You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Best exercise bikes 2022: Top picks from Peloton, Bowflex and Echelon

Live Science logo Live Science 9/9/2022 Sam Hopes

The best exercise bikes are a low-impact way to carve cardio into your day without the constant worry of overexerting your joints. Whether you want to reinvent a spin class experience from your living room or you prefer a more conservative bike model, we guarantee our guide has something to hit the spot. 

We sent a range of exercise bikes through testing to find our favorites, including the renowned high-tech Peloton bike and the budget-friendly and very comfortable Yosuda Indoor Stationary bike. We even got our hands (and feet) on the Echelon Connect EX3, which could re-spark the old Peloton vs Echelon debate. 

A huge benefit of cycling is improved cardiovascular fitness, as stated in a review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. What’s more, a 2015 study published in Acta Physiologica Hungaria found that high-intensity intermittent cycling can improve strength. Quite the combination of health benefits to be gained, we say. 

Our comprehensive guide suits all budgets, workout styles, and homes, and we’ve tested models rigorously, so you can rest assured we only recommend the best. Find the best shoes for Peloton, or read on for our round-up. 

Best exercise bikes

If you’ve ever had a passing interest in fitness, the likelihood is that you’ve heard the Peloton name more than once. Peloton is known for its high-end fitness equipment, and the Peloton Bike was one of the key products that kickstarted its empire. This exercise bike features a sturdy, robust frame with a sleek design that doesn’t look out of place in even the most stylish living rooms. Plus, the large HD touchscreen delivers an immersive experience, streaming an extensive variety of workouts into your home.

If you’re a fan of spin-style workouts, but you don’t have the time or inclination to travel to a spin studio, then the Peloton Bike combined with the Peloton All-Access Membership App delivers the perfect halfway house experience. You’ll have all the fun and excitement of a lively in-person class and, while not quite a replacement for exercising with other people, the leadership board helps to add a competitive, community-based aspect as well. During testing, we found that the classes were near addictive in quality – so it's a good way to get hooked on exercise.

However, for this premium experience, you do have to pay a fittingly premium price. The upfront cost for the Peloton Bike itself is already more expensive than most exercise bikes, but when you add in the monthly membership cost for the app ($39 / £39 / AU$59), this will potentially price many people out. What is the best place to wear a fitness tracker? The Peloton is certainly up there. 

Despite its low price, the Yosuda is a solid little machine that can withstand some vigorous workouts. You have to do a bit of heavy lifting and set-up with this model (it weighs 73lbs and took us 45 minutes to assemble) but once it’s built, you’ll have a nice bike that should last you for a long time.

When we tested it out, we were taken aback by how comfortable the seat was – we actually preferred it to most other models, including the Peloton. We were also impressed with how smooth the ride felt when you’re on it – and it’s whisper quiet too, so you won’t irritate your neighbours.

At this price you won’t find many flashy features. The bike can display your calories, distance, time and speed, but it won’t show your actual cadence. The dated looking console is also very small, so if you’re short-sighted you might have to squint to see the metrics. 

There is a device holder, so if you’ve subscribed to a cycling platform you can watch your favorite classes on your phone or tablet. The pedals are a cage-design, so you can wear whatever trainers you like when you hop on. This does mean that you’re not experiencing the most efficient riding, as your up-strokes won’t be powering the pedals in the same way they do when you’re clipped in, but it does save you the expense of buying some new cleats.

Overall, a great option for this price; we had very few complaints. 

The Bowflex C7 Bike is a top Peloton alternative. It’s cheaper than the chart-topping exercise bike, has a 40lb flywheel that offers a smooth, silent ride, and allows you to connect to the Peloton app for some workouts – as well as Zwift, Bowflex’s own JRNY platform and more.

These are welcome options to have, but if you’re keen to save on monthly membership fees you can enjoy 12 months free access to Bowflex’s JRNY app. This has an impressive array of interval workouts available, including virtual rides in scenic locations around the world, studio classes and interval sessions. These can be viewed via the vibrant, responsive 7in touchscreen, or you can complete off-bike classes like strength training, yoga and Pilates while streaming the app on your phone or tablet – a feature we loved when we tried it out. 

