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The Best Cheap Exercise Bikes for Your Indoor Workouts

Daily Exercise

The Best Cheap Exercise Bikes for Your Indoor Workouts

Photo credit: Staff From Bicycling Busy roads, rainy days, your own personal time constraints. These are just a few reasons why riding inside is sometimes the better, safer, or more convenient choice. If you’re looking to get a quick indoor workout—without the crowded studio, enthusiastic instructor, and blaring music that often accompanies a spin class—consider […]

Photo credit: Staff
Photo credit: Staff

From Bicycling

Busy roads, rainy days, your own personal time constraints. These are just a few reasons why riding inside is sometimes the better, safer, or more convenient choice. If you’re looking to get a quick indoor workout—without the crowded studio, enthusiastic instructor, and blaring music that often accompanies a spin class—consider one of these affordable stationary bikes that allow you to boost your mood and fitness in the comfort of your own home. Before you start shopping, read on to know what to look for.

Proper Fit Matters, Even on a Stationary Bike

Just like with a regular bicycle, if you want the best experience on your indoor bike, it’s important to get the proper fit. In fact, Spinning global brand ambassador Josh Taylor recommends finding an indoor cycling bike that puts you in the same position as the bike you’re accustomed to riding outside. If your daily rider is a road bike, for example, look for an indoor cycling bike with a handlebar option that both incorporates a traditional bullhorn bar and mimics the hand-position options of drops and brake hoods. However, if you’re already used to taking studio classes, an indoor cycling bike with just the traditional bullhorn-style bar will work great, says Ben Sharp, power education specialist at Stages.

Resistance Types: Fan vs. Flywheel

When you’re riding an outdoor bike, you’re working mostly against gravity as you pedal. In order to recreate that sensation and effort on a stationary bike, manufacturers have to simulate that resistance in some way. Most choose to use a fan or a flywheel (a weighted disc that spins as you pedal).

Flywheels work by storing inertia as they spin, smoothing out the pedal stroke to eliminate that choppy up and down motion you’d otherwise experience. For most budget spin bikes, a heavier flywheel means a smoother ride, though some bikes opt for a superlight (8-pound) flywheel that maintains its inertia by spinning four times as fast instead. And since the pedals on spin bikes are fixed to the flywheel (no coasting), the smooth-moving mechanism helps keep your pedaling consistent. These bikes will usually have a knob or lever that allows you to adjust the resistance, making it harder or easier to pedal, independent of your pedaling speed.

Fan-operated resistance bikes are a bit simpler: As you pedal, the fan blades are pushing against the air around the machine. Your cadence (how fast you’re spinning the pedals) is directly related to the amount of effort required to push the pedals, meaning these bikes don’t allow you to spin at a fast cadence with low resistance, which can be nice for warming up or cooling down.

How We Selected

For the purpose of this article, we looked for bikes under $1,000 with adequate resistance to provide a quality workout and offer a wide range of adjustability to fit a variety of users. (If you’re more serious about your indoor workout and want a more life-like cycling experience, check out our tests of the Peloton, Wahoo Kickr Bike, and other high-end models.) We consulted experts, trusted sources, and consumer reviews on Amazon as well as company websites to determine the best ones based on our extensive experience testing bikes and stationary bikes. We also relied on our previous knowledge of and experience riding similar products, as well as input from test editor and spin instructor Riley Missel, to select which qualities and builds were most important in a solid affordable stationary bike. Here are seven we recommend.

Bowflex C6 Bike

This is one of our favorite stationary bikes because it has the most capability at a very reasonable price. The bike itself is high-quality and very adjustable, but what makes it stand out is the Bluetooth connectivity. With the C6, you can connect with apps like Peloton, Zwift, and Schwinn Trainer to join community rides and track progress. The monitor displays time ridden, speed, mileage, heart rate, and resistance level. It doesn’t display wattage or precise RPMs (it shows them on a scale). However, it does measure them—and you can see that data when connected to third-party training apps. The flywheel is smooth and heavy, and you can crank the resistance up very high—it has 100 incremental resistance levels that adjust via a knob. The C6 has toe cages so you can ride it in regular running shoes, or flip the pedals over and clip in with Shimano SPD cleats. Sneak in your workout any time of the day or night because this thing is silent. It comes with a heart rate monitor you wear on your forearm and a pair of three-pound dumbbells so you can get a light upper-body workout in, too.

