Best exercise bike 2020: home cardio workouts with lower impact

Whether it’s bad weather or a global pandemic that forces you to move your cycling efforts indoors, you can rest assured that the best exercises bikes will still give your quads and glutes a run – or cycle – for their money. Indoor cycling is one of the most popular type of indoor exercising alongside running on a treadmill and pedalling on an elliptical trainer.

What sets indoor cycling apart from the other two is the variety of virtual platforms you can use with them. Sure, Zwift now offers similar experience for runners as it does for cyclists, but the for cyclists is way more sophisticated (for now). Not to mention other apps like Sufferfest, TrainingPeaks and the likes that can turn a boring cycling session indoors into something more fun and rewarding, especially if you are using a smart exercise bike or a smart turbo trainer. 

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So whether you’re looking to recreate a stage of the Tour de France or just spend 20 minutes in the fat-burn zone to help you lose weight faster and get fit sooner, there’s something in this collection of the best home exercise bikes for you. Make one the centre-piece of your best home gym.

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What is the best exercise bike?

That’ll be the Technogym Bike Personal, which is one of the most stylish and approachable exercise bikes around, and certainly less menacing than the Tour de France-spec Wattbike Atom, much as we love that.

This ace piece of designer gym equipment is just as capable in some ways, although not as realistic-feeling, with a very smooth pedal stroke and plenty of connectivity to keep boredom away during those long workout sessions.

The interactive touchscreen is crisp and clear, its compact proportions make it perfect for bouji modern flats and its heart rate-based training modes are among the best ways to work up a sweat in your own personal spin class. 

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How to buy the best exercise bike

The first thing to know about  home exercise bikes is that the cheaper ones are not all that much like riding a real bike. High end smart indoor trainers like the Wattbike Atom and Proform Tour De France TdF Pro 5.0 Studio are the exception not the rule. You may want to consider a smart (turbo) trainer if you require a more ‘realistic’ experience without spending a pretty penny on a high-spec smart bike. 

Most modern exercise bikes use a brake-based system that sees a heavy metal flywheel turned by the pedals and chain, rather than a rear wheel. Resistance is added in cheaper models by braking this flywheel as you would on a moving vehicle.

However, in recent years home exercise bikes and spin bikes have arrived that use powerful magnets to act as a brake. This does away with the need to apply physical force to the flywheel, preventing wear and tear. It also offers a more natural, realistic feel

As well as considering the cost of the bike, the main decision you will need to make is riding position, be it recumbent (basically sat down) or varying levels of upright. The former is great for anyone with back problems, who perhaps doesn’t want to be hunched over like Bradley Wiggins attacking a time trial, while the latter does its best to replicate a real outdoor cycling experience. 

These things do command a decent amount of space at home. But even if you haven’t a clue what cadence means, nor care for Lycra-clad jaunts at the weekend, one of these pedal-powered beauties could be the difference between you smashing your 2019 fitness goals or slowing sliding into couch potato land.

With the best exercise bikes from under £200 to over £2,000 you’re sure to find the right one for you here…

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The best exercise bikes, in order

If you prefer the exercise bikes in your local gym to the more modern, stripped down spin bike, then you’re going to love the Forma. It’s as close to a gym bike as one can get for the home. That means a smooth, adjustable seat that’s easy to move with one hand, automatic data tracking via the on-board computer and ergonomically designed handlebars that replicate standard, city and racing bikes.

Technogym’s operating system is extremely intuitive and simple to use. Fire up a bespoke app, scan the QR code on a machine and data from previous workouts, favourite settings and training programmes are transferred between devices. 

As usual with Technogym, the fit and finish are excellent and while the price looks high, its proven reliability means it will eventually pay for itself (as long as you keep using it for workouts, rather than to dry underpants on).

    This is an even more serious bit of kit than the TechnoGym entry above; it’s sort of the Terminator of the spin bike world. Wattbike has long been the master of creating professional grade indoor cycling equipment that offers more feedback than a heavy metal concert in a wardrobe, but now it has turned its attention to the private home market.

