Cheap Exercise Bikes
- Published on
- By Elizabeth Sheer
Whether you're rehabilitating a sore knee, training for your next triathlon, or just starting out with an exercise or weight-loss regimen, a cheap exercise bike is a valuable addition to your home gym. Medical experts and trainers praise exercise bicycles, a.k.a. stationary or workout bikes, for their low-impact workout (gentle on joints) and ease of use. A cheap exercise bike is far less costly than a gym membership, and the convenience factor increases the chances you'll actually use it. An in-home exercise bike lets you fit in a 30-minute workout while watching your favorite TV show, saves you the bother and expense of special clothing or shoes needed for other forms of exercise, and frees you from worries about the weather. Better yet, some experts actually recommend an exercise bike that's cheap, particularly if you're a newbie and not sure whether you'll stick with it. The most important thing, they say, is to get up and get moving.
Cheap Exercise Bikes Buying Guide
Staying healthy and keeping motivated doesn't have to mean spending up to $4,000 for a spinner bike with thousands of customized workouts and a built-in high-resolution data/entertainment screen. It's equally possible to get a good workout with a cheap exercise bike that costs less than $400, although Allexercisebikes.net suggests springing for a pricier model if you expect to ride more than five miles a day. Major players in the home exercise bikes market include Cybex, Healthrider, Kettler, LifeCycle, Nautilus, NordicTrack, Precor, ProForm, Schwinn, and Stamina.
There are several types of cheap exercise bikes. Upright exercise bikes mimic the experience of an actual bicycle. Spine specialists say the forward leaning position on an upright exercise bike is particularly good for people with spinal stenosis or osteoarthritis. Spinner bikes are a type of upright bicycle that's acquired a following in recent years, particularly in gym exercise classes and among die-hard cyclists who use it as an indoor training alternative. Recumbent exercise bikes let you sit back while pedaling with your legs out front. Recumbent exercise bikes are recommended for seniors, people with joint problems, and those just starting out, but may provide a less strenuous cardio workout. Dual action exercise bikes have handlebars that move, thus incorporating your upper body and delivering a more complete workout. Most, but not all, dual action models are priced beyond the Cheapism range. And finally, you can always convert a bicycle you already own into an exercise bike with a stand that costs about $50.
Regardless which type of cheap exercise bike suits your fitness level and goals, it should possess several critical qualities. Chief among them is comfort -- because any exercise bike that irritates is one you won't use -- so pay attention to the seat and the bike's size. You should be able to sit for extended periods and be confident that your knees won't hit the handlebars and your feet can reach the pedals. (Consumer Reports found that the specs for some models overstate the maximum user height that can be comfortably accommodated.) Also check the maximum weight a cheap exercise bike can handle. Expensive, gym-quality stationary bikes are good up to 350 pounds but the maximum weight on cheap exercise bikes usually stops at 250 or 300 pounds. If possible, test-ride the equipment before committing.
Also be on the lookout for certain features. A good cheap exercise bike can be adjusted to your improving fitness levels by letting you increase the resistance you feel as you pedal. Many cheap exercise bikes come with a number of preset resistance levels as well as workout programs that can be customized or ignored. Consoles with a workout tracker that keep tabs on your progress are common, and a few cheap exercise bikes even come with heart rate monitors and screens that display calming scenes (like vacation spots), video games, or workouts led by fitness gurus.
Among the many brands and models out there, we found several high-quality, cheap exercise bikes that should suit your frugal budget. Our two favorites are recumbent exercise bikes that give value for the price. The Schwinn 240 Recumbent (starting at $399) stands out for the variety of workout programs, build quality, and the ease of kicking it up (or down) a notch, and the Marcy Recumbent Mag Cycle (starting at $154) wins points for its low price and quiet and smooth operation. Our runner-up choices include the ProForm 290 Indoor Cycle Trainer (starting at $297), a bare-bones, mechanical upright spinning cycle that provides an intense workout, and the NordicTrack Upright Exercise Cycle GX 2.0 (starting at $299), which boasts plenty of challenging preset programs and a rich feature set. We also found one exercise bike that isn't all it could be. The Stamina 15-0200 InTone Folding Recumbent Bike (starting at $153) scores with its small footprint, storability, and ease of assembly but is sabotaged by durability issues.
Exercise Bike Programs, Exercise Bike Resistance
Bikes Ergonomics.The key to successful exercycling is a comfortable fit. For starters, a good cheap stationary bike should be height-adjustable. That is, you should be able to raise and lower the saddle (i.e., seat) so you can pedal smoothly and comfortably. A seat that's too high forces you to overextend knees and ankles; a seat that's too low means your knees collide with the handlebars. The Schwinn 240 Recumbent (starting at $399), Marcy Recumbent Mag Cycle (starting at $154), ProForm 290 SPX Indoor Cycle Trainer (starting at $297), and NordicTrack Upright GX 2.0 (starting at $299) all feature adjustable seats; on the latter two, that means both horizontally and vertically.Still, not every model can accommodate every person. In a review on QVC of the Stamina 15-0200 InTone Recumbent Bike (starting at $153), a 5'8" rider says he's raised the seat as high as possible and doubts it would suit anyone taller. And shorter riders may find the Marcy Mag a bit awkward, according to reviews posted on Amazon.
