To find the right machine for you, be sure to try before you buy. Consider these factors:
Elliptical exercisers and nonfolding treadmills are about the size of a small couch, and most stationary bikes are a bit smaller. Folding treadmills are generally shorter than nonfolding models, and they can be stored upright to save space. Elliptical exercisers take up more vertical space, so be careful if you have low ceilings.
For treadmills, consider your stride. If you have a long stride or you plan to run, a longer deck might be necessary. Less expensive folding treadmills can have shorter decks.
Pay special attention to ergonomics when choosing an elliptical. You should never feel discomfort in your knee or hip joints, and your knees shouldn't bump the frame or handgrips. Two models, the SportsArt E83 and the ProForm XP 420 Razor, have adjustable stride lengths, which might make them better for multiple users. The SportsArt is easy to adjust to six settings; the ProForm has only two settings and is more difficult to adjust.
Stationary bikes vary in size and shape. When you're shopping for one, adjust it for your size in the store. Look for a comfortable seat and pedals that fit your feet.
We found a few ergonomic and comfort quibbles with some bikes. The Gold's Gym Power 210 U seat can adjust for users up to 6 feet 2 inches, but we found that anyone over about 5 feet 8 inches hit their knees on the handlebars. The Omega Fitness CO-BU130 had handlebars that were a long reach for some. And all of our panelists found the seat on the HealthRider ExerPlay 200 uncomfortable.
Look for one that provides at least two to three years of coverage on major moving parts on your home exercise equipment and a year for labor. Survey data on the probability of failure and repair costs showed that extended warranties are probably not a good deal.