Exercise bikes are a great way to get fit indoors. Especially as not all of us are able to get outside and enjoy riding on the open road.
There’s a multitude of reasons why indoor riding can be the perfect way of getting your cycling fix without leaving your home. We’re busy people, juggling lots of demands for our time, and we all know that even just an hour on the bike outside takes an awful lot of preparation, making it closer to two hours by the time we’re back and changed, making it a luxury that many can’t afford on a daily basis.
Even if you can find the time, other considerations such as weather, daylight hours and even a specific training session suddenly become controllables that enable you to maintain consistency when it comes to your overall fitness making indoor cycling a great option for anyone.
Traditionally, cyclists training indoors will attach their own bike to one of the the best turbo trainers or ride on a set of the best bike rollers. However, if you’ve got a dedicated space for a bike you can leave consistently set up and ready to go – or have no intention of riding outside – then choosing one of the best exercise bikes or smart bikes is a great choice.
Best Exercise bike or Best Smart bike?
The main difference between an exercise bike and smart bike is the functions on offer.
Generally speaking, an exercise bike will provide manually adjustable resistance, have some basic performance data, and a more upright sitting position.
A smart bike is more interactive and along with automatically controlling resistance for you will also allow you to attend virtual rides, gather significant performance data and have a riding position which closer mimics that of a road bike, with realistic road-like feel when pedalling.
There’s an increasing cross-over of both genres now, with exercise bikes becoming more interactive, giving the rider an excellent, if slightly baffling array of choices.
We’ve included a lot more on the differences between the sorts of bikes below to help you navigate your way to picking the ideal exercise bike or brilliant smart bike for you, along with hand picking a few of the best on offer.
With each product is a ‘See more’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Best exercise bikes
Peloton Indoor Training Bike
Best exercise bike for indoor motivation
Read more: Peloton indoor training bike review
- Pros: Entertainment, simplicity, motivation, off bike exercise
- Cons: Price, limited data, estimated power
- Price: $1,895/ £1,990
“Okay Peloton, let’s do this!” You have almost certainly seen the adverts for this on TV, the brand has been popping up everywhere and even non-cyclists now know of the word, peloton. The American brand dominates the US market and is making inroads into the UK one, too.
At around round $1,800/ £1,000 cheaper than the Wahoo above this, you may tempted by the all motivational Peloton system, but be aware of the on going monthly subscription which if you don’t keep up, can make the bike feel like a rather expensive spin bike.
The basic set up (and membership) includes daily live streamed classes, as well as 24hr access to the virtual studio for an entire household. There’s curated playlists for all genres, instructors and coaches, as well as leader boards to keep you motivated. There’s even additional extra options that include strength, stretch and yoga classes.
If it all sounds like a tempting offer for virtual cycling, but are still un-decided, our helpful guide Zwift vs Peloton: which is best for your at-home workouts? might help you decide
Echelon Smart Connect EX3
Best exercise bike for a cheaper Peloton alternative
- Pros: Price, entertainment, simplicity, off bike exercise
- Cons: Rider position, no built in screen, rear bottle holders only
- Price: $999.99/ £1,199
Echelon says the sturdy and compact bike provides both comfort and functionality. Customisation is easy with adjustable oversized seat and handlebar console. A silent magnetic flywheel provides 32 levels of resistance and challenging workouts for all levels of rider.
A clear contender for a Peloton alternative, once you’ve purchased the bike, you then need to decide on a subscription plan.
Unlimited personalised workouts and online community options range between $39.99/ £39.99 to $29.99 a month. But unlike Peloton, all price plans allow you to join a variety of live and on-demand classes and special events led by Echelon’s own trained instructors, the price just depends on your long term commitment. Access is provided through the Echelon Fit App using your mobile phone, tablet or smart TV.
The bike provides a more upright riding position than other smart exercise bikes, so longer torso riders might feel a bit squished up, while other may find the ride feel too distant from their real road bike.
