So, you want to buy an exercise bike? Fantastic decision! Whether you’re a beginner trying to make sense of the 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 exercise bike 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

Arguably these take the podium for popular design, and with good reason. They can test the limits of your fitness yet ease you in gently to exercise if you’re just starting.

The unsupported seat forces you to keep your lower back and core engaged. This serves to strengthen a crucial area of the body while toning your legs too. The low impact is healthy for your knees, but the upright position does apply more pressure than a recumbent bike. Uprights generally have large, comfortable seats, though an extra gel cover is still a small and smart investment to save your bottom.

They are the most compact exercise machine by a long shot. If the prospect of 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, while more 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 a limited range of movement;
  • Training at high intensity that requires fast pedalling;
  • Replicating a road cycling experience;
  • Using upper body muscles.

Budget

  • Beginners: £100 - £300;
  • Intermediates: £300 - £800;
  • Professionals: £800 upwards.

Recumbent bikes

The cycling elite is prone to mocking recumbent bikes, unjustifiably as they offer a gateway to exercise for anyone suffering from knee injuries, lower back injuries or has limited mobility.

Recumbents are distinctive looking. Their extended step-through frames and large backrests support sore lower backs and your core. The horizontal alignment focuses on your legs and offers welcome relief to niggling knee sufferers, making them 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 does exaggerate 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 - £350;
  • Intermediates: £350 - £1000;
  • Professionals: £1000 – upwards.

Indoor training bikes

These leg-burning pedal pushers are ubiquitous in commercial gyms. If you are looking to simulate road cycling indoors, this is your bike! They’re aesthetically defined by their large exposed flywheels, narrow performance saddle and racing style handlebars.

The seat and handlebars are almost at a level, to position your body in an arch. If you’re not familiar with this, it can take some adjustment. Indoor bikes aren’t designed for comfort; it’s all about performance, from the machine and the user. Highly intense training is the main dish on the menu. The momentum of the flywheel propels your legs forward for a tougher workout. A unique 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 you please.

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 - £400;
  • Intermediates: £400 - £1000;
  • Professionals: £1000 - upwards.

Dual action bikes

dual action exercise bike

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.

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

If time is of the essence, and it usually 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 quicker. 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 - £350;
  • Intermediates: £300 - £800;
  • Professionals: £800 – upwards.

What you need to look for when buying an exercise bike

Hopefully, we’ve empowered you with enough knowledge to pinpoint 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 make an educated decision.

Resistance

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

  • 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

exercise bike flywheel

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

This solid piece of metal connects the pedals to the flywheel, making it spin. They come as either a 1-piece or 3-piece. The fundamental differences are:

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

User weight

This is a quick-fire way to get a grasp on how well built any exercise machine is in general. It quickly defines how robust the structure is after it 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 its 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, is the weight of it. It gives away a huge clue to how dense the materials are. When it comes to exercise equipment, the heavier it is, the better the materials and components are.

Complexity or simplicity

Personal preference dictates how you’ll perceive this. Some people want a simple, straightforward 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 feature that allows you to build your own workout.

The prominence of mobiles and tablets has brought in the option to have Bluetooth enabled machines. These sync to a downloaded app to 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 good position. Your knees and back will thank you forever. For this, it’s essential to check that the seat can adjust vertically, and preferably back and forth. The handlebars should also adjust (except for recumbents & dual action), preventing you from leaning forward and overstretching, which could injure your back.

Seat quality

Unless you’re on an indoor trainer, 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 five minutes flat. Having said that, if you find your seat uncomfortable, a simple gel saddle cover can 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 you 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 are some guidelines on how different heart rate levels affect your goals:

  • 50% - 60% effort (very gentle) – improves general health and supports rehabilitation;
  • 60% - 70% effort (gentle) – targets fat loss;
  • 70% - 80% effort (moderate) – improves general aerobic fitness;
  • 80% - 90% effort (difficult) – improves athletic performance;
  • 90% - 100% effort (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 two years.

Optional accessories

Heart rate strap

If the bike has a receiver for chest straps, 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

Always a worthwhile and small investment, because nobody wants puddles of sweat forming on their floor, or indentations in the carpet when they decide to move the equipment. They easily piece together like a jigsaw and one pack of six is enough to cover 99% of models including most recumbents.

Conclusion

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

Exercise.co.uk Exercise Bikes


Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. Exercise.co.uk assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.