The screen is on the smaller side, and cross-training workouts that combine bike work with off-bike exercises or stretching faltered as the classes automatically paused when the pedals weren’t moving for a few seconds. But those were the only faults we found with this quality machine, which boasts all the markings of a premium product at a more modest price point.

The Echelon Connect EX3 is a good-looking and cost-effective Peloton alternative, which offers a smooth riding experience and motivating workouts and challenges (via the Echelon app, for which a subscription is needed). The bike itself looks similar to something you’d find in a spin class, and it’s compact and well designed. It also has a max weight capacity of 136kg so is suitable for heavier users.

Unlike a Peloton it doesn’t have a built-in screen, but it has space for a tablet or phone where you can watch free online workouts or classes on the Echelon app - filtered by workout type, music, instructor and duration. Alternatively, you can use another third-party app to access virtual classes. 

The Echelon Connect EX3 is fully integrated and connects with Bluetooth so you can track your stats in real-time. You can also connect it to Facebook to share your workout or compete with friends and family. The magnetic resistance dial, while quiet and smooth, is a little under-sensitive, but nothing that should get in your way. This is an impressive indoor cycling machine that is intuitive to use and a solid investment for both beginners and seasoned riders.

We’ve put a couple of budget options in this list, as stock availability means that often one model is available when the other one isn’t. This bike comes in as our second favorite, costing less than $400. It’s as good as the Yosuda in most aspects, but it doesn’t have any kind of metrics display. It also doesn’t come with any kind of device holder, so you can’t follow any classes.

It is a little more stylish than the Yosuda model – check out that bold red wheel – and it has a slightly heavier 49lb flywheel. If you’re someone who actually prefers to exercise without constantly monitoring your metrics, then this could be a good option for you.

It’s surprisingly quiet, only measuring 60 decibels when we were pounding away, which is about equivalent to a normal conversation. It also transitions really smoothly across its resistance range. Because it’s such a basic bike, you don’t need to even plug it in – it’s entirely manual. This means that you don’t need to watch out for trailing wires and you also don’t have to worry about excessive electricity bills.

We still rate it as an excellent budget buy that’s perfect for beginners, just don’t expect a lot of fancy features if you’re purchasing this model. 

Any exercise bike favored by New Zealand’s widely-feared rugby team is unlikely to be designed for the faint of heart, and that’s exactly what we found with the Wattbike Atom. The interval-style workouts on offer are no joke, with the All Blacks-inspired session we tried leaving us counting the seconds until we could catch our breath. 

The lack of a touchscreen or display of any kind may seem strange given the machine’s considerable cost – it retails at just shy of £2,000 in the UK and is set to hit the US soon. However, this bike isn’t designed for beginners. Instead, it’s geared towards seasoned cyclists and athletes looking to make serious performance progress. For this reason, it’s fitted with 22 gears rather than the usual resistance settings, and these are located on backward-facing handlebars to mimic a road bike. 

The Wattbike Atom also shuns the bright lights and live workouts of the Peloton in favor of streamlined interval sessions. These are delivered via the Wattbike Hub app which, unlike the Peloton and Bowflex platforms, is available free of charge. Workouts are displayed as minimalistic bar graphs rather than follow-along classes, so there’s nothing to distract you from your goal – hitting a target RPM for a prescribed amount of time. 

Newcomers to indoor cycling might find this approach less accessible than the dynamic on-demand classes offered by competitors, but if you’re looking to boost your endurance and cycling performance, this direct approach will get results. 

Good value and streamline, the Mobi Turbo Exercise Bike is a great starter machine for spinning fans on a budget. It is fast to assemble and compact with a small footprint, so it’s suitable for people short on space.

Despite it’s low price it has an efficient auto-resistance feature, automatically adjusting the intensity during workouts to simulate real terrains. This helps to create a more realistic riding experience, and also keeps you from ‘coasting’ or not pushing yourself during a class. However, you can also adjust the resistance via the dial or on the free app if you prefer.

Instead of a touchscreen, the Mobi Turbo exercise bike has a LCD control screen. It’s lacking a water bottle holder, which is frustrating, and the app has very limited workouts - although more content is promised soon. If you have a Peloton or iFit membership you could use these to follow workouts on the bike instead.

