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Exercise Bike Buying Guide

Exercise bikes have been around longer than most types of home fitness equipment and there is now a huge range of brands, models and styles available on the market. It is of course important that you choose one that is suited to your particular needs, so to help you along we have outlined some of the things to consider and features to look for when buying your bike.


Exercise bikes can be a relatively inexpensive piece of fitness equipment with prices starting at around £50. As with most exercise machines though, you do tend to get what you pay for so a more expensive model is likely to last longer, be sturdier, more comfortable and have useful added features. For a very high spec, top of the range exercise cycle packed with features and programmes you can pay anything up to £2000.

Type of exercise bike

It wasn’t long ago that the vast majority of stationary bikes looked very similar and seemed to do pretty much exactly the same thing. Nowadays the variety seems almost endless. There are two main types of stationary bikes – upright and recumbent. The traditional upright type is most similar to regular outdoor cycles with the user seated upright with the pedals below. The more modern recumbent type typically has a much larger seat with back support. The seat is positioned lower to the ground than with upright bikes and the pedals are in front of the user. There are also models that fall somewhere in between the two main types in terms of seat and pedal positioning and these are typically referred to as semi-recumbent.

Which style of exercise bike to choose is very much a case of personal preference. The seat on a recumbent bike supports the lower back and will therefore be more comfortable than an upright bike for those with back problems. Recumbents can also be a better choice for those with knee problems or anyone suffering from high blood pressure, as they tend to lessen strain on knees and keep the user’s blood pressure lower than with an upright bike. On the other hand, if you have none of the above problems and you want to ensure you get the most out of each workout, an upright model might be the right option, as some do believe that these encourage a more intense workout.

Another advantage of the upright type is that they are more compact which is great if you are short on space. Some upright models come with handles that are designed to offer rowing type upper body workouts as well. These are often called triple action bikes as you can use either the pedalling or “rowing” action on its own or the two simultaneously. If you go for a recumbent model you could use weights for upper body workouts while pedalling, as you don’t have to use your arms and hands to hold on to any handlebars.

Upright bikes come with a few different styles of frame – look for an open framed bike with nothing in the way between the saddle and handlebars if you think you would have any problems stepping over a crossbar or other type of obstruction. On the same note, it tends to be easier to get on and off semi-recumbent bikes compared to recumbent models if you have any mobility problems. A final type of exercise cycle is the ergometer. These are a bit more high-tech than standard exercise bikes and are able to provide a more accurate assessment of the intensity and results of you workouts.

Resistance and flywheel

By far the most common form of resistance used for exercise cycles is magnetic, which tends to be quite quiet. The smoothness and noise levels will improve as you move up the price ranges. More expensive models might have electromagnets, which allows for virtually silent pedalling action. Resistance is altered by bringing the magnets closer or further away from the flywheel. This is either done manually, by adjusting knobs or levers, or electronically by simply pressing a button. Electronic adjustment is obviously the more convenient option as it will never interrupt your workout, but you do have to pay a bit more for a bike of this type than for one with manual resistance adjustment.

You will also need to check out the range of resistance before deciding which exercise bike to buy. The resistance range is determined by the size of the flywheel and the type, size and number of magnets. If you want a machine that can offer you a hard workout, you will need to choose a bike with a large flywheel and good resistance range. Electromagnetic resistance cycles also tend to offer a wide resistance range.

Control panel and programmes

Almost all stationary bikes will offer some sort of electronic feedback display of speed, time and distance. Many models also show additional information such as calories burned and heart rate. The display and control panel will generally be more and more sophisticated the higher up you go in price. Many models also offer various preset or customisable workout programmes, which can be great for adding some variety to your workouts and also making your exercise more efficient. Look for a bike with a wide range of programmes if you are the kind of person who needs that little bit of extra help to keep the motivation up – it might cost you a little bit more but you may well end up getting more use out of the machine as well. Certain manufacturers offer models that can be hooked up to a video, CD player or the Internet for use with additional interactive programmes.

Quite a few models come with a pulse sensor of some kind and some of these will also offer heart rate controlled training programmes which will automatically adjust the resistance to keep you in your ideal heart rate zone. As well as being a safer form of exercise, heart rate controlled training has been proven to assist in weight loss and improving performance. On exercise cycles pulse sensors are often built into the handlebars, although with some models there will be a chest strap included for monitoring your heart rate and these do tend to give the most accurate reading. Please note that heart rate monitors may not be suitable for people with pacemakers.


As with all exercise machines, you should check out the warranties offered on any stationary bike you are considering. This is especially important if you are planning on spending quite a lot to invest in a high-spec model. High quality, durable equipment will generally be backed by generous warranties. Most exercise bikes, with the exception of some very basic models, will have at least a one year parts and labour warranty with mid- and higher-end manufacturers offering two or even three years. Many high quality manufacturers will offer a lifetime warranty of the frame and some models will even come with a lifetime warranty on magnetic braking systems.

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