Spinner L1

If all these flashy indoor bikes have your head, well, spinning, and you find yourself longing for a basic bike (as in a real bike), the Spinner L1 is a no-frills model built around the original indoor bike design that ignited the Spinning craze over 20 years ago. It also happens to be the cheapest on our list—for every Peloton, you can buy six L1s. A weighted, chain-driven flywheel simulates momentum, and saddle height and setback, as well as handlebar height, are easy to adjust. You can’t tweak the reach, but the bullhorn-style bar extends far enough forward to make up for that lack of adjustment. Resistance, which you fine-tune using a knob that pushes a leather pad against the flywheel, feels steady until you really crank it down, then it gets a little inconsistent. But for the other 99.8 percent of the time, this bike is great at what it does, providing a traditional, uncomplicated indoor workout.

Assault Fitness Airbike Classic

This updated version of the timeless cardio machine has a steel fan—the harder you push, pull, and pedal, the greater the resistance. It’s designed to be very durable and smooth, built with a steel frame and all moving parts surrounded by bearings. The company reports the machine has a total weight of around 100 pounds, so you can ramp up the effort and that thing will stay put (no promises about maintaining your downstairs neighbors’ peace and quiet, though). The console displays time, distance, calories, watts, RPMs, and speed, and can be programmed for workouts based on heart rate, watts, or intervals, or just calorie, distance, or time goal. It also has a small shelf for your phone or tablet.

Yosuda Indoor Cycling Bike

This budget-priced, belt-driven bike operates a 35-pound flywheel that provides a smooth and quiet ride. The resistance is adjustable via a knob regardless of pedaling speed. It also has an emergency brake that stops the flywheel immediately, if necessary. According to Yosuda, the seat height adjusts to fit riders with inseams from 25 to 35 inches, and allows riders to adjust the handlebar height, as well as the fore-aft alignment, of the padded saddle. Using the single-button monitor, you can scroll through your time, speed, distance, and calories burned as you exercise. Just below the monitor is a platform for a phone or tablet (though some reviewers noted that it was a bit on the flimsy side). The heavy-duty steel frame is designed to provide stability and durability, but is mobile if you tip it up onto the small wheels on the front edge for easy relocation.

Sunny Health & Fitness Indoor Cycling Bike

If you find data displayed in your face to be annoying, consider a monitor-less model like this Sunny Health & Fitness. Similar to the Yosuda, this stationary cycle is flywheel-driven. The steel frame keeps it planted as you crank out your toughest efforts, and the 49-pound flywheel has resistance that’s adjustable by a knob mounted on the top tube. The nearly 20-pound difference in flywheel weight between this bike and the Yosuda above creates more inertia and is meant to increase real-world ride feel and a smoother pedal stroke. The belt drive system is quiet, and an emergency brake allows you to stop the pedals quickly. Pedal cages help keep your sneakers on the platforms for safety and efficient power output. The handlebar and seat adjust up and down, and you can position the seat more forward or back to your liking.

Synergy Magnetic Indoor Cycling Bike

This indoor bike, with a heavy frame that supports riders weighing up to 275 pounds, features a belt-driven 30-pound flywheel controlled by magnetic resistance. Bikes that use magnets instead of felt pads tend to feel smoother when you’re really cranking down on the resistance. The belt drive system is quieter than a chain, requires less maintenance, and is more resistant to corrosion from sweat than a tradition chain. This bike also has water bottle mounts and dumbbell and tablet holders. A digital display at the handlebar shows speed, distance, time, rpm, calories burned, odometer, and heart rate thats read from sensors on the handlebar. Saddle height is easily adjustable, and Synergy claims the bike will fit riders with inseam lengths from as short as 27 inches all the way up to 37.5 inches. Pedal cages let you ride without buying special shoes.

Schwinn 170 Upright Exercise Bike

While other bikes on this list put the rider in a more traditional cycling position, the Schwinn 170 Upright Exercise Bike, as the name suggests, has the rider sitting almost perfectly upright. The control console displays workout metrics and lets you toggle through 25 levels of resistance for a manual workout, or choose from one of the 29 pre-programmed workouts. That console also sports an auxiliary port connected to speakers, a USB charging port, and a three-speed fan. Large platform pedals with a wide strap make it easy to go full gas, while wearing sneakers, without fear of your feet flying off the pedals. Schwinn claims this bike is suitable for riders weighing up to 300 pounds.

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