Everything You Need To Know About Exercise Bikes

Everything You Need To Know About Exercise Bikes

When it comes to fitness, one of the cornerstones in nearly any gym is the exercise bike.

It is also one of the top choices in exercise equipment for the home as well.

Investing in one of these workout devices is an excellent way to realize your fitness goals without an expensive gym membership, especially with its ability to burn calories while toning the lower body.

Plus, you get a little cardio workout at the same time.

NOTE: If you'd like to skip over the details about exercise bikes in general and jump straight to our recommendations, here's the list of our buying guides:

Exercise bikes have come a long way since their inception into the fitness world, and there are enough models on the market to make your head spin. With advanced technologies and revamped designs, it’s a tough decision to pick out the best bike for your needs.

While there are plenty of articles floating around on the web, none of them tell you everything you need to know about exercise bikes.

That’s where this guide comes in.

From what they are to their designs and what you should consider before buying one, consider this your ultimate guide to fitness bikes.

Here's what you'll learn:

What is an Exercise Bike?

Stationary bicycles (also called exercise bikes and spinning bikes) are a piece of exercise equipment that function like regular bikes while staying in one place as you pedal. This gives you a similar workout to riding a street or road bike.

However, the key difference is in the way these stationary bikes provide the resistance necessary to provide that similar workout. Since you are not causing the object to move, the design requires you to place more pressure on the pedals to make the suspended wheel spin.

They are often chosen as home workout equipment for their ability to deliver varying levels of intensity, allowing users to up the resistance as their fitness level progresses.

These devices provide excellent lower body workouts while also working the core and providing a cardio routine.

Instead of pulling your bike out of the garage to stuff into your vehicle, making sure the tires are properly inflated, and driving to a decent biking location, you can simply hop on a stationary bike in the comfort of your home.

The most advanced models offer high-tech workout aids, while the simplest of models allow you to place a regular bicycle right on top and ride.

History 101: The Stationary Bicycle

The ancestor to the modern day stationary bicycle dates all the way back to 1796 when Francis Lowndes invented what is called the Gymnasticon. Orthopedics was a big deal back in the late 1700’s, causing the bulk of Europe to become interested in physical therapy before they knew exactly what it was.

The Gymnasticon utilized two wheels connected to wooden rods that one could crank with their hands and feet. In a fashion reminiscent of modern ellipticals, individuals could give themselves a full body workout by pressing down large wooden pedals and rotating the top crank.

Unfortunately, it would be a long time before anyone invented a comfortable seat to rest on. The original model forced users to push their lower back into a wooden beam for support.

Aside from the obvious drawbacks, this device was gigantic.

The Gymnasticon caught on fast though. Initially marketed for the sick and disabled as a way to treat joint issues and strengthen the muscles, the device became increasingly popular as a form of exercise for people whose jobs required them to be sedentary.

As the years went on newer models became available, but their ability to help individuals stay healthy remained the primary reason people bought them. Today, they offer a surprising amount of health benefits.

Incredible Health Benefits

It should come as no surprise that any form of exercise is beneficial to your health, but it is important to know exactly what benefits a piece of workout equipment offers.

A stationary bike is a powerful tool.

Here’s what it can do for you.

Helping the Heart

Just like any other muscle, it is important to keep your heart in shape for it to function properly. Stationary bicycles offer a high-intensity cardio workout, which research shows are the best form of exercise for heart health.

Riding your bike three times a week for just 30 minutes will give you outstanding results.

Toning Biceps and Triceps

While your arms are not doing the bulk of the work on one of these bikes, they’re still getting a workout. As you ride with more intensity, you naturally grip the handlebars tighter.

This intense grip actively strengthens both the biceps and triceps while riding. Using them to support yourself as you sit up on the saddle dramatically increases the toning capabilities of these devices.

