Best Exercise Bikes From Consumer Reports’ Tests
We have the advice you need if you’re looking for an exercise bike that can connect you to a virtual cycling class—plus more basic machines, too
One of the classic home gym staples, an exercise bike is a good choice for people at all fitness levels. The machines provide a low-impact cardio workout that you can do at your own pace. In recent years, indoor cycling bikes, sometimes called studio bikes—which are designed to mimic the experience of riding a road bicycle—have become popular, in many cases replacing the traditional stationary bike.
Part of what has upped their appeal is the fact that many incorporate built-in connectivity. Those that connect allow you to access on-demand or live exercise classes through the bike’s video screen and transmit real-time data from the bike on performance measures, such as calories burned, speed, resistance, and heart rate, that are displayed on the screen and stored so that you can track your progress. But there are nonconnected models, too, which are constructed similarly but without an integrated video interface.
Studio bikes differ from traditional stationary bikes mainly because of the presence of a heavy flywheel, which is used to provide both momentum and resistance, so pedaling feels more realistic. The flywheel is magnetic; when the user adjusts the resistance level, the position of permanent magnets change relative to the flywheel, increasing or decreasing the pedaling effort the user needs to maintain their speed.
We focused on these indoor cycling machines for our latest tests of six exercise bikes—models from Echelon, Finer Form, Peloton, ProForm, Schwinn, and Sole—priced from $500 to $1,900. Here’s what we found in our tests and what to consider when shopping for one of these machines.
How CR Tests Exercise Bikes
All the bikes are put through a series of tests and evaluations to assess their usability. We score each bike on the features it offers, weight capacity, noise, the quality of its user interface, how easily you can adjust the bike’s seat and handlebars for rider comfort, and ease of assembly (for that score, we time how long it takes our testers to put the bike together, from unpacking to starting a ride). We also rate the bike’s parts, its labor warranty, and the length of its frame.
Connected or Nonconnected Bike: The Best Choice for You
In our tests, an equal number of connected and nonconnected bikes earned our recommendation, which means you have plenty of great options. So which type of bike is best for you?
One major factor is cost. The connected bikes in our tests were more expensive, costing between $1,500 and $1,900, compared with $500 to $1,000 for the nonconnected bikes.
Connected bikes come with the ability to access indoor cycling apps right from the bike’s display screen, which provide both on-demand and live classes. These might show you an instructor at the front of a virtual classroom or a video of a bike ride through a scenic area (or even a custom ride through your neighborhood). To access them, though, you’ll need to sign up for a monthly subscription service, which will add to the costs.
If you’d rather turn on tunes, Netflix, or a podcast while you work out than have an in-class experience, the good news is that you can opt for a less expensive, nonconnected bike without sacrificing performance or comfort. If you want the classes but don’t want to spend the money on a connected bike, you can use a workout app on your phone or tablet to replicate that experience to some extent on a conventional, nonconnected exercise bike. You’ll still need to pay for a subscription, but it gives you flexibility in the service you use. Prices vary, but it will cost less than the service that comes standard with a connected bike. One downside of this kind of setup is that the data from your workout will not feed into the app as they would using a connected bike’s display, Deitrick says.
For more on the options and features of these bikes, check our exercise bike buying guide. CR members can read on for details about the bikes we tested, or jump right to our full ratings and reviews of exercise bikes.