Best exercise bikes and smart indoor bikes for home workouts 2022

Looking to get a pedal fix indoors? Here's our pick of the best exercise bikes that are always ready to ride

Image shows a cyclist riding one of the best indoor smart bikes.
(Image credit: Future)

Ultimately the best exercise bikes will be ones that motivate 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.

From beginner to professional virtual e-sports cyclist, there is an exercise bike out there for you. Even if you already own one of the best road bikes, an indoor bike has huge benefits for every cyclist.

Some of the best 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 in a similar way that the best power meters would, although some will require you to just wear a smartwatch 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. In terms of motivation, thinking of the money savings with a cheaper exercise bike might just be all you need.

BEST EXERCISE BIKES CYBER MONDAY 2022

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Cyber Monday is the ideal time to purchase an exercise bike as from our experience they're always big discount items, often saving you a lot of money over the original RRP. 

We've hand picked a couple of the deals that have impressed us the most right now, but be sure to head over to our best Cyber Monday bike deals hub where we've got all the great offers from across the web. 

Stages SB20 smart bike: $3,149 (opens in new tab)

Stages SB20 smart bike: $3,149 $1,799.99 at Backcountry (opens in new tab)

The Stages bike packs quite a punch. It simulates outdoor riding through the use of electronic shifting, braking and steering along with a 50lb flywheel up to 3,000 watts of resistance. You can train to power thanks to a dual-sided power meter that's accurate to 1.5%, as well as link automatically to third party apps like Zwift.

Tacx Neo Bike Smart:  $3,199.99 (opens in new tab)

Tacx Neo Bike Smart: $3,199.99 $2,719.99 at Competitive Cyclist (opens in new tab)
Built around the internals of Tacx's flagship Neo 2T indoor trainer, the Bike Smart offers the same ±1% power accuracy, simulation of 25% gradients and different road surfaces – as well as providing an incredibly stable platform for powerful sprinting.

Stages SB20 smart bike: £2,249.00 (opens in new tab)

Stages SB20 smart bike: £2,249.00 £1,899.00 at Sigma Sports (opens in new tab)

We found the Stages SB20 (opens in new tab) to be pretty much bulletproof when we had it on test. It simulates outdoor riding through the use of electronic shifting, braking and steering along with a 23kg flywheel and up to 3,000 watts of resistance. Thanks to a dual-sided power meter that is accurate to 1.5%, you can train to power and link to third party apps such as Zwift as well.

Stages SB20 smart bike: £2,249.00 (opens in new tab)

Stages SB20 smart bike: £2,249.00 £1,899.00 at Sigma Sports (opens in new tab)

We found the Stages SB20 (opens in new tab) to be pretty much bulletproof when we had it on test. It simulates outdoor riding through the use of electronic shifting, braking and steering along with a 23kg flywheel and up to 3,000 watts of resistance. Thanks to a dual-sided power meter that is accurate to 1.5%, you can train to power and link to third party apps such as Zwift as well.

What are the best exercise bikes right now?

Our favourite budget option is the Decathlon house brand Domyos for it's user friendly functionality which includes some helpful fitness tracking. 

If you have more cash to splash, then it has to be the Peloton Indoor Bike. It's a home gym with built in entertainment, programming and a strong on-line community to keep you accountable, perfect for anyone looking for motivation to keep riding once the initial purchase excitement wears off.  

If it's outdoor experience inside that you're after, then it has to be the totally immersive Wahoo KICKR bike, it's as close as you can get to riding your actual bike out on the road, without stepping outside. 

We've 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 further down the page. 

We've hand picked our favourite exercise bikes, super smart bikes and ideal air bikes to help you find your perfect.

We've split our guide in to three price brackets to help you determine the best exercise bike for you at a price you can afford.  

Best budget exercise bikes

Domyos Basic Exercise Bike 100 is pictured here with front pointing to the right

(Image credit: Decathlon)

1. Domyos Basic Exercise Bike 100

Best exercise bike on a budget

Specifications

Resistance: Mechanical resistance and adjustment
Weight: 220lbs/100kg
Digital display: Yes
Third party connectivity: No

Reasons to buy

+
Price of the exercise bike is a lot less than others 
+
Stability when using 
+
Easy set up to get going as soon as it's unpacked
+
Simplicity of use, but some helpful data to measure fitness progress

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited resistance so stronger riders might be left wanting
-
Screen holder if you wanted to watch or ride via an on-line class additional purchase
-
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 and at $329.00/ £249.99

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 is pictured with the front pointing to the right

(Image credit: Schwinn)
Best exercise bike for the original spin bike experience

Specifications

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 sensors
+
Basic data captured
+
Duel SPD pedals for riding with or without bike shoes
+
Oversized water bottle holder 

Reasons to avoid

-
No connectivity to third party apps or devices 
-
No gear selection, all done on breaking resistance
-
No Auto-resistance, so impossible to replicate resistance settings

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.