A comfortable seat is another requirement, regardless whether your exercise sessions are long or short. Recumbent exercise bikes, like the Marcy Mag and semi-reclining Stamina 15-0200 InTone, generally feature a seat back, and some, like the Schwinn 240, add lumbar support. Upright bikes, like the Nordic Track GX 2.0, feature a seat that's much like a standard bike saddle.
Specs for the stationary bikes we researched all say the seats are padded, but some users have their own opinions about just how much padding is present. Several reviews of the ProForm 290 SPX on Sports Authority, for example, complain about the hard feel of the seat and suggest swapping it out for a gel seat or one with more padding. On the other hand, experts say hard seats on spinning bikes like the ProForm 290 SPX encourage riders to do most of their exercising standing up, which is the intended position.
Exercise Bike Programs.Preset exercise bike programs help orient your exercise sessions around specific fitness goals, be they fat burning, cardio, or interval training. The recumbent Schwinn 240 features 18 built-in exercise bike programs and the upright NordicTrack GX 2.0 boasts 18 (a separate iFit Live module that includes workouts provided by Google Maps and fitness trainer Jillian Michaels ups the ante by more than $100). Alternatively, you can customize an exercise bike program with these two stationary bikes or just hop on and improvise. With the recumbent Marcy Mag, the spinner-type ProForm 290 SPX, and the semi-recline Stamina 15-0200 InTone, you're on your own entirely.
We found that exercise bike programs appeal to users, although the sheer number and complexity of the electronic settings can be daunting. Numerous reviews of the Schwinn 240 say the instructions are so confusing that users couldn't figure out how to get the programs going. One review of the NordicTrack GX 2.0 says the ten hill-climbing and eight interval exercise bike programs are as many as you'd ever need.
Exercise Bike Resistance.The intensity of your workout depends in large part on the resistance in the pedaling. As your strength improves, you'll want to up the exercise bike resistance so that you're working at your optimum. If you prefer interval workouts (resistance changes throughout the session to keep things interesting), electronic adjustment is helpful; you'll find this feature on the Schwinn 240 (16 preset resistance levels) and NordicTrack GX2.0 (20 preset levels). Adjusting the resistance on the Marcy Mag (eight preset levels) requires manually turning a knob. With the ProForm 290 SPX, just flip the pedals over. All that's needed to increase resistance in the Schwinn Airdyne (starting at $589) is more oomph in your pedaling; here, wind is the resistance source rather than the usual magnetics found on the best stationary bikes.For some exercisers, though, the preset exercise bike resistance levels have dubious value. Several reviews of the Marcy Mag question whether the exercise bike's resistance levels are sufficient for serious fitness gains, noting that the difference between levels seems minimal. Several user reviews of the Stamina 15-0200 InTone suggest that people who are in really good shape might max out quickly with this model. Hard-core athletes and generally fit exercisers will probably get the best results from an upright stationary bike, like the ProForm 290 SPX spin bike, or a model with more exercise bike resistance levels, like the Schwinn 240 or NordicTrack GX 2.0.
Best Exercise Bikes, Compact Exercise Bikes
Workout Bikes Pedals.
If you're pedaling like crazy on your workout bike, you don't want to worry about your feet slipping off. Some low-cost models, like the Stamina 15-0200 InTone, have non-slip foot pedals. The best exercise bikes feature more secure confinement methods. The ProForm 290 SPX spinning bike has a toe cage, essential if you're pedaling while standing. Others, such as the Schwinn 240, Marcy Mag, and NordicTrack GX 2.0, have pedal straps that wind around your feet for a snug fit.
Workout Bikes Console and Gadgets.
The best exercise bikes typically come with a console that displays a variety of useful information, such as resistance level, workout module, calories burned, speed, time elapsed, and, depending on the model, heart rate. All the workout bikes we researched except the ProForm 290 SPX and Stamina 15-0200 InTone feature data-laden consoles.
