How to Buy the Best Exercise Bike

How to Buy the Best Exercise Bike

You’d think that shopping for an exercise bike would be easy, but it can be a challenging and time-consuming process. There’s a lot to consider. For starters, what type of bike do you need? Do you want performance tracking? Do you need to be mindful of maximum weight capacities or adjustability...? 

And then there’s the price. Some smart bikes sell for £2000 or more. The range of choices and price points can be overwhelming, especially for the fitness newbie.

And exercise bikes are far more advanced now.  

One reason smart bikes are more expensive is that their software unlocks the types of data reporting that, years earlier, would only have been accessible to professionals. Smart bikes can make exercising more responsive and engaging to users. Although riders should be aware that sometimes, to unlock the full potential of that software, they’ll need to pay a monthly subscription fee, which can quickly become expensive.  

There are still budget bikes, though. These will cost significantly less than smart ones but may struggle to provide the intensity that some riders need. Mid-range bikes sit between these two extremes on a sliding scale of enhancement, design, and price.    

Pretty quickly, you’ll realise that not all bikes suit everyone. For example, something very advanced and data-heavy like the Watt Bike won’t be the best choice for a casual rider. Equally, road cyclists looking to move their training indoors for the winter may need something more durable and data-driven than a foldaway bike.  
 
Personal circumstances are king when it comes to decision-making. In an ideal world, you’d pick what bike you wanted based solely on preference: you’d buy the one that ticked all your boxes. Unfortunately, for many of us, budget plays a part in decision-making. This may mean compromising on the amount you’re willing to spend or on some features. 

So how can you figure out which exercise bike is best for you? 

This post will list some key questions you should ask yourself before buying. We’re also going to talk through the different types of exercise and indoor bikes available so that, if nothing else, you can at least narrow down the field.  

The biggest question is – what do I need this bike to do for me? Don't choose something that’s not advanced enough to cope with your fitness goals, but equally, don’t spend thousands on something that a bike for a tenth of the price could solve.  

Are all exercise bikes the same? 

No. There are several different types of exercise bikes to choose from. Here’s a quick run-through of some of the major ones. 

 

Old fashioned upright exercise bike in a beige and brown living room next to a spider plant

Upright bike 

When most people think of an exercise bike, they’re probably thinking of an upright one. The handlebars are closer to the rider than indoor cycling bikes, allowing for a more upright riding position. The feet rest on the pedals, much like a regular bicycle. Upright bikes are generally more affordable, ranging from foldaway budget options to more advanced ones. Many models will include data recording like pulse monitoring, distance and speed.  

 


Indoor cycling bikes  

You’ll see these bikes in instructor-led indoor cycling classes. The narrow saddle is level with the handlebars, encouraging the rider to lean forward and transfer more power into the pedals like a racing cyclist. These bikes are designed for high-intensity workouts and classes but are also used by some road cyclists for training during bad weather. They’re becoming far more popular with home enthusiasts as they become more advanced and can record greater amounts of data to support training and fitness progression. You usually have the choice of using cycling shoes which makes pedalling at higher speeds smoother and more efficient. Resistance is what makes these bikes suitable for future-proofing your workouts. It will either be controlled by AI, the rider or an instructor.   

 

Recumbent exercise bike against a two-tone grey background


Recumbent bikes
 

On these bikes, the rider sits closer to the ground with their legs in front of them. The saddle more closely resembles a seat than a saddle. Recumbent bikes are often used to help rehabilitate people with injuries or to improve general fitness in thoswhose mobility is compromised.

 

Woman on a air bike in a gym


Air bikes and folding bikes
 

You can also expand the types of exercise bikes to include air and folding bikes. Air bikes don’t have a flywheel but a fan that creates resistance the faster a person pedals. You often see the handlebars moving forwards and backwards like a cross-trainer, helping riders get an upper body workout. Air bikes can be noisy, so you may need to consider that if you share your living space with others.  

Folding bikes are just upright bikes that fold down. They’re designed for smaller spaces because they can easily store away when unused. Folding bikes can be great for casual users who can’t dedicate permanent space for an exercise bike. Still, they’re very unlikely to match the intensity of other bikes and lack good performance tracking.  

 

How much should I pay for an exercise bike?  

It depends on the features, the make and the model of what you’re looking for. We’ll provide some ballpark figures as an idea of what other people are paying for an exercise bike, but you’ll probably find others well under or over these figures.   

