The Ultimate Exercise Bike Buying Guide: Part 3 – Bells and Whistles
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We’ve now covered all the basics of finding the right at-home exercise bike for your needs. In part one, we looked at the different types of bikes: spin, upright and recumbent and the workout you’ll get from each, as well as other considerations. In part two, we examined the flywheel in detail – the most important functional part of any exercise bike and discovered the pros and cons of each type of resistance mechanism: direct contact, magnetic and fan-based. This week we get to the fun stuff. Options! Let’s take a look at the wide variety of bells and whistles available and how to decide which ones should make our wish list.

Stuff That’s Not On the Control Panel

Yeah, we know. You want to get to the pretty lights, video systems, and hi-techie type stuff. We’ll get there. But first, let’s look at a couple of options that can make your home biking experience more customizable.

The Seat

Recumbent bikes pretty much are stuck with the seat they came with. That’s likely not an issue, as we presume you tried out the bike before you bought it and the seat was one of the major selling points. But for upright or spin bikes the standard seat they are equipped with may not be ideal for you. Some of us have special requirements for our bike seat. Others just want a more comfy ride. After all, if you’re going to park your tushy on it for hours every week, it had best be comfortable.

exercise bike seat adapter Many stationary bikes can be fitted with a seat adapter that will allow you to mount any seat that will fit on a wheeled bike.

Even if your bike doesn’t have the same kind of mount as a wheeled bike, you’re not out of luck. You can buy seat adapters that will fit almost any model. These adapters will then allow you to mount any seat that would fit on a wheeled bike. Remember banana seats? OK, maybe not a good idea, but you might want a seat with extra padding, or one that’s designed especially for women to protect your delicate bits or a dual pad seat where each side moves independently as you pedal. A quick search of Amazon will show hundreds of options.

Pedals

While any basic pedal will serve the purpose of providing a surface to push against, what about pulling? A nice option to consider is a foot strap that fastens over the top of your shoe. This allows you to pull on the upstroke, increasing the efficiency of your pedaling while working muscles that would otherwise go untrained.

Flywheel Housing

Exercise bikes make noise. Some more than others. If you’ll be using your bike around other people – or they’ll be using it around you, you’ll want to consider the flywheel housing. Specifically, how much of the noise does it dampen? Some housings are for safety only and just protect against sticking fingers in places where they might not come back from. But others have full housings designed to dampen sound. If noise is an issue for you, you’ll want to consider the decibel output of the bike.

The Control Panel

Now we get to the fun flashy, blinky stuff! There are a huge variety of options available besides the usual workout programs, tension adjustment, and digital readouts.

The Basics

Serious athletes wouldn’t even consider training without a heart rate monitor, but many more basic models don’t have one. If you’re really out to get fit there is no more reliable measure of the intensity of your workout than heart rate. If you’re doing the same program you did two weeks ago and your heart rate is lower, you are getting fitter!

As a partner to this, you may want a bike that’s equipped with different automatic settings such as hill and interval training, or cardio vs fat-burning. Sure, you can do all of this manually by adjusting your speed and tension, but constantly fiddling with controls while you’re gasping for breath gets old fast. Many higher end bikes will handle all of this for you.

exercise bike heart rate monitor and control panel While not necessary to get a great stationary bike workout, options such as a heart rate monitor and control panel equipped with a variety of pre-set programs can certainly make your workouts more effective.

All About You

What if your bike would track your progress for you, and even automatically adjust your training to keep pushing you to higher levels? Some bikes are equipped with computers that will track yours and other users workouts, chart your performance and recommend programs to challenge you further. Not only will these bikes likely result in you getting fitter, faster, but they can be great motivators. Seeing is believing. With these types of tracking systems, you can see your fitness journey progress displayed over time.

Other bikes will electronically tether to personal fitness systems like iFit so you can analyze your workouts on your computer. High tech fitness indeed!

Cycle The World!

riders on a mountain bike trail You may never be able to ride the mountain trails of Achnashellach, Scotland (no, we don't know how to pronounce it either) but with a virtual trail system you can experience the globe while getting fit.

For a really high-end stationary bike experience, get a bike that comes equipped with a video screen and pre-loaded with trail rides from around the world. Experience the forests of the Old Ghost Road in New Zealand or the majestic Himalayas and narrow suspension bridge of Lupra Pass in Nepal. These high-end systems display the ride from a first-person perspective and automatically adjust the resistance as you ride up and down hills in locations all over the world. When your co-workers ask what you did this weekend, tell them you rode the volcanic slopes of Cotopaxi in Ecuador! You’ll be able to describe the amazing vistas, and they don’t need to know you never left your house.

Some systems even connect to Google maps for unlimited riding experiences. You can literally ride anywhere in the world and the bike will still adjust resistance for hills.

Hiss! Boo! Stuff We Don’t Recommend

While some exercise bikes tout them as a desirable feature, built-in entertainment systems really only have their place in gyms where you’ll be surrounded by others who may not want to watch ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns with you.

For at-home use, a flat-screen TV mounted in front of your bike, or home theatre surround system is the best way to stay entertained while riding. The screen is bigger, the sound is better, and a broken TV doesn’t mean replacing your exercise bike.

What Do You Really Need?

The bells and whistles can make your workout more fun, and in some cases even make your training more effective, but if some features are out of your price range don’t let that stop you from buying a bike. We genuinely hope these posts will help you to decide what you really need, and what you don’t. It’s all about getting and staying fit. So if you want to indulge yourself, go ahead, but be sure to keep your eyes on the goal.

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Will Dove

Author
Will is a lifelong fitness nut. He started exercising religiously at the age of 16. Now 52, he still works out 5 times per week and maintains a body fat percentage in the single digits. Will is passionate about helping others to achieve their fitness and body image goals, and believes that most people fail to achieve these goals, not through a lack of self-discipline, but through a simple lack of knowledge.
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