The humble exercise bike is a gym staple, and for a good reason. It offers high-intensity but low-impact workouts for everyone, including professional athletes, fitness newbies and those rehabilitating from illness or injury.
Indoor cycling bikes, upright bikes, and recumbent bikes are the most common, but you’re also likely to see air bikes and cross-trainers advertised alongside them too.
Each one can provide an effective workout. The best one for you personally may depend on several factors, including your personal goals or training plans, your current level of fitness (including any injuries or illnesses), and your budget.
Indoor cycling bikes offer the greatest potential calorie burn. Workouts usually accompany a live or on-demand instructor or occur in a virtual setting like Zwift. They’re built for a more vigorous workout but don’t assume it’s the best bike for your weight loss journey because sometimes, the bike is only half the story.
Upright bikes are popular because they’re more affordable and, with less emphasis on posture and speed, are easier to ride. When most people think about an exercise bike, it’s the uprights that they’re most likely thinking of (and probably have the most experience using). Recumbent bikes are the best choice for some people, especially those requiring a lower-impact workout due to illness, injury or recovery. Many of these bikes will also have a higher maximum weight capacity.
Why are exercise bikes good for weight loss?
Exercise bikes are good for weight loss for several reasons. Primarily, they offer a low-impact but high-intensity workout. Riders can exercise effectively without putting their bodies under high levels of stress or pressure, as can often happen with running.
Instructor-led classes are more interesting
Intensity and calorie burn are closely linked. It’s why instructor-led indoor cycling classes are so popular and why there are now so many smart indoor cycling bikes aimed at the at-home market. This is often because online or in-person classes encourage people to ride harder, especially when the instructor controls the digital resistance. Studies also suggest that people are more motivated to exercise harder when they’re in a group setting. We’re also seeing a much bigger emphasis now on the gamification of exercise: head-to-head races, leader boards, the use of rewards or incentives, and riding in virtual environments for either training or pleasure.
At-home bikes are convenient
One of the biggest advantages of having an exercise bike in the house is its convenience. Weight loss requires a consistent effort, so having the equipment right where you live should (in theory) make working out easier. Exercise bikes also have a smaller footprint than other pieces of cardiovascular and weight-training equipment, making them suitable even in small apartments.
Indoor bikes are beginner-friendly
Unlike other pieces of equipment, exercise bikes have a low barrier to entry. They’re beginner friendly. Most of us have experience riding a bike at some point, and even smart ones are instantly recognisable and easy to start using.
It’s about calorie intake too
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s also important to eat a nutritionally balanced diet that will not only help contribute to healthy weight loss but will also provide the fuel for vigorous exercise. You can buy the most expensive bike on the market, but unless you put in the effort in the kitchen, you're unlikely to see any weight loss benefits.
How many calories can you burn in a single ride?
There’s no definitive answer as it will depend on several factors, including a rider’s weight and metabolism. It can also depend on where a person exercises. As we mentioned earlier, some people find it easier to achieve higher-intensity exercise when working out with an instructor or in a class setting.
According to the Harvard Health website, moderate indoor cycling burns between 210 and 294 calories in 30 minutes, depending on whether you’re a 125-pound, 155-pound or 185-pound person. For a more intense session, vigorous cycling burns between 315 and 441 calories. If you’re riding two or three times a week, then it’s easy to see how quickly the calorie burn adds up.
Can you lose belly fat from riding a stationary bike?
You can't reduce fat from a specific area on the body, so you won't specifically lose belly fat by riding a stationary bike, but it's reasonable to assume that riding consistently and efficiently will lead to overall weight loss that will include the belly.
What should you look for in an exercise bike to support weight loss?
Accurate data reporting
Whether you’re exercising for general fitness or weight loss, it’s important to clearly understand the progress you’re making (or not making). Weight loss may take months until it's noticeable in the mirror. If you have a reliable and accurate set of numbers to work from, then you’ll know you’re on the right track even when you can’t see that progress yet. Labelling workouts as ‘good or ‘bad’ based solely on how you feel is often too subjective, which can negatively impact motivation and undermine your commitment. Bikes that record and present performance metrics may show you that the harder or the ‘bad’ workouts actually yield a larger calorie burn.
