In this buying guide to upright exercise bikes I provide more than just a description of features.
I’m going to go through the various options and features there are and how they can meet various requirements or not of people looking to buy upright bikes and where the meet them and where they don’t. I’ll also give a link to bikes that can help you meet your requirements.
It’s not quite a decision tree or something you can use yes or no to take you to the next options but it will help in speeding up the job of narrowing down the bike that is right for you.
Before getting into the features and the options there are a couple of things to that are common to all exercise bikes to be aware of – seats and height range.
These bikes unlike recumbent exercise bikes don’t have back rests, instead they tend to have a seat that is more like the traditional bike seat where you sit upright. They do come with similar issues too. (There are a few that do have a backrest – see them here)
Not everyone likes the seat that is included with the bike – finding it painful and/or causing numbness after sitting on it for a short while. Sometimes this is just to do with the fact you’re not use to sitting on a bike seat and it is just a matter of time before it starts to come right.
It is possible to buy gel seat covers and padded bike shorts to help with this problem. But sometimes it isn’t enough.
More affordable don’t have seat that can be easily swapped for a more comfortable seat as they are attached to the seat post with 3 – 4 screws. To be able to swap you need to modify this, or take to a bike shop or buy a universal exercise bike seat adapter – then you can attach a standard bike seat.
3 bikes that have a standard bike seat where you can more easily swap the seat are:
Schwinn 170 (see review here)
Nautilus U616 (see review here)
IRONMAN Triathlon X-Class 310 Upright Bike (see review here)
The bikes come with a belt drive and magnetic resistance.
Both operate very quietly and this is something that is common to all the bikes.
This makes them a good choice for the home. You can get on them watch TV without having to turn the volume up.
They won’t disturb others as you exercise. You can even use them while others are sleeping and some people even use them in the same room as someone sleeping – I’m not sure that would work in my family and I won’t be trying it out.
It means if you have small children you can use them while they nap or if you work shifts you can still fit in a workout session.
It does make these bikes a good option for an apartment. The neighbors won’t hear a thing – so you won’t be getting any complaints because you won’t be annoying them, they probably won’t even know.
These bikes do tend to be among the most compact exercise bikes around, so they can fit in most homes. They might not fit in a closet but can easily fit somewhere out of the way like a corner.
To help in moving the bikes, most have a set of wheels at the front that the bike can be tipped over and moved around on. This makes it easy for one person to do it on their own.
If space is going to still be an issue you may want to consider a folding exercise bike. These have a small footprint when in use but fold up to about half size and can be stored in a closet or behind a door. They are suitable for beginners and for moderate level workouts.
Depending on the maximum user weight you want the bike to cater for can determine the bikes to you can check out. As the bikes cater for more weight they do tend to be become more expensive which can mean more features too.
The bikes that cater for the various weight ranges are:
Up to 220 lbs
Up to 250 lbs
Up to 275 lbs
Schwinn A10 Upright Bike
Up to 350 lbs
Up to 400 lbs
This is probably the hardest thing to get a good fix on. Many suppliers don’t list the range the bike fit or give any help with letting you know measurements between the seat and the pedal for helping determine if the bike will fit you. I find it annoying.
If you are between 5 ft 2 ins and 6 ft you are likely to find that most bikes will fit you. Outside that is can be a little more difficult. I’ve tried by asking suppliers and going trough customer reviews to determine the bikes that can help with this and my reviews do have some guidance.
I do think suppliers are still thinking that everyone has a chance to try out their bikes in a store even the ones that only sell through online stores. Strange!
So for people below 5ft 2 ins the following bikes are a possibility:
For those 5ft and up, you have a choice of:
For those over 6ft you might want to consider:
To 6ft 3 ins
Up to 6 ft 4 ins
Beginner & Moderate Workouts
If you want beginner and moderate workouts and aren’t too bothered about pre-set programs or somewhere to put your media devices then you can get a reasonable bike for an affordable price.
They do come with basic consoles and height adjustment for seats.
There are a number of different accessories that a bike can come. The more you want they do add to the price.
The more affordable bikes do come with less and often they just have a basic console to help you know how you are getting on during your workout. But they won’t come with a water bottle holder or media tray.
If you want a fan, speakers, media tray and charger then you can look at the following:
For more intense workouts you need to look at bikes are more expensive and even then they aren’t going to satisfy those who are already very fit and really want to push themselves . For these people you may want to look at indoor cycles and spin bikes and fan bikes ( two good examples are: Schwinn AD6 & Lifecore Assault Air Bike)
For others you can get a good level of intensity from bikes that are more expensive that have a 3 piece crank to provide more strength and durability in the pedaling area to cater for short periods of standing on the pedals.
