Spin Bike Buying Guide A spin bike is a great way to get a cardio workout in your own home. You can do spinning style workouts without going to the gym, do cycle training when you can’t get outside or you can just generally work on your fitness to stay in shape or burn some calories.

Working out on a spin bike is an effective way to reach your cardio fitness goals.  But they can be confusing especially why they need that big flywheel at the front.

They do have quite a simple design but there are a number of things to consider when looking to buy one to match your requirements to the bike.
To help in understanding and choosing the right bike I’ve prepared an explanation of the parts of the bike and what to look out for when buying one.

Budget. There is a wide range of price for the bikes. The cheapest are under $200 and the more expensive ones over $1500. The lower priced bikes usually have less features and are more for people who want to be able to get a good steady workout .

The more expensive ones have heavier flywheels have more adjustability and more features and are for those who looking for high intensity workouts and/or are indoor training for their outdoor cycling events.

Console. Many spin bikes don’t come with any form of console. This can make it difficult to track progress but the idea is that you have a workout that you are following along to that tells you when to turn up the resistance and how fast to pedal. A console can be added afterwards if you want. This lack of console does help to keep the price down.

The bikes that do include a console usually only have a basic one that shows information such as RPM, distance traveled, calories burned and time elapsed. This information needs to be recorded manually if you want to keep a record as when the console turns off the information is lost and they don’t have the capability to upload your results to any type of fitness account online.

Accessories. Spin bikes tend to be fairly minimalist in their approach to accessories. They usually only stretch to a drink bottle holder but not all even do this. These bikes are designed for people who want to workout and give a similar experience as riding an outdoor bike. They don’t come with a place to put a book or somewhere to plug your MP3 player into.

Flywheel. This is a big part of a spin bike and its’ a big difference to other types of exercise bikes. Spin bikes have heavy flywheels that usually weigh between 30 lbs to 50 lbs. This is what gives a riding experience similar to the outdoor bike. It makes pedaling smooth and removes the jerkiness in motion you can get with lighter flywheels. The lightest flywheel recommended for a spin bike with friction resistance is usually 30 lbs.

The heavier the flywheel the harder it becomes to get the pedals turning and the more effort is required to slow it down. The pedals are attached to the flywheel by a chain or belt drive and have a fixed gear- this means you can’t coast – when the flywheel is turning the pedals are turning and so your feet need to continue moving until you stop the pedals or apply the brake.

Resistance. There are 2 types of resistance employed by bikes – magnetic or friction.

Friction resistance is the most common. This works with a  wool pad or pads being tightened on to the flywheel by the turning of a knob. This give a continuous and incremental resistance. There are no markings or levels to set the resistance to – it can only be tightened to a previous level by feel. It is important in choosing a bike to look for resistance that increases incrementally and does not go from easy to hard with very little turning of the knob.

The friction resistance has two ways it can be applied – calliper style system (like you see on outdoor bike brakes) and single pads that sit on top of the flywheel. Both can give consistent friction but the single pad system is less likely to move out of alignment. The calliper style resistance pads can move around just like you may have experienced with the brakes on your outdoor bike and need ajusting to keep them aligned.

Magnetic resistance is also increased by turning a knob in the same way as you do with friction resistance. Instead of moving a pad you are moving magnets closer to the flywheel and the closer the magnets get to it the more resistance there is. The magnets do not touch the flywheel they just move closer and further away. The advantage is there is no noise and the magnets don’t wear out. On some bikes this is used to give you an indication of the level of resistance you are using when the bike has a console.

Pedals. Spin bikes use the same pedal types as outdoor bikes. This means you can change over the pedals. They have the same threading as bikes. When attaching the pedals the left is screwed in counter clockwise to avoid it unscrewing while you ride.

Depending on the bike you can have ones that have Shimano SPD, toe clips, cleats and/or dual pedals (fitting more than one type of shoe). Having said that about them being the same as bike pedals it is important to check you can do this before you buy,  as there can be exceptions.

The pedals are attached to strong crank shafts. This is to ensure you can stand up on the pedals and push hard when straining against the resistance and when sprinting.

Seat. As spin bikes are designed to give a similar experience to an outdoor bike they are fitted with the same type of seat. The standard seats supplied do tend to be uncomfortable for most people just like you find with bike seats. You can change the seat to an outdoor bike seat or put a gel cover on it or try padded bike shorts if the seat provided is too uncomfortable. Again check that you can do this before buying.

One thing to remember with bike seats is that comfort is an individual thing and what one person finds perfect for them might not be suitable for another person’s sit bones.

Drive. There are 2 types of drive to connect the pedals to the flywheel. Spin bike use a chain drive or belt drive.  A chain drive is like the one you see on an outdoor bike with chain links. It needs the same sort of maintenance as well – tightening and lubricating as required. A belt drive is a hard rubber band that requires little or no maintenance but will require replacing at some point after a few years of use.

Height Adjustments The best and more expensive bikes give you the ability to adjust the seat and handlebars in 4 directions – upwards, downwards, backwards and forwards. This enables you to fit the bike correctly to your height. This is important to help avoid any straining or overuse injuries by riding a bike not properly fitted to you. Even with all the adjustments some bikes can do they do not fit all heights so it is important to check it caters for you.

Not all bikes have the handlebar adjustment in 4 directions. These bikes have the handlebars that only adjust up and down and have a seat that can be adjusted in 4 directions. This can work for many people and there are some very good spin bikes that have this set up.

The next bikes down just have the seat that can be moved and no adjustment can be done to the handlebars. This can be fine if you are not going to be doing a lot of intense exercise. These bikes are cheaper overall and can give a good riding experience.  You can see a good one here.

Maintenance. Ongoing maintenance involves checking that all the nuts and bolts are tight before starting your exercise (like you would do with any piece of exercise equipment). Also lubricating and checking the drive to ensure it is tight and adjusting it as required. This should only take a few minutes a week.

Noise. When exercising at home it can be an important consideration that you don’t disturb the other members of your household.  Fortunately spin bikes are quiet. If there is any noise it can normally be sorted with some routine maintenance.

A bike with a chain drive has more noise than a belt drive – a belt drive is very quiet and the chain drive you hear the sound of the chain moving around the crank and flywheel – it is a similar noise to that on a bike. With a good spin bike you should not have to turn up your TV to hear it.

Noise. When exercising at home it can be an important consideration that you don’t disturb the other members of your household.  Fortunately spin bikes are quiet. If there is any noise it can normally be sorted with some routine maintenance.

A bike with a chain drive has more noise than a belt drive – a belt drive is very quiet and the chain drive you hear the sound of the chain moving around the crank and flywheel – it is a similar noise to that on a bike. With a good spin bike you should not have to turn up your TV to hear it. They makes them  a good choice for apartments.

Weight and Transport Wheels. Spin bikes are heavy pieces of equipment due to the flywheel and steel frame construction. They can weigh over a 100 lbs which can make them difficult to move. To help with the bike should have good transport wheels at the front that you tip the bike on which take most of the weight to ensure that it is much easier to move the bike around.

Storage. Spin bikes are quite compact pieces of equipment making them easier to store. A typical footprint is about 20 – 24 inches wide by 45 to 50 inches long.

In selecting your bike it is important to consider what your goals are now and what they might be in the future. If you want something you can do casual workouts on your choice of bike is going to be different to the one where you want high intense workouts 4 – 5 times a week.  The harder you are going to want to train the more you are going to want a heavier flywheel, better constructed bike  and may be also receive better electronic feedback from the bike.

 

Filed under: Buying Advice

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