What is the best kind of exercise bike?

Updated May 10, 2017

Having an exercise bike at home can be a good option if riding outside is difficult or on days when the weather is bad. There are different kinds and styles of bikes to choose from. The type of bike you pick should be based on how vigorous a workout you are looking for. Another consideration is if you are dealing with joint replacements or injuries. Picking the right bike will help you get a good workout without overstressing the body.


Riding a stationary exercise bike has many benefits. These bikes provide aerobic or cardiovascular exercise. Exercise bikes are a good option for those who find walking or other weight-bearing exercise too painful. They are also helpful for those who have had knee or hip replacement since they provide range-of-motion exercise to regain flexibility in the joints after surgery.


There are many types of exercise bikes to choose from. The two main kinds are upright and recumbent. An upright bike is similar to a regular bicycle. You sit on a small seat, and the pedals are underneath the seat. A recumbent bike has a larger seat with a back support, and the pedals are at almost the same height as the seat. Upright bikes usually have more variety when it comes to features, and they are smaller and usually lighter. However, they can be problematic for those with joint concerns or balance and mobility issues. They require some balance and flexibility to get on, and they can create tension in the back, hips and knees. Recumbent bikes are easier to get on since they are lower to the ground. Your hips and back are better protected because your legs are stretched out in front of you versus being underneath you. In addition, the seats usually have a back to them. If you have concerns, talk with your physical therapist or trainer and try a few different bikes to see what works best. You may have to go with a larger and heavier bike to protect your joints.


Basic lightweight bikes allow you to adjust the seat height and pedal tension. Exercise bikes can also have consoles where you can select different programs. They can also provide you with information such as how far you have ridden and number of calories burnt. While it is great to have all of this information, the console should not be your sole focus when it comes to deciding which bike to get. On some models, the handlebars move to work your upper body as well, but some of these models are not very stable. When choosing an exercise bike, the first concern should be how comfortable the seat is and how smooth the pedals feel when riding. Find which types of bikes fit you first, then look at console and handlebar choices. Everyone's body is different, so it is important to actually get on the bike and try it.


Another consideration is how much tension you need the bike to have. On the more basic, nonelectric and less-expensive models, setting the tension may be as simple as turning a knob. However, the tension settings with these bikes are limited. If you are recovering from surgery, the tension may be too much, even at the lowest setting. In contrast, if you are in good shape, the tension may not be enough. Both upright and recumbent bikes can also be electric and allow you to adjust the tension using a console. The tension can go from almost nonexistent to very tight, giving you a good range to choose from. This also allows you to make minor adjustments as you get stronger. There are also upright bikes used for indoor spinning or cycling classes. The tension on these bikes can go very high, and they are built so you can pedal while standing. These bikes are a good option for those looking for an intense workout. However, they are quite heavy and expensive. Here again, know your body and what your goals and needs are before choosing a bike.

Expert Insight

Riding an exercise bike is a very repetitive motion. If overdone, it can actually stress the joints. Also, riding an exercise bike is not considered weight-bearing exercise since you are sitting down. This is a concern for those with or at risk for osteoporosis. It is important to balance riding your bike with other activities. If your joints are sensitive to weight-bearing exercise, try swimming or water aerobics. If possible, alternate days you ride with a brisk walk on the other days.

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About the Author

I hold a Master's degree in exercise physiology/health promotion. I am a certified fitness specialist through the American College of Spots Medicine and an IYT certified yoga teacher. I have over 25 years experience teaching classes to both general public and those with chronic illness. The above allows me to write directly to the reader based on personal experiences.