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Exercise Bike Buying Guide – Discover your perfect indoor ride

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So, you want to buy an exercise bike? Fantastic decision! Whether you’re a beginner trying to make sense of the monumental choices available, or a seasoned cyclist looking for the convenience of indoor training, there’s a bike out there with your name on it.

This guide will help you dissect the multitude of models, make savvy buying decisions, and identify the key elements of exercise bikes in general.

What are the Different Types of Exercise Bikes?

Upright Bikes

Upright Bike Lifestyle

Arguably these take the podium for popular design. They can test the limits of your fitness and ease you in gently to exercise if you’re starting out.

The un-supported seat keeps your lower back and core engages, strengthening a crucial area of the body and toning your legs. The low impact nature is healthy for your knees, but the upright position applies more pressure than a recumbent bike. Uprights generally have large, comfortable seats, though an extra gel cover is a small, but smart investment to save your bottom.

They are the most compact exercise machine by a long shot, if having a whopping piece of machinery in your home is overwhelming, this is your choice. It’s worth noting upright bikes that have programs will use mains power, simplistic designs use batteries and are a great alternative with adjustable resistance levels.

What are they good for?

  • Losing weight
  • Improving general health and fitness
  • Moderate intensity training (on higher specification models)
  • Toning your legs
  • Strengthening your core
  • Improving your posture
  • Keeping you motivated with workout variety (on higher specification models)
  • What aren’t they designed for?

  • Rehabilitating your knees or lower back from injury
  • Getting on and off the bike can be tricky if you have limited movement
  • Training at high intensity that requires fast pedalling
  • Replicating a road cycling experience
  • Using upper body muscles
  • Budget

  • Beginners: £100 - £200
  • Intermediates: £200 - £400
  • Professionals: £400 upwards
  • Recumbent Bikes

    Recumbent Bike Lifestyle

    The cycling elite are prone to sniggering at recumbent bikes, unjustifiably as they offer a gateway to exercise for anyone suffering with knee injuries, lower back injuries or has limited mobility.

    Recumbents are distinctive, their long step-through frames and large backrests support painful lower backs and your core. The horizontal alignment focuses on your legs and offers welcome relief to niggling knee sufferers, they're prime candidates for toning legs and weight loss through low intensity workouts.

    Like upright bikes they’re generally mains powered with simple battery powered models around. They cannot claim to be compact though! Their elongated design exaggerates the length to twice that of their compact alternatives.

    What are they good for?

  • Supporting your lower back
  • Gently exercising and rehabilitating your knees
  • Stepping on and off if you have limited mobility
  • Toning your legs
  • Weight loss through low intensity workouts
  • What aren’t they designed for?

  • High intensity training
  • Improving and pushing high levels of cardiovascular fitness
  • Strengthening your core
  • Fitting into compact environments
  • Exercising upper body muscles
  • Budget

  • Beginners: £150 - £300
  • Intermediates: £300 - £550
  • Professionals: £550 – upwards
  • Indoor Training Bikes

    Indoor Training Bike Lifestyle

    These leg burning pedal pushers are ubiquitous in commercial gyms, for simulating road cycling indoors, these are your bike! They’re aesthetically defined by huge exposed flywheels, narrow performance saddles and racing style handlebars.

    The seat and handlebars are almost level to position your body in an arch, if you’re not familiar this can take some adjustment. Indoor bikes aren’t designed for comfort, it’s all about performance. Highly intense training is the main dish on the menu, the momentum of the flywheel propels your legs forward for a tougher workout. A special push brake gradually brings the bike to a halt, you cannot simply stop pedalling an indoor trainer if you value your knees.

    They have basic features, generally stripped of any complex programs; they only relay essential workout feedback, so you can put it anywhere.

    What are they good for?

  • Highly intense sweat dripping workouts
  • Simulating road cycling
  • Training for performance
  • Placing anywhere in your home
  • What aren’t they designed for?

  • If you’re new to exercising
  • Low intensity training
  • Providing workout programs
  • Comfort
  • Lower back injuries
  • Budget

  • Beginners: £150 - £300
  • Intermediates: £300 - £600
  • Professionals: £600 - upwards
  • Dual Action Bikes

    Dual Action Bike Lifestyle

    If a cross trainer and an upright bike had a baby, the dual action bike would be the result! Equipped with an upright seat and the addition of two connecting handlebars, they deliver brutal full body workouts.

    To assault your whole body in one fell swoop, look no further. They are perfect for HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts, the process of pushing yourself with maximum effort in short bursts, resting, then repeating.

    If time is the essence (it normally is) these are a smart choice. Within 15 – 20 minutes you’ll look like you’ve walked out of a water balloon fight. Because they recruit multiple muscles they elevate your heart rate quickly, consequently they burn through fat faster for impressive results.

    What are they good for?

  • Full body workouts
  • High intensity training
  • Short, effective workouts
  • Developing your fitness performance
  • Losing weight
  • Toning arms, legs, back, chest
  • Strengthening your core
  • Improving your posture
  • What aren’t they designed for?