This is a no-frills, spinning style bike for people who don’t need a ton of features or virtual classes to keep them motivated. It’s not the prettiest of machines and it’s lacking in functionality, but it has an ergonomic design and a big padded seat that makes riding more comfortable.

How we test exercise bikes

We subjected all bikes to a rigorous review process, working through the gears to make sure they were able to deliver a lung-busting workout. 

Our testing team completed a range of workouts, including an active recovery session, an intense interval workout, and a longer endurance piece, before scoring each exercise bike on five factors:

  • Set up and usability
  • Design and display
  • Features
  • Performance
  • Value for money

Results were used to calculate a final score out of five and inform a detailed verdict designed to summarize each exercise bike’s strengths and weaknesses, helping you pick the best product for you.

Exercise bike vs other kinds of exercise

We spoke to physiotherapist and bike fit expert Sam Birch to find out why cycling is so popular. He told us that cycling is a brilliant way for those recovering from lower-limb injuries to still achieve a cardio workout, without the impact. 

Cycling is considered more of a lower body workout, but your upper body provides stabilization, and you can still improve your cardio and ramp up calorie burn. 

Sam Birch © Provided by Live Science Sam Birch
Sam Birch
Physiotherapist

Currently a Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist at Pure Sports Medicine, Birch has a keen interest in post-surgical rehabilitation, cycling injuries and sports rehabilitation. 

Exercise bike vs treadmill 

So why jump on one of the best treadmills instead of a bike? 

Treadmills are arguably more versatile, though many bikes are now souped up with similar specs. Both allow you to focus on aerobic exercise (like jogging or gentle cycling, using oxygen) and anaerobic exercise (like sprinting or high-intensity spin, without using oxygen). Both also come packed with benefits like improved cardio fitness, stronger muscles, and healthier bones though they target your muscles differently. 

Running is a full-body workout, engaging your upper and lower body to achieve forward propulsion. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that even small regular increments of running can reduce the risk of developing chronic cardiovascular diseases.

The downside for keen runners is the impact on joints, even if you run on shock-absorbing tread belts. Learning how to run properly and how running shoes should fit are two ways to tackle it, but exercise bikes mitigate the risks of joint injuries.

Exercise bikes and treadmills are on an even keel for price, size, and workout experience, and exercise bikes are far more sophisticated than they used to be. Immersive color screens, live and on-demand classes and a vast range of workout options are available on both, so really it comes down to personal preference and whether you want to focus on full-body training.

Recumbent exercise bike vs upright bikes 

If you’ve been to the gym and mistaken an exercise bike for a go-kart, you’ve seen a recumbent bike. Recumbent bikes sit close to the floor in a reclined position and house front pedals, whereas upright bikes look like spin bikes. 

Recumbent bikes didn’t make it into our round-up this time, but that doesn’t mean they’re not useful. These models are an ergonomic solution because the front pedal position helps to redistribute your weight which places less pressure on your knees and tailbone, and they also have a backrest.

Spine Health found that rough terrain and poor posture increase pressure on your lower back and could cause injury, so a reclined recumbent bike could help if you’re recovering from injury or new to exercise.

However, this positioning could result in a lack of core, glute, and upper body engagement, as sitting upright requires more core and upper body engagement for stabilization.

Birch says that the type of exercise bike you choose is up to you. “Personally, I find upright bikes better replicate an actual cycling position,” he tells us. “There’s also better leg muscle recruitment which allows maximal power output when pedaling.” He also believes that recumbent exercise bikes are more supportive, but they offer an unnatural cycling experience, and it’s harder to put power through the pedals.

Are recumbent exercise bikes effective?  

The reduced drag is said to produce faster speeds which technically makes them more aerodynamic. However, a study published in Frontiers in Sport and Active Living found power output higher in upright bikes, and Birch agrees.  

Exercise bike vs rowing machine 

Which machine wins between rowing vs cycling? Well, neither are as high-impact as running, so you could feel prepped to exercise for longer. Both also work the aerobic and anaerobic systems (if you decide to include HIIT), meaning cardio gains and improvements in power, strength, and endurance are up for grabs, too (as mentioned above).

The main difference is the muscles worked. Rowing targets roughly 86% of muscles in the body, offering a more full-body strength workout than cycling. It depends somewhat on how you train though, as outdoor cyclists who tackle tricky terrain will likely use more of their core than indoor cyclists. 