    The Atom condenses all of the sensors and technical nous of the standard, gym-dwelling Wattbike into one very stylish package, designed to take on the increasingly popular new breed of smart turbo trainers.

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    The Atom’s lightweight steel construction makes it easy to move around, while the compact frame ensures it doesn’t take up too much space at home.

    It still feels more like a real, high-performance road bike than most of its rivals. It’s got a thin, lightweight racing saddle, authentic drop bars with rubber gear cowling and ‘out-front’ time trial bar extensions. 

    The realism doesn’t stop there, because when plugged in and synched up to a smart device, it shows off its fancy, innovative Climb Mode, which automatically adjusts resistance when connected to virtual training software. So when you hit a hill during a Zwift session, the resistance ramps up to match.

    Wattbike’s own, detailed app measures 37 different riding metrics, which can be displayed on a smartphone or tablet (there’s a neat holder for that) while training.

    Perhaps most importantly, the price tag is way less than the original Wattbike – which you can read about further down this list. The cost is comparable to top-end turbo trainers which, obviously, require the addition of an actual bike.

    The Impetus IR 6500am Air Magnetic Recumbent Cycle is a good example of why recumbent exercise bikes are not just for seniors. This HIIT machine will make you sweat with it’s intense pre-set workout programmes while the air coming from the flywheel will keep you cool in the same time. Best of all worlds!

    The 10 pre-set program includes: target goal, user mode, fat burning, interval training, heart rate control, watt control, T.H.R, recovery and body fat calculation. There is a built-in heart rate sensor in the handles, hence how the Impetus IR 6500am Air Magnetic Recumbent Cycle can estimate your body fat percentage.

    The LCD display won’t replace your OLED TV but it’s detailed enough to show you all the key stats during your workouts: you can check your speed, time, distance, calories, watt, pulse, programme, load and RPM. On the main panel, just below the display, you’ll find a the dial with which you can crank up the resistance with ease.

    Said resistance is provided by the a combination of air and magnetic resistance and has 16 different levels. Max wattage of the Impetus IR 6500am Air Magnetic Recumbent Cycle is 250 watts which is not mind-blowing but considering that you can only use your legs and glutes, it is plenty for majority of people.

    The Impetus IR 6500am Air Magnetic Recumbent Cycle is not a light cardio machine for sure: the gross weight of this exercise bike is 85 kilos. On the upside, you can learn how to deadlift correctly by trying to move it around the house.

    Okay, so this isn’t your typical exercise bike but what it lacks in conventional styling, it more than makes up for with a punishing workout that targets multiple muscle groups. The professional quality Schwinn unit uses belt drive fan resistance, which essentially means the harder you work, the more it cranks up the resistance level to fight back and make the workout even harder.

    Plenty of professional athletes can be seen using a similar contraption to warm up before hitting the sports field, simply because it works a great selection of muscle groups. We’re not saying this will make you a professional athlete, but it will assist you in nailing those daily HIIT targets.

    This may not look as scary as Wattbike’s ultra serious Atom, but this Antonio Citterio-designed piece of functional art may give your finances a bit of a shock. It should look great in any living space, while packing the sort of fitness punch that has stood Technogym head and shoulders above competitors for years now.

    Not only is it one of the most compact static bikes around (Just over 1m in length and 0.5m wide), its also features advanced biomechanics and reduced distance between the pedals, meaning it feels just like being on two wheels.

    A sleek touchscreen display takes care of the myriad workout options and the built-in Unity software system ensures internet, social media, TV and Netflix are all a few swipes away. There’s also the option to workout online.

    But one of our favourite features is the CPR training mode, which adjusts intensity based on your pulse (read through handles or chest strap) so you don’t have to worry about settings. Simply spin into a frenzy and get shredded in no time at all.

