Exercise Bike Buying Guide

    Exercise Bike Buying Guide

    If you’re a fan of group indoor cycling classes, enduring a year of a pandemic may have convinced you it could be useful to have a bike at home too. And if you’re an avid outdoor cyclist, you may want a way to keep up with your training during bad weather. Whatever your needs, our ratings of home exercise bikes have plenty of options at a variety of prices.

    Types of Bikes

    All the bikes in our tests are indoor cycling bikes, which are designed to partially mimic the experience of riding a road bicycle. This type of bike differs from traditional stationary bikes. Indoor cycling bikes are constructed with a heavy flywheel, which provides resistance. The flywheel is magnetic. When you adjust the resistance level, you vary the position of permanent magnets built into the machine, increasing or decreasing the pedaling effort that the user needs to maintain their speed.

    We test two types of indoor cycling bicycles: connected and non-connected. Connected bikes come with the ability to access indoor cycling apps right from the bike’s display screen, which provides 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). The cycling apps generally require a monthly subscription plan to access the workouts. The connected bikes in our tests cost between $1,500 and $1,900. 

    Non-connected or conventional indoor bikes have some sort of digital display that provides information on speed, time, and other metrics, but without the video screen or interactive components of the connected bikes. The models we tested cost between $500 and $1,000.

    How to Choose

    If you’re shopping in a store, you can try before you buy, including adjusting it for your size and comfort. If you’re buying online, though, you can’t check it out in advance. That’s why we tested each bike for its adjustability—how finely you can adjust the seat and handlebar positions for your needs. Our experts prefer when a bike gives you the ability to make minute adjustments, rather than positioning in discrete increments. Otherwise you might end up with, for example, a seat height that’s too low on one setting, but slightly too high on the next setting up. The bikes with the lowest adjustability scores in our tests had seat heights settings that differed by more than an inch—too large of a difference to account for all preferences. The range of height adjustments can be important too, especially for people who are very tall or very short. 

    Look for a warranty that provides at least two to three years of coverage on major moving parts and a year for labor. The best warranties in our tests provided lifetime coverage for the frame, three years on other parts, and one year for labor. The poorest offer just a year for the frame, or as little as six months on parts and labor.

    Decide which extra features are important to you. These might include water bottle holders, dumbbells, dumbbell holders, or a heart rate monitor. If you don’t want a connected bike or you want to be able to use the bike and read or watch something when not taking a class, be sure to check that it has a reading shelf to hold a book, tablet, or smartphone. Some models, like the Peloton Bike, require the use of specialized clip-in biking shoes, which are optional on most of the others, so check the type of pedals the bike has when you shop.

    Whether or not your bike is connected and has a video screen, a good display will show some combination of your heart rate, calories burned, speed, revolutions per minute (RPM, or cadence in the biking vernacular), and details such as time and distance. Our experts say it’s particularly important for the display to show a resistance level. Some bikes in our tests didn’t, which means that the only indication you have of resistance is the position of the manual knob on the bike. That makes it difficult or impossible to replicate workouts if you’re trying to track your progress over time.

    Exercise bikes have many moving parts and can be hazardous, so follow directions. Make sure that your exercise bike is locked and out of children’s reach, and keep young children away from equipment without safety locks. Make sure children are kept away from your exercise bike while it is in use.