Working the Abs

As your legs are pedaling away, your abdominal muscles are working to keep your body in the cycling position. The lower half is also functioning to help propel your legs downward and upward. That’s right; an exercise bike helps to flatten and tone your stomach.

Leg Day to the Extreme

Your legs, of course, are doing the majority of the work when riding a stationary bicycle. Your calves and quadriceps are working overtime as they provide the momentum needed to keep the pedals turning. Meanwhile, your hamstrings are rapidly pulling and retracting to keep your motions smooth.

This lower body workout extends all the way up to your glutes, too. If you’re not the kind of person that loves doing rep after rep of squats, then you’ll be happy to hear that riding a stationary bike offers the same results.

Low Impact Heaven

The stationary bike provides a wonderful low-impact, gentle workout that saves you from putting too much stress on your spine. It is also a great cardiovascular alternative to running, which places undue stress on the joints and shins.

In fact, the workout these bikes offer is so gentle on the body that they are often incorporated into physical therapy for recovering patients. If you’ve recently suffered an injury, this might be the perfect way to work through it while staying in shape.

Other Benefits

Aside from the health benefits these bikes offer, there are numerous advantages to owning one in your home. For starters, you can kiss that expensive gym membership goodbye. While an exercise bicycle is an investment, they pay themselves off in no time. 

There is, of course, the convenience factor as well. You can’t exactly ride your regular bicycle in the rain or snow, but the elements can’t stop you from getting a great workout inside of your home. You, can even watch television, catch up on the pages of your current novel, and keep an eye on your kids at the same time.

Last, but not least, you’re in the comfort of your home! Exercising in private is an exquisite luxury, especially with everything you could ever need within walking distance. Go ahead, get sweaty. Nobody’s watching.

The Anatomy of Powerful Fitness

With all of those health benefits, you might be wondering how such a simple device can pull it all off. What exactly goes into delivering such an intense and beneficial workout? Here’s what every stationary bicycle is made of.

The Saddle

This is your standard bicycle seat

It functions exactly how you would expect it to, and usually features an adjustment knob. The level of cushion depends on the brand, but you can typically swap it out for something more comfortable if you would like.

Pedals

Similar to the standard bike pedal, this is how you’ll get the gears moving. They’re connected to cranks that either move a chain or the wheel itself.

The Wheel

This is probably the biggest change between a standard bike and a stationary one.

The wheel is usually housed inside of the body, suspended off the ground. As you turn the pedals, you begin to rotate the wheel which provides resistance with its weight.

Handlebars

These are self-explanatory. Unless you buy an elliptical, they remain in one position and provide some extra cushioning for your hands. Some models feature their heart rate monitor in the handles.

The Body

This part is important. Some companies make them out of durable plastic while others still use various metals. Obviously, the latter is heavier, but either one is necessary to keep the moving parts closed. Children can suffer severe injury from sticking their fingers into open housing.

Stabilizers

These are equally as important. Without proper stabilization, you might end up toppling over and hurting yourself. Make sure to look at weight limits when as you are shopping around for models to save yourself a trip to the hospital.

The Meter

Not every stationary bike has a meter, but most do. These handy monitors can track your rates per minute, heartbeat, distance and more. Higher end models often feature virtual assistants to help motivate you or a mapping system that will replicate a specific area’s terrain.

These are great tools for tracking your fitness gains, even in the most basic of meters. Sometimes, just seeing that you rode an extra mile is all the motivation it takes to get on the bike again tomorrow.

Making It All Work

As you are pedaling, the wheel spins in one of two ways. Either it is connected to a chain like on a regular bike, where turning the pedals pulls the chain and spins the wheel, or it is connected directly.

A direct connection usually involves one wheel and one or two gears that all turn together as you are pedaling. The gears help to provide an extra level of resistance to the wheel, giving you the superb workout stationary bikes offer.

Variations for Individual Needs

Different models are more adept to different fitness needs.

There are three main models; Upright, Recumbent, and Spin Bike that each have a folding variant as well. 

