The 30-Second Review

The best recumbent bike should provide invigorating, low-impact exercise whether your goal is rehabilitation, functional training, or general fitness. We tapped the knowledge pool of a physical therapist and a fitness trainer to find the key stats of great recumbent bikes, then put in ride time on the six most promising models we could find. Our three top picks offer intense workouts in comfortable designs.

Best Recumbent Bike

The most enjoyable, most customizable recumbent we experienced, boasting all the top features of luxury bikes for a couple hundred dollars less. The ProForm 740 ES features engaging workouts; a responsive, high-quality touchscreen; and supportive seating. Easily adjustable, this was one of the most comfortable machines we tested. And the depth of programming and clarity of the console made us eager to exercise.

Spacious Upgrade

Effectively identical to the ProForm, but bigger in size and cost. We loved the dense, 360-degree intensity of every pedal rotation and the handy heart rate sensors and water bottle holder. We didn’t love the non-adjustable display, which appears to be angled for the 6-foot-plus crowd.

Best Budget Pick

Nautilus R616
If price is a big factor, scale down to this basic bike. The console is entry-level and the seat isn’t as comfortable, but we were pleased with the variety of workouts presented on a clear, easily readable display.

The Best Recumbent Bike

Ergonomics, programming, and ride feel were our top wants, and all of the recumbents we tested met our expectations fairly well. But the ProForm 740 ES ($799) delivered in spades. Rich programming and superb functionality made this bike our unanimous favorite. Its sculpted, supportive seat makes long rides enjoyable, and the fully-loaded console keeps up momentum with scenic workout videos alongside standard options, like intervals. The pedals rotate with unceasing tension — it was the only bike we tested with resistance that stayed smooth and silent no matter the level. We were also impressed with its pivoting console, a unique feature that allows you to adjust the screen to your sitting height. Our only disappointment: The heart rate sensors make us reach out to grip the console instead of being located beside our hips.

If you need more room for your long limbs and can afford to spend quite a bit more, NordicTrack VR25 was a close second ($1,299). This top-of-the-line recumbent bike is a stately machine. The silken ride quality is especially notable at high resistance levels, and enabled us to push through tough climbs without losing cadence or motivation. It boasts the same phenomenal iFit programming and well-crafted seat of the ProForm 740, plus keeps both water bottle holder and heart sensors handy, flanking the seat. But unlike the ProForm, the NordicTrack’s console doesn’t adjust, and we felt the loss. Its upward-tilted display stands five inches taller and five inches farther from the seat back than that of ProForm, forcing shorter users to strain to see the screen or push a button.

Both the ProForm 740 and the NordicTrack VR25 are exceptional bikes, but they don’t come cheap. If you’re looking for value and can make a couple usability sacrifices, we recommend the Nautilus R616 ($550). Its console may appear outdated, but still provides a satisfying spread of workouts plus all the performance metrics you need. We found seat adjustments to be a little more involved than we'd prefer, but we appreciated the convenient, seat-side water bottle holder and heart rate sensors. Like the NordicTrack, you can conveniently get feedback on your exertion or take a swig without breaking form.

Our Tops Picks for Best Recumbent Bike

Best Recumbent Bike
ProForm 740 ES
All the best features in one package: even resistance, total adjustability, superior ergonomics.

Large enough for an open feel, but small enough to lift onto its front wheels and transport with ease, ProForm’s flagship recumbent model is a happy medium in every way. But it really won us over with unexpected upgrades, like the adjustable console and the truly superior tech — the same deluxe setup you’ll find on the NordicTrack VR25 but for a couple hundred dollars less.

Even on basic screens (i.e., when we weren’t virtually cycling Hawaiian highways) we enjoyed the glossy iFit layout, which organizes all available info legibly and gives clear indicators of where you can customize (changing measurements for distance, for example, with a quick swipe). We admired the wide range of metrics, as well as how intuitive they were to access.

Throughout our testing, it was hard not to repeatedly compare NordicTrack and ProForm head-to-head, particularly on ride feel. Both offer reliably smooth, mellow resistance, but ultimately we pegged the ProForm as the slightly more comfortable. When we moved from high to low intensity, the NordicTrack felt like it was shuddering to a stop, while the ProForm continued to exert controlled pressure. That exceptional ride feel also benefited from a molded, flexible plastic seat back that moves with you, keeping your back cradled as your body naturally twists side to side.

ProForm in use for Recumbent Bike

We felt secure from first adjustment to dismount with the ProForm. A far cry from the sudden slide of the cheaper models, adjusting on the ProForm takes place on your time. Even after you release the lever, the seat won’t move until you apply some torque, either with feet on the floor, against the pedals, or just pushing away from the console handles.

One of the few issues we had with the ProForm 740, we also had with every single other recumbent we tested. The foot straps are set to cover the foot diagonally, from the inside ball mount of the foot to the outside arch. We found that no matter how tightly we tried to strap our feet in, they slide into a turned-out position — not a great stance for parallel pedaling.

Other than that, the ProForm 740 assisted us in achieving an effective, ergonomic workout in every way possible. This bike makes it blissfully easy to find your perfect position and get a great workout.

Spacious Upgrade
NordicTrack VR25
Essentially the same, well-designed bike with a couple additional convenience perks for a higher price.

An exceptionally spacious design, the NordicTrack VR25 will appeal to taller users, or users who prefer to have more room between them and the console. In terms of technology and overall experience, our two top picks are twins. And nearly every compliment we had for the ProForm holds true for the NordicTrack: Exceptional tech, good ergonomics, and thoughtful amenity placement (with one exception, covered below). We especially liked that NordicTrack VR25’s seat handles feature not only heart sensors but also arrow buttons to adjust resistance. This stand-out addition appeared only on the NordicTrack VR25 of all the bikes we tested.

