How To Find The Best Exercise Bike

Our Picks for the Best Exercise Bikes

Best Basic Exercise Bike

Bladez EchelonThe most streamlined bike we tested, the high-quality Echelon had everything we wanted packaged up in simple engineering.

The Bladez Echelon scored highest overall in our tests, beating out spin bikes that cost nearly three times as much. Despite its relatively small price tag (you can find it for about $400 on Amazon), the ride quality — fluidly rotating pedals and whisper-quiet function — reveals its solid construction. No matter how high or low you set the intensity, every push encounters smooth and substantial resistance that doesn’t weigh down your effort, but adds to it. The flywheel churns with a barely noticeable hum and, when you push down on the brake, it comes to a swift stop. We got off after our first ride and had to double-check the price — we’d found an unexpected diamond.

Bladez Echelon for Exercise Bike

The Echelon’s adjustability allows pretty much anyone to achieve a 45-degree body angle. It puts more priority on horizontal distance than vertical distance. Its handlebar and seat don’t ratchet up and down as much as some (the Schwinn IC2 and Spinner Edge are winners here), but they do slide toward and away from each other by the largest margin – you can set that distance anywhere from 18 to 24 inches (not that anyone realistically has a 24-inch torso). This is an important adjustment people need for perfect posture: you need to tailor where your hips are in relation to your knees and match the torso length to your own, not just set the seat the right distance from the pedals.

When it comes to leg extension, though, it’s plenty versatile, with a seat-to-pedal range of 28.4 to 36 inches. (The right distance for you is slightly less than your inseam.) With the Echelon’s intelligent range of measurements, all our testers were able to sit well forward, hands resting on the slightly downward-sloped handles. Another plus: greased-up components and labeled levers make the task of adjusting in all four places a lot easier.

We jumped on for our first ride anticipating that the tiny, coaster-sized display would leave us wanting more, but it was actually refreshing to be given something so simple and easy to control. It tracks the basics (time speed, distance, and RPMs, though sadly, not watts) and allows you to toggle through them, let them cycle, or focus on just the one you care about. The Schwinn’s display is similar, but the only option is continuous cycle — a little frustrating if you want to focus in on time or speed, for example.

Bladez Display for Exercise Bike

The Echelon’s slim frame, with an arcing compass rose design on the flywheel, echoes the bike’s dynamic motion and points to its portability. While its flywheel weighs in at 40 pounds (the heavy end of our contenders), its total weight is lighter than most — 88 pounds versus 100. Tilting it up on its front wheels for transport is a breeze. Others, notably the super-heavy Diamondbacks, were difficult to keep up on their wheels and clumsy to maneuver in any direction. Like them, the Echelon’s frame is made of resilient steel, but components like the pedals are made of lightweight aluminum, which eases the total load. It can still handle riders up to 275 pounds.

If we could amend one thing about the Bladez Echelon, it would be calibrating the sensitivity of the resistance knob. We appreciated not having to turn it much in order to make significant changes, but sometimes it felt too easy to overshoot in either direction. Still, it was a time-saver over both the detailed console of the Diamondback and the slow-to-respond knob of the Schwinn.

Best Programming

Diamondback Fitness 510Ic Indoor CycleWith metrics like heart rate and watts, this pricier pick gave us the most informed workout of all.

If you’re looking for detailed feedback on your workout in addition to an exceptionally smooth ride, the Diamondback 501Ic delivers. It’s a luxury model at a mid-range price — at $800, it’s $200 cheaper than top-tier bikes we liked less — and fitness programming of its caliber is rare amongst spin bikes, typically known for their minimalist approach.

On all the rest, displays are barely more than stopwatches. About the size of a credit card machine, the display on the Diamondback 501Ic is dense with information and options, providing access to fitness programs (all tried-and-true standards like interval training and hill climb), resistance levels, calories, heart rate (your palms rest on the reader pads), and, finally, watts. The stat we think should be a standard for spin bikes finally showed up here — and only here.

Diamondback Console for Exercise Bike

Informative feedback like heart rate and watts gives more of the directed workout that you might be used to from the commercial-quality, high-tech equipment at your gym. And because spinning is intended to be a concentrated, high-intensity workout, we appreciated that the Diamondback’s display gave us options without giving us distractions. It’s straightforward enough that you can make changes without losing your rhythm.