But don't necessarily believe what's displayed. We read numerous reports from slightly irritated users who insist that the readouts, especially for metrics like calories burned, pulse rate, and heart rate, aren't particularly accurate. (Among the models on our best exercise bikes list, only the Schwinn 240 and Nordic Track GX 2.0 track heart rate.) Moreover, as with any electronic component, the consoles may be susceptible to malfunctions -- and repairs can be pricey. If an impressive screen with readouts that truly reflect your progress is important to you, be prepared to pay up for a higher-end model.Extras found on the best exercise bikes, such as an in-console CD player, MP3 port, speakers, fan, and LCD screen or TV, certainly aren't necessary but can add fun and comfort to your workout. They also add to the base cost and are rarely found on lower-end workout bikes. Still, some budget models include a few frills that enhance enjoyment. The ProForm 290 CSR Recumbent Bike (starting at $400) barely qualifies as cheap with a starting price of $400, but it does feature a small monitor that plays, among other things, two interactive games that reward your hard work (i.e., faster pedaling) with easier play. The console on the NordicTrack GX 2.0 breaks out of the cheap pack of best exercise bikes on our list with a sound system and port for an iPod. The Schwinn 240 comes with a reading rack, a basket to store reading materials, and a water bottle holder. The ProForm 290 SPX also provides a holding place for liquid refreshment.
Workout Bikes Storage.Upright bikes are smaller and lighter than recumbents and take up less floor space. The Stamina 15-0200 InTone folds into a compact unit for easy storage. If your home is small, this may be a particularly important feature, although the inconvenience of setting up and taking down may deter you from sticking with your exercise routine. The larger workout bikes, like the Schwinn 240, Marcy Mag, ProForm 290 SPX, and NordicTrack GX 2.0, have wheels that allow you to move them out of the way.
Workout Bikes Warranty.Warranties vary on the models we researched. The NordicTrack GX 2.0 offers a lifetime warranty on the frame and one year on parts and labor. The Schwinn 240 provides five years on the frame and one year on parts and electronics. The ProForm 290 SPX offers a five-year warranty on the frame and 90 days on parts and labor. The Marcy Mag has a two-year warranty and the Stamina 15-0200 InTone offers 90 days on parts and three years on the frame.
Exercise Bike Reviews
A few fitness websites test and review the top exercise bikes each year, but we found the most extensive feedback comes from consumers who buy and use the exercise equipment at home. On the whole, exercise bike reviews indicate that consumers are pretty happy with their purchases. The key is choosing one of the top exercise bikes that suits your workout needs. And that decision, say exercise bike reviews, also involves ease of assembly, comfort, and durability.
Exercise Bikes Ease of Assembly.The lowest prices for exercise bikes are generally found online, which means do-it-yourself assembly. Exercise bike reviews say the task is usually accomplished without much ado, but many note that two sets of hands are better than one (some instructions say likewise). Two people spent two hours putting together the NordicTrack BX 2.0, according to a post on the company's website, while assembling the Schwinn 240 takes about an hour and a half despite instructions that some exercise bike reviews on Amazon warn aren't particularly clear. Consumers say directions for the Marcy Mag are straightforward and construction requires about an hour. Rounding out and leading the field for user-friendly assembly are the ProForm SPX 290 and Stamina 15-0200 InTone. Exercise bike reviews on Buzzillions say assembling the ProForm 290 SPX is a no-brainer -- 15 minutes and six bolts, according to a couple of posts. Reviews on the Target site also say the Stamina 15-0200 InTone comes together in a snap.
Exercise Bikes Comfort.There's no denying it -- if you're not comfortable on your exercise bike, you're less likely to use it regularly. Recumbent bikes earn the highest marks in the comfort zone because they're easier on your back and shoulders than upright models. The dual-lumbar support on the Schwinn 240 and adjustable fit for various heights win praise in exercise bike reviews on the Schwinn site, and the Marcy Mag scores with a rider whose review on Amazon asserts that it's more comfortable than furniture. One hefty reviewer suggests getting up every 20 minutes or so and putting a pillow between the seat and the back rest for added comfort.The upright NordicTrack GX 2.0 earns stars for comfort, due partly to the horizontal and vertical adjustment options on the padded seat. A few users' exercise bikes review at Sears do gripe about the seat, though, but others high-five the comfort-enhancing adjustable handlebars. One reviewer writes that his legs don't get numb when riding this bike as they did with a different upright model.
Then there's the seat on the ProForm SPX 290. Although some purchasers understand that spinning bikes are used to best advantage in a standing position, rendering the seats superfluous, one customer writes in an exercise bikes review on Buzzillions that sitting felt like being on the short end of a wood plank. Reviews of top exercise bikes on Sports Authority also grouse about discomfort during extended, high-intensity workouts on this ProForm model.
The semi-recline design of the folding Stamina 15-0200 InTone fares less well on the comfort scale. Although many users like its easy-ride feel, taller users complain that the frame is too short In an exercise bikes review on Amazon, one handy purchaser tells of drilling an extra hole in the shaft to accommodate his extra height and another sets a book atop the seat. Other reviewers write of putting a small pillow on the seat for extra padding.