There is only one choice here for you if you want a selection of pre-set programs in the affordable range and that is the Schwinn A10. This comes with a selection of 6 with a manual program if you don’t want to go through a set program. These are programs that change the resistance at set time intervals.
At the next level up you get a number of bikes that you can get a wider range of programs. These have more in number as well as type. You get the profile programs along with heart rate control programs, fitness tests and recovery tests.
The heart rate control programs use your heart rate, which is monitored using hand pulse sensors or heart rate straps, and changes the amount of resistance to keep your heart rate in particular zone you’ve selected.
The fitness tests give you a rating based on your output and heart rate over a set period and the recovery test determines how quickly your heart recovers after exercise.
This category provide you with a selection of bikes that have pre-set programs as well as giving you the option of just exercising and adjusting resistance as you go to suit yourself.
Heart Rate Monitoring
There are 2 methods used for monitoring heart rate – hand pulse sensors and/or heart rate strap.
The hand pulse sensors is the most common method used by the bikes. Some people can get a good reading and a reliable signal from these but often people struggle with this, no matter the cost and model of the bike. Also you do have to have your hands gripping the sensors at all times otherwise you lose the signal.
The alternative is the heart rate strap and this is only available on some bikes and only on those that cost more. Often they give you a choice but you have to buy the strap separately:
Nautilus U616. Heart rate strap not included
Schwinn 170 Heart rate strap not included. (bestselling upright bike)
Sole B94: (This comes with a heart rate strap included, but is more)
Tracking & Fitness Apps
One of the things that can help you to perform better over time is tracking your performance over time. The affordable bikes don’t give you the opportunity to do this, so with these this needs to be done manually.
If this is something you want the bike to upload to a fitness account to help with analyzing then this something you can have although they do cost over more to have this. The Fitness Apps and accounts are free to use.
At present the App and accounts are basic but they do help in tracking performance. The bikes to help with this are, starting from the most affordable are:
Ironman Triathlon X-Class 310 (App and limited control of bike)
Sole B94 (next model has fitness app bluetooth)
I assume at some stage the later models with an App will provide more pre-set programs and better control of the bike.
The amount that you have in mind can reduce the options you can get as you’d expect.
You can get some good basic bikes that are great for beginners and those that want to add or continue with some cardio fitness work but not those who want very high intense and challenging workouts.
You may find at the that the pedaling motion on these starts to pulse a little as you get to the higher levels of resistance as it works more like a brake slowing the flywheel down as you move round the pedlaing motion. It is still relatively smooth but you do need to have better form with your pedaling.
They don’t normally come with any pre-set programs (except the Schwinn A10) or horzontal adjustable seat (except Exerpeutic 2000 Magnetic Upright Bike).
Read about them here.
Middle of Range
You get bikes that have a good range of pre-set programs and fully adjustable seats. They still have much the same design where you sit upright but you can stand on the pedals for short periods even if it is a little awkward.
The resistance is tougher and will suit most people (including beginners) except for elite athletes looking tough hill climbs (they probably are better off with spin bikes Read more about them here
For more expensive bikes you find bikes that are made for light commercial purposes and are there for sturdier and more durable but don’t necessarily come with as many programs or any extra accessories. It is the construction you are paying for – they should take more abuse:
Ironman TriathlonX-Class 310
Upright exercise bikes are quiet, low maintenance and provide a good low impact workout. If you are a beginner or looking for moderate levels of exercise you can find one at most price points.
The more affordable ones are basic without the extras but they provide a reliable and a relatively smooth pedaling motion.
You can get a good workout from the bikes that gets your heart rate up and get a good sweat on with the bikes. With the magnetic resistance and belt drive it is very quiet and smooth . You can exercise when you want and also watch TV too.
If you are looking for tougher workouts then you need to pay extra to get them and have the bike that can stand up to them. And if you are looking for very tough workouts you may be better suited looking at spin bikes and indoor cycles that have better design for standing up on the pedals and tougher levels of resistance too.
With the bikes that cost more you get more features as well as a tougher resistance -they have things like pre-set programs, speakers, fans, chargers and media shelves. It all makes for a more convenient workout as well as one where you might get more out of the bike too – as you are on it longer.