About Exercise Bikes
Why Buy an Exercise Bike?
The humble exercise bike remains one of the most popular and affordable types of fitness equipment and it's easy to understand why. For starters, stationary exercise bikes offer a relatively inexpensive entry route for those seeking high quality aerobic training gear without breaking the bank. This is because the engineering required to build a decent, reliable exercise bike is far more modest than for some other fitness equipment machines such as a treadmill.
The cycling movement itself is another reason; almost everyone can cycle. There's very little co-ordination required and the weight-bearing nature of the exercise makes it particularly easy on the hips, knees and ankles - ideal for beginners, the elderly or those suffering or recovering from injury. The icing on the cake is that cycling is also a truly excellent cardiovascular exercise.
What to look for
- Braking system - Most exercise bikes use electronic braking which, although not cheap, is generally smooth in use and enables manufacturers to offer programmes such as hill and heart rate control. Mechanical braking is simple, cheap and offers potentially very high resistance levels, but it needs a heavy flywheel to give a good pedalling feel and requires regular maintenance. Air braking gives you more resistance as you pedal faster, provides a nice cooling breeze and is a robust system of generating resistance. However, it doesn't allow you to alter resistance without changing your pedalling speed.
- Flywheel - All other things being equal, the heavier the flywheel, the smoother and less jerky the pedalling action.
- Recumbent & upright exercise bikes - Upright exercise bikes place you in the conventional upright cycling position, whereas recumbent exercise bikes place you in a more horizontal position, are easier to mount and dismount and have a more supportive seat with a back support. However, recumbent exercise bikes take up more room and are generally more costly for the same standard of bike.
- Pedalling feel - Ideally, this should be silky smooth with the same level of resistance throughout the 360 degrees of pedal revolution, even at high resistance levels and out of the saddle. Avoid models with an uneven or jerky pedalling feel.
- Maximum workload - This is how much resistance the bike will give when pedalled flat out. Most bikes will provide in excess of 250 watts; experienced cyclists or the very fit will need in excess of 400 watts.
- Console feedback and ease of use - How clear and comprehensive is the displayed information? How easy is it to access programmes (if there are any)? Are the buttons clearly visible and easy to use?
- Bike programmes - These can offer variety and motivation via simulating various hill courses, allowing you to create your own programmes or by controlling your heart rate and more.
- Exercise bike power supply - Is the bike self-powered or does it need mains electricity? You can purchase either option depending on your requirements.
- Riding position adjustability - The more adjustable the bike, the more comfortable during longer sessions. All bikes have saddle height adjustment. Check whether the saddle or handlebars can be moved backwards and forwards too.
- Bike saddle comfort - How padded is the saddle? A well padded saddle will improve comfort.
- Standard of construction - Check that the frame is built predominantly from metal, the welds are tidy, the overall finish is good without sharp or rough edges and that the moving parts are adequately shielded from prying fingers. A solidly constructed exercise bike should also be stable and not flex or wobble, even when you are out of the saddle, giving it some stick!
- Exercise bike warranty - Check the warranty with the dealer, especially if you expect it to receive heavy use. Some manufacturers now give more than the standard year's warranty on bike frames and parts.