Rowing machine benefits are plentiful, including stronger bones and muscles, but calorie burn is more unclear and depends on personal parameters like weight, speed, and distance. One calorie calculator based on the compendium of physical activities values (a value system used globally to quantify energy cost) averaged calorie burn somewhere between 500-700 per hour rowing at 100 watts and 400-800 calories per hour cycling.

However, Harvard Medical School estimated calorie burn for a 155lb person after 30 minutes of moderate cycling and rowing to be the same, but rowing took victory during high-intensity training. In short? Both offer similar benefits, but although cycling is more accessible, rowing provides more of a full-body resistance workout.  

Exercise bike vs air bikes 

Different types of exercise bikes offer different experiences.

An exercise bike that has crept into gyms, workout classes, and social media videos worldwide is the air dyne, also referred to as an air bike or assault bike. The name says it all. 

Air bikes are still low-impact and seated, but they house moving handles (similar to a cross trainer) that work alongside the pedals and require your arms to push and pull to drive movement. 

The aim is to add resistance and increase muscular engagement using a fan on the front wheel. Typically, they’re used (and feared) as a metabolic conditioning tool, helping to ramp up calorie burn, build strength, and improve endurance by engaging your full body to ‘overcome’ resistance on the handles and pedal. 

Benefits remain similar to regular cycling, but you’re more likely to find this kit in HIIT classes and functional training, usually paired with free weights and bodyweight cardio like burpees. 

The front wheel offers up to 10 resistance levels for all abilities, similar to a spin bike, but resistance is set on the wheel itself. 

A study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science incorporated 1-minute assault bike rounds into a high-intensity functional training class and included an upper and lower body ergometer. Compared with leg pedaling alone, the upper-body ergometer provided additional muscle mass, stress to the cardiovascular system, and increased heart rate. This could also explain the higher metabolic costs. 

Exercise bike vs elliptical 

Both are low-impact, but ellipticals (also called cross trainers) engage the upper and lower body together for a full-body workout. Using an elliptical feels more like running though, so while it could be a safe alternative for runners, it’s unlikely that cyclists would favor them.

Elliptical machines house oversized foot pedals and large handles for your hands, which allows you to mimic a running stride. As with running, your upper and lower body work together, but the added resistance increases intensity. You can still achieve a HIIT workout using these machines, similar to cycling, and the benefits are also similar. 

According to one study published in the National Institutes of Health, ellipticals encouraged greater engagement in the quadriceps and quadriceps-hamstrings coactivation than walking and stationary cycling. 

Exercise bikes are handier for saving space (especially folding designs), particularly if you live in a city apartment, but considering Harvard Medical School reckons a 155lb person could ramp up around 324 calories in 30 minutes – it could be worth making room.

Is an exercise bike as good as cycling?

Birch tells us that exercise bikes offer consistent resistance over a set period, whereas outdoor cycling could mean contending with stop signals, traffic, or cruisey downhill routes. 

However, while this is beneficial for specific training methods or monitoring your power output during HIIT bike workouts, it can feel boring. Birch says that getting fresh air and cycling with friends might be a more pleasurable experience. 

Regardless, both methods can improve your cardio and get those glutes firing up, and most of the intensity of outdoor training can be matched on more advanced indoor spin bikes. 

The Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation studied a spinning group and a standard cycling group to see what (if any) differences there are. Somewhat surprisingly, the spinning group results were greater for improved body composition and fitness, although both groups saw positive changes across all health parameters. 

Although variables like weight, distance, and intensity will affect your results, spin classes might encourage the adherence and motivation lacking for some solo cyclists. Instructors may also have you pushing harder on those pedals when your head is telling you a firm ‘no.’ 

That isn’t to say outdoor cycling doesn’t offer its own set of unique perks. A study into the effects of outdoor cycling on people suffering from mental illness found that factors like community and fresh air could empower people and promote long-term physical activity – as published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 

What is the most comfortable exercise bike?

Birch recommends the Wattbike because of its realistic bike geometry, saying it’s easy to adjust and replicates a regular bike setup without the cramped feeling of upright bikes (like Peloton and Echelon). “Their lack of adjustability makes people feel they're stretching for the handlebars,” he says. And there isn’t much you can do to combat this. 

