Exercise bikes can be great tools for at-home fitness. The convenience of logging a few miles without worry of weather or route navigation is truly a blessing, especially for those of us living in less-than-serene climates. Like the road vessels these rigs take inspiration from, though, there are different types of exercise bikes for different needs … and it pays to invest in the kind that makes the most sense for you.
Unfortunately, the terms for these categories are sometimes thrown around haphazardly, making it difficult to understand what’s what. To make things easier, we’ve parsed the definitions, which should help you fine-tune your home gym setup.
Below we break down five common exercise bike categories, who can benefit most from their respective features and some favorites we recommend.
For Intense, Engaging Workouts: Indoor Cycling Bikes
Thanks to Peloton and other ambitious brands, this exercise bike category is the one most popular with today’s home fitness crowd. Marked by sleek designs, a weighted flywheel at the front, angled handlebars and (often) a large front display, indoor cycling bikes can be perfect for high-intensity circuits that closely mimic on-road cycling. The profiles are also sturdy enough to support on-saddle and off-saddle pedaling, giving your training some variety as well.
Recent innovations have also lent this exercise bike category a fairly customizable training experience. You’re able to find profiles with as many or as few bells and whistles as you’d like. We favor the 22-Inch VeloCore Bike from BowFlex thanks to its app compatibility with Zwift and JRNY, sturdy frame and unique core-targeting tech, which allows for left- and right-leaning movements to mimic on-road cycling.
For More Leisurely Training: Upright Bikes
While “upright” might seem like an oxymoron — all bikes are upright — this category is marked by a saddle and pedal setup that orients your body practically straight up and down as opposed to the forward lean associated with indoor cycling rigs. Additionally, the saddle is often cushier, and the handles are positioned much closer to your body. This all results in a more comfortable setup perfect for pedaling through slower-paced workouts.
Upright bikes can be excellent for athletes who don’t need a true cycling experience yet still want a compact at-home cardio machine. The market is less dense, but there are still some compelling options including the NordicTrack Commercial VU 29. The body-friendly bike boasts 24 digital resistance levels as well as the brand’s AutoAdjust system, which takes the strain out of varying your intensity mid-workout.
For Less Joint Pain During Rides: Recumbent Bikes
Recumbent bikes, from a footprint standpoint, are the largest exercise bikes available. They’re easily recognizable due to their front pedal position that places the body in a much more relaxed, reclined stance. That makes them great for athletes dealing with joint issues or those wanting the most low-impact workout possible. You won’t get the heart-pounding sensation of intense riding here, but you’ll be able to burn a few calories — and stay comfortable and safe.
While we tend to favor the indoor cycling and upright models for their space-saving nature, we’ve had experience with a handful of recumbent bikes. The Schwinn 290 stands out thanks to its ventilated seat and large, simple display.
For a Full-Body Training Experience: Air Bikes
Air bikes (aka assault bikes) are popular among CrossFit athletes thanks to their intense, full-body workout as you operate both the handles and pedals to get the fan going. The harder you pedal, the more resistance (and noise) you create as those blades spin beneath your frame. Air bikes conveniently don’t require electricity, making them suitable for any environment … as long as you (and your neighbors) are okay with the racket.
There’s a good mix of air bikes on the market, but we love the AssaultBike ProX for its comfortable, adjustable saddle, rock-solid frame and Bluetooth connectivity for easier workout tracking. If you need a rig to push your stamina and performance — beyond your legs — consider this tough-as-nails option.
For On-Road Cycling Enthusiasts: Indoor Bike Trainers
Don’t want to sacrifice the floor space for an exercise bike when you already own a great road bike? Consider an indoor bike trainer that takes advantage of what you already have. These smaller silhouettes clip onto your bike wheel or frame and allow you to train atop your beloved handlebars and saddle year-round. Indoor bike trainers can be excellent options for avid outdoor cyclists, who may only ride inside when less-than-optimal weather requires it.
For the most natural indoor cycling experience, it’s best to opt for a direct drive trainer, one that replaces your back wheel and swaps your cassette for the machine’s. Of indoor bike trainers in this subcategory, it’s tough to beat the Tacx Neo 2T from Garmin. This Star Wars-like structure is plenty sturdy, and it provides more than enough resistance to make every training session worthwhile.