A basic upright bike can cost between £100 to £800+  

  • Schwinn 570U Upright Cycle costs £499 
  • HOMCOM upright costs £127.99 

Indoor cycling bikes can start at £200 and go up to £2000+ 

  • Peloton Bike + starts at £1,995 
  • Energym RE:GEN costs £1,899 (currently £100 deposit to secure pre-order). 

Recumbent bikes start around £150 and can go up to £500+ 

  • Marcy Azure recumbent bike costs £299 
  • Confidence Fitness Magnetic recumbent is £99.99  

Air bikes can cost between £200 and £800+ 

  • Titanium Strength Air Bike Pro is £595 
  • V-Fit ATC 1 Air exercise bike is £189.99 

Folding bikes may start around £50 and go up to £200. 

  • Pro Fitness Folding exercise bike is £199 
  • Opti folding bike is £69 

These few examples show how widely prices can differ (£69 to £1,995)  between different types of bikes and even between brands.  
 
Of course, there's also the option of turning an outdoor bike into an indoor one by adding a bike trainer or rollers. This can be a better option if you’re a diehard outdoor rider who doesn’t want to spend much on a permanent home setup.   

 

What does an exercise bike do, and why is it important for exercise? 

 
There’s a reason exercise bikes are so popular in homes and commercial gyms – they provide a high-intensity but low-impact workout. It allows you to ramp up your cardio without putting a huge strain on your body.  

Compare indoor cycling with running. Both are great options for improving fitness, but running has a more significant impact on the body, making it less suitable for those with joint or back issues or people suffering from cardiovascular problems. 

We’re not going into detail in this article, but it’s worth briefly mentioning some of the advantages of using an exercise bike.  
 

  • It burns calories effectively and supports fat loss.

  • It improves cardiovascular fitness because riding works the heart and lungs, helping make them stronger.

  • It has a low barrier to entry. Gym equipment can be intimidating to new users, but one of the biggest benefits for beginners is that it’s safer than riding an outdoor bike. Upright and recumbent bikes also provide a means of exercising for anyone recovering from illness or injury.

  • Resistance helps provide the realism and challenge of indoor cycling. It puts the rider in control of how hard they workout even when they live in areas without challenging terrain or access to a track or cycling class. Digital resistance helps make training more exciting and varied.

  • Exercising on an indoor bike is more convenient for many people, including those with young children or busy schedules. It also gives riders the option of exercising regardless of outdoor conditions.

  • Exercise bikes can increase lower body strength and help maintain healthy joints.  

    And all of this is before you factor in the more generalised benefits of regular exercise: improved focus and productivity, relief from mild cases of anxiety or depression and a general reduction in the risk of developing certain life-threatening or limiting illnesses like cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes.  
     

How to buy the best exercise bike 

Here are a few questions to get you thinking about the type of bike you might like to buy. This list is by no means exhaustive, so it’s worth getting a pen and paper and jotting down your own ideas. 

What do you want to use the bike for?   

  • To supplement a gym or home fitness exercise routine 
  • To replace a gym membership 
  • To create a home gym 
  • To encourage family members to exercise regularly 
  • To lose weight 
  • To increase lower body strength 
  • To join in cycling classes without leaving the house 
  • To access in-depth metrics and data points to train harder or more efficiently.  
  • To increase mobility or to rehabilitate from injury 
  • To train indoors during the cold weather  
  • To create clean electricity as you exercise  
  • To make exercise more interesting by accessing online games, Zwift or on-demand classes.  
  • To have a beginner-friendly means of exercising 
  • To exercise in small apartments or compact spaces 
  • To exercise ad-hoc or casually  
  • To connect with other riders around the world 


Do you want a smart bike or a dumb one? 
 

Smart indoor bikes will cost more money. Performance monitoring, automatic resistance, live power meters, detailed analytics and performance data are premium features. Some of this may be in-built, but other elements will require a subscription to access. You should be aware, however, that by opting to cancel a monthly subscription, you could end up making your smart bike dumber. Without the app, some bikes quickly become relatively basic.

Budget brands usually include some form of data reporting like pulse monitoring, calorie burn and speed, but this isn’t enough for many people. Smart bikes do help keep things more interesting, whether that’s Zwift compatibility, access to on-demand or live classes, playing games, challenging friends, or digital resistance.  
 
You may find buying a mid-range bike and then supplementing it with a monthly app more useful than opting for one with built-in bells and whistles.  
 

