Stationary bikes are a staple in most gyms. Whether you’re working out in a studio, fitness centre or at home, they’re one of the most popular pieces of equipment that you can use or buy.
Static bikes are more beginner friendly and can feel far less intimidating than treadmills, ellipticals and fixed-weight machines. Most of us already have experience of riding a bike outdoors so we’re already familiar with the basic set up: the pedals, the handlebars and the wheel.
Stationary bikes also have the advantage of being versatile and can accommodate sessions from the beginner to the advanced cyclist, depending on the type of bike you’re using, of course.
But what are the benefits of a stationary bike? And can something so simple really offer the kind of fitness experience that many of us demand of our workouts?
What is a Stationary Bike?
Stationary bikes are used indoors and won’t move no matter how hard you pedal. All static bikes look similar but there are some key differences in the various types.
Upright bikes are common in gyms. The handlebars tend to be higher than the saddle causing the rider to adopt a more erect posture. You may also see recumbent bikes where the rider is lower to the grand with their legs pedalling in front of them. These provide a low-intensity workout and are commonly used in rehabilitation centres but they’re used in gyms too.
Indoor cycling bikes are more closely related to road bikes. The handlebars are almost level with the saddle and this forces the rider to lean forwards. You’ll see this bike in indoor cycling classes where an instructor leads the session from the front. These classes are high intensity and in recent years this style of exercise has become popular with at-home riders.
By using technology inside companion apps or embedded into the bike, riders can live stream classes or access on-demand sessions. These bikes are often smart too and give the user access to fitness data to help support fitness goals. For example, on the RE:GEN there’s a functional threshold metre to clearly show performance efficiency. Riders can also connect some smart bikes to virtual cycling platforms like Zwift to simulate real-world riding but online. Stationary bikes have come a long way since the basic bootstrap models sold on shopping channels in the 1980s.
Some people also turn their road bikes into stationary ones using a turbo-trainer attached to the rear.
Static bikes do vary in type but for simplicities sake, we’re going to group them together under the umbrella of ‘stationary bike’, and look at the benefits and disadvantages of cycling inside.
The Benefits of a Stationary Bike
- Stationary bikes are instantly recognisable next to their outdoor counterparts. There are a few key differences, but you've got a wheel, a saddle, handlebars and two pedals. There's very little to scare away beginners because basic exercise bikes are straightforward to use: you sit on them and start pedalling. Of course, intelligent fitness bikes can be a little more challenging for the first-time user that isn't tech-savvy, but the software is unlikely to be beyond the abilities of those happy to use a smartphone. .
- The benefits of a stationary bike include usability for everyone regardless of age, levels of fitness or (in most cases) health. Users can increase their cardiovascular fitness, improve their stamina and develop endurance without putting a huge strain on the body. Both running and cycling are great cardio options but running has a greater physical impact on the body, especially on the joints. Exercise bikes give everyone a fair shot at improving their fitness even those who are recovering from illness or injury.
3. And indoor cycling is a great way to manage weight. According to Harvard University, the average person burns between 210 and 260 calories during a 30-minute ride on an exercise bike. It's fewer calories than someone on a treadmill for the same period of time but this can quickly be addressed by the fact that most people can cycle for longer than they can run. The gap in calorie burn might easily be closed by cycling for 45-minutes or even an hour. And most bikes offer some form of resistance to replicate hill climbs or difficult outdoor terrain. On bikes like the RE:GEN this is controlled digitally, and often in classes this will be controlled by the instructor. The fitter someone gets and the harder they pedal - the greater potential for a more substantial calorie burn. The advantage of digital resistance is that it allows for indoor training during the winter months or when the weather is poor outside.
4. Cardiovascular health is important and static bikes get the heart pumping. We can't see inside our chests, so it's hard to see the damage that a poor diet or unhealthy lifestyle can contribute to. Cycling is a superb way to improve your heart health. The heart is a muscle, and the fitter you become, the fitter it becomes, too. Studies have shown that indoor or outdoor cycling can reverse heart damage in middle-aged adults, which is incredible.
5. Exercise bikes have a much smaller footprint than treadmills and fixed-weight machines, making them more suitable for people living in apartments or rented accomodation. They're also easier to move around. You can even buy foldable bikes which can be stored inside cupboards when they're not being used. Premium smart bikes may be more expensive many have also been designed with style in mind and can complement a room in a way that cheaper versions don't.
6. Indoor bikes are safer for beginners than cycling on the road. They're also a good way for outdoor cyclists to train during the winter or when road traffic or air pollution is particularly severe. Many people have taken up indoor cycling during the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain training routines that have been interrupted by lockdowns and gym closures. Anyone self-conscious about exercising in public may also feel more comfortable using an at-home bike than going out onto the road. Businesses are now also using exercise as part of their workplace wellbeing programmes. One of the most significant benefits of stationary cycling is that its beginner-friendlier and a great way to introduce exercise to newbies.
7. And you can generate your own electricity. Energym has developed the RE:GEN. It captures the clean energy created during a workout and then stores it inside a portable battery unit that you can use to power your electronic devices.
8. Stationary bikes at home can be a great way to encourage the entire family to exercise. You can set them up in front of a television or add a screen holder to stream entertainment from a tablet or personal device. It's cheaper than getting a gym membership for everyone. It also makes indoor bikes a convenient way to supplement your time in the gym or classes. Convenient and easy to use, they fit right into a busy lifestyle, especially when you've got young children or time commitments that make exercising difficult during the day.