Each has their benefits along with their drawbacks, which makes choosing the right model a matter of what you want out of your bike.

The Upright Model

This model resembles your regular outdoor bicycle and is the most common.

There is no back support, causing users to lean forward towards the handlebars and place their feet on their hips. If you’re looking for the sensation of riding a bike without heading outdoors, then this might be your best option.

Upright bikes have been a staple in gyms across the continent for decades, and new models are offering a variety of on-board features that enhance your workout routine. They have a distinct advantage over recumbent bikes with a cheaper price tag, making them the budget-friendly option for many.

They also take up far less space than, their counterparts, making them ideal for small to medium-sized rooms. The workout an upright bike offers can be leisurely or intense depending on how hard you are pedaling. That versatility makes them a great choice for beginners and advanced users alike.

Pros:

  • ​This is the most bike-like, making the experience familiar and user-friendly.
  • ​Their medium size saves a little room space.
  • ​They offer a versatile and intense workout.

​Cons:

  • ​There is no back support.
  • ​They aren’t always as stable, depending on the model.

​The Recumbent Model

This variant offers a reclined position with back support and front mounted pedals.

While the concept remains the same, ​best recumbent exercise bikes make staying in shape easier for anyone with back injuries as well as beginners.

The recumbent model provides a comfortable workout experience no matter how short or tall you might be with an easily adjustable chair, which also provides a larger area cushion for your bottom.

Pros:

  • ​The chair provides extra cushioning and a relaxed, comfortable workout.
  • ​There is zero strain on your joints, limbs, and back.
  • ​A steadier base provides added support.

​Cons:

  • The workout is not as intense as the upright version.
    he workout is not as intense as the upright version.

​Stationary Bike Stands

If affordability is the ultimate factor in choosing a stationary bicycle, then opting for a bike stand is the budget-friendly way to go.

This is a simple stand that you can mount your normal, outdoor bicycle onto.

The stand lifts the wheels off the ground to hold the bike firmly in place, allowing you to pedal until your heart is content right in the comfort of your home. In some models, only the back wheel is held off of the ground.

While there aren’t any fancy high-tech additions, the ability to make the most of a bicycle you already own is a great advantage. You can also get the same features a top of the line monitor would have on a smartphone app or fitness watch.

Pros:

  • ​The base offers increased stability.
  • ​An adjustable resistance actively helps you up the ante on your workout.
  • ​You’re using the bicycle you are already familiar with.

​Cons:

  • ​The stable base does not require you to balance as if you are riding an upright model.
  • ​Some stands might not be very friendly to your frame. Make sure to find a model that won’t chip your paint or leave a dent.
  • ​The rear wheel tire will wear out faster than the front in back clamp only models.

​The Folding Model

These variations do not have a fixed-style seat, which allows them to fold up for easy and efficient storage.

While other models tend to be bulky and take up more space, folding bikes remain the ultimate solution for home gyms where space is of the essence. 

There are folding models for each of the three varieties, allowing anyone to easily save space while using the model of their choice. You can also take yours with you when travelling, which is great for vacations or visiting family over the holidays.

Pros:

  • ​They cost less than their non-foldable counterparts.
  • ​The ability to save on space is fantastic.
  • ​Assembly is a snap, and they are easily taken anywhere.

​Cons:

  • ​Most foldable models do not come equipped with the advanced features of their non-foldable counterparts. That usually means they come without a monitor.
  • ​Being foldable, the weight capacity is severely decreased.
  • ​Cycling enthusiasts will not benefit from these models.

A Multitude of Uses

What is it that you want your bike to do for you?

Improve your cardio?

Tone your Muscles?

Keep you agile?

An exercise bicycle offers a wide range of uses to accommodate an equally wide variety of fitness needs. Here’s what you can use yours for the next time you hop on for a ride.

Improving Cardio

This one is as simple as they come. The more you ride, the better your cardiovascular health become. A great way to measure your heart’s improving fitness is to measure your pulse right now while you are reading this.