Best exercise bike for riding at home on a budget
- Pros: Price, near realistic ride position, simplicity, basic data, some connectivity
- Cons: No Auto-resistance, ware and tear, one bottle holder, no ‘gear’ selection.
- Price: $598/ £429
If you’re looking for a budget option, then it’s worth checking out s Sportstech Speedbikes, The SX400 Speedbike uses a 48lb/ 22kg belt-driven flywheel is as heavy as those of the more expensive exercise bikes and there’s plenty of adjustability making it possible to achieve more realistic than most road or TT bike position, for example; the arm-pads for the tri-bar position are neat addition.
The range starts at just $598/ £429, but the more expensive ones come app-compatible 5.5in console that uses Bluetooth to connect with iBiking+ and Kinomap – though not with third-party apps such as Zwift.
There’s a heart-rate monitor built into the bullhorn bars for hand-grip readings but it’s also compatible with a Bluetooth chest strap. All in all, this set up comes in at a reassuringly heavy 97lbs/ 44kg.
The direct contact resistance means there will be wear and tear over time, but the price of replacements shouldn’t break the bank.
It’s an ideal exercise bike without a monthly subscription service, but you will need to be more self motivated, and if shopping in the US, you will need to factor in import tax. although it’s worth checking Amazon as they occasionally do stock.
Schwinn IC3 Indoor Cycling Exercise bike
Best exercise bike for the original spin bike experience
- Pros: No electricity required robust screen holder, build in heart rate, basic data, duel SPD pedals, oversized water bottle holder, simplicity
- Cons: No connectivity, no ‘gear selection, no Auto-resistance, ware and tear, one bottle holder.
- Price: $599/ £329
If you’ve ever under taken a gym spin class, the chances are that you were riding a Schwinn.
The home or away bike requires very little in term of technical know how in order to set up and ride, and even comes with secure clipless pedals (SPD) so is ridable straight out the box.
The sturdy indoor trainer uses a weighty fly wheel and direct-contact resistance system, meaning you are in charge of your own training at all times.
The down side is that with this level of basic functions, you’ll need to be pretty motivated to lead your own spin class at home, although the added tablet/ phone holder means you can join a virtual class, or watch a film/ read a book.
The lack of mains power mean the bikes location can be really flexible, with mini roller wheels helping it to be transported. But the weight unit will limit it’s general living place, and I wouldn’t be keen on rolling it or riding it without the use of heavy duty floor protection.
Best smart bikes
Wahoo Kickr Bike
Best smart bike for immersive virtual reality
Read more: Wahoo Kickr bike review
- Pros: Akin to real life riding, climb features, customisation, connectivity, adjustability
- Cons: Price, no phone/ tablet holder
- Price: $3,499.99/ 2,999.99
This is as close as you will get to merging the line between virtual riding and reality. The Wahoo Kickr Bike has an amazing set of strings to its bow. Features such as integrated grade changes, customizable gearing, and simulated shifting put it in the running as one of the best exercise bikes.
While riding, you can adjust the gradient all the way up to 20 per cent, or, if you wanted to feel like you were descending, -15 per cent too. This is to make the Kickr Bike feel as realistic as possible. You can also fit the bike to your exact specifications with help from the very detailed and informative Wahoo fitness app.
The Kickr Bike is compatible with any of the big brands, Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. The virtual shifting technology recognises every detail to make sure that the smart shifting of the bike works with what you want, allowing you to even add your own handlebars, saddle and pedals.