  • Low intensity training
  • Rehabilitating your knees or lower back from injury
  • Getting on and off the bike can be tricky if you have a limited range of movement
  • Budget

  • Beginners: £150 - £300
  • Intermediates: £300 - £600
  • Professionals: £600 – upwards
  • What you need to look for when buying an exercise bike

    Hopefully we’ve empowered you with enough knowledge to pin point exactly which bike is ideal. Now we’ll breakdown what each feature or component does and if you need them, you should then be ready to go out and shrewdly make an educated decision.

    Resistance

    Resistance Dial on an Exercise Bike

    The majority of exercise bikes have adjustable resistance, giving you the power ride gently or have a ready to fall off the saddle workout! The way the resistance changes can vary by:

  • Magnetic resistance – extremely reliable, smooth and precise. A magnet runs parallel to the flywheel alter the difficulty
  • Direct Contact – prone to wear and tear, easy to use. Most common on indoor training bikes, a pad presses against the flywheel to apply more tension
  • Fan resistance – hard to be precise, extremely reliable, good for intense workouts. A huge fan generates wind resistance, the harder you train the more resistance is generated
  • Flywheel

    Flywheel for an Indoor Training Bike

    If a bike uses magnetic or direct contact resistance, it has a flywheel. They are huge discs that sit within the main body of the bike or at the front on indoor training ones. As a rule of thumb, the heavier the flywheel, the more silent and smooth the bike will feel. The size of the flywheel (normally measured in kg) is a great indicator of quality.

    Crank-Arm

    3-Piece Crank Arm

    This solid piece of metal connects the pedals to the flywheel making it spin. They come as:

  • 1-Piece: Designed for lighter use models, great for beginner’s looking to train regular at a moderate speed
  • 3-Piece: Robust and long lasting, designed for intermediates and onward, ready for regular super intense training
  • User Weight

    This is a quick fire away to get a grasp on how well built any exercise machine is in general. It quickly defines how robust the structure is and has been tested and rated too. As a recommendation, if it’s less than 100kg (15.7 stone), stay well clear. Even if you aren’t remotely close to this weight, it instantly acknowledges that it’s build has as much structural integrity as a sand castle.

    Product Weight

    A great secondary confirmation of robustness, if you can’t see the product physically the weight of it gives away a huge clue to how dense the materials are. The heavier it is, the better the materials and components are, this only applies to exercise equipment though, please don’t apply this rule to everything.

    Complexity or Simplicity

    iPad on an Exercise Bike Stand

    Personal preference dictates how you’ll perceive this. Some people want a simple, straight forward design you can step onto and cycle in one button. If you fall into this category, scrap any notion of workout programs and head for a battery powered model.

    Conversely, if you can’t tolerate doing the same style workout every session then a more in-depth console should be your path. Look for multiple pre-built programs, user programs and heart rate programs. A lot of models also have a build your own workout feature built in too.

    The prominence of mobiles and tablets has brought in the option to have Bluetooth enabled machines, these sync to a downloaded app to very slickly control the bike through your device. It can be a fantastic way to keep you motivated with some more advanced, engaging features.

    Adjustments

    It is crucial that your body aligns with the bike in a healthy position, your knees and back will thank you forever. For this, it’s important to check the seat can adjust vertically, and preferably back and forth. The handlebars should also adjust (except recumbents & dual action), preventing you leaning forward and over stretching injuring your back.

    Seat Quality

    Thick Seat Pad with Towel Rail

    Unless you’re on an indoor trainer (expect a sore bottom here) be mindful of the seat. This can make or break your whole experience; a cheap seat can have you off the bike and cutting your workout short in 5 minutes flat. That been said, if you find it is uncomfortable a simple gel saddle cover can soon help. It’s always best to have a nice, wide soft foam seat to ride on from the get go though.

    Heart Rate

    Training within specific heart rates can affect if you burn fat or increase your fitness. This is a ‘nice to have’ option, however; it can be great at defining exactly how intense your workouts are, and to train with specific goals in mind. Here’s some guidelines on how different heart rate levels affect your goals:

  • Effort: 50% - 60% (very gentle) – improves general health and supports rehabilitation
  • Effort: 60% - 70% (gentle) – targets fat loss
  • Effort: 70% - 80% (moderate) – improves general aerobic fitness
  • Effort: 80% - 90% (difficult) – improves athletic performance
  • Effort: 90% - 100% (extreme) – develops maximum performance
  • Warranty

    As long as that bike of yours is getting plenty of good workout time, there’s a probability of it having an issue. A testament to how much a brand believes in its products is by the aftercare support they back it up with. To really reap the benefits of a trustworthy brand they should take care of your bike for a minimum 2 years.

    Optional Accessories

    Heart Rate Strap

    If the bike has a receiver for chest strap’s, this is a convenient way to take your finger off the pulse and let it do the work for you. It can relay consistent and accurate feedback without you having to touch the pulse grips on the handlebars

    Floor Matting

    Gym Floor Matting with an Exercise Bike

    Always a worthwhile and small investment. Nobody wants puddles of sweat forming on your lovely floor, or indentations in the carpet when you decide to move it. They easily piece together like a jigsaw and one pack of 6 is enough to cover 99% of models including most recumbents.

    Finding the right exercise bike can appear like a minefield, hopefully you’ve found this guide informative enough to now make a confident decision. The wonderful thing is, they don’t require a huge investment, aren’t high impact and can cater for all levels and abilities of fitness. 



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