Don’t worry, learning how to buy an exercise bike the smart way isn’t that difficult. The most important thing is to figure out what you are looking for in your bike. If you can come up with a list of necessary features, the rest is just doing a little homework to find the perfect fit. That’s where I can help. After you read this article, you should feel confident in your ability to find the perfect exercise bike without wasting your money.
What Features Do I Want?
If you are just starting your search or are getting a headache from reading all the online reviews, the first step is to figure out what you need your exercise bike to do. Do you want a lot of bells and whistles or are just looking for a durable machine to exercise on? Does your machine have to be portable or will it stay in one spot permanently in your home? If you aren’t sure, lets start by discussing the options that are available to you.
This may be a surprise, but not all exercise bikes come with a display screen. Actually, most spin bikes don’t come with one. Some of the nicer ones do. Is a display screen something that is important to you?
Display screens are nice if you want to keep track of time, calories, distance and heart rate. Some will also monitor your power output (watts) and RPM. If you are getting a bike that offers preset workouts, the display screen can also allow you to visualize the intensity of your resistance- for example, if you are doing a hill or interval program, you can see the hill coming.
Not all display screens are created equal. They vary from simple, unlit black display screens to dual backlit LCD displays. The “backlit” part just means it will appear brighter and easier to see in the dark (if for some reason you like to bike in the dark, hey, I’m not judging). Some bikes come with one small display screen, some come with 2 small screens, others come with one large display screen.
One isn’t necessarily better than another, just depends on what you like. The bikes that offer dual display screens use them to show more exercise stats at the same time.
Are you interested in having a bike that offers a lot of programmed exercise routines? If so, that is definitely a feature you will want to compare from bike to bike. FYI, if a bike doesn’t have a display screen, it will not have any workout programs. You need a screen to select your programs.
The number and type of programs an exercise bike offers varies greatly. Some bikes offer 8 programs, others offer 29. Workout programs fall into a few different categories: profile, heart rate, custom, fitness test.
Profile workouts are the typical pre-programmed workouts- hills, intervals, cardio, random, etc. Heart rate workouts monitor your heart rate during the workout and adjust according to your goals. Custom programs are designed around the user’s inputs. Some bikes also offer “fitness tests” where they may monitor your heart rate during a workout to determine your fitness status.
Upright and recumbent bikes tend to use more workout programs than spin bikes. Spin bikes are the minimalists of the exercise world. That said, the mid-high end spin bikes also come with preprogrammed workouts.
This is an important one. If you are looking for high-intensity cardio workouts, you are going to need a bike that can provide enough resistance to challenge you. This usually isn’t an issue in the mid-higher end bikes, but can be an issue with the cheaper models.
How much control do you need over the resistance? Some bikes come with 8 levels of resistance, others come with 25. That doesn’t necessarily mean the 25 options offers more resistance than the 8 options, just means the changes in resistance are more gradual. Having more levels of resistance can be a nice feature because it gives you more control, more ability to subtly increase or decrease resistance. You may have to pay a little extra for all those levels of resistance though.
If you are looking for high-intensity workouts, you should consider a spin bike or a fan bike. Both are designed for hardcore workouts. The fan bike offers unlimited resistance because the harder you push, the more resistance you get. Fan bikes also offer full body workouts which is really great for an exercise bike.
If you are unfamiliar with fan bikes, check this article out. Also offers some intense workout ideas.
Do you like to listen to music while you exercise? Do you want your bike to have speakers? A lot of recumbent and upright bikes offer built-in speakers for your enjoyment. The more affordable bikes rarely come with speakers, usually this a perk of paying a little more.
Speakers in exercise machines vary, but most are fairly decent. Most of us are using mp3 players or smart phones these days that can play music, so speakers may not be high on your list, but something to consider.
A lot of the mid-higher end bikes are bluetooth compatible. This often means you can connect with your smart phone to record your workout stats. There are several different workout apps out there that do this for you, most of them are free. Some of the bike manufacturers even have their own apps they use to track workout stats.
I don’t think the bluetooth connectivity really helps with playing music through your bike speakers, maybe with some of the higher-end bikes.
All bikes come with one, obviously. But the amount of adjustability offered differs. Most decent bikes will let you adjust seat height, as well as front and back (fore and aft).
Seat comfort is another important issue. Spin bike seats, for example, are notorious for being uncomfortable. Well, road bike seats can be very uncomfortable if you are not a seasoned rider. Recumbent bikes and upright bikes tend to have larger, more comfortable seats.