Stages SB20 Smart Bike
Best smart bike for plug and play indoor road riding
Read more: Stages Cycling Smart Bike SB20 first look
- Pros: Adjustable, customisation, connectivity, tablet holder
- Cons: Unit weight, no shifting display, looks
- Price: $2,999.99/ £2,800
Stages Cycling don’t just build crank arm power meters, but also one of the best exercise bikes for commercial gyms, and now a highly-impressive home equivalent. Unique to the Stages entry in this category is a flywheel that dwarfs the weight of anyone else’s. Weight in the flywheel helps it hold momentum for a more realistic road feel. At 50lb/22.7kg the flywheel Stages uses is more than twice the weight of the flywheel on the Wahoo Kickr bike or Wattbike Atom, although that doesn’t necessary equate to a better ride, just a different way of delivering the resistance for the rider. It does make for a very solid unit build and Stages say it will withstand anything you throw at it, but worth bearing in mind if you intend to locate it up a flight of stairs.
Power measurement happens at the crank arms using an integrated gen 3 dual-sided power meter. The design is the same as you’ll find on other Stages power meter products with an accuracy of +/- 1.5% and integrated cadence. Electronic resistance goes as high 2,200 watts at 130rpm.
There’s tons of adjustability and changes are easy. Swap in your favourite saddle or handlebars if you like. Large knobs, laser-etched sizing scales, adjustable brake hoods, and adjustable crank arm length make it easy to get your fit right or share the bike.
Tacx Neo Bike Smart Trainer
Best smart bike for keeping cool and on track of power zones
- Pros: Fans, gear display, connectivity, completely wireless, lighting power indicator, real ride feel, adjustability,
- Cons: Fan noise, wide seatpost, only one water bottle
- Price: $3,199.99/ £2,299
The Tacx Neo smart trainer has long been a favourite at Cycling Weekly, and the smart bike version is pretty much the same turbo, with a bike pre-attached. The unit uses magnetic resistance, topping out at 2,200 watts whilst mimicking climbs as steep as 25 per cent.
For Tacx, ride feel has taken centre stage. Included are features to replicate cobblestones and even a virtual ‘chain jump’ as you move into a new gear. We reckon those are a couple of elements some of us don’t want to replicate indoors but they are there. You do get a nice speed up as you crest hills which can only be a pleasant bonus.
The bike provides pedal analysis as well as power, cadence and all the other metrics you’d expect – and the air fans attached adjust the level of cooling depending upon your heart rate or power output.
Talking of power output, nifty chainring position lighting that is reflected on to the floor gives an instant visual representation of the power zone you are in.
What’s more, connect with a smartphone, tablet, or computer via Bluetooth or ANT+ and you can follow structured workouts or ride a route via the automatic resistance electromagnetic control system.
It’s heavier than the Wahoo Kickr Bike, but again significantly less than the Stages SB20 Smart Bike.
Best smart bike for less than $3000/ £2000
Read more: Wattbike Atom smart bike review
Best smart bike for balance price and functions
- Pros: Simplicity, solid ride feel, connectivity, price, weight
- Cons: Slow gear shift, adjustability, customisation
- Price: $2,599/ £1,899
Wattbike is one of the leaders in exercise bikes, supplying federations and gyms, and the original smart bike system.
The consumer model, the Atom, has recently been updated with an improved, faster, electromagnetic resistance which Wattbike says also allows for an extra 500 watts at the top end (2,500w compared to 2,000w) and more accuracy.
In our review of the original Atom we commented that “pedalling fluidity is second to none.” We also found it to be incredibly quiet, too, so a good option if you don’t have a dedicated outbuilding to train in, or live in a flat and don’t want to annoy the neighbours.
Connectivity comes via ANT+ or Bluetooth, and you can use set workouts via the Wattbike Hub, its own training and analysis platform, or you can hook it up to an indoor training app.
There is limited adjustability when compared to the other smart bikes, but it does have road bike-style geometry including a 160mm Q-Factor. As shipped, you’ll find flat pedals with toe clips. Clipless pedals are an easy swap. All in, it weighs 97lbs/ 44kg making it one of the lightest smart bikes on the market.