Write that number down, so you remember what it is, then measures it again in two weeks. Make sure you measure your resting heart rate both times.

Strength Training

Cycling forces your lower body to exert itself in a way that is known as isotonic exercise. Your muscles are constantly expanding and contracting, working overtime for extended periods of time.

Whether you push hard the whole way through or practice interval training, you are getting an amazing strength boost. As you notice your muscles becoming stronger, keep upping the resistance to continue strengthening your lower body.

Weight Loss

The number one reason most people are working out for is to lose weight. Even as you change your diet, you still need active physical exercise if you want to see real results. Thankfully, a stationary bike provides all the workout you need.

Every rotation of the pedal is another step towards your goal, and a recumbent bike can make getting started that much easier. Plus, you never have to leave the comfort of your home, making this workout easier to fit into your schedule than heading to the gym.

Low-Risk Exercise

As we age, our bones and joints naturally become more fragile. The same is instantly true for anyone recovering from an injury. It is still important to get enough exercise to stay as healthy as possible, but too many workouts put undue stress on parts of the body.

Stationary bikes, especially the recumbent models, are perfect for physical therapy and staying active during the twilight years. Their boost to your health actively extends your life while keeping your body strong.

When using your bike for this purpose, take it easy. There’s no race to the finish line, just do what you can and enjoy the ride.

Improved Joint Mobility

Stemming off of the low-risk benefits of stationary cycling, your joint mobility is slowly improving during your workout. The longer you remain inactive, the more your joints swell and stiffen. This is especially true if you have arthritis.

Staying active and mobile is crucial to the health of your joints. A gently cycling regimen loosens up those stiff joints and reduces swelling caused by stagnation, which effectively combats deterioration caused by arthritis. You’ll also be able to stay active year-round since your bike is indoors.

Lower Body Bonanza

Are you looking to shape up your legs and glutes? A stationary bike delivers the exact type of workout you are looking for.

Cycling utilizes the muscles in your lower body to deliver a killer exercise guaranteed to turn you into a toned Greek god or goddess.

If you need proof, do a quick Google search for cyclist's legs. While you aren’t going to end up with Lance Armstrong-style muscles, you can see how effective cycling is.

Simply Good Health

Some people use their bikes as a means to simply stay healthy, and that’s an excellent use of these devices. All of the above actively work to promote good health and wellbeing.

Maybe you work long hours at the office or are a stay at home mom. Either limit the amount of exercise you partake in. A stationary bicycle is an amazing remedy to your fitness situation.

Setting up Your Bike

Aside from following the step by step directions that come in the package, you’ll want to consider setting the resistance if your model requires this to be done manually. 

How Will You Exercise?

The first is the type of exercising you will be using the bike for.

Obviously, the point is to pedal, but you may want to consider whether or not your regimen includes HIIT or Tabata interval training.

Setting the resistance to the right weight can help you here, especially if you plan to use your bike for strength training. Without the proper setup, your high-intensity portion will just leave the wheel spinning while your legs are working harder for no extra result.

On the other hand, if you plan to use yours for joint health or recovery, then you would want to make sure the resistance is set to a minimum to alleviate any extra pressure on your legs.

While choosing a model with an automated monitor can take care of this for you with the press of a few buttons, those without the expensive high-end models should take this into consideration.

How to Make the Most of Your Workout

When applying any of the uses above, it is important to make the most out of every workout. Here are a few tips to help you reap the benefits without overworking yourself.

Adjust Your Seat!

The number one error people make is not adjusting their seat. Just like buying a new car, finding the right seating position is crucial to your use of the machine.

Start by placing your feet on the pedal while sitting down, then move your seat forward or backwards until your leg is fully extended. Then, all you have to do is adjust it a little further so that your leg has a slight bend in it.