This may be a few hundred more than the entry level Domyos Basic Exercise Bike 100, at around $800/ £549 but there won't be many people in the household who will overpower the Schwinn.

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 mid-range exercise bikes

best exercise bikes for indoor cycling includes the Echelon Smart Connect EX3 in the image, which is shown with the front of the bike pointing left.

(Image credit: Echelon)

3. Echelon Smart Connect EX3

The cheaper alternative to Peloton smart exercise bike

Specifications

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 when compared to competition
+
Entertainment via the bespoke app
+
Simplicity of use straight out the box
+
Off bike exercises for whole body workout

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited rider position adjustment
-
On going 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.

The price of around $800/ £949 , (or monthly price - on top of your subscription) could sit this in the best budget exercise bike price bracket, but factoring in a monthly subscription plan, and tablet nudges this in to a mid-price point option. 

A clear contender for a best Peloton alternatives (opens in new tab), with unlimited personalised workouts and online community options ranges around $34.99/ £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 includes this Peloton bike in the image with is front pointing to the right

Best exercise bike for indoor community spirit

Specifications

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 factor, feels like you are attending a class with an instructor to hand
+
Motivation via app to keep you showing up
+
Off bike exercises included on app for all over workout

Reasons to avoid

-
Ongoing cost commitment for subscription
-
Limited data measured and captured
-
Estimated power output

"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 $1,400/ £1,350, it's around $1,800/ £1,000 cheaper than the Wahoo option, but nearly double that of the Echelon option. It's also worth noting that 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 

Concept 2 BikeErg is pictured here with the front pointing to the left

(Image credit: Concept 2)
Best exercise bike for dependable, repeatable and accurate workouts

Specifications

Resistance: Air
Weight: 300lbs/ 136kg
Height range: 5' - 6'4"/ 152cm -192cm
Digital display: Yes
Third party connectivity: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Performance monitoring of data
+
Connectivity to programming
+
Detailed data to break down measures of improvement
+
Resistance settings easy to use
+
Relatively low weight of whole bike 
+
No power requirement
+
Price point compared to alternative options 

Reasons to avoid

-
No direct gear correlation or adjustability
-
No handle bar damping adjustment

Concept2 is a big name in gym equipment with its rowing machines considered the gold standard and this accuracy is carried over into the Concept2 BikeErg exercise bike. Its PM5 power meter measures a host of metrics to give repeatable values from its fan-based resistance unit.

That means that there's no heavy flywheel or magnetic resistance unit, so the Concept2 BikeErg is lighter than many competitors and there's no need for a power supply. 

Set-up is quick and there's a wide range of tool-free adjustment of all the contact points. Shorter or taller riders can buy a different length seatpost for even more inside leg length range. You can also swap out handlebars, saddle and pedals, although not the crank length.

The belt drive and air resistance make for a really smooth, quiet ride. It's easy to do one of Conept2's sessions or to hook up to Zwift for more stimulation; a tablet mount is an extra worth buying.

On the down side, we didn't find power measurement all that accurate, although it was consistent, and you need to reach down to the flywheel to alter resistance rather than having a bar-mounted lever.

Read more: Concept 2 BikeErg review 

Best high-end exercise bikes

Wattbike Atom next gen smart exercise bike is shown with the front pointing to the left.

Best smart exercise bike for tracking progress

Specifications

Resistance: Electromagnetic
Weight: 297lbs/ 135kg
Height range: 5' - 6'5"/ 152cm -195.5cm
Digital display: Yes
Third party connectivity: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Simplicity of set up 
+
Solid ride feel
+
Connectivity to 3rd party apps
+
Price when compared to peers
+
Reasonably lightweight option
+
Data measuring accuracy

Reasons to avoid

-
Slow gear shift can be frustrating 
-
Lack of adjustability and customisation of position and set up 

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 and can be yours for an expected $3000 when it finally lands in the US and currently retails at £1,999 in the UK. 

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 is shown in this image, front to the right of the image

Best smart bike for the outdoor experience inside

Specifications

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 are realistic 
+
Customisation of shifters to make it mirror your bike
+
Connectivity to third party apps 
+
Great adjustability for bike set up  

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive option if not needing all of the features 
-
No screen holder when riding an 'on-line' platform.

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 of $3,500/ £2,999 and the fact that you'll need to configure some kind of screen stand.

Read more: Wahoo Kickr bike review  

Stages SB20 bike is in the image with the handle bars on the right and saddle on the left

(Image credit: Stages)
Super heavy weight for sprinters and heavily adjustable

Specifications

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 platform that can withstand even the most enthusiastic rider
+
Can withstand heavy sprint efforts
+
L/R power breakdown display 

Reasons to avoid

-
Total unit weight is Heavy! Not ideal if needing to move around. 

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. 

