Exercise Bike Buyer's Guide
Exercise bikes are a really effective, and low-impact, form of fitness equipment (see our range here). Moreover, they’re a natural action for us humans – something which can't be said for those whacky exercise inventions you see on late-night TV!
Commonly referred by physios, exercise bikes are effective for rehabilitation of all sorts of lower-limb injuries, but also for general fitness in your own home. Indeed, as a marathon runner myself, I tend to do around half my training on the road, but to avoid a recurring shin-splint issue, my doctor instructed me to do 2 sessions a week on an exercise bike – maintaining my heart’s fitness, burn off the calories, and not create stress for my shins.
Upright or Recumbent
You first need to ask yourself if you want an upright bike (the position we would normally associate with riding a bike) or recumbent (sitting back, lower to the ground, and cycling with your legs in front of you rather than under you).
Watch our new "which exercise bike type is right for me" video here if you need more on this...
“You get what you pay for”, just like most things in life.
At fitonline, we only sell national house-hold brand-name exercise equipment, so it goes without saying that any bike we sell comes out of a reputable factory, and the Australian distributor will stand behind its warranty and spare parts. I only mention this because, if you see a great deal from someone on eBay or a non-fitness retailer, there’s an excellent chance “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is”.
But that aside, and more importantly, within the ranges of the bike fitness brands like York Fitness and BodyWorx, you still “get what you pay for”.
The more you spend on an exercise bike;
- The sturdier the construction (and as a result, the higher the user weight capacity and the weight of the bike itself)
- The more features you still see in the console (more programs, better display type)
- The better features will creep into the bike specs, such as 3-piece crank, gel in the seat, larger “flywheel”, and self generating power.
It’s not the objective of this buyer’s guide to tell you which actual bike to buy or which brand is best, but you should flick through the specs sheets of the bikes and confirm which features you think are best for you (and your budget!).
If, like most people, you've already decided that an "upright exercise bike" is right for you, then please take a look at this Exercise Bike Buyer's Guide Video on the right.
It spells out all the different features of exercise bikes, and in particular, shows you in video-form what extra features and benefits come from spending more on a better bike.
As you watch, keep an eye on the glossary below to understand the terms!
But there’s one more thing which would be helpful – a definition of the key terms you will see throughout the spec sheets on fitonline (and elsewhere);
- “Console” – This is a removable computer unit at the top of the front of the bike which houses the display and the buttons. The better units have larger displays, more buttons, more automatic features (like programs) and in-built heart rate receivers.
- “Heart rate control” (“HRC”) refers to programs within the bike’s computer which change the resistance of the pedals depending on your heart-rate. If you ask the computer to keep your heart rate between 140 and 160 beats per minute, and assuming you are wearing your wireless chest strap (or holding onto the “hand pulse” units on cheaper bikes), the computer will sense when your heart rate goes outside that range and will increase or decrease the difficulty to pull you into line. Think of it as an in-built personal trainer! Great feature – you really have to get this!
- A “heart rate receiver” is the wireless receiver built into the console, and a “wireless chest strap” is a flexible strap which goes around your chest, constantly monitoring your heart rate and sending a signal to the receiver. This combination is superior to the “hand pulse” option, since the hand pulse is less accurate, and obviously only works if you have your hands firmly grasped onto the sensors on the handlebars.
- “Crank” refers to the metal rods which are connected to your pedals. Cheap bikes have a 1-piece crank, which means a single piece of bent metal goes from one pedal, through the centre of the bike and then out to the other pedal.
Anything bend loses strength, and is harder to replace, so higher quality bikes have “3-piece cranks”, which means there are no bent bits – 2 straight rods connect the pedals to another straight rod which goes through the centre of the bike.
- “Magnetic resistance” means that the resistance is created by magnets moving past each other. As magnets do not touch (rub), they are super quiet, and don’t wear out.
- “Electromagnetic resistance” – whereas standard Magnetic resistance is created by actual magnets in the bike, electromagnetic resistance is created by a magnetic field being generated by the computer. This comes in only the top-end bikes. Since there are no actual magnets to move past each other, the resistance is smoother, and the graduation between resistance levels is smoother
- “Self generating power system” means the bike doesn’t require mains power or batteries. You are generating the power needed by the computer as you pedal. How cool is that?!
- “Flywheel”. Inside the body of each bike is a thin metal wheel which spins around as you cycle. As all materials cost money, it’s true to say the cheaper the bike, the lighter the flywheel. What this means for the user, is that the lighter the flywheel, the less smooth is the cycling action, and the harder it is for the bike to maintain the momentum you put into it when cycling. Frankly, IMHO, the effect of this is overstated in our industry. I would actually challenge most people to tell the difference between a 7, 10, or 13kg flywheel, but at least you know the flywheel weight is a proxy for the quality of the bike’s internal parts.
- “Programs”. Often you will just want to cycle at your own pace, but at other times you may want there to be some externally-influenced variance to the session, and that’s where “programs” come in. A classic program is called “hills”. This means the bike (or treadmill, or elliptical – they’re all the same concept) will increase resistance for a while (to mimic you riding up a hill), then ease it off for a while (as though you’re on the flat, or going down the other side). The console will tell you where you are, and you can react just like you would on a real bike, pushing harder and getting more of a workout up the hill. But good bikes come with multiple “preset programs”, which means you can avoid the tedium of just peddling away at the same pace indefinitely!
- “User defined programs”. We’re all different, so the bike brands often let you build your own program. One I built for myself on my bike was an “easy start” program, which started really easy, then built up slowly until a decent resistance for the last half of the session. Once you set it up and save it, it’s yours for good (or until you change it again), so even the tastes of the most finicky customers can be fulfilled ! ;-)
- “Manual” versus “automatic” resistance, simply means whether you manually change the resistance (by turning a knob on the shaft of a manual bike), or whether the computer automatically changes the resistance (either in response to you pressing a button, or the programs changing it). “Manual resistance” bikes have no programs, by default, because there is no way for the console to change the resistance!
- “Step-through frame”. This simply refers to the fact that there is a larger gap between the base of the console shaft and the bike’s main body, which makes it easier to mount and dismount. Older people, or people with reduced flexibility or injury, will often seek this out.
- “Adjustable handlebars”. Almost every bike’s handlebars are one piece, connected to the shaft (just under the console) by a simple clamp. If you loosen the clamp, the handlebars will swing forward or backward, but don’t read anything more into the word “adjustable” than that. It simply means you can adjust the angle back or forward to better suit your own stance or height.
- “EN957” are a set of safety standards set in Europe by countries like Switzerland. They are broad, but difficult to achieve, and my favourite simple example is the plastic coating you find on the top of the metal prongs on some power plugs. The reason these are there is so, should a child shove a knife (or similar) into the gap between the plug and the board, while it’s plugged-in and turned on, they won’t get electrocuted. In short, items which have this EN957 rating have had a series of safety checks done on them (which is more than can be said for some of those “cheap and nasty” bikes on discount websites!).
So now you’re armed with what to look for when looking at an exercise bike for sale in Australia.
And remember, fitonline.com.au staff are on hand 7 days-a-week to answer your questions (Sydney/Melbourne retail hours). They have many of these bikes set up in front of them, so they should be able to clarify any of your pre-purchase questions.
Good luck, and good fitness!