Best air bikes
Concept 2 BikeErg
Best for affordable performance at home
- Pros: Performance monitoring, connectivity, data, resistance settings, weight, smart phone mount, no mains power requirement, price
- Cons: No direct gear correlation, adjustability, no handle bar damping adjustment
- Price: $990/ £980
The Concept2 brand is best known for it’s indoor rowers, with it’s World Rowing Indoor Championships a well know event that even Sir Bradley Wiggins has competed in.
The Concept 2 BikeErg is the brands first bash at the indoor cycling market, and although early days, reports are very favourable.
BikeErg uses the same flywheel and performance monitor as Concept2 Indoor Rowers and SkiErgs, which the brand says gives it’s bike the same strengths and features as the rowing and cross-country skiing machines do.
The flywheel uses air resistance to create a smooth, and apprantly quiet ride that responds to your efforts. The damper is your “gearing”, allowing you to adjust the feel of your ride as you would on rower. Unlike some stationary bikes, the BikeErg also has a clutch, so just like a real bike, when you stop pedaling, the flywheel keeps on spinning.
Concept2 say that the performance monitoring data is consistently repeatable and comparable data. The battery powered unit offers automatic “Just Ride” mode, or allows you to set up a variety of workouts and provides a wide range of data, including pace, watts, cadence (rpm) and Calories, automatically storing the information.
The in addition to all this, the Concept2 BikeErg is also compatible with third party apps, meaning you can ride Zwift and other virtual reality cycling software for a fraction of the price of the other smart bikes, although we’re a little unclear at the time of writing how the auto-resistance aspect works.
Assault AirBike Classic
Best air bike for instantly hitting the pain cave
- Pros: Impact, whole body workout, price, simplicity, no mains electric
- Cons: No connectivity, noise, could make you never want to ride a bike again
- Price: $699
For many gym users, even the sight of the Assaultbike will send shivers down your spine. There’s no escaping the powerful fan of this air bike as you try to hit the basic performance indicators of watts, RPM, calories, heart rate, distance, time, odometer, or interval training.
It’s whirling fan resistance may look pretty rudimental, but this no-nonsense beast will have even the strongest of riders weeping and begging for mercy after a foot-full of revolutions.
According to the brand, the best thing about the Assault Bike is it’s simplicity and that it can work for a beginner or pro athlete, no matter what sporting background or ambition they have.
As an air only system, the resistance adapts to your own output, so the harder you work, the harder the resistance becomes meaning you can never out perform the bike, giving it and its durable construction a lifetime of use (as long as it doesn’t finish you off first).
Weighing just 95lbs/ 43kg and requiring no mains electric means it’s highly manoeuvrable thanks to the mini rolling wheels, which is a good job and it’s best used as far away from other as possible so they aren’t overwhelmed by the fan noise or obscenities coming from the rider.
The best exercise bikes and the best smart bikes
Ultimately the best exercise bike will be one that motivates you to ride regularly. It can have all the functionality in the world, but if it leaves you uninspired to cycling at home, it’ll end up gathering dust in a corner, or become an overpriced clothes horse.
Some of the ideal exercise bikes will connect to the best indoor training apps for cycling and allow you to record your riding allowing you to track your progress and fitness, although some will require you to just wear a fitness watch or heart rate monitor and only give you a calorie burn indication.
If there is no connectivity, this doesn’t mean the exercise bike isn’t a still a great option, you just need to be on top of monitoring your progress in another way, or be more self motivated, and personally I find the savings made on a more simple exercise bike offering are a great motivation!
How much does the best exercise bike or best smart bike cost?
The difference between the options is reflected in the price, with basic exercise bikes starting from as low as $150/ £100, while the entry level to a smart bike is upwards of £1,895/ £1500 and travelling well in excess of £3,000, often requiring a monthly subscription to get the most benefit.
Indoor bikes which blend the both exercise bikes and smart bikes together, an the form of an interactive wi-fi enabled spin bike, can be a good compromise, enabling you to join on line classes for more motivational cardo session at home. Although it’s worth noting that although the initial outlay might be a lot less than a smart bike, a monthly subscription service can make it more expensive in the long run.
