If quarantining during the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we can be productive at home. Since we now work from home, it seems fitting we work out from home as well. A wide assortment of at-home cardio machines are available for home use. Adherence is key to any health and fitness goal, so it really depends on what you enjoy doing the most.
Since we all ride bikes as kids, exercise bikes have always been a popular choice. Not all bikes are created equal, so choosing the right one depends on your fitness goals. Some people like slow and steady while others prefer High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
This guide will help you understand the different exercise bikes on the market today and help you decide which one is right for you.
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Why choose an exercise bike
There’s really no one way to get fit at home. Some people love to walk and run indoors, so naturally, a treadmill makes sense.
But if you enjoy regular road bike cycling, exercise bikes can bring that experience indoors. They’re one of the most popular at-home cardio machines, and for good reason. Compared to treadmills, they’re compact and take up little space. Exercise bikes are used in controlled environments and provide an effective, low-impact form of indoor cycling. It’s a great option for people who experience muscle and joint pain from high-impact exercises like running.
Simply put, exercise bikes provide one of the most effective forms of indoor cardiovascular exercise. If sitting is the new smoking, pedaling is the new running. With adjustable resistance levels, indoor cycling is a great format for interval training. This is perfect for busy people looking for quick, effective daily workout sessions.
So now that we know the benefits of an exercise bike, let’s take a closer look at the different types.
Types of exercise bikes
There are four different types of exercise bikes: spin, upright, recumbent, and air bikes. Your fitness goals and budget will determine which one is right for you.
Spin bikes are also known as indoor cycling bikes. They offer a comparable experience to outdoor cycling. Riders can choose to sit and stand to imitate vertical climbing. They typically have a greater range of resistance levels to simulate hills using a road bike.
Spin bikes are often used for high-intensity interval training and are commonly used in group settings. New interactive connected spin bikes allow users to join online spin classes from home. They tend to be more pricey and require monthly subscriptions to access live classes.
Upright exercise bike
Upright exercise bikes are one of the most common exercise equipment for the home. It keeps you in a conventional riding position. It has a standard bike seat and is designed for seated cycling only. Upright exercise bikes provide a stable, comfortable workout. They are typically not used for high-intensity training. It’s a good choice for people looking for a low-impact cardiovascular workout.
One feature to look for in an upright exercise bike is heart-rate monitoring. Some models have contact monitors in the handlebars. Others come with chest strap monitoring which offers even more accurate heart rate monitoring. Another thing to look for in an upright bike is Bluetooth connectivity. This allows users to set and monitor their progress through compatible fitness apps.
A recumbent bike is similar to an upright bike except it allows you to sit in a position that supports the back. They have wide seats that provide coverage for the lower and middle back. The pedals are farther in front of the body.
When peddling, riders lean at a slight recline. This redistributes lower body weight and constrains hip movements. This puts less pressure on the joints, especially when compared to upright and spin bikes.
Sometimes referred to as fan bikes or cross-trainer bikes, air bikes have a large fan that is driven by the pedals. They also feature upright handlebars that move back and forth. You basically push and pull the handles as you cycle.
The resistance in air bikes is created by the fan. It increases as you pedal faster. Basically, the harder you work, the harder it becomes. This provides an intense, full-body workout in a short period of time. An added benefit is receiving a cooling effect from the air moving through the fan. This helps you stay cool throughout your workout.
Air bikes are a popular option for people looking for intense, challenging cardiovascular exercise. Unlike the other types of exercise bikes, it provides an infinite amount of intensity and resistance. It’s perfect for HIIT-style training and for those looking for a low-impact, total body workout.
Components of an exercise bike
While there are different types of exercise bikes, they all have common features that you’ll want to assess.
Generally speaking, there are three types of exercise bike pedals: clipless, toe cage, or flat. Some bikes now feature hybrid pedals with a toe cage on one side and clipless on the other.
Virtually all of us learned to ride a bike on flat pedals. They are simple to use with any footwear and have been part of bicycles from the beginning.
A toe cage or toe clip is a steel or nylon frame that wraps around your shoe. An adjustable strap helps keep your foot firmly on the pedal. This design helps conserve the rider’s energy by pulling the pedal during the upstroke. With flat pedals, the upstroke of the pedal cycle is usually wasted.
A clipless pedal is designed for a shoe to “clip” in. While it may sound like a counterintuitive name, the term “clipless” refers to the lack of a toe-clip. Instead, it’s designed to attach to the cleat found on cycling shoes. Once engaged, your feet are connected to the pedal. This provides more power throughout the pedal stroke. This is especially beneficial for accelerating and climbing.
The flywheel is a weighted disc positioned at the front wheel on an exercise bike. As you pedal, the flyweight creates momentum. Exercise bikes differ in the size and weight of the flyweight. They typically range between 30 and 50 pounds.