Personally, we loved the affordable Yosuda Indoor Stationary Cycling Bike, which has the comfiest seat we’ve tested – something you’ll come to cherish if you’re buying your first bike, trust us. We found the Peloton bike too solid and kept adjusting mid-workout to find a comfier position (we didn’t find one).

If you’re recovering from injury, new to exercise or have long-term lower back or knee issues, a recumbent bike could provide far more support, although you’d need the space to house it. 

Keen to follow Birch and try the Wattbike? Our Wattbike Atom review can advise you on what to expect. All in all, it depends on your preferences, fitness goals, and home living situation.

Is an exercise bike good for losing weight?

If you’re questioning – Are exercise bikes good for weight loss? We asked Birch his thoughts. 

He tells us that exercise (in general) contributes toward weight loss, but a weight loss journey consists of a whole lot more, like your diet. And poor diet can’t be out-cycled. 

Instead, Birch advises a calorie deficit alongside your training if you’re aiming to lose weight.

Cycling does burn calories, but this shouldn’t pull focus from its ability to boost your cardio fitness and overall health. That said, exercise bikes still make it into our best exercise machines to lose weight guide. 

Wondering how to ramp up calorie burn? A study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism measured excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) in 12 men engaging in interval training and continuous cycling. EPOC refers to the increase in oxygen consumption after high-intensity exercise, resulting in a temporary rise in metabolism and calorie burn as we return to homeostasis – ‘normal.’

Results were similar when the total workload was similar, but the heart rate was higher during interval training. While pedaling against resistance, muscles are forced to work harder, increasing heart rate, respiration, and calorie burn. 

Meanwhile, a study published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation studied 24 female middle school students for 16 weeks cycling for one hour a day, three times a week, and compared spinning groups with regular cycling. Results showed improvements for both, with significant changes in the spinning group – especially in body fat percentage and body mass. 

Controlling speed and resistance can help you tap into aerobic, anaerobic, and strength training systems. Of course, a myriad of factors like diet, hormones, and lifestyle play a part, too. 

So, do exercise bikes burn belly fat? While aerobic training can optimize fat burn (read the best time to workout to find out why), unfortunately, you can’t ‘spot reduce’ fat. 

What are the benefits of riding a stationary bike every day?

The Journal of the American Heart Association found cycling to lower the risk of chronic cardiovascular disease and Spine Health encourages cycling as a gentle way to achieve high-intensity exercise. We’ve already mentioned most of the benefits, but discovering how to get the most out of your exercise bike can help you hit your goals more efficiently. 

Your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core benefit most from cycling (alongside your heart and lungs), but physiotherapist Birch says consistency is the key. He recommends daily cycling if you want to improve because this progressively loads and trains those muscle groups. “You will notice increased leg strength and improved cardio fitness, too,” he says. 

However, Birch recommends adding variation to keep it interesting. After all, variety is the spice of life. 

Although you might be concerned about which muscles are used in cycling, a well-crafted program includes weight training and increasing your daily movement (NEAT). 

Which is better: Peloton vs Echelon?

We recommend checking out our Peloton vs Echelon guide for the full lowdown as comparisons continue to rage.

In short, they’re very similar bike models. In our opinion, it comes down to cost (just). And If you’re on a budget, you may prefer to look elsewhere. 

Both models look very similar and pack live and on-demand workouts into a comprehensive library, so you’re unlikely to get bored either way. Echelon has dual pedals, but both work primarily with Delta cleats – although there are ways around this, like changing out your pedals. 

Peloton bikes are treated almost like a fashion label, with all their bikes, shoes, and accessories matching their iconic black and red aesthetic. Echelon offers more models, but Peloton are considered ‘hard to match’ for variety and the overall immersive spin experience. 

If you’re more of a numbers person, Peloton offers 100 levels of resistance compared to Echelon’s 32, and the instructor can control the Peloton bike + without you lifting a finger. Both have the usual mod cons like Bluetooth, compatible apps, and heart rate monitor compatibility, but Peloton + supports Apple GymKit. If you plan to purchase a heart rate monitor, it’s worth exploring your cardio heart rate zones first. 

AdChoices

More from Live Science

AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon