Best exercise bikes: smart indoor bikes for home workouts

Looking to get a pedal fix indoors and want a bike that's always ready for the job? Here's the best exercise bikes and smart bikes to choose from

Cylcing on indoor training bike
(Image credit: Future)

Investing in one of the best exercise bikes is a great way to get fit indoors.

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.

For new comers to cycling, one of the great thing about the best stationary bikes is that you can gain fitness and riding confidence from the comfort of your own home, ideal for anyone who has to tackle hilly terrain from the front door.

Traditionally, more experienced cyclists who train indoors would 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, and a rising trend of air bikes too, with all versions of exercise bikes becoming more interactive, giving the rider an excellent, if slightly baffling array of choices.

We've hand picked our favourite exercise bikes, super smart bikes and ideal air bikes to help you get the best on offer. We've also included a lot more information and details on what the differences are to help you navigate you way to finding the best exercise bike for you.

Our top indoor bikes

There are two main categories for home stationary bikes, non-connected exercise bikes and smart bikes. Here’s our top spot for each type of home bikes, with more great options under each category a little further down the page.

Wattbike Atom next gen smart exercise bike

Best smart exercise bike for balancing price and functions

Resistance: Electromagnetic
Weight: 297lbs/ 135kg
Height range: 5' - 6'5"/ 152cm -195.5cm
Digital display: Yes
Third party connectivity: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Simplicity +Solid ride feel+Connectivity+Price+Weight+Accuracy
Reasons to avoid
-Slow gear shift-Lack of adjustability and customisation 

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. 

Read more: Wattbike Atom smart bike review

wahoo kickr smart exercise bike

Ultimate smart exercise bike for immersive virtual reality

Resistance: Electromagnetic & enhanced motor
Weight limit: 250lbs/ 113kg
Height range: 5' - 6'4"/ 152cm -192cm
Digital display: None
Third party connectivity: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Akin to real life riding +Climb features+Customisation of shifters+Connectivity+Adjustability 
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-No screen holder

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.

There isn't a screen/ dedicated on-line trainer, but even that gives you the freedom to dictate your own virtual training package. The only real downside is the 'considered' purchase price and the fact that you'll need to configure some kind of screen stand.

Read more: Wahoo Kickr bike review  

Stages SB20 bike

(Image credit: Stages)

Stages SB20 bike

Super heavy weight for sprinters and heavily adjustable

Resistance: Electronic resistance
Weight: 62.5kg
Height range: 1.47m to 2.08m
Digital display: Screen holder
Third party connectivity: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Robust+Can withstand heavy sprint efforts+L/R power 
Reasons to avoid

Most of the bikes Stages ships out of the door are used in gyms - which means the brand is well accusomed to creating robust units that will withstand heavy abuse. This model is more  for the enthusiast to use at home. 

Power readings come via Stages crank based power meters, and you'll get accurate left/right measurement. 

Weighing over 62kg, you'd be hard pressed to get this to budge. It does come with wheels, so it is easy to move it around a room - but getting it in situ originally is quite a job. 

Adjustability is top notch, and you can purchase a second seatpost to save the hassle of swapping saddles between users. 

Concept 2 BikeErg

(Image credit: Concept 2)

Concept 2 BikeErg

Best for affordable performance at home

Resistance: Air
Weight: 300lbs/ 136kg
Height range: 5' - 6'4"/ 152cm -192cm
Digital display: Yes
Third party connectivity: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Performance monitoring+Connectivity+Detailed data+Rsistance settings+Weight+No power requirement+Price
Reasons to avoid
-No direct gear correlation, adjustability-No handle bar damping adjustment

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 apparently 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 simplicity of this set up allows it to be exceptionally lightweight, at a claimed 31kg, but exceptionally sturdy, taking heaviest rider weights than most options.

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 and it's worth noting that there's no resistance damper on the handle bars.

Best basic exercise bikes

Domyos Basic Exercise Bike 100

(Image credit: Decathlon)

Domyos Basic Exercise Bike 100

Best bang for buck exercise bike

Resistance: Mechanical resistance and adjustment
Weight: 220lbs/100kg
Digital display: Yes
Third party connectivity: No
Reasons to buy
+Price, stability+Easy set up+Simplicity, with some data
Reasons to avoid
-Limited resistance-No screen holder-No on-line community platform

For riders who are new comers to riding at home, the Domyos Basic Exercise bike can be the perfect transition. While reviews on the Decathlon house brand website say that it's no studio bike, they all applauded its sturdiness and value for money.

Arguably with only a household users, the basic spin bike doesn't need to be quite so robust, and therefore gets away with being slightly lighter and more transportable, allowing it to be wheeled out the way when not in use.

A 12kg fly wheel uses a mechanically applied leather brake pad to create resistance for the user, in what the brand says is 'moderate-intensity use, while a chain drivetrain should recreate a smooth pedalling sensation, similar to that of a normal bike.

The saddle height and fore/aft can be adjusted along with the handle bar height, very similar to a regular gym spin bike, and in theory you could attach your own pedals.

There isn't an online community or platform to join, which does mean you'll have to be self motivated to record your rides or find on line classes to attend. This does have the perks of no monthly subscription and doesn't tie you in to any long term commitment.

If your a strong rider or looking to mimic road sprints then look elsewhere, but if you want the freedom and flexibility of keeping fit with a little homemade spin class at home when the time suits you it's perfect.


Schwinn IC3 Indoor Cycling Exercise bike

(Image credit: Schwinn)

Schwinn IC7 Indoor Cycling Exercise bike

Best exercise bike for the original spin bike experience

Resistance: Mechanical adjustment
Weight limit: 299lbs/ 136.2kg
Digital display: Yes
Third party connectivity: Limited
Reasons to buy
+No electricity required robust screen holder+Build in heart rate+Basic data+Duel SPD pedals+Oversized water bottle holder 
Reasons to avoid
-No connectivity-No gear selection-No Auto-resistance

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 exercise bikes


best exercise bikes for indoor cycling

Best exercise bike for indoor community spirit

Resistance: Magnetic & mechanical adjustment
Weight limit: 297lbs/ 135kg
Height range: 4'11" - 6'4"/ 150cm -195cm
Screen size: 22" high definition touch screen sound system
Third party connectivity: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Entertainment+Motivation via app+Off bike exercises included on app
Reasons to avoid
-Ongoing cost commitment-Limited data-Estimated power

"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 has made inroads into the UK one too.

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.

At around round $1,800/ £1,000 cheaper than the Wahoo option, 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.

There's a lot more information below on whether or not Peloton is worth it and the Peloton alternatives. If it all sounds like a tempting offer for virtual cycling, but are still un-decided, we've even got a helpful guide on Zwift vs Peloton: which is best for your at-home workouts? which might help you decide.

If you struggle to plan your own workouts and need motivational entertainment, the Peloton is a great option. There's even the option for individual profiles for household access, so perfect if your looking for a shared home bike option.

Read more: Peloton indoor training bike review 

best exercise bikes for indoor cycling

(Image credit: Echelon)

Echelon Smart Connect EX3

The cheaper alternative

Resistance : Magnetic & mechanical adjustment
Weight limit: 299lbs/ 136kg
Height range: 4'5" - 6'8"/ 134cm -203cm
Display: Model depending
Third party connectivity: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Price v competition+Entertainment via app+Simplicity+Off bike exercis
Reasons to avoid
-Rider position-Monthly subscription-No built in screen-Rear bottle holders only

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 ranges around $39.99/ £39.99  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 bikes for indoor cycling

Stages SB20 Smart Bike

Best smart bike for plug and play indoor road riding

Resistance: Electro magnetic, electronic shifting
Weight limit: 348lbs/ 158kg
Height range: 4'8" - 6'82"
Display: Yes
Third party connectivity: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Adjustable customisation+Connectivity+Tablet holder
Reasons to avoid
-Unit weight-No shifting display

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.

Read more:  Stages Cycling Smart Bike SB20 first look

best exercise bikes for indoor cycling

tacx neo smart exercise bike

Tacx Neo Bike Smart Trainer

Best smart bike for keeping cool and on track of power zones

Resistance: Electro magnetic, electronic shifting
Weight limit: 265lbs/ 120kg
Height range: 640 - 900mm (bottom bracket to saddle height)
Digital display: Yes
Third party connectivity: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Inbuilt fans+Gear display+Connectivity+Completely wireless+Lighting power indicator+Real ride feel+Adjustability
Reasons to avoid
-Unit weight-No shifting display

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.

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.

If you are Thinking of trying Zwift? Here's everything you need to know about the platform

What is peloton?

The Peloton indoor exercise bike and app has taken the fitness world by storm, but is it any good for training for proper cyclists?

The bike and corresponding membership, along with motivating tunes, instructor-led classes, leader boards, events and badges / awards to be won, has become a strong alternative to the virtual world of Zwift.

As well as the obvious cycling workouts, the Peloton membership also provides yoga, stretching, HIIT cardio and strength workouts are all available on the app, as both live or previously recorded classes in their library.

Peloton differentiates classes on offer by music theme and the instructor who is leading the workout. Essentially, Peloton gives more focus to the atmosphere of the workouts and how to motivate you to excel.

By categorising the classes by who is leading them, you’ll quickly find yourself deciding who is the best Peloton Instructor for you, and find yourself leaning towards joining certain classes. Who is coaching you is important to development and this is something Peloton clearly recognise.

The cycling workouts themselves resemble traditional spin classes. This means a considerable amount of the workout is spent out of the saddle. While this is certainly taxing and will develop great core strength, some of the demands of outdoor riding are neglected.

However, all of this comes at a cost. For the basic bike there's either a one off price starting at $1,895/ £1,750 or monthly rentals from $45 / £49 a month, or for the all singing version.  it's $2,495. £2,295 or $64/ £59 a month.  The digital membership to access classes are then between an additional $12.99/ £12.99 and $39/ £39 a month.

But it's clearly a supportive vitual community, with more riders joining all the time. There is even Peloton apparel to buy, with a recent collaboration with Adidas going live.

Peloton Alternatives

Basing alternatives just on the bike alone means that there are lots of alternatives out there to choose from, with many of the above spin like bikes offering similar basic functions.

Both Echelon and NordicTrack offer probably the most comparable, while new comer to the smart exercise bike market MYXfitness offer's more off bike, but you do have to downgrade to a belt drive and mechanical friction resistance  - and there isn't quite the same community hype as Peloton yet.  All offer virtual and off bike exercises classes via digital platforms.

In order to calculate the best value for money, you need to factor in both bike and subscription services to see what comes out on top.

Best Peloton alternative US cost comparison data

BrandBike *Membership - full**1st yr outlay cost*
NordicTrack$1,999$29/mo (after 1st yr)$1,999
Echelon$1,639.98***$29/mo (2yr plan)$2,387

Best Peloton alternative UK cost comparison data 

BrandBike*Membership - full**1st yr outlay cost*
NordicTrack£1,999£29/mo (after 1st yr£1,999
Echelon£1,599£24.99/mo (2yr plan)£1,948

*Based on premium model | **per household, up to 5 member profiles in some instances |  *** Echelon EX-5s Connected Model

In summary, there are cheaper options to be had, it's just a case of deciding what meets your needs the most.

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.

Best Exercise bikes

Exercise bikes were even included in the gymnasium on the RMS Titanic (Credit Alamy)
(Image credit: Alamy)

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.

Resistance Types

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).

Put simply:

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.


Hannah Bussey
Hannah Bussey

Hannah Bussey is Cycling Weekly’s longest serving Tech writer, having started with the Magazine back in 2011.

She's specialises on the technical side of all things cycling, including Pro Peloton Team kit having covered multiple seasons of the Spring Classics, and Grand Tours for both print and websites. Prior to joining Cycling Weekly, Hannah was a successful road and track racer, competing in UCI races across the world, and has raced in most of Europe, China, Pakistan and New Zealand. For fun, she's ridden LEJoG unaided, a lap of Majorca in a day, win 24 hour mountain bike race and tackle famous mountain passes in the French Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites and Himalayas. She lives just outside the Peak District National Park near Manchester UK with her partner, daughter and a small but beautifully formed bike collection.