How heavy do you want the flywheel?  

 
The flywheel is a weighted disc connected to the pedals via either a chain or belt drive. It rotates as the rider pedals, storing the rotational energy generated throughout the workout. There’s no universal flywheel weight, but the average is around 15kg and 22kg, with commercial flywheels often being heavier. The heavier the flywheel, the more effort that’s required to get it going, much like moving a real bike from a standing start. Outdoor cyclists often prefer a heavier one. Once momentum builds, the heavier flywheels provide a smoother cycling action.  

Lighter flywheels are easier to start moving but aren’t as smooth, especially at faster speeds. They are easier on the joints, however. 

But weight isn’t everything. Resistance plays a big role in dictating how challenging a ride is. Manufacturers are also now much better at building faster but lighter flywheels, which can be a more reasonable compromise.  

When you’re researching flywheel weights, remember to double-check the unit of measurement. Some websites will list the weight in kilograms (kg), and others prefer pounds (Ibs); it can be easy to mix up the two.  
 

Do you want to wear cycling shoes?  

 
You don’t need to wear cycling shoes on an exercise bike, but some riders prefer to. Cycling shoes have stiff soles and are more rigid than regular trainers, and underneath have small protrusions that clip into the pedal, securing the rider’s foot. This helps with stability by making it easier for the cyclist’s foot to stay on the pedal even at high speeds.

If you think you might want to use cycling shoes, then check if the bike that you’re buying either has the correct pedals to clip into or that you’re able to swap them out for ones that do.  Future-proofing your equipment is important, especially if you’re spending a lot of money on a bike. You don’t want to find out later that you can’t use cycling shoes. Picking a bike with pedals able to take both trainers and clip-ins will give you the choice further down the line, even if right now you’re happy just wearing regular shoes.

Here’s another pedal-related thought. 

If you’re used to cycling classes and want to stand up on the pedals, either in cycling shoes or trainers, then you’re going to want an indoor cycling bike rather than an upright one to replicate hill climbs or to react when your instructors tell you to.   


Are you willing to pay a monthly app subscription for added features?   

We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s important to think carefully about app subscriptions, especially if you’re considering subscribing long-term. Some bikes lose much of their functionality without the supporting app. The RE:GEN pairs with the subscription-based Energym app, but you don’t need the app to generate clean energy, and you can sign up for other fitness subscription services if you’d prefer. This gives users more flexibility.  
 

What’s your budget? 

One of the biggest restrictions you’ll face when buying an indoor bike will probably be budget. There's no point shopping for a premium smart bike if your budget is only two hundred pounds. If you do have some degree of flexibility, however, it’s worth looking around your initial price point because the added hardware or software could make all the difference to your workout routine.  
 

Do you want to ride alone or be part of a community? 

Some people prefer exercising alone, but others enjoy feeling part of a community when they exercise. Peloton revolutionised this by creating global online classes that happened in real-time. Other riders prefer to use Zwift, which is a great way to ride and race against friends and strangers. If you’d rather just exercise in front of the television, then you might find a mid-range upright bike more suitable as you can pedal privately.   

 

Where will you put your bike?  

Judging the size of something is difficult if you’re buying online. Always check the dimensions beforehand and then compare them to the space in your home where the bike will be going. This should help prevent any nasty surprises on delivery day.  

It's not just about the size, either. Some bikes are loud (like air bikes, for example), and the speed of the flywheel or fan can create vibrations which can go through walls and wooden floors. Your neighbours or cohabitants may not be happy about this. You can add a mat to reduce the vibrations going into the floor and to stop sweat from damaging your floor or carpet. 

Reading the manufacturer’s specifications or trusted customers reviews can help warn you of noise issues in advance.

If you’re tight on space, then a foldaway bike is the obvious choice. Some of the bigger uprights and recumbent ones are more difficult to move, although you’ll find smart bikes with wheels.  

 

What type of resistance are you looking for? 

Indoor bikes generally have two types of resistance: magnetic and mechanical. Magnetic resistance uses magnets to apply a force on either side of the flywheel, and, the closer together they are, the greater the resistance. Magnetic resistance can be done manually or digitally. Mechanical or direct-contact resistance uses contact pads which move closer to create friction or move apart to create less resistance. Air bikes rely on the air passing through the blades to create resistance the faster you pedal.  
 
