Buying An Exercise Bike
Exercise bikes provide a low impact cardio workout which will also help to tone and strengthen hips, legs, thighs and butt.
Exercise bikes are also usually the most cost effective cardio products and have proven to be the easiest to use.
The first thing to consider when buying and exercise bike is that bikes come in two main styles. There is the traditional upright style and the recumbent style. Upright bikes replicate the traditional cycling action of a normal bike. Recumbent bikes place the body in a semi reclining position which offers extra lower back support. Recumbent bikes are often recommended for older users or users with knee or hip problems. As always, if you have any medical issues consult with your doctor or medical advisor prior to starting any new exercise routine.
This guide is designed to help you identify the various components that make up and exercise bike and how to compare the quality of various machines. As with all machinery, you get what you pay for so being sure of your usage requirements and matching these with the right machine will save you later in the form of possible breakdowns and repairs.
As with any normal bike, the things to consider in the frame of an exercise bike is the size, strength and stiffness of the construction.
There is only one sure way to check if the size of a bike is suitable for you personally; that is to get on the product and try it. We are all different in our physical dimensions so it is important that the bike fits the user. Most modern exercise bikes have multiple adjustments for handlebars, seat height and range and can be adjusted to suit most users. Therefore as a very general rule, the bigger the bike frame the better, provided there is sufficient adjustment to fit smaller users.
Frame strength both in the steel tube and the welded joints is very important. When a bike is being used there are many stress points which carry quite high loads. Remember this machine is supporting your full body weight so you do not want anything breaking!
Frame stiffness is also important; if the frame is flexing when used the bike will wear our quickly and annoying squeaking or scraping noises will appear. One way to test the stiffness of a frame is to sit on the saddle with your feed on the pedals and gently pull or push on the handle bars. There should be very little or no flex movement when this test is done.
Saddle or Seat
Different styles of bike will have different seats. A standard upright bike will have a seat similar to a normal bike but bigger and softer. Comfort is the key here so look for a seat that includes air or gel cushioning.
Spin bikes are designed to replicate the style of a racing road bike therefore the saddles are smaller and more streamlined. Cushioning is not as important on these bikes as the user will have their weight further forward over the handlebars.
Recumbent bikes have much larger seats with back supports therefore comfort, support and adjustability are the important considerations.
Flywheel and Drive System
Most exercise bikes have plastic shrouds that cover the drive mechanism of the bike. The covers are designed for safety to keep objects such as fingers and toes out of the moving parts; this makes it a little more difficult to see the quality of the components. If there is any doubt it is worth having the covers removed to check these parts.
Bikes usually have a belt system which runs from the pedal crank to the flywheel. The flywheel is the heavy wheel which provides the momentum feeling similar to when riding a normal bike. As a general rule, the heavier the flywheel the better as this provides a smoother momentum feeling when it is spinning.
An important area in this part of the bike is the quality of bearing the crank and the flywheel run on as these bearings are the areas of greatest wear. The easiest way to check these bearings is how smooth and quiet the bike runs. Try turning the crank with your hand on minimum load, feeling how smooth it runs and listening for any scraping or grinding noise, this will give an indication as to the quality of the bearings and drive system.
Pedals and Cranks
This area of the bike takes a lot of wear and tear and strain. Many of the more expensive models have what is known as a 3-piece crank which means the pedal arms are separate components fixed to a central axle. This provides a stronger assembly and is also more practical to service and repair later on. Low cost bikes have a 1-piece crank that is more susceptible to flexing and breaking after high use.
When considering the pedals, look for good size pedals that provide solid foot support and adjustable straps that lock the foot in place. Some spin bike models will have facility for cycling cleats to be worn that clip into the pedal and lock the riders foot into the pedal.
In order to replicate the feeling of riding up and down hills, exercise bikes have different resistance option built in. As a higher resistance level is applied to the flywheel, the pedal crank becomes harder to turn thereby replicating the feeling of riding up a hill. Most spin bike models use direct resistance which is a brake pad pressed directly onto the flywheel. The size and composition of the pad will determine how smooth the resistance is.
Manual magnetic systems use opposing magnets which are positioned either side of the flywheel. When a manual resistance control knob is turning by the user, the magnets are pulled closer to the flywheel increasing the resistance.
Electromagnetic systems use electromagnetic brakes to control how freely the flywheel can spin. These are usually controlled by a push button action on the computer or control panel of the bike. Electromagnetic braking systems are the most accurate and sophisticated but are also the most expensive.
Console Controls and Displays
The control panel will have some form of LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) or LED (Light Emitting Diode). They are available in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes; much of the choice comes down to personal preference and what type of information you wish to see.
Various displays will show speed, distance, time, laps, incline, calories burned, heart rate and more. Don’t be misled by thinking that more programs and electronic gadgets mean a better quality product. With the developments in electronics over the past decade this componentry has become cheaper in comparison to the engineering parts such as motors, rollers and bearings.
Finally the most important consideration when purchasing an exercise bike is the company that supplies the product and the after-sales service and back-up spare parts.
This is a serious investment so be sure you are dealing with an established supplier that has a good history in the industry. Ensure they carry adequate stocks of spare parts and that they employ trained service technicians. This is especially important if you are purchasing online.
Check the warranties and make sure the supplier has the ability to back them up. Warranty promises are only as good as the company making them.