Price wise, it's on a par when compared to it's peers, falling in line with Tacx Neo Bike Smart Trainer, with a $2,899 / £2,799 price tag 

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

best exercise bikes for indoor cycling includes this tacx neo smart. In the image the front of the bike is pointing to the right


9. Tacx Neo Bike Smart Trainer

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

Specifications

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 to keep you cool
+
Gear display for correlation with your outdoor bike
+
Connectivity to third party apps and devices 
+
Completely wireless, so no power required
+
Lighting power indicator, ideal for on-line competition and group rides
+
Real ride feel 
+
Adjustability of bike fit

Reasons to avoid

-
Unit weight is quite heavy when compared to Wahoo Kickr

The Tacx Neo smart trainer (opens in new tab) 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. Price wise, slightly cheaper than the Wahoo at $3,199/ £2,299 making the Stages the cheapest high-end smart bike by a few hundred. 

How much does the best exercise bike or best smart bike cost?

How much do I have to spend on a home bicycle?

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 $2,500/ £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.

Will an exercise bikes help me get fit and loose weight?

What are the benefits to an indoor bike?

There are loads of benefits of cycling in general, and riding indoors is just the same. From improving mental health, strengthening your immune system to promoting weight loss, we have a list of 15 benefits of cycling (opens in new tab)for starters, and it could easily be even more. 

The real benefit to using an exercise bike over an outdoor one, is that you have total control over the pace and duration of you riding. So your fitness or weight loss journey can be very specific in meet your needs. 

If you are specifically investing in the best exercise bike to loose weight, our quick guide on how to lose weight cycling (opens in new tab)includes six essential tips to help you achieve your weight loss goals.   

How much should I use my exercise bike?

Is it ok to use it every day, or just once a week?

If you're wondering how often should I cycle to get fit? (opens in new tab) The you might be surprised to learn that little and often is the best way to improve your fitness and performance.

If time to workout is hard to find, it will be music to your ears, knowing that just three one hour sessions a week, or a handful of 30 minute rides will go further than one long ride once a week. 


What's the difference between an exercise bike and a 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.

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.

In the middle is an ever growing market of a cross-over of both genres now, and a rising trend of air bikes too. All versions of exercise bikes are becoming increasingly interactive, giving the rider an excellent choice.

In terms of value, it generally is the more you spend the more you’ll get feature wise.

And no matter what version you choose, unless you have a very understanding household or neighbours, it's probably best to invest in a pair of the best headphones for cycling at the same time that you make your indoor bike purchase. 

Best Exercise bikes were even found on the Titanic! This is an image from the boat with a woman sitting on an exercise bike, in a dress with a large hat looking at the camera. The front of the bike is facing to the left of the image, in front of her is a large clock which hands will move when she pedals. There is a man in a suit behind her also sitting on a bike.

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.

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.

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. Although most smart trainers no longer require you to use your top bike with one of the best power meters to measure your Wattage, there will always be some discrepancy from chain wear, or tyre pressures on rollers.   

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.

What is Peloton and are there alternatives?

What are the options when it comes to smart exercise bikes and monthly subscriptions?

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

We've got all the insider detail on the question of is the Peloton indoor exercise bike and app worth it on our dedicated page; but in summary: 

You'll need to purchase the bike and then subscribe to a membership monthly fee, a bit like a gym, but it does allow you to include multiple members. 

The subscription bit gives you access to instructor-led classes, which resemble 'spin classes' , events, and a motivational virtual community, as well as off bike exercises such as Yoga, stretching and strength workouts. So it's a bit like a mini home gym structured around the bike.  

While Peloton might still have the market share, there are a lot more options out there if an interactive smart bike is your thing. We've picked out what we think are the best Peloton alternatives (opens in new tab) to help you find the right bike to achieve your fitness goals.   

Which is better: an exercise bike or a turbo trainer?

When it comes to performance training and riding indoors, turbo trainers have traditionally been the way to go. However with the advent smart bikes and more coming on the market all the time, some riders have referred to them as game changers for full gas efforts and harnessing every inch of power due to their solidity, and then there's the reduction in maintenance and the bike always being ready to ride.

However, on the flip side, the compliance that is offered on your road bike attached to a turbo trainer does have its benefits on longer rides at home. The ability to stow a turbo neatly away, along with the obvious price differences will be more of a perk for some riders.

Read more on our Smart bike or top-end turbo: what's the ultimate set up for Zwift racing feature to see what two distinguished on-line racers think.

How does an exercise bike work?

Like any outdoor bike, an exercise bike works on a same concept of turning pedals, which are connected to a chain or belt, to create kinetic energy.

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.

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.

Resistance Types

At the heart of most indoor bikes sits a weighted flywheel. Its 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 flywheel 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.

The flywheel 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 flywheel 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 flywheels 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 store twice as much energy.

If you have two identical weighted flywheels, but spin one at 10 miles an hour and one at 20 miles 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 flywheel moving. It’s that simple.

The downside is, you’ll still require a pretty heavy and large flywheel; 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 flywheel, 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 online classes, both paid and free, to sign up to 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.

Another benefit of the electromagnetic 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 are no brakes in contact with the flywheel and the working noise is also significantly reduced.

The downside 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.

90% 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.

What are the pros and cons of 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.

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