Recumbent bikes even have large back rests for added comfort. If you have a bad back or achy joints, seat comfort is an important feature to consider. Recumbent bikes are very popular for the added comfort during exercise.
Does your exercise bike need to be portable? It’s important to know where your new bike is going in your home. If it is going to be moved or stored when not in use, you should find a bike that is easy to transport.
Many bikes have transport wheels to help roll. Many bikes even fold for easy storage. There is even a recumbent bike that folds, pretty cool.
This brings to another important question: how much space do you have for your bike? If space is an issue, you should be thinking about a spin bike or upright bike. Recumbent bikes take up significantly more space. Always check the dimensions when comparing bikes and measure out your space to make sure everything will fit.
What Features Do I NEED?
We just reviewed some of the optional features you may want to consider when purchasing a new exercise bike. Those features will vary from user to user depending on what you want. But there are a few considerations that you NEED to ensure that your new bike will work for you.
Max Weight Capacity
Always, always, always check the max user weight capacity on a bike (or any other piece of exercise equipment) before you consider purchasing. You have to make sure you are safe to use said bike! Some of the really affordable options have lower weight limits.
The max weight limit is also a really good indicator of how sturdy and durable the machine is. Bikes with higher max weight limits are sturdier and better built. They will be less likely to wobble or move when you exercise. They will also be more likely to last longer.
That said, a good exercise bike should have at least a 300 lb max weight capacity. This is pretty standard for the mid-high end bikes and even a lot of the high quality affordable bikes.
This info can be a little harder to find sometimes, but you can often find it by googling or reading the FAQ on Amazon. Most exercise bikes will comfortably fit folks between 5’5″ and 6’1″ without any problems. If you fall outside of this range, you should double check before purchase.
This is especially a concern on the cheaper bikes. You may fit based on the max weight limit, but you may not be comfortable based on height.
Warranty is always one of the first things I look at when purchasing exercise equipment. Much like the max weight capacity, it gives you a good idea of how well built the product is.
Mid-high end bikes should have at least a 3-5 year warranty on frame. Moving parts tends to be less. Some of the nicer bikes will have lifetime warranties on frame.
I would be a little wary to purchase a bike with no warranty at all. That tells me the manufacturer knows the bike might not last and isn’t willing to back it up with a warranty.
But, if you are buying an exercise bike for 100 bucks and you only get a couple years out of it, that still might be worth it.
Ah, price. I almost forgot. The most important feature: you need to find a bike you can afford. Honestly, price really shouldn’t be an issue. There are so many high quality exercise bikes at every price range. You should not feel obligated to spend more to get a decent bike because the reality is you really don’t have to.
Regardless if you are getting a recumbent, upright or spin bike- there are affordable options for all styles. Especially if you are a beginner or intermediate rider, no reason to break the bank for a super high-end bike. You advanced riders may need to spend a little more, but not that much more.
When considering those extra features you want, just remember that the more features you get, typically the more you are going to pay.
How To Buy An Exercise Bike
Alright people, it’s time to bring it all together. We’ve gone over the details you need to consider when purchasing an exercise bike. These considerations should at least guide you to what kind of exercise bike you want. This should really be the starting point. Do you want a recumbent, upright, or stationary bike?
Recumbent bikes are more comfortable and they put less stress through the joints. Upright bikes are closer to the feel of riding a real bike, but the seat is still a little larger and they offer more of the bells and whistles through the console. Spin bikes offer the closest experience to riding a road bike and can really offer high-intensity cardio workouts (as do fan bikes).
Once you have decided on a type of exercise bike:
- Determine your price range- trust me, it doesn’t matter how small your budget may be, there are high quality bikes in your price range
- Determine bikes location- figure out where in your home you are going to put your new bike. Measure floor space if necessary and make sure you consider bike dimensions
- Necessities- find a bike that has a weight and height limit that will fit you comfortably (I recommend at least 300 lb weight limit for stability). Consider warranty.
- Consider features- think about the above features that are most important to you. Depending on your price range, you may not be able to get all of them, but I bet you can get most if you choose wisely
Now that you know how to buy an exercise bike, it’s time to get out there and find one that will work for you!
You should check out my comprehensive buyer’s guide for a list of the highest rated exercise bikes on the market:
I hope this article will help you find the right exercise bike for you. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you soon.