine elements of an exercise bike and other exercise machines, most commonly an elliptical trainer. Users can switch between the functions, from a seated bike position to a standing elliptical one.
- Air bikes: Air bikes, like the popular Assault bike, are functionally the same as upright bikes in most respects, but in place of the flywheel they have a large fan, which generates resistance using its blades. Though they’re usually noisier than flywheel bikes, they do have the advantage of cooling the rider when in operation.
What to Consider When Choosing an Exercise Bike
When buying an exercise bike, there are a few things you’ll need to bear in mind to find the right model for you.
Type of Bike
There are three main types of exercise bike (not including air bikes), each suited to different users.
Upright bikes work for most users and are the typical bike, with plenty of options on the market. To use an upright bike, you’ll need to be healthy enough to support your torso while exercising.
Recumbent bikes are suitable for people who may not be able to support their torso weight while exercising. People with back problems or obesity-related complications may opt for a recumbent bike to ease some of the strain on the spine and core and allow them to focus on the activity.
Combination or hybrid bikes combine the functionality of multiple workout machines, which can be ideal for riders without the space for more than one machine.
If you aren’t asking much more from your bike than a basic get-fit machine, then you can find an inexpensive, basic model to suit you. Exercise bikes also come with a wide range of features, however. Enthusiasts may opt for a bike with better data feedback, more resistance levels, or even splash out on smart features like app connectivity. Full-featured bikes are usually better-suited to individuals who already know that biking is a style of exercise that works well for them.
Most modern exercise bikes are made with durable but lightweight materials, making them robust but easy to move around when needed. Some can be folded away, which is ideal for riders who don’t want to leave the bike in situ when not in use.
You should avoid bikes with exposed elements like chains, as they can be less reliable and may pose a hazard, particularly if you have small animals or pets in the household. Most modern exercise bikes enclose mechanical parts like chains, belts, and flywheels with dedicated housing.
For those who live in apartments or smaller properties, a bike’s footprint is something you’ll want to consider in advance. You’ll likely want to store your bike out of the way when not in use, which is easier for bikes with a smaller footprint. Some bikes are foldable for this purpose, making them much easier to store.
One thing that can help to justify a bike with a larger footprint is if multiple people in your family can use it, which makes it more practical to keep the bike set-up and ready to go in the long term.
Most shoppers will look for an exercise bike that offers a balance of cost and performance. Exercise bikes vary from the $100+ range all the way up to thousands of dollars for enthusiast/full-featured models. For most shoppers, exercise bikes in the $100-$200 range will be perfect for their needs. For some, frequent use and enthusiasm will justify a later upgrade.
What About Peloton?
One popular modern variant of the exercise bike is the experience offered by Peloton. This combines a traditional exercise bike with an array of smart features, including a subscription to the Peloton app. The app connects riders to other Peloton users, as well as a variety of other tools to improve their riding experience.
While the Peloton is a quality high-end product, it’s generally better suited to enthusiasts who want to upgrade their exercise bike experience. The Peloton has a high initial cost and monthly subscription fees, so most bike shoppers will find it excessive compared to other bikes on the market.
Except in cases where money isn’t a concern, new bikers should aim to buy one of the cheaper available options. The Peloton can upgrade a workout, but it’s usually better to first assess how well an exercise bike works for you, and figure out what you’re looking for in the experience.
Tips for Using Exercise Bikes
To get the most out of an exercise bike and make safe use of it, consider keeping these things in mind.
- Adjustments: You should be comfortable using your exercise bike for at least as long as your workout lasts. Adjust components like the seat to find the right set-up for you.
- Storage: One of the advantages of an exercise bike is the way it removes a barrier to working out. Keep your exercise bike somewhere convenient when not in use so it doesn’t become a chore to set up and use.
- Protect Yourself: Make sure to use proper form when riding your bike. Keep your posture erect, engaging your spine and core muscles. This will prevent fatigue in the spine resulting from hunching as you ride. As with any exercise, you should also stretch and warm up before engaging in your routine.
- General Safety: Be attentive when moving or lifting your exercise bike. Protect your back with proper lifting techniques and be aware of your surroundings to avoid causing damage to your property or injury to other people.
- The Big Picture: Exercise bikes deliver the most effective fitness results when combined with other self-improvement activities, like a better diet and more fresh air. Consider making other lifestyle changes to support your time spent on the bike.
If you’ve found this guide helpful, be sure to check out some of our other exercise equipment guides.