Another point of commonality the 501Ic has with commercial cycles: it’s hefty. Though the flywheel weighs less than the Echelon’s (32 pounds versus 40), its heavy-duty body is a challenge to tip up and wheel around. At 104 pounds, it weighs less than the 901Ic (135) and the Spinning bikes (121), but a good 20 pounds more than the Echelon. We appreciated the extra solidity while cycling, however. It generates a wonderfully heavy and consistent tension that one tester described as “cycling underwater.” And all that intensity is tempered by easy-to-propel pedals that encourage a springy forward motion.

The gliding sensation continues for as long as you remain seated. We found that standing to pedal awakens creaks in the frame and a little extra noise from the wheel. But during seated riding, the 501Ic was even quieter than the Echelon. On that machine, we could hear the soft sweep of the wool pad braking the wheel, but on the 501Ic, even high speeds and high resistance sounded like nothing more than gentle wind.

Diamondback for Exercise Bike

When it comes to rider compatibility, this Diamondback has both pros and cons. It’s larger and stronger than the Echelon, accommodating 300 pounds to the Echelon’s 275, and has a seat-to-pedal range that’s slightly wider: 28.5-37.5 inches versus 28.5-36. But we dinged the 501Ic for not having fore and aft adjustability on the handlebars, or the distance between the seat and handlebars. There is technically an option to change the handlebar positioning so long as you’re willing to haul out a toolbox, but most people will rely just on sliding the seat forward and back. This shrinks the 501Ic’s torso range to between 15 and 19 inches: the smallest range of all seven bikes we tested. If you have a particularly long torso, you might be too penned in to achieve perfect form.

Get Your Perfect Fit

Put yourself in the best possible position to get a symmetrical, injury-free workout by ensuring that:

  • While pedaling, your knees should maintain a 30 degree bend at full extension
  • When your pedals are parallel with the floor, your front knee should be directly above the ball of your foot
  • Handlebars should be no more than two to four inches higher than the front of the saddle
  • Your weight rests on your sit bones
  • Your trunk is strong and straight, leaning forward at a 45 degree angle

Did You Know?

Low, high, low, sprint! The explosive effort of a spin workout is great for fitness.

Trainer Drew Logan, author of the nutrition self-help book 25 Days, ranks user-powered machines above motorized options, no matter the category. From rowing machines to spin bikes, they “absolutely give a more intense workout and a more accurate indicator of conditioning.” That’s because spinning, while “low impact, is also aerobic plus anaerobic. You have to flex muscle.” And that boosts your metabolism. Most cardio stops burning calories as soon as you stop moving: “When I’m done with cardio, cardio’s done with me,” Logan quipped. But thanks to the muscle activation of spinning, your system will be accelerated for a full day after your workout.

The intensity of spinning is not for everyone.

Logan noted that spinning, like rowing, running, or swimming, accurately reflects your fitness level. It’s also a great way to increase it. Approximately 25 percent of a spin session is spent at or above the Ventilatory Threshold (when you’re breathing faster than you can take in oxygen), which is where athletes need to frequently train. You’re over the threshold when you can’t speak in full sentences. But if you’re older or not in great shape, working out at VT could be hazardous.

And it’s not just the extreme risks, like overexerting your heart, that you need to be aware of. The constant forward motion demanded by a spin bike’s fixed-gear pedals can cause the foot to jerk forward if you’re not consciously pedaling. And that could spell serious trouble for your IT band. “If you’ve never done cycling before, a spin bike may not be a good place to start,” Logan summarized. If that sounds like you, stay tuned for our review of recumbent stationary bikes, coming in January 2018.

You can take a virtual spinning class.

Devotees of SoulCycle (or its offshoot, Flywheel) catch a high off the in-class cycling experience, but there’s a slew of online classes that can bring a little team spirit home. Join instructor-led cycling sessions via PelotonStudio Sweat, or CycleCast. Or turn your workout into a gaming session with the immersive experience of Zwift.

Best Exercise Bikes: Summed Up

Exercise Bike
The Best
Bladez Echelon
Basic Bike
Diamondback 501Ic
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