Editor's Note
  • February 2, 2018 - We've updated this page to improve the user experience and replace outdated picks. The new page focuses on the two most popular styles of exercise bike: spin and recumbent. As a result, we've completely changed our top picks.
  • December 21, 2017 - We’re in the process of completely overhauling our review of the best exercise bikes from 2015. Our review of spin bikes is fully updated — we spoke with two additional fitness experts, incorporated up-to-date research about ergonomics and anaerobic exercise, and surfaced two new top picks. Stay tuned for our review of the best recumbent exercise bikes, which we’ll be publishing in January.

The Best Exercise Bikes

There’s a lot of diversity in stationary bike styles, and each design produces unique ride quality and exercise benefits. We took deep dives into the two most popular styles — recumbent and spin — and found that both have points of excellence. The one that’s right for you depends on your body, preferences, and fitness goals.

Spin bikes are best for those...

  • who already have some spinning experience under their belt
  • have a generally high level of fitness
  • prefer to self-direct their workouts

The exercise bike used in high-intensity spin classes models its construction after speedy road bikes, and supports the physically demanding way cyclists employ them. Spin bikes pitch the rider forward at a 45-degree angle, with curved handles that are on roughly the same plane as the seat. Resistance levels are typically controlled by a knob or lever, but the real intensity comes from how quickly you pedal. As you increase speed, the flywheel begins to store your excess effort, generating a powerful forward momentum. But reaching and maintaining that point of inertia requires a ton of force.

Recumbent bikes, with their easy-entry design, are best for those…

  • with back injuries
  • mobility issues
  • or who want extensive programming

With a low, long profile and a bucket seat, recumbent bikes allow the rider to lean against the backrest with legs outstretched at a shallow decline from the hips. While recumbent riding foregoes the core engagement demanded by upright bikes, these bikes do provide greater back support. You don’t have to carry your body weight on top of the pedals, which reduces joint load, while motorized resistance levels recreate the intensity of weight plus terrain. Control intensity and switch between programs using their replete consoles.

The user experience on each bike style is different. So was our process for finding the best of each. If you already know which kind your prefer, check out our reviews of the best spin bike and the best recumbent bike. For a comparative look, keep reading.

Our Top Picks

Best Basic Spin Bike
Bladez Echelon
Simple and well-crafted, this competitively-priced spin bike gave us our best ride.

For a pure spin experience — just you and the machine — we love the Bladez Echelon. Quiet, consistent rotation and sensitive knob resistance helped us get in a quality ride every time. And thanks to its straightforward display, we rode without distraction.

Like most spin bikes, the Echelon uses a battery-operated display that can’t control intensity and doesn’t offer workout programs. That might sound like a downside, but we found the simple consoles less distracting than higher-tech versions, making it easier to focus on your workout. The Echelon’s console may be bare bones but offers everything you actually need — performance stats like calories burned, time, distance, and RPMs.

Bladez Echelon display for Exercise Bikes

Though small, the Echelon's display cycled through crucial stats.

While the display is hardly more than a stopwatch, the engineering of the bike itself is impressive. The flywheel rotates with a peppy, forward-urging motion that never feels bouncy, and in fact can reach some of the heartiest levels of resistance we experienced out of all the spin models. Despite the Echelon’s overall light body weight, there’s no shaking or sound as you pedal. We felt secure enough to freely amp up intensity and ride out of the saddle.

If there’s anything more impressive than the Bladez Echelon’s solid construction, it’s the attractive pricing. At $399, this exceptional bike costs less than half of other bikes that can’t compare in ride feel or adjustability — the Echelon’s seat and handle had a wider customization range than any other bike we tested.

Best Spin Bike Programming
Diamondback Fitness 510Ic Indoor Cycle
Effortlessly smooth and fully equipped, this spin bike is substantial both in heft and technology.

After fiddling with all manner of knobs and screws on other spin bikes, we were relieved to encounter the sophisticated, console-equipped DiamondBack 510Ic. If you appreciate the full-service programming and screen quality of gym equipment, you will feel more at home on this spin bike than any other we tested. The 510Ic centralizes resistance adjustments, programming, and performance stats in one slim display — about the size of a credit card reader. (Diamondback’s level up, the 910Ic, is nearly identical in structure and tech, with slight tweaks to flywheel weight and programming depth that we didn’t find impactful enough to rationalize the $200 upcharge.)