    The Wattbike Trainer is the Atom’s big bro’, and many professionals’ choice. That’s because it’s a precise training tool that’s arguably the closest you can get to real road riding without leaving the comfort of your living room.

    Firstly, the machine is set up to resemble a real, lightweight race bike. So it comes with a razor thin saddle, strap-in pedals (that can be easily swapped for road cleats), drop handlebars and ‘out-front’ time-trial style grips.

    All of the above can be adjusted and fettled to suit the individual rider and once comfortable, the clever combination of dual air and magnetic braking means every revolution of the crank feels mighty realistic.

    Wattbike plays nice with any apps and wearable technology that is ANT+, Bluetooth, FE-C and Wi-Fi compatible, meaning it’s easy to sync your heart rate monitor, it works with those smart pedals and allows you to sift through the reams of data at the end of each workout.

    Even without add-ons, the Wattbike produces plenty of stats. Its power readouts, which work between 0-3760W, are some of the most accurate on the market.

    Patented Polar View technology also regales the rider with information on each individual pedal stroke, so ultra-keen cyclists can improve pedalling efficiency and power output.

    Two-wheeled geekery aside, this thing makes a top notch exercise bike for even the casual user, with simple resistance adjustment at the front of the machine, plenty of adjustability to suit all body shapes and an easy-to-use interface that can be as detailed or as simple as the user requires.

    All of this doesn’t come cheap though, and many will be thinking that they could go out and buy a rather seductive carbon-framed racer for similar money. But try riding that around your living room in the middle of winter…

    Please note that Wattbike makes two variants of its bike: the Trainer and Trainer Pro. The only difference between them is that the Pro has higher resistance and is, as its name suggests, aimed at more elite athletes.

    Offering one of the most realistic riding experiences around, this cycling simulator from Proform is impressively detailed. Not only is it laid out like a traditional racing bike – slimline saddle, drop handlebars and dual water bottle cages – it can also replicate the rush of a steep incline or decline with an automatic grade simulator of up to 20 per cent in either direction.

    The patented Silent Magnetic Resistance drive system is one of the quietest around, especially when compared to noisy air trainers, while the pedal motion is smooth and realistic.

    The 10-inch touchscreen console delivers detailed statistics, as well as hosting numerous fitness apps, while HD training videos can be called up for those who want to feel like they are battling the Alpe d’Huez while the kids watch CBeebies in the other room.

    Designed with the more relaxed rider in mind, this recumbent machine features an adjustable, lumbar-supporting seat, easy-to-reach bottle holders and a comfortable cycling position that takes the strain away from the lower back. 

    Don’t think it won’t encourage a sweaty session, though, because the 7kg steel flywheel and magnetic resistance levels can be cranked up to punishing levels. There’s a small monitor that gives read-outs on cadence and resistance levels, while pulse sensors can be found in the grab handles.

    It’s a bit of a bulky old thing, but much easier on the back than some of the more realistic riding experiences on this list. 

    Just like the bikes you’ll find in the spin studio at your local gym, this monster uses a 22kg flywheel with a brake, meaning users can adjust the resistance from free-spinning loveliness to “agggghhhh my hamstrings” madness at the twist of a dial.

    The welded steel frame and general construction feel great on this unit, which is only really let down by its lack of connectivity. Although there is an optional chest strap heart rate monitor, which seems like a must-buy for anyone serious about their cardio sessions.

    Those looking to blast as much fat in a very short space of time need not look anywhere else – the Assault AirBike is the undisputed king of HIIT and an absolute monster for heavyweight cardio spin bike sessions.

    Because it uses a giant fan to create air resistance, it feels smooth and natural to use, but because it also incorporates the arms (like an elliptical machine) it has the heart rate spiking no end.

    It doesn’t feel much like a natural cycling experience, so won’t be one for the Lycra brigade during the winter training months, but is exceptionally good for anyone with training goals: keep it mellow and aim for endurance improvements or hit the most punishing interval training you can imagine.

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