Magnetic resistance is silent, but mechanical resistance is louder and will require lubrication over time. The brake pads for mechanical resistance will also wear out at some point and produce dust. Both types of resistance do the same thing but in slightly different ways, and you may need to investigate the best option for you. Magnetic breaking is becoming more common on bikes and it offers more data. 

Do you need a changeable saddle? 

Ask anyone. Saddles aren’t the most comfortable things in the world. They usually take some getting used to, and even then, the most suitable one for you probably won’t be the ‘universal’ saddle included with the bike. If you’re going to be riding a lot or if you’ve had problems with saddles before, then look for a bike with a universal post. This means you can change the saddle for another one. Some saddles are wider, and others are narrower. You can get ones with additional padding or ones designed specifically for gender or certain terrains.

If you live near a bicycle shop, then you can try saddles out and, in some cases, even rent them. This may not be relevant to you when you’re first buying the bike, but it could be something to think about if you find yourself developing a regular cycling habit further down the line, especially if you’ve struggled with discomfort when riding previously. 

 

Do you need a screen?  

You’ll find that some smart bikes come with a built-in screen. This is usually because the software is integrated into the bike and integral to what that model is offering. Peloton bikes have a screen because it’s the software that sells it: riders dial into live or on-demand classes, communicate with other users, check stats and follow the leaderboard, etc.  

Conversely, the RE:GEN doesn’t have a screen (but does have a screen holder). We decided to do this because manufacturing tablets is an environmentally intensive process, and most of us have additional screens at home to use. We also didn’t want to lock users into our technology. We think people will love the Energym app, but the bike will still generate clean energy without it, and users can use the RE:GEN with other apps if they prefer. For other brands, there may be a cost issue too.  

In some cases, it may be cheaper to buy a separate screen yourself rather than opting for a model with one built-in.  

 

Check the bike’s weight limit 

Most bikes have a maximum weight limit for safety. You should always check this before you start riding. For people whose weight exceeds this maximum, it can be incredibly frustrating, creating a Catch-22 where you can’t ride the bike because you’re too heavy, but without riding the bike, you can't lose weight. There are companies that can supply bikes for heavier people, and some recumbent bikes are made to take riders weighing up to 500 pounds.    

 

How noisy will the bike be? 

There are several reasons why some bikes are noisier than others. Bikes with mechanical braking are louder than magnetic ones, especially if the pads haven't been lubricated. This can create a squealing sound that won't just be off-putting to the rider but to anyone else in the immediate vicinity too. Check how the pedals are connected to the wheels, too, because belt drives are quieter than chain drives. You might also like to consider a heavier flywheel. Air bikes (which use airflow for resistance) also tend to be louder than other types of indoor bikes. Vibrations passing through the bike into the floor can also make a noise. You can try adding a mat underneath to alleviate this. 

 

What do you want the bike to look like? 

What a bike looks like is far less important than what it does and how you use it, but this may depend on where in your home you’ll be exercising. Buying an ugly-ass bike for a garage gym or for a closed space is one thing, but if you’re exercising inside a main room or a thoroughfare, then you may want to think more about design. You don’t want to feel irritated every time you look at it or feel that it clashes with other design choices you’ve made in your living space. Cheaper bikes tend to look cheaper and more basic.

Having your bike out on display could also help you build better exercise habits. In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear writes that when you're trying to incorporate a new habit into your life, then the equipment needs to be visible. He’d advise having an exercise bike where you can see it as you’re more likely to use it. If you have the budget, then that will also be a buying consideration.   

 

Would rollers or a turbo-trainer be a better option? 

If you have an outdoor bike that you ride, then you can adapt it to an indoor set-up. Road and trail riders often do this during poor weather so that they can still train even when it’s not safe or suitable outdoors. This can be a more cost-effective option as you already have the bike but will depend on how advanced you want your set-up to be. It may also depend on where in the house you’ll be riding. Not everyone wants an outdoor bike in the middle of their living room. 

 

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Exercise bikes are a great way to build and maintain cardiovascular fitness. While shopping for a new stationary bike can be overwhelming, there’s always going to be something for everyone: budget-friendly basics to performance-enhancing smart ones (and everything in between). 
 
And now there’s the RE:GEN. 

This electricity-generating indoor smart bike can power laptops, phones, and more using the energy you create during your workout. The RE:GEN is packed with other great features too, including a live power meter, digital resistance and custom AI-built workouts. 

Pre-order now

 

 

 Female on a RE:GEN Bike in an apartment


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