9. Smart fitness bikes have the advantage that they allow users to interact with others even when people are exercising alone. This can be done through live classes streamed by instructors or via a pre-recorded on-demand service. Smart bikes allow you to compete against friends and strangers through apps or via Zwift.
Disadvantages of static bikes
The benefits of a stationary bike are numerous (it's why we love them), but it wouldn't be fair to present only their best features. There are some disadvantages worth knowing before you commit to buying an indoor bike or before you join a gym to use one.
1. They're a pain in the bum
Stationary bikes can be uncomfortable. In fact, they can be very uncomfortable when you first start out. We've covered this in another post 'why are indoor cycling seats so uncomfortable' but ensuring that your seat is correctly positioned can help as can choosing a saddle that's suited to your measurements. Often though, it just means getting used to being on the bike which most people do. This could take a few classes or sessions.
2. Indoor cycling can be repetitive
Indoor cycling can be boring. You don't have the scenery or the terrain of biking outdoors. If you're exercising at home, then you may find you miss the pumping Soundsystem of a gym or class. Fortunately, there are no stationary bikes that can help you feel connected to a community even when you're peddling in your spare bedroom.
3. Static bikes emphasize the lower-body
Cycling does a great job of working out the lower body and the cardiovascular system, but you need to integrate upper body exercises, too. It isn't a full-body workout although, it can help support core strength training.
4. It's about sitting down
Most of us already spend too much time sitting down, and the human body really wasn't designed for modern sedentary lifestyles. It can also lead to reduced hip flexibility, which isn't ideal when you're cycling regularly. Many of us work in offices from computers, which is why exercising standing up can help mitigate some of the issues associated with sitting. Standing up during an indoor cycling class can help break up prolonged periods of riding, and it helps stretch out the hips (ensuring, of course, that your bike can take the weight on the pedals). You can also introduce yoga, walking, or running into your practice to increase flexibility. If you're running a business, then you may be interested to find out more about the links between productivity and exercise and how working out can actually reduce presenteeism.
What's the best stationary bike to buy?
There's no one bike that's best for everyone. There's a broad range of makes and models and what's suitable for one person, won't be for another. Budget, lifestyle, cycling experience, fitness goals, are just a few factors that may play into your buying process. Fortunately, the market recognises this so there's a wide range options for everyone. We've written about the top three stationary bikes available here. For example, if you're a professional cyclist then you'll probably pick the Watt Bike over a Peloton. If you want to earn Sweatcoin every time you work out, then you'll pick the RE:GEN over an Echelon. Anyone on a super tight budget will find a basic functional bike the best place to start. As we've already mentioned, the benefits of a stationary bike include their accessability for beginners, because not everyone can spend a lot of money right off the bat.
What to Look for in an Exercise Bike
Think about the style of bike that you want: upright, recumbent or indoor fitness bike. Most people opt for upright but if you're looking for intensity in your at-home practice, then an indoor cycling bike will make the biggest impact. They're also the better bikes to choose if you're looking to connect to a community: live-stream classes, competitive leader boards or third-party apps. Recumbent bikes offer a lower-intensity workout and are most suited for people with mobility issues.
If you are looking to connect with others, you might want a bike that includes a screen but that's not always necessary. Several indoor bikes now include a screen holder so you can stream classes and content from your device whilst cycling.
Think about your fitness goals and find a bike capable of supporting them. Does the display give you the data points you need to track? And how accurate is its reporting? Work out the information you need to know. Add any bike able to meet these criteria to your shortlist.
Resistance is an important function on static bikes. On an outdoor bike, it's the terrain, landscape and weather that help influence a workout's difficultly, but indoors you'll need to rely on resistance. Depending on which bike you're looking to buy, this will either be changed manually by turning a knob on the bike's frame or digitally via an app. Digital resistance is easier to operate when you're exercising and more intuitive to your fitness levels.
The flywheel is the weighted plate that revolves as you pedal. Lighter flywheels will make the bike cheaper, but a heavier one (13kg+) gives a smoother and more realistic ride.
Make sure the bike is easy to adjust: the seat and handlebars should be in the correct position to ensure you have good form but also that you're not risking injury. We're ordering more and more online now so that means you might not get to try one before you buy. Make sure there's enough adjustment potential for your height and weight.
Always check the maximum weight capacity before buying.
Do you want cages or straps to keep your feet fixed when riding? Some bikes will allow you to add these on.
Some bikes can be heavy and cumbersome to move around. If you live in a block of flats or apartments, ensure that you'll be able to carry it inside. Equally, be careful about ordering folding exercise bikes or cheaply manufactured ones. Whilst some people won't have the budget to spend big, you should think of your bike as an investment in your health and where possible, it may be worth spending more.
Check what warranty there is on the bike before buying. A reputable one should offer a reasonable aftercare package in the event of something going wrong.
The benefits of a stationary bike are numerous, so it's no wonder that they've been a gym staple for decades. The barrier to entry is low: they're beginner-friendly, suitable for those living with mobility issues or reoccurring injuries, and they're great for cardio health. And exciting things are happening in the stationary bike space. You can now pre-order your electricity producing indoor bike on the Energym website.