Diamondback Console for Exercise Bike

The Diamondback's larger console allows for more advanced programming.

When it comes to adjustability, the DiamondBack doesn’t have quite the same extension range as the Bladez, but the seat can ratchet up higher, making it a better fit for users with extra long legs. We appreciated the numbered and lettered adjustment levels on this bike — a Diamondback feature that was sorely missing on most other spin bikes. Rather than have to rediscover your perfect placement every time someone else goes for a ride, you can just remember that your seat sits at “G” and quickly slide it into place.

Though the Diamondback 510Ic has a heavier body than the Bladez Echelon, it has a lighter flywheel, and we found that the Diamondback shakes and squeaks slightly more when we hit high intensities or stood to pedal. However, that experience was pretty standard for spin bikes, and the majority of our ride experience on the 510Ic was luxuriously smooth and steady. And thanks to the variety of programming, we were confident we could find a workout for any fitness goal.

Best Recumbent Bike
ProForm 740 ES
All the stand-out qualities of the other recumbents we tested, united in one superior, reasonably-priced machine.

The ProForm 740 outperformed what we expected of a recumbent, improving on every standard feature and answering to every need. We loved the sleek, sculpted design, and appreciated how easy ProForm makes it to get comfortable. The seat cradles without confining, the technology is both extensive and immediately usable, the pedal rotation remains effortless even as our effort increased. Of all the recumbents we tested, the ProForm struck this delicate set of balances best.

The ProForm won lots of points for adjustability. Simply lift up on the seat adjustment lever and the seat will easily move when you push it. Other bikes immediately started inching (or flying) down the shaft as soon as we moved the lever, which was a sometimes startling experience. We also enjoyed the innovation in the bike’s clever, tilting console. Twist the knob at the console base and it nods up and down, allowing you to tailor the positioning to your seated height. Since the majority of user interaction with the console takes place through the touchscreen, having it within easy reach and at a proper angle for clear sight is vital.

ProForm in use for Recumbent Bike

The console is a classic iFit creation (that’s the fitness tech company created by ProForm and NordicTrack’s parent entity, ICON Fitness). Its high-quality, 7-inch touchscreen and bold icons depicting program categories makes for an intuitive interface that anyone will feel confident navigating.

Best Recumbent Upgrade
NordicTrack VR25
A more generously sized ProForm 740, we’d recommend it for tall users or anyone who requires more room between them and the console.

NordicTrack and ProForm equipment are produced by the same manufacturer, so it’s no surprise that a lot of our favorite ProForm features show up on the NordicTrack. The two bikes are essentially equivalent, but the NordicTrack VR25 is bigger and more expensive — ideal for anyone who wants a more luxurious bike or needs the extra leg room. As noted above, this bike combines sophisticated technology (replete programming, beautifully clear touchscreen, intelligently organized performance stats) with ergonomic design. We noted how the seat feels both comfortable and secure — you can pedal with high intensity and stay supported and centered, no bouncing or sliding into a slump.

Most recumbents place water bottle holder and heart rate sensors near the console: Typically, the bottle holder fixes onto the console stem, while the heart rate sensors are inlaid in the handlebars that curve on either side of the display. The ProForm 740 allows you bring these amenities into reach by manipulating the placement of the console; NordicTrack VR25 solves the issue another way. It stores both holder and heart rate handles at hip-level, allowing you to hydrate and check exertion without breaking cadence or even shifting out of your seat.

NordicTrack for Recumbent Bike

Our shorter testers found the NordicTrack's console to be well above eye level, making it difficult to read.

The lack of a pivoting console, however, is a point lost for NordicTrack. It isn’t suitable for users of any height. In overall feel, the NordicTrack is roomier than the ProForm, but that breathing room comes from the fact the console sits 5 inches higher and 5 inches farther forward. If you need or want that extra space, you will enjoy NordicTrack’s dimensions. But shorter users, may find themselves squinting to see the touchscreen and straining to hit buttons.

Best Budget Recumbent
Nautilus 616
You’ll sacrifice some usability and comfort, but save $400 compared to our top pick with this simple, functional bike.

