Best exercise bikes outside of Peloton, according to experts

Peloton may be the most popular stationary bike, but it's far from the only option when it comes to at-home cycling.
Image: Echelon Smart Stationary Bike
By Julie Loffredi and Gideon Grudo

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In response to the coronavirus illness COVID-19, state governments have ordered approximately 80 million Americans to stay at home as much as possible, as of this past weekend. To help you deal with remote work, we've been shoring up guides and recommendations on staying focused, picking the right monitor, laptop, and noise-cancelling headphones, and sanitizing your tech, to mention a few. But what about working out at home? CNBC reports gyms of every size have been shutting down their fitness rooms, seeking novel ways to offer at-home services. Some fitness companies, however, are already primed to do so.

Long before the coronavirus impacted the way millions of Americans worked out, on-demand fitness spending in February 2020 had risen 130 percent since 2017, according to Cardlytics. One of those rising fitness spaces involves stationary bikes: Fitness trends might come and go but indoor cycling enthusiasts might find validation in the increasing demand for at-home cycling and stationary bike products — especially these days.

And while industry giant Peloton may have rubbed people the wrong way late last year with a holiday bike ad, there’s now a whole crop of high-end, at-home “studio” bikes that aim to mimic the experience you’d get from an indoor cycling class. (NBC News’ parent company Comcast is an investor in Peloton). Before you get ready to pedal your way to your goal of better health, here are a few things to consider:

  • A basic indoor bike will easily run you a few hundred dollars or more.
  • Smart bikes might require monthly subscriptions.
  • Design features can make a difference when it comes to comfort and performance, and they subsequently affect the price tag.

If you’re on the hunt for your own at-home bike, we put together some of your options. If you’re on the fence, consider that several manufacturers offer 30-day return policies.

(Relatively) budget-friendly stationary bikes for at-home cycling

Be sure to prioritize what your basic needs are — many of which might be met by relatively affordable options. Maybe you want to easily adjust the bike’s resistance, move its handlebars or just need something quiet for nighttime sweats. And don’t overlook basics like a padded, adjustable seat and easy-to-grip support handles.

“It might seem like these are added luxuries, but an uncomfortable bike has the potential to affect your performance and form while you bike,” Caleb Backe, a certified personal trainer, told NBC News. “In the long run, this could lead to unnecessary muscle strain and sustained injury.”

An uncomfortable bike has the potential to affect your performance and form while you bike

Caleb Backe, certified personal trainer

1. Sunny Health Fitness Indoor Exercise Cycle Bike

This relatively budget-friendly option offers an adjustable resistance knob — and doesn't require a membership fee. With that, it lacks some of the bells and whistles we'll see below. Whether you require those is a personal preference, of course: There's no screen. And the chain drive may make it slightly noisy.

2. Horizon Fitness IC7.9 Indoor Cycle

The IC7.9 is designed to work with multiple streaming fitness apps — like Peloton's — without the cost of a Peloton exercise bike. It relies on magnetic resistance and while it doesn't come with a tablet, a holder designed for it will allow you to equip yours without blocking the bike's performance feedback. Dual-sided pedals let you use any pair of sneakers or clip-in cycling shoes. Finally, both the seat and handlebar are adjustable.

3. NordicTrack GX 4.4 Pro Exercise Upright Bike

While this $699 NordicTrack option is an investment, it's relatively much more affordable than the $1,000-plus options we'll be getting into below. A 5-inch display can show you stats like heart rate, distance and intensity. The bike is also equipped with trainer-created routines that adjust your workout as you go — NordicTrack adds at least one workout recommendation for you each day so it'll take a while to run out of options.

4. Schwinn 170 Upright Bike Series

An adjustable seat and ergonomic handlebars — with integrated heart monitors — and wheels for portability make for a feature-heavy and relatively affordable at-home fitness solution from a leading brand like Schwinn. The LCD screen comes with 29 included exercise routines — no trainers here for smart workout but the bike can react with resistance to your heart rate, allowing for up to four different user profiles.

5. Schwinn IC3 Indoor Cycling Exercise Bike (expect shipping delays)

Schwinn's take on the stationary bike is equipped with pedals that allow for different types of footwear — you can wear regular sneakers or utilize higher-end clip-in shoes. It's the product of a renowned cycling brand, which might matter to some. And it comes equipped with padded handlebars. Like the more affordable option above, there's no built-in screen, although there’s a spot for your own tablet if you wanted to rely on its offerings.

Elevated stationary bikes for at-home cycling

Lindsay Goldman, the director of membership for USA Cycling, a nonprofit group focused on cycling as a sport, advises serious riders to prepare for a hefty price tag if they’re looking for quality equipment. “Generally, the more money that you spend on cycling equipment and gear, the better it will be,” Goldman said.

As you saw in the options above, more basic stationary bikes don't have to hit $1,000 — and allow for a similar physical experience as more expensive brands. It's when you introduce screens, monitors and trackers — as well as features allowing for social connectedness — that prices climb significantly.

6. NordicTrack Commercial Studio Cycle

The NordicTrack stationary bike includes a one-year membership to its iFit service, an interactive personal training program. Its 14-inch HD touchscreen allow for 360-degree rotation and streams iFit content directly. It also shows up with two three-pound dumbbells for cross training exercises and its seat and handlebars are fully adjustable.

7. Echelon Smart Connect Bike EX5S

The latest EX5S Bike model comes with a 21.5-inch HD touchscreen that flips 180 degrees for live streaming workouts. It's equipped with adjustable handlebars and has been outfitted with a new motor for more precise resistance levels. If incline and decline cycling are important to you, note the Echelon won't let you adjust either.

8. Keiser M3i Indoor Cycle

The Keiser allows you to adjust its handlebars and the seat to accommodate your specific preference and the pre-tensioned resistance belt is designed to stay durable. It's also Bluetooth-enabled so you can stream directly from it or connect your smart devices to it. As you're setting the bike up yourself, note that it might be difficult to assemble. It doesn't offer a screen but you can use the tablet holder to follow virtual classes with your own smart device.

"When you have had enough indoor training, go outside and look around," Goldman said. "You have to have both — good quality training, but also time where your soul connects and gets fresh air. Balance is critical."

Exercise bike alternative

You can still cycle without a bike — in a sense.

Cubii Pro Under-Desk Elliptical

The Cubii under-desk elliptical is exactly what it sounds like: It allows you to cycle while you work or are sitting with other tasks. It connects to your smartphone to track your stats, as well sync with your steps and burnt calories. Designed to be especially quiet, it should be less distracting to fellow remote workers than other options. A more affordable option, the Cubii Jr. cuts out the smart connection and replaces it with a small display to track stats.

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