The RE:GEN has a live power meter that colour codes performance into red, amber, and green so that when a rider isn’t in the green, they know to work harder. It takes the guesswork out of performance and calorie burn. But this doesn’t mean you have to buy a smart bike. People successfully exercised and lost weight well before we started adding microchips to everything. You can lose weight on a basic foldaway bike without an LCD display or any metric monitoring. We’re just saying that sometimes it’s good to have objectivity.
What types of resistance?
All stationary bikes use resistance, and it’s usually either friction or magnetic. Both do the same thing, but there are a few key differences that may influence your buying decision. We’ve covered some of them before, but you’ll find that magnetic resistance, commonly used on premium and smart bikes, is quieter, easier to maintain, and control but is more expensive. Friction resistance is louder and will require some maintenance. Whichever type you choose, it’s important to note that the amount of resistance applied will change the intensity of your workout, which will affect calorie burn. Some smart bikes include digital resistance that’s controlled by the instructor, software or by artificial intelligence. This makes classes (in-person or online) more dynamic. Otherwise, riders must alter their own resistance.
Making exercise fun
Software is becoming more prominent in equipment design. We’ve mentioned how important it is for data reporting, but it’s also useful in making exercise fun and engaging. Boredom is another common reason why people fail to maintain exercise habits. When we have fun doing something, then we’re more likely to stick to it, so for many people, added games, challenges, rewards, and incentives can help build an exercise habit or weight loss plan that works. Zwift is a popular online platform that allows riders to train and race against others. On the RE:GEN, users can earn Sweatcoins as they ride. Vitality insurance has done something similar. They have a deal for their customers that essentially means the more a person exercises each month, the less they pay for the Apple Watch they bought on Vitality’s payment plan. Users generate points each time they exercise, and these activity points are translated into a monthly payment for the watch. For example, if you earned 160 or more points, you’d pay £0 that month, but if you did very little or no exercise, you’d pay the regular premium of £9.50.
One thing to be aware of is that while smart indoor cycling bikes command a wealth of software and performance monitoring, you’ll likely need to factor in a monthly app subscription in addition to the bike’s initial cost. For example, Peloton’s all-access membership, which unlocks the bike’s premium features, is £39.99 per month. Before buying a smart bike, double-check what features come as standard and which are subscription-based.
Check the weight limit
Check the maximum weight capacity before you buy a stationary bike. You’ll usually find it as part of the bike’s specifications. It’s important because this is a safety feature and will also invalidate your warranty should you need to send the bike back. Weight limits are frustrating for anyone whose weight exceeds this maximum number, as it creates something of a catch-22: how can you get your weight down if you can’t exercise in the first place?
It may be worth exercising without equipment in this instance. Walking is a great way to start a weight loss journey and is low-impact and without cost. You might also like to use small handheld weights for added resistance. Some people hire a personal trainer too. You should always get the advice of a medical professional before undertaking an exercise regimen, especially if you’re carrying a lot of extra weight. There are companies that specialise in recumbent bikes for large people. HCI have a bike suitable for up to 500 pounds. If this is too expensive, there may be fitness centres or gyms in your local area that have suitable equipment to use for a standard membership fee.
What’s the flywheel weight?
If you’re interested in an indoor cycling bike, then you might take note of the flywheel weight. The flywheel is the weighted disc that sits on the front of the bike and rotates as a rider pedals. Heavier flywheels more closely replicate a road biking experience and are harder to get moving from a ‘standing’ start. They do, however, provide a smoother ride once they’ve gained enough momentum, making them better for fast-paced and vigorous sessions. Manufacturing techniques have come a long way, though, and lighter flywheels are now much better at maintaining a smoother ride. Indoor cycling bikes also have stronger pedals allowing riders to stand, driving power into the pedals and replicating hill climbs during indoor classes or on platforms like Zwift.