Which is the right one for you depends which functions and features are important to you.
An entry-level model will allow you to get a spin on and get fit. Spend more, and you’ll enjoy ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, so you can train using indoor training apps such as Zwift or The Sufferfest.
Best exercise bike Vs best smart bike
The main difference between the two will be functionality. Both systems vary hugely in terms of performance, and the more you spend the more you’ll get.
Hard to believe that exercise bikes have been around since the advent of the bike, and there were even exercise bikes on the Titanic!
Since the advent of spin classes in the mid nineties, when the popularity of static riding grew rapidly, the domestic offering thankfully now expands much further than the first iteration of exercise bikes that eventually gathered dust in your parents bedroom four decades ago.
In the main, a typical exercise bikes will be for anyone looking for a get and keep fit option at home. The range available is huge and in general directly correlates with price. The more you spend, the better the ride feel and the more data will available to you.
Exercise bikes will mostly aim to offer an engaging whole body workout, which, with their more upright position, will be less like real life bike riding.
A smart bike will be all about the technical attributes, will have pre-programmable sessions, the ability to see and record data, and often have wifi or bluetooth, making it compatible with a third party app on a computer.
These provide a more real life riding experience, and some will have a more realistic riding position, with dropped handlebars or time trial bars.
Brands such as the highly popular Peloton range straddle both exercise and smart bike spheres, providing an interactive whole body workout, which includes weights, but with the ability to see and store data and automatic resistance changes.
Whatever option you choose, it’s important to not get caught in a false economy trap of just buying the cheapest option.
The best exercise bikes and smart bikes will have weighted flywheels (if it’s not an air bike), a range of adjustable resistance and sturdy frames, an exercise bike is only as good as it’s basic structure, so needs to be robust enough to withstand regular riding.
There are two main types of resistance found in an exercise bike or smart bike. A brake-based (direct-contact or electromagnetic) system or air, the third resistance option is water but other than aquabikes that are placed in the actual pool the offering is all but zero.
When riding a normal bike, your energy is required to turn the wheels (via pedals and gear) against resistance which comes in the form of different gradients, outside elements (such as wind) and yourself as the rider.
On an indoor bike resistance needs to be created in another way.
At the heart of most indoor bikes sits a weighted flywheel. It’s job is to provide mass which requires energy to establish rotational inertia. In other words – a weighted metal disk which takes the place of a bike wheel and is connected to the pedals via either a chain or a belt.
The fly wheel stores kinetic energy, so once you’ve got the wheel turning, it will continue to do so, creating a very similar experience to outdoor pedalling.
A good fly-wheel will typically take force to get it spinning, and force to make it stop. As kinetic energy is a function of mass and speed. The larger the diameter and heavier the fly wheel the more energy is stored, and the flywheels that spin the fastest store much more energy than ones that spin faster (so keep spinning for longer on their own).
If you have two fly wheels and spin them at 10 miles an hour they both store the same energy.
Double the weight of one but maintain both at 10miles an hour, the heavier flywheel will stort twice as much energy.
If you have two identical weighted flywheels, but spin one at 10miles an hour and one at 20miles an hour, you actually quadruple the energy it stores.
The trick is ensuring that whatever way the bike creates kinetic energy that there is a sweet spot between weight, size and resistance controls.
Without the ability to apply external slowing force, a flywheel would be more of a go and stop experience and have to be either extraordinarily large and heavy or be spun at an extraordinary speed to have a positive effect on your fitness.
By applying the principles of friction from either brake pads making direct contact or electromagnetic induction, using powerful magnets, the weight and size or speed of a flywheel can be significantly reduced to a more usable package.
Direct-Contact resistance systems
A brake pad is simply applied alongside and on top of the flywheel to create friction which the rider needs to overcome.
The more pressure applied to the pad, the harder it becomes to keep the fly-wheel moving. It’s that simple.
