You can buy an exercise bike for between $200 to $2,000. Pricier machines generally have sturdier designs and more features, but some bargain-priced machines can offer a good workout. Running is the gold standard for cardiorespiratory fitness, but exercise bikes might help strengthen your legs, hips, and glutes more than running because you can ramp up the resistance to work your muscles harder.
There are two kinds of exercise bikes. The traditional upright type resembles a regular bicycle; a recumbent bike has back support. They provide similar workouts; an upright might work your glutes better because you can fully extend your hips. Because body weight is supported, both types are options for people who have difficulty with balance or have lower-limb injuries. A recumbent might be more comfortable for those with back problems.
How to choose
To find the right machine for you, be sure to try before you buy. Exercise bikes vary in size and shape, so when you're shopping for one, adjust it for your size in the store. Look for a comfortable seat and pedals that fit your feet.
We found a few ergonomic and comfort quibbles with some bikes. On one bike we tested, the seat can adjust for users up to 6 feet 2 inches, but we found that anyone over about 5 feet 8 inches hit their knees on the handlebars. On another bike the handlebars were a long reach for some, and on a third bike, the seat was uncomfortable.
Watch the warranties
Look for a warranty that provides at least two to three years of coverage on major moving parts and a year for labor. Survey data on the probability of failure and repair costs showed that extended warranties are probably not a good deal.
Decide which extra features are important to you: simple ones like a water bottle holder or book rest, or more interactive ones like video games.
Look for a clear display with easy-to-use controls. A good one will show some combination of your heart rate, calories burned, speed, revolutions per minute (RPM), and resistance levels, and details such as time and distance.
Consider machines with programs that allow you to adjust routines based on your fitness level and have heart-rate-controlled workouts that consider your age, weight, and gender.
Those with a chest strap are best; they don't impede your movement. Contact monitors measure your heart rate only when you're touching them, which can be inconvenient. Stand-alone heart-rate monitors are available for about $28 to $100. (See our buying guide to heart-rate monitors.)
Look for a machine that is easy to adjust and has a variety of workout levels. Most exercise bikes have electronic resistance control. All of the tested bikes can be adjusted electronically by using the controls.
Exercise bikes have many moving parts and can be hazardous, so follow directions. Make sure that your exercise bike is locked and out of children's reach, and keep young children away from equipment without safety locks. Make sure children are kept away from your exercise bike while it is in use.