What is a Stationary Bike?
Stationary bikes are static.
You ride them indoors. They're fixed in one spot and won't move no matter how hard you pedal. Upright bikes are most common but you'll also see recumbent bikes in which the rider is lower to the grand and in a seated position. In recent years, there's been a rise in smart indoor bikes. These often resemble the road bike and make use of either embedded technology to aid in data reporting or apps and third-party software to improve training and performance results. You can also turn a road bike into a static bike by using a turbo-trainer attached to the rear wheel or smart indoor bikes like the RE:GEN are compatible with Zwift and don't require an additional trainer.
By and large exercise bikes, static bikes, stationary and indoor fitness bikes mean the same thing so, despite all the different types of bikes, the advantages and disadvantages are often relatively similar. The title of this post, for example, could easily have been the benefits of exercise bikes so don't get too caught up in the semantics.
The Benefits of a Stationary Bike
- Stationary bikes are instantly recognisable next to their outdoor counterparts. You've got a wheel, a saddle, handlebars and pedals. There's little here to scare a beginner because basic exercise bikes are very simple to use. Smart fitness bikes may be a little more challenging to any first-time user who isn't tech-savvy. Although, the software won't be beyond the comprehension of those used to smartphones.
- 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. On the RE:GEN this is digitally controlled. The fitter someone gets and the harder they pedal - the greater potential for a more substantial calorie burn.
4. Cardiovascular health is so 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 be contributing. 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 taking up indoor or outdoor cycling can actually reverse heart damage in middle-aged adults. Which is incredible.
5. Exercise bikes have a much smaller footprint than treadmills and fixed-weight machines. They're easier to move around, too. It makes them suitable for those living in apartments or in rented accommodation. For gyms, it means that more can be added to the gym floor without taking up much space.
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 as a way of maintaining training routines that have been interrupted by lockdowns and gym closures. Anyone that's 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 biggest benefits of stationary cycling is that's 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 in classes. Convenient and easy to use, they fit right into a busy lifestyle or when you've got young children or commitments that make exercising at anti-social times necessary.
10. Smart fitness bikes have the advantage that they allow users to interact with others even when people are exercising alone. This can be through live classes streamed by instructors or via a pre-recorded on-demand service. Smart bikes like the RE:GEN allow you to compete against friends and strangers through the Energym app 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, and they're 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. They're kinda 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. The emphasis on 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
Many of us already spent too much time in a seated position. The human body really wasn't designed for being sat down for extended periods of time. This can lead to reduced flexibility in the hips. It doesn't help given so many of us are sedentary during the day at work and then what do we do? We sit down on the bike to exercise. One way to ensure you're stretching your legs is to listen out during the class for your instructor telling you to stand up. This is a good way to stretch the hips (but ensure you have a bike that can take the weight on the pedals). You might also like to introduce yoga, walking, or running into your practice to increase flexibility.
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 to beginners. Not everyone wants to 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 like a Peloton or RE:GEN 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 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.