Stretch First, Always

Just like any other exercise, start your routine with some stretching to limber up your muscles. Whether you prefer static or dynamic stretching, make sure to give your body about 10 minutes to warm up and get ready to ride.

Continuing Your Warm Up

While you might be eager to start pedaling like a madman, starting out slow is highly beneficial for your body. Pedaling lightly for 5 minutes before diving into the bulk of your workout increased your core temperature which leads to better calorie burning. It will also help you avoid injuries and cramps.

Keeping Proper Form

Weightlifters focus on their form to make the most of each rep, runners focus on theirs to make each step count, and focusing on yours helps to burn the most calories.

No matter which model you are using, keep your back aligned and work on keeping your upper body as still as possible. This keeps the workout focused on your mid and lower body to maximize its effect.

Selecting the Right Resistance

Setting too high of a resistance off the bat is only working to your disadvantage. Tiring out faster and making yourself sore only deters you from the continued use of your stationary bike.

Pick a resistance you are comfortable using for more than 30 minutes, then work your way up from there as your legs become stronger. It is more important to raise your heart rate than it is to push your leg muscles to their limit.

Intervals, Intervals, Intervals

Pedaling straight through is a great way to get started using your bike, but its full potential is unlocked when you start interval training.

Interval training is mixing short, intense bursts of intensity in with longer, mellower periods of light pedaling. This actively works to increase your strength while keeping your calorie burn at a steady level.

Pick a Duration

A large reason new exercise programs fail is that individuals do not stick with a specific workout length. Picking a duration for your cycling helps you to stick with your routine while making it more effective.

Ideally, you should be cycling for 30 to 45 minutes a day for at least three days out of the week. Feel free to exercise more anytime you feel like it, but don’t skimp on your duration.

Keep Your Mind Busy

When the burn sets in, you might find yourself suddenly wanting to hop off of your bike and call it quits for the day. On the other hand, you might get bored just sitting in a room pedaling away. You need to keep your mind busy during the exercise.

Resistance Makes the Difference

Without proper resistance, a fitness bike is just a spinning wheel, and all the hard work you put into your workout will yield little to no results. So, how can you get the proper resistance during your workout?

There are four different types of resistance:

  • ​Brake-based systems
  • ​Direct-contact resistance
  • ​Magnetic resistance
  • ​And Fan-based resistance

​Brake-Based Resistance

Also known as Flywheel-based, brake-based resistance systems are the staple of the stationary bike community. The system features a heavy metal weight that sits near the front end of the spinning wheel.

As you pedal, the disk stores energy that increases the resistance the faster you go. This provides gradual resistance as your workout becomes more intense. Most brake-based systems can provide up to 40 or 50 pounds of resistance.

The limited weight can be a downside for those who want to push their strength training to new heights. Luckily, they can always be replaced with heavier ones.

Direct-Contact Resistance

Friction is the name of the game when it comes to direct-contact resistance brakes. Sturdy breaking pads are fitted alongside and above the wheel to provide a braking effect, just like a standard street or road bike.

Once the pads come into contact with the wheel, the rotation decelerates, and resistance is applied. This requires you to use extra pedaling force to maintain your momentum, effectively increasing the intensity of your workout.

If you have ever tried to keep pedaling your bike while applying the brakes as a kid, then you know how difficult this can be. The resistance is accurate, reliable, and strong.

Stationary bicycles with this form of braking often feature a gear that adjusts the resistance. Unfortunately, these pads do wear down over time and need to be replaced.

Magnetic Resistance

The magnetic version of resistance has taken over the high-intensity cycling community by storm, making itself more popular than the traditional direct-contact method.

In this system, two powerful magnets provide an alternate charge to the wheel. This causes the magnets to attract and forcibly stabilize the wheel for increased resistance without ever having to touch it.

Stationary models with this system usually have an interface on their console or monitor that you can adjust anytime during your workout.

While this does increase the price tag of your device, it also saves you expensive maintenance costs while offering a superior level of resistance.

