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Exercise Bike Programs, Exercise Bike Resistance
Exercise Bikes Features
Stationary 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, Amazon), Marcy Recumbent Mag Cycle (starting at $154, Amazon), ProForm 290 SPX Indoor Cycle Trainer (starting at $297, Amazon), 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, Amazon), 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, Amazon) 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.
Don't Bother Budget Exercise Bikes
Stamina 15-0200 InTone Folding Recumbent Bike Review
ProForm 290 SPX Indoor Cycle Trainer Review
NordicTrack Upright GX 2.0 Review
Schwinn 240 Recumbent Review
Marcy Recumbent Mag Cycle Review
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