Most of us would like to drop a few pounds, and if that is your goal, exercise bikes are one of the best ways to do it. Unlike running, cycling isn’t bad for the back, knees and ankles, and unlike road bikes, you can use them no matter what the weather is like outside.
There are several types of exercise bikes, as well as several types of resistance they may use. It’s important to have a good understanding of the differences between them because each offers its own pros and cons.
You’ll also need to consider features of any exercise bike you are choosing. Some, such as the NordicTrack Commercial Studio Cycle S22i, are packed with high-tech features like a large screen for streaming on-demand workouts and Bluetooth connectivity. Others have a more streamlined design with few bells and whistles but an affordable price tag.
Exercise bikes can be broadly categorized into one of three types: recumbent, upright and spin.
Recumbent exercise bikes are the best choice for people with balance and back issues or who are concerned about injury when using an upright or spin bike. This is because the recumbent position offers the most support and relieves some of the pressure on your lower back. Though you can burn nearly the same amount of calories when using a recumbent bike as other types, you’ll be working fewer muscles because they only activate the quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
Upright exercise bikes are one of the most common types seen in most gyms. These have the pedals aligned almost directly under the user, just like on a traditional road bike. Along with the muscles in your legs, upright bikes also activate those in the core and somewhat in the upper body. You can increase upper body muscle activation and calorie burn by choosing an upright bike with moving handlebars like you find on elliptical machines. Upright exercise bikes tend to have the smallest footprint of the three types.
Spin exercise bikes most closely replicate the feeling of outdoor cycling thanks to a heavy flywheel that produces progressive resistance the faster you pedal. They usually lack the monitors or other electronics you may find on upright or recumbent bikes and instead have a more streamlined design built with a focus on high-intensity cycling. The handlebars are set far forward from the seat, which requires the user to lean forward more than on others, and it also provides space if you choose to periodically stand on the pedals for really intense pushes.
Most exercise bikes rely on one of three resistance types: magnetic, air or direct contact.
Magnetic resistance is popular because it is smooth and quiet. This is due to the fact that nothing actually touches the flywheel to slow it down. Instead, the resistance is created by magnetic force. Some bikes feature electromagnetic resistance, which allows you to control the resistance via a digital control panel.
Air-resistance bikes have large fan blades that are generally enclosed in metal or plastic mesh for safety. Unlike magnetic-resistance exercise bikes, those that use air resistance aren’t adjustable. Instead, the resistance only increases as you pedal faster. Another downside to air-resistance bikes is they tend to be very loud and can disturb others within the vicinity.
Direct-contact resistance bikes rely on felt, leather or other types of brake pads to create resistance by pressing against the flywheel. These allow you to choose a specific resistance setting similar to how you might with gear on a road bike, which many people may appreciate. However, they are subject to a lot of wear and tear so they require more maintenance than the other types. Like air bikes, direct-contact bikes can also be noisy.
Many exercise bikes feature a display that shows various workout metrics, which may include the number of calories burned, elapsed time, distance traveled, current speeds and heart rate.
Resistance levels are helpful for customizing the workout to meet your fitness level. Depending on the model, some exercise bikes may have as many as 20 resistance levels, which you may have to adjust manually using a rotating knob or, in the case of electromagnetic models, via the display panel. It should be noted that more resistance levels doesn’t always equate to stronger resistance. It is entirely possible for an exercise bike with just 10 resistance levels to be able to create stronger resistance than a model with 15 or 20 levels.
Heart rate sensors allow you to more accurately track the number of calories you are burning. They will usually be integrated into the handlebars, allowing you to check your heart rate at any time without having to interrupt your workout. Some models may also allow you to plug in external heart rate monitors if you choose to use one.
Exercise bikes that utilize electromagnetic resistance often feature preset programs that will automatically adjust the resistance during your workout. These can help you push yourself to burn more calories than you might if manually controlling the resistance yourself. They are also useful for high-intensity intermittent training.
The more adjustability an exercise bike has, the better it will fit a wide range of users. Some only allow you to adjust the height of the seat. Others may also allow you to move the seat closer to or further from the handlebars as well as adjust the height of the handlebars.
Exercise bikes can cost as little as $100 for basic models with few features, and as much as $2,000 or more for high-tech models with large screens and on-demand or live training classes.
A. Certain types of exercise bikes can help increase the number of calories you burn or motivate you to workout harder or better. For example, models that feature moving handlebars activate more muscles, which in turn helps to burn more calories. Also, those with preset exercise programs or that provide access to exercise classes you can follow along with tend to motivate people to work out harder and longer.
A. Running burns more calories per minute, however cycling is more gentle on the body, which can make it a better choice for many people. Additionally, most people are willing to cycle for longer than they will run, so you may actually wind up burning more calories from cycling.
NordicTrack Commercial Studio Cycle S22i: available at NordicTrack, Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods
Our take: The S22i is a top-of-the-line exercise bike with plenty of features to keep you motivated, so you’ll stay in the seat and keep pedaling until you see the results you are looking for.
What we like: You can view streamed live and on-demand workouts on the large 22-inch screen, which also rotates for following along with off-bike exercise routines. It also features Bluetooth, so you can pair your headphones with it.
What we dislike: It is very expensive and requires a monthly subscription for access to the exercise classes.
Cyclace Exercise Bike: available at Amazon
Our take: Surprisingly sturdy and stable for the price, the Cyclace exercise bike is ideal for someone on a budget who wants something suitable for hard and fast pedaling.
What we like: It allows for several hand positions to vary your posture, and the seat is comfortably padded so you won’t mind long periods of use.
What we dislike: Despite offering several adjustment points, it doesn’t accommodate short users well.
Assault AirBike Classic: available at Amazon
Our take: If you are looking to burn the maximum amount of calories in the shortest amount of time, the AirBike Classic is a top choice thanks to its moving handlebars that stimulate your upper body.
What we like: It offers an unlimited amount of resistance, and you can easily set your calorie, distance or time goals via the display. Also, it accommodates heavy users up to 350 pounds.
What we dislike: It can get loud when pedaling at high speeds.
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