The downside is, you’ll still require a pretty heavy and large fly-wheel, think typical gym spin bike, and much like brakes on a bike or a car, over time you’ll find that the brakes will need replacing. Depending on the quality and size of the fly-wheel, you may eventually find that needing to be replaced too at some point.
They are also entirely mechanical, so will be noisier than electro magnetic resistant bikes. So if it’s going to be living in the middle of your lounge, you might need to give advance warning of your impending exercise routine to the rest of the household.
The upside is that this level of simplicity keeps the price down. There are lots of on-line classes, both paid and free, to sign up too to keep you motivated and working hard. These bikes also rarely require electricity, so great for keeping in an outbuilding or, even outside with a protective cover on when not in use.
Electro-Magnetic resistance systems
Recently these have become the Pièce de résistance of exercise bikes and smart bikes. By passing an electrical current through magnets you can make the magnets more or less attractive to each other. The resistance in an electromagnetic exercise or smart bike is controlled by the level of electric current passing through the magnets that flank either side of the flywheel. More current equals more magnetic force, increasing the resistance, making it harder for you to turn it.
The biggest benefit of the electromagnetic resistance system is that it can be controlled by the rider, by pushing a button, running pre-programmed software built into the bike or, with the correct connectivity, a remote third party, allowing for virtual riding on platforms such as Zwift or TrainerRoad.
Other benefits of the electro-magnetic system is that because there is nothing in contact with the flywheel creating the resistance, you can significantly reduce its size and weight, making the whole package much smaller and lighter.
Other benefits include less wear and tear, as there’s no brakes in contact with the flywheel and the working noise is also significantly reduced.
The downside is as well as requiring a source of electricity, is the cost. The initial outlay will be a lot more expensive than a more basic mechanical direct contact resistance bike, and remote third party virtual reality apps will require a subscription of some kind.
Air resistance systems
Air bikes use a flywheel system based on air to create the resistance and are increasingly popular in gyms since the advent of Crossfit/ Functional fitness and their HIIT style exercises.
Fan like blades are driven by a simple cog and chain/ belt and require the rider’s energy, mostly by co-joined pedals arm leavers to turn. The harder you ride, the more resistance the blades meet from air making you expel more energy.
If you want to cover a set distance or calorie count quickly, you’ll have to push the blades through the air quickly – which requires more force to move air molecules quicker, think of putting your hand out of a moving car window and the force of the wind at low and high speeds.
99% of air bikes will have arms and legs and as the resistance comes from the spinning blade, there’s often no variability.
The upside is that along with getting a full body workout, there’s no need for electricity (other than a new battery once in a while for a head unit display) so it can be located anywhere, another ideal option for the shed or outside under a protective cover.
The downside is that out of all three options, this is by far the noisiest with the harder you work the louder the fan like sound, certainly not household friendly.
Foldable exercise bikes
If space is at a premium at home, you might be tempted to opt for an exercise bike designed to fold up and roll away. These will always mean some big compromises in terms of performance, most notably rider position and limited tension settings.
In order to keep the overall footprint low, a typical foldaway exercise bike will use an ‘X’ frame, not unlike an ironing board. In order to keep this dual triangle relatively strong it will need to keep it as vertical as possible, meaning that you’re likely to be sitting very upright.
There are some recumbent foldaway exercise bikes available, but the overall size, even when folded, and weight will be bigger.
The other obvious disadvantage of foldaway exercise bikes, is that in order to keep the machine as portable as possible, they will naturally have a lightweight build quality, which will limit tension settings. Plastic will take the place of metal, reducing durability, and the magnetic resistance function, that most operate with, will use a much smaller flywheel to reduce the unit weight as much as possible, significantly reducing its ability to apply resistance as it will be smaller and therefore limit the amount of energy required to turn them.
Clearly they have their place for people with limited space and looking for a low impact cardio workout at home, but if you’re in anyway an experienced cyclist, or even an avid spin bike user at the gym you’re going to be left wanting.