Fan-based Resistance

This style of resistance does not utilize a wheel at all. Instead, there is a massive fan that takes its place. How can this benefit you?

For starters, there are next to no maintenance costs when it comes to the fan. It operates quietly and provides a cool breeze during your workout. Plus, is provides a steady increase of resistance the faster you ride.

The only downside is that these cycles cost an awful lot more than the previous resistance based models. That cost might be offset by the low maintenance fee, but that is up to you to decide.

Trainers and Rollers: What You Need to Know

There are two main types of spin bake racks; trainers and rollers.

Knowing the difference between the two can help you choose the right model for your indoor and outdoor biking lifestyle.

Trainers

A trainer holds the back wheel of a regular bicycle in place to keep the entire vehicle from moving as you pedal. They connect to the back wheel to provide an excellent level of support whether you choose to ride on or off the saddle, and are a cinch to store or transport.

Not every model fits with every bicycle, so make sure to check compatibility with the manufacturer beforehand. There is also the chance of wearing out your back tire faster with trainer’s applied resistance. However, this shouldn’t be much more noticeable than normal wear and tear.

Rollers

Rollers are a set of three, well, rollers with two that cradle the back wheel and one to help the front wheel roll as well. They are held between two metal bars, and your bike is simply placed right on top.

While they do not offer the same level of balance that a trainer does, they are far more physically engaging while improving your form at the same time. This provides a more intense workout, but you may want to start out with a trainer until you are used to riding your bike indoors.

Which is Better?

That choice is entirely up to you. Each offers a great workout with its benefits. If space is an issue or you are worried about stability, then go with a trainer. If you want a more realistic ride and a more intense workout, stick with the roller.

Simple Maintenance

Your owner’s manual should provide a set of instruction for maintenance specific to your device, but it is good to know a few basic maintenance steps for preventative care.

Start by cleaning off the covers and the frame to help keep the body in pristine condition. This can also help to remove dust from the outer casing of fan-based resistance models. Afterwards, vacuum out the interior to remove any dirt or dust that might linger in the wheel chamber.

Cleaning of the friction belt is a great way to save yourself a replacement down the road, as are greasing the pivots to eliminate unnecessary friction. It is also advisable to check the springs and cables. Either one going bad will render your workout null and void.

If your model features a chain, lubricate just like you would a normal bicycle, then check the shocks to make sure the entire system is running properly. If you have an electrical system, it doesn’t hurt to see if everything is properly connected.

Finally, clean off your handrails and turn on your monitor to check for any errors. That’s all there is to it, and it only takes about five minutes.

Wrapping Up and Riding Out

That’s everything you need to know about exercise bikes from top to bottom and start to finish. People have been enjoying the health and fitness benefits of stationary bikes for centuries, and so can you.

Whether you are looking for a high-intensity workout, a fun way to lose weight, or a fitness routine that won’t cause undue strain on your joints and bones, choosing to add this fitness device to your home will increase your overall wellbeing and bring about a positive change in your health.

Make sure to find a bike that offers the features you need for your intended use. Higher resistances are great for higher intensity training, while recumbent seats are better for a comfortable and leisurely workout. It is also important to consider which type of resistance you want and what additional features you might want to add on.

Now that you’re an expert in exercise bicycles, you can make an educated buying decision and find the perfect model for you.

About the Author Max Shumpert

Over the last few years, I’ve taken my love of the outdoors, hiking, skiing, trekking and exploring to the next level by starting this site. I started a bike shop in Denver, CO, and have seen amazing growth over the last few years. Getting paid to do what I love has been a dream come true for me. That’s also what led me to start BikesReviewed.com. In my shop, I spend a large amount of time helping people find the perfect bike for them and the style of biking they’re going to be doing. It only made sense that I expanded my reach and got online, making it possible for me to help people all over the world. If biking and staying fit is your priority, too, you’ve come to the right place.

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