There’s a wide range of stationary bikes to choose from, so the difference between budget, mid-range, premium and smart bikes can be confusing to navigate. You don’t need a £2000 bike to lose weight, but you may find that spending the extra money makes weight loss easier or more enjoyable. Equally, you could spend £200 on a basic model and find that it’s more than adequate for what you need. You should, however, look to future-proof your fitness by picking a bike that won’t just support you at the beginning of your weight-loss journey but, hopefully, for many years to come.
The best exercise bike for weight loss will be the one you use regularly. It’ll be the one that supports your general health and fitness once you’ve reached your target weight, and it’s whichever one that won’t sit in the corner of a spare bedroom gathering dust.
What are the best exercise bikes for weight loss?
There’s no one BEST exercise bike for weight loss. As we wrote earlier, it’s whichever stationary bike you’ll use regularly, BUT here are the KEY questions to ask before you begin shopping to help you home in on what you really want.
We’ll add some brand names below, too, for you to start shopping.
Do you have a maximum budget? Don’t be tempted into thinking you have to get a Peloton or a Nordictrack to lose weight. You’ll find plenty of different options at all price points.
Are you willing to pay a monthly subscription to access key features?
Apps are great and could help you smash your weight loss goals. They are also ongoing expenses that you may not be willing to pay long-term. A smart bike with a supporting app may become a dumb bike very quickly once you cancel your monthly fees.
What type of bike are you looking for?
Exercise bikes aren’t all made equally: indoor cycling, upright, and recumbent are the main types that we’ve listed in this article, but you can also buy an air bike, which relies on airflow for resistance. For weight loss, some people will also use a cross-trainer. Explore your options before committing to one specific bike.
Where is the bike going?
Think about where you’re going to put the bike, and then check the dimensions of that space with the dimensions of the bike. You should also consider the type of flooring you have. Vibrations can travel through hard floors, so you may need to buy a mat, or your neighbours may be less than impressed at your new health kick. Some bikes are louder than others, too. If you’re living with others and noise is an issue, look for digital resistance and check the noise level in the reviews or manual.
Do you want to generate electricity to power your phones and laptops?
That’s an easy answer. It’s the Energym RE:GEN which you can pre-order now for 2023 delivery.
Do you want access to classes, games and interactive features?
Your first thought maybe yes, but this will affect the cost of the bike. Remember, you can always set the bike up in front of a television or a tablet and follow free classes on YouTube or stream movies and TV shows as you ride. Interactivity is a great way to keep your exercise regime fresh and interesting, but it is by no means a dealbreaker for weight loss. Check if there are third-party apps you can either pair the bike with or, if not, use independently when you’re riding.
What metrics do you want to track?
Almost all bikes will include distance, speed and calorie burn on either a basic LCD display or an interactive console. Serious cyclists will want as much data as they can get and be drawn to something like the Watt Bike. Casual users will more likely be drawn to simpler set-ups and should look at additional accessories to buy later (or apps).
Indoor cycling bikes
Watt Bike – More for the cycling enthusiast than the weight-loss rider. Huge amount of performance data and tracking but probably too much for the beginner or casual rider.
Peloton+ - Has a very large and active community with instructors and classes designed to make you sweat. Beautiful looking bike with a moveable screen, but most features are only unlocked with a monthly app subscription.
RE:GEN – Electricity-generating indoor bike with a built-in power meter and digital resistance. There is a supporting app but the key features of the bike still work even without it, and it’s Zwift compatible. The biggest downside is that it’s currently only available to preorder for delivery in 2023.
Echelon – Relatively basic bike but reasonably priced and with a supporting app option if necessary. For app subscribers, you can watch online instructors run classes displayed on the screen.
You have a really wide selection of upright bikes to choose from, everything from folding ones to more premium brands. York, Life Fitness, Reebok, and Pro Fitness.
While there are fewer options for recumbent bikes, you’ll still find a decent range from brands, including JLL, Sportplus, and Sunnyhealth. HCI Fitness also do one for people weighing up to 500 pounds (35.71 stone).
We hope this article has given you a few ideas on how to start shopping. There’s no magic bullet for weight loss. It takes time and consistent effort, so consider the bike that’s best for you and your goals. Be wary of spending too much on something that may be wildly unsuitable or of spending too little on something that will, hopefully, help you build healthier habits.