A heavy flyweight takes more upfront energy to get it moving. Once it’s moving, it takes longer for it to slow down. Many people who bike outdoors prefer heavier flywheels. Like a real road bike, it takes more energy at the start to get going. Lighter flyweights don’t take as much energy to start or stop. While it might not mimic a road bike, it can be beneficial for people with chronic injuries.
Some exercise bikes use a magnetic resistance system on the flyweight. With magnets on each side of the flywheel, resistance is increased by moving the magnets closer to the flywheel. Conversely, resistance is reduced by moving the magnets away from the metal flyweight disc. The benefit here is that nothing actually touches to create resistance.
Virtually all exercise bikes have a display at the front. They can vary from a basic analog display to high-definition touchscreens. Here you can track your pedalling speed, workout time, calories burned, heart rate, and resistance level.
New connected bikes have displays with built-in wireless cards. This allows them to connect to your home Wi-Fi network. With a monthly or annual subscription, riders get access to live classes with real-time leaderboards. Data from each workout can also be saved in the cloud helping riders track their progress over time.
Each bike has a seat or saddle to sit on. The shape and comfort level of the saddle varies between the different types of exercise bikes. Performance saddles have minimal padding and are shaped long and narrow. Conversely, some saddles have more padding making them wider and more comfortable to sit on.
The important thing to remember is that there is no perfect saddle. The specific saddle each bike has is there for a reason. Big saddles can interfere with pedalling, which is why they are not seen on performance bikes. If a saddle is too soft, it can put pressure on your soft tissue which can lead to chronic pain. Usually, something in the middle is best.
What exercise bike should I get for weight loss?
Exercise bikes are a great tool to burn calories for weight loss. Generally speaking, an upright bike is ideal for overall fitness and weight loss. They provide a great riding posture and come with programs designed to help people lose weight.
It’s important to remember that the number of calories burned depends on your training intensity, the length of your workout, and individual factors. If you enjoy intense workouts, air bikes might be for you. They burn calories quickly, provided you have the strength and endurance to ensure tough workouts.
For people starting their weight loss journey, upright bikes are great for beginners. Air bikes are more suited for people who exercise regularly. No matter which exercise bike you choose, be consistent and maintain a regular routine and stay in a caloric deficit to achieve sustainable weight loss.
What type of exercise bike provides the best low-impact workout?
Recumbent bikes provide the least impact out of all the exercise bikes. People who have low-back pain or are recovering from injuries would benefit from a recumbent bike.
Unlike an upright bike, it primarily focuses on the glutes, lower stomach muscles, and places less stress on the ACL. Getting proper seat placement is critical to reducing the amount of strain on the knee joint. With a recumbent bike, the knee should be slightly bent and the hips should not rotate when pedalling.
I want to join online group spin classes. What should I look for in a spin bike?
The first thing most people look for in a spin bike is the weight of the flyweight. A heavier flyweight means smoother motion and better performance all around. For context, commercial spin bikes in gyms generally have flyweights that are 50lbs. The weight of home-based spin bikes is usually around 40lb. Avoid spin bikes with flywheels lower than 35lb.
The next thing to consider is the type of resistance. Look for spin bikes with magnetic resistance. They provide quiet and smooth operation and require little to no maintenance.
The last thing to consider is connectivity. Look for spin bikes that provide Bluetooth connectivity to smartphones and tablets. Users can save money by purchasing spin bikes without a touchscreen console, and use their own device instead. This allows you to track your workouts on your personal device and possibly integrate with third-party apps. If you plan to use your own device, make sure the spin bike also has a USB charging port.
Where should I place an exercise bike in my home?
You could literally place an exercise bike anywhere in a home. Still, some areas are better than others. Ideally, you want to place it in a garage, basement, or on the first floor of your home. Basements and garages are ideal because it stays cooler in the summer.
You want to avoid putting an exercise bike on a second floor or higher. Upper floors tend to get really hot in summer. Of course, every home is different but try to place it in an area that stays the coolest, especially during the hot summer months.
What other options should I look for in an exercise bike?
The experience of training on an exercise bike should be as comfortable as possible. If you plan on long training sessions, look for a bike with two water bottle holders. Smartphone docks and tablet stands can also keep you connected and entertained during workouts. Some models even have fans to keep you cool during intense sessions.
Not everyone enjoys listening with headphones. If that’s you, look for exercise bikes with built-in speakers. Most spin bikes with touchscreen consoles have built-in speakers. Just ensure you can connect headphones as well so you can have the best of both worlds.
Take the next step
If you’re ready to improve your cardiovascular fitness, lose weight, and get fit at home, head to Best Buy to find the perfect exercise bike for you.