Another factor that made the NordicTrack unique: The smooth ride feel at high intensities. What we would label “high intensity” starts about midway through the resistance level line-up. Even the lowest numbers are on par with the mid-range intensity we experienced on other bikes. Surprisingly, this doesn’t result in unusable highs. The elastic, forward-springing motion of the pedals kept our movements natural even as we were muscling against the top setting.

While the consistent resistance quality is luxurious, the bike’s not totally silent. There’s a grumble that provides a detailed mental picture of the flywheel spinning away inside the cover. And it can’t maintain its placid ride quality at lower resistance levels. When reducing intensity or slowing to a stop, you hear and feel a clattering as the flywheel loses momentum.

Our one major gripe: The console is set up really high, and there’s no way to adjust it, not even during the assembly stage. Result: The otherwise flawless touchscreen is a little hard to see and a little hard to use. We’re mostly comfortable with the finicky nature of touchscreens (you have to tap at the right angle to get a response) but the extreme perch of the NordicTrack’s screen made using it while seated extra challenging. Challenging enough to take the NordicTrack out of the running entirely? Not at all. But it did have us scouring the manual and manufacturer website for a nonexistent solution. Taller users won’t have any issues, but the farther you are beneath six feet, the more problems you’ll have.

Our shorter testers found the VR25's console to be well above eye level.

And once again, the pedal strap design could also use a little tweaking: It has the grooved crank lock you find on rollerblades and snowboard bindings, and requires you to use two hands. One to release the lever and the other to thread the belt. Despite these complaints, the NordicTrack VR25 is a beautiful machine, and the perfect match for someone whose height or size requires extra breathing space. However, we'd advise waiting for NordicTrack’s semi-annual sales before scooping up this top-of-the-line pick — you might be able to save several hundred dollars.

Best Budget Pick
Nautilus R616
More utilitarian in design and feel, this well-priced bike doesn’t skimp on programming or warranty length, plus is easy to transport.

The two most reasonably priced recumbents we tested, the Nautilus R616 and the Schwinn 270, are just about interchangeable. Looking at them side-by-side, it’s clear that they came out of the same factory. Both are diminutive, with honeycomb plastic seat backs, elongated, button-filled consoles, and lots of color coding. The one major difference: warranty length.

The Nautilus comes with the most impressive warranty of all our recumbent picks — a full five years for parts plus two for labor. That means you won’t have to tinker with any fixes yourself for a good long while. The cheaper Schwinn cuts warranty duration substantially, offering our minimum two years for parts and just 90 days for labor. If you don’t mind rolling up your sleeves for repairs after the first three months, go with the Schwinn and pocket the $100 difference. But we value manufacturer assurance that equipment will remain functional, so with longevity in mind we pegged the Nautilus R616 as the best budget bike.

Schwinn and Nautilus for Recumbent Bike

Our cheaper recommendations: The Nautilus 616 (L)
and Schwinn 270 (R).

If you're spending less on your recumbent bikes, you'll have to make some sacrifices. We found the biggest difference came in adjustability -- cheaper models were harder to adjust than their more expensive counterparts. But between our two most affordable bikes, the Nautilus was easier to adjust than the Schwinn 270. The Schwinn gained infamy for sending us plummeting forward when we loosened the seat lever. Nautilus, on the other hand, was guilty of a little harmless rocking.

Nautilus’ controls and programming options are presented in a bold, brightly colored arrangement that’s immediately easy to use — scroll through workouts with arrow buttons or select from numbered resistance levels. No guessing required. And you won’t be constrained when it comes to choice — pick from 29 workout programs, just a handful fewer than our luxury favorites. And just because it doesn’t come equipped with technology, doesn’t mean that you can’t bring your own to the table. Media plug-ins and Bluetooth connectivity allow you to blast your own music through the speakers and upload workout stats to your phone.

While we found that a low overall weight correlated with a poorer ride feel, there’s a flipside. The Nautilus R616 is super easy to move. Weighing in at 92 pounds, the Nautilus is more than 50 pounds lighter than both the ProForm 740 and the NordicTrack VR25. Lightweight bodies plus convenient handles make the Nautilus a great option if you’re looking to wheel your recumbent bike out of sight when you’re done working out.

Getting the seat right is an art, not a science.

A 2013 study on maximizing comfort in recumbent cycling found that women 5’1” to 5’4” preferred the seat a little less than 25 inches to the crankshaft center (middle of flywheel) and a little more than 18 inches from the ground. From these findings, they proposed two equations to find anyone’s perfect seat.

357.729 + 0.687 (body height in cm) = Distance from seat center to crankshaft center in mm

153.018 + 3.065 (body height in cm) = Distance from seat center to ground in mm

The study ends on the disclaimer that they made their calculations based on a limited range of body types, and it would take further testing to know whether it holds true across heights and genders. We plugged our measurements into the formula and calibrated the seats accordingly, leading to a little scientific discovery of our own. If you’re on the upper end of five feet, the equation drastically underestimates leg length.

The best way to find your perfect position: Adjust the seat a little at a time till you hit your sweet spot, when your knees maintain a 10-15 degree bend when fully extended.

Our Recumbent Bike Review: Summed Up

Recumbent Bike
The Best
ProForm 740 ES
NordicTrack VR25
Spacious Upgrade
Nautilus R616
Budget Pick