The Nautilus R616 is a clean-cut machine. Smaller and more streamlined than our fully-loaded top picks, it nonetheless provides the adjustability, intensity, and programming to answer most people’s wants. The ergonomics aren’t great — due in large part to the stiff seat back and not-so-cushiony cushion — but we still logged enjoyable miles and encountered smooth, substantial resistance.

Rather than an of-the-minute, iFit-equipped console, Nautilus’s offers rows of actual buttons and a traditional blue LCD screen, with bar charts mapping progress. We found the whole setup user-friendly (though admittedly old-school) and were impressed with its satisfying range of preloaded workouts and detailed performance stats.

Unlike ProForm and NordicTrack, the heart rate sensors don’t report in raw numbers (145 BPM, for example) but instead as a percentage. A flashing bar chart shows what percentage of your max heart rate you’re hitting (like 65%) and where that puts you on the spectrum from Warm-Up to Fat Burn to Aerobic to Anaerobic. This may seem more a guesstimate than a useful statistic, but the truth is that the heart rate provided by any exercise equipment is a guesstimate. Even on the nicest, most luxurious machines we’ve tested, we’ve noted that our heart rate jumps from low to high when we know we haven’t yet exerted ourselves. That said, we still prefer a number if only to help track our fitness level over time. Nautilus wisely locates the heart sensors themselves on the seat-side handles — allowing you to measure heart rate from a comfortable position.

Nautilus for Exercise Bikes

The seat adjustment has a steeper learning curve here than on the other models, but we got the hang of it after one or two clumsy attempts. The issue: When you open the lever, the seat rocks side to side and slides down the bar, making adjustments more taxing.

The Nautilus R616 has its quirks, but also its qualities. A heavy flywheel inside an easily portable body, plus an amazing five year parts warranty, prove the quality of this bargain-priced pick.

Tips for Getting More Out of Your Exercise Bike

Adjust your ride to get a symmetrical, injury-free workout.

We talked to physical therapist Dr. Mitch Owens about the ergonomics of cycling, and he had one top priority. “You just need total adjustability.”

Spin bike handlebars and seats should move up and down, fore and aft. Recumbent styles don’t boast the same four-way range, typically allowing for just leg length changes, but the best make that movement easy while also providing console adjustment. A good rule of thumb on any bike style: The knees should maintain some degree of bend at their fullest extension. For spinning, you want an ample 30 degree bend. On recumbents, straighten out to 10 - 15 degrees.

You can ride a bike with no handlebars.

If you’re looking for a cycling workout that recruits upper body, too, there’s also bike styles with moving handlebars. These include Hybrid or Cross Trainer Bikes (a mashup between an elliptical and an exercise bike) as well as Air or Fan Bikes, growing in popularity thanks to their use in CrossFit. These strenuous machines require you to generate your own resistance via air fan, a distant cousin to the weighted flywheel.

Fitness trainer and author of 25Days, Drew Logan has plenty of praise for air bikes, explaining that “moving both arms and legs results in a higher heart rate and an expanded lung capacity because you’re asking your blood to pump into all the limbs.” This type of user-driven workout packs a punch in a small amount of time. “If you can go hard on an air assault bike for ten minutes, you can ride for an hour on an upright bike. It’s a good measurement of your fitness level.”

The Origin of the Exercise Bike

It began as the 18th century "gymnasticon."

While exercise bikes may seem no more historical than spandex leotards and high ponytails, an early prototype of the modern indoor cycle (consisting of of two wheels, one spun by the feet and the other by the hands) first appeared in the late 1700s. Its inventor, Francis Lowndes, labeled the machine a gymnasticon. Boasting the same low-impact, joint-friendly features as today’s cycles, the gymnasticon was a notable development in physical therapy. Exercise bikes, particularly recumbent, remain key rehabilitation tools to this day.

Our Exercise Bike Review: Summed Up

Exercise Bike
The Best
Bladez Echelon
Basic Spin Bike
DiamondBack 501Ic
Spin Bike Programming
ProForm 740 ES
Recumbent Bike
NordicTrack VR25
Recumbent Upgrade
Nautilus 616
Budget Recumbent Bike