Jan 10, 2017

What to Know before Buying an Exercise Bike

Exercise bikes are a great way to get your heart rate up and strengthen leg muscles. Finding the right one, however, can be difficult if you do not know what to look for. This article will walk you through the basics of choosing a stationary bike that suits your needs.


What is an Exercise Bike?

An exercise bike, also called a stationary bike, is set up like a bicycle with a seat, handlebars, and pedals, but it’s used for cardiovascular exercise instead of transportation. There are two major styles of exercise bikes: upright and recumbent.

Upright bikes have been used for decades and are the typical bicycle-looking exercise equipment with a bicycle seat. They usually cost less, give a less restrictive workout, and may be foldable for small homes. Recumbent exercise bikes, on the other hand, come with comfortable chair-like seating and leave your hands free for another activity, but are costlier and take up more room.


What to Look for When Buying

The first thing you should determine is what style of exercise bike you want to own: upright or recumbent. If your budget is tight, you may prefer to go with an upright. This style of bike also takes up far less room and can often be folded to put away, so if you have a small home you may want to choose an upright bike.

The exercise routine is also different with an upright bike versus a recumbent. On a recumbent bike, you must remain seated, although on a comfortable cushioned seat. On an upright bike, you can stand and pedal much harder for more intensive exercise. Unfortunately, upright bikes do not have comfortable seats, making them unsuitable for people with back pain or the elderly.

Recumbent bikes, too, have their benefits and flaws. On the positive side, you will be sitting comfortably and will not feel the strain of the exercise. These bikes, thanks to their cushioned back rests, are great for people with back problems. You may also find it more comfortable to have your hands free, as you will with a recumbent bike, than being hunched over handlebars. While recumbent bikes still allow you to lose the same number of calories, they are less effective for cardiovascular exercise since you are not putting as much full-body work into it. However, since a recumbent bike is such a comfortable piece of equipment, you may find yourself exercising longer and burning more calories than on an upright bike.

1. The Basics

Whether your bike is upright or recumbent, there are some features that are necessary for a good workout. The must-have features of an exercise bike are a variety of resistance levels, a comfortable seat, and tracking monitors.

Variable resistance is important for a good exercise bike because you may not want to always pedal at the same resistance level. Different workouts call for different resistance levels; you would not want to do an intensive cardiovascular routine on low resistance or a relaxed evening pedal on high resistance. Also, if you have more than one person using the bike, they will probably use a different resistance level than you will.

A comfortable seat is a must-have for a good exercise bike since you will spend a lot of time on it. Look for a well-cushioned seat with good contours. Those who need a larger seat should look for seats that can be adjusted to fit your needs. If you are determined to get a stationary bike that does not have the best seat, you can always buy a gel or padded seat cover.

A good exercise bike will also show stats like speed, time, and calories burned. Other stats are great to have, such as a heart monitor, but are not necessary since you can buy a separate device for that purpose.

2. The Extra Features

Beyond the basic features look for advanced features that set the bike apart from others. Some of the advanced features to consider are a built-in fan that will add air resistance and keep you cool, acoustic sound systems that allow you to play your music during your workout, holders for water bottles, remote controls that will let you change the channel without stopping your workout, and enclosed mechanics for safety (especially around children).


Pros and Cons
It can be enjoyable to ride your bicycle outside and get fresh air, but if it is raining or cold, you may prefer an indoor stationary bike. Here are some pros and cons of stationary bikes.

• Workouts can be done at any time of day and during any weather pattern.
• You will not have to worry about cars, uneven terrain, or sharp objects that could puncture your tire.
• There is no need to wear a helmet or be alert to your environment.
• If you get tired, you can always hop off and end your exercise routine. With a bicycle, you still have to ride or walk home if you get tired.
• Unlike a treadmill or stair-stepper, the stationary bike offers low impact, high resistance exercise that is easier on your body.
• The built-in trackers keep up with your workout data, so you can track your progress.
• It is easy to do something else while on a stationary bike, such as reading a book or watching television.
• Stationary bikes are one of the least expensive pieces of exercise equipment.

• Fewer calories are burned on a stationary bike versus a treadmill.
• Unlike with high-impact running, biking offers no bone-building benefits.
• Stationary bikes only work your lower body, so you still have to do other exercise to work out your upper body.
• Exercise bikes with readouts use electricity; thus, they are less environmentally friendly than riding a bike outdoors.
• For those who are training for a race, you will miss out on training in extreme weather conditions and on uneven terrains.
• You can cheat much more easily on a stationary bike by lowering the resistance, pedaling slower, and avoiding inclines.
• The scenery never changes, so you might get bored and exercise for less time.
• Most stationary bikes have uncomfortable seats, leading to sore bottoms.


Health Benefits
There are four major health benefits of regularly working out on a stationary bike. First, riding an exercise bike is a low-impact activity. Often used in physical therapy for people recovering from hip, knee, or ankle injuries, stationary bikes cause minimal impact on these joints. You will avoid the high-impact pounding of other exercise methods like running, preventing injury to your body.

Second, stationary bikes build up muscle endurance. Pedaling against resistance on a stationary bike builds up the endurance of the calf muscles, gluteus, hamstrings, and quadriceps. In addition, you strengthen the surrounding bones, tendons, and ligaments to increase overall strength, allowing for more comfortable performance of activities for daily living.

Another benefit of stationary bikes is the release of adrenaline and endorphins, which lower stress levels, create euphoric feelings, and increase immune response in the body.

Finally, it is recommended that healthy adults get at least 150 hours of moderately intensive exercise per week. This equates to 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week or 20 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise three days per week.

A good exercise bike routine can keep your heart rate in the vigorous range for 45 to 60 minutes, allowing you to exercise just three times a week to achieve recommended levels of exercise for a healthy body.


Top Brands

  • NordicTrack – One of the bestselling exercise equipment brands, NordicTrack was founded in the 1970s. At first, they only had cross-country ski machines, but in the 1990s, they added other exercise equipment to their brand, including stationary bikes. Made for people who want guided exercises and online entertainment, unfortunately you will not get the feel of a road bike with these machines.
  • Matrix Fitness– An international fitness brand, Matrix makes high-quality exercise bikes with customizable features from pedals to consoles. They cost more than other stationary bikes, but their quality, customer service, and long warranties make up for the price hike.
  • Sole – Sole exercise bikes are high-quality machines with steel frames, offering smooth ergonomic cycling, and have warranties that lead the way in the price range of their bikes. Many of the bikes have guided programs and Bluetooth connectivity for the most effective and entertaining workout. This brand makes an exercise bike for almost any body type and training level, from gentle rehabilitation to training for competition.


There is an exercise bike for almost everyone, whether you are recovering from an injury or preparing for an intensive bike ride. Knowing what to look for is an important part of shopping for a stationary bike. Keep in mind the style of bike, the basic and advanced features you want, and what brand you like best. Most of all, find something that fits your exercise routine, because there’s nothing worse than buying an expensive machine that does not suit your needs.

Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com

Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com

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