Exercise Bike Buyers Guide

The exercycle continues to be one of the most popular pieces of fitness equipment for home.  Whether your exercising for fitness or injury rehabilitation, exercise bikes provide a low impact workout which is gentle on the joints and convenient for the whole family.  This buyers guide will outline the features, advantages and benefits of the different types you may encounter and help you select the right exercise bike for you.

Types of Exercycles

The Upright Cycle is the most common exercise bike on the market, built to be compact and moveable around the home with a traditional vertical saddle position, like your normal outdoor bike. These exercycles are manufactured in a range of different frame sizes to cater for different user requirements.  These exercycles are hugely popular for people rehabilitating lower body joint injuries or those who are recovering from knee surgery. Magnetic upright cycles are designed around remaining seated.

The Recumbent Cycle is fast becoming popular for its more comfortable cycling position and ease of use.  The oversize seat design and back support allows users who have trouble staying upright for any length of time the ability to continue cycling for extended periods without discomfort.  This relaxed, supportive cycling position is fantastic for a range of users who may suffer from decreased balance and co-ordination function or injury where an upright cycle is not practical.  Most recumbent cycles offer a step through frame system for easy mounting and dismounting as well as seat height adjustment which can be done whilst sitting on the bike.  The seat position changes the cycling action so the hamstrings and hip flexor muscles are engaged more efficiently.

The Spin Cycle was designed as part of the Indoor Cycling Program to replicate outdoor cycling in a Group fitness environment indoors. Since then, the Spin Cycle has become another popular option for the more serious and demanding fitness enthusiast.  Spin Bikes are constructed with a heavy duty framework, durable components and a precision balanced flywheel which provides a smooth realistic riding experience. This enables the user to get out of the saddle and simulate a traditional hill climb as they would do on an outdoor bike.  The adjustability of the saddle and handlebars accommodates a large range of user heights for improved comfort and body positioning.

Dual Action Cycles are a great versatile piece of fitness equipment, predominantly found in Gym Circuit areas and Physiotherapy Studios.

This time of bike is traditionally an air fan resistance system, which allows the user to engage upper and lower body in the same movement whilst remaining seated.  Not only does it offer a low impact workout, the upper body alternating arm movement allows the user to utilize more muscle groups for greater calorie burn off.  Where joint injury may prevent use of the lower body, fitted foot pegs on this type of exercise bike allow the user to do an upper body only cardio workout. 

 

Chain vs Belt Drive

The chain and belts provide a smooth direct transmission from the revolving pedals to the spinning flywheel inside the exercycle. Both rely on either a toothed sprocket (chain) or v-ribbed pulley to drive it. The gearing of these bikes is also determined by the diameter & size of these pulleys or number of teeth located on both sprockets.  

Belt Drive transmission offers a smooth, near silent operation and requires no lubrication, so maintenance is down to a minimum. The belt and pulley systems are also normally lower in cost in comparison to a chain driven system and are often found in magnetic exercycles and some spin cycles.  In spin cycles, occasional adjustment of the belt tension is required to minimize any slippage under high loads.

Chain Drive transmission offers a long lasting and reliable mechanism as they do not deteriorate with age, moisture and are unaffected by the sun or heat.  They have negligible stretch and are able to hold heavy loads. The chain drive is however noisier than the belt drive system and requires lubrication to maintain its quiet operation.  Chain drive systems are normally found on Spin Cycles and Air Fan (Resistance) exercycles. If noise is an important factor in your decision you may prefer the smooth, quiet operation of a belt driven system.

The Q-Factor of an exercycle relates to the distance between the pedal attachment points on the crank arms, when measured parallel to the bottom bracket axle. The Q-Factor is important in maintaining the best biomechanics or movement pattern to avoid injury and also to optimize power output on the pedals due the the correct hip, knee and ankle alignment, so a narrower q-factor measurement is more desirable.  This can vary in all bikes, whether a 1-piece or 3-piece crank system is used as more clearance from the plastic frame shrouding may be required.

Framework

The frame of every indoor exercycle is important that it meets or exceeds manufacturing standards i.e., CE, TUV, GS standards.  This ensures the quality of workmanship and materials produced in the factories are to industry specification.  The size of the internal diameter and thickness of materials used in the construction of each exercycle can vary amongst manufacturers and models.  This will determine the exercycles maximum user weight capacity and contribute to the feel and comfort of the overall riding experience.

When looking for a new exercise bike, it is important the frame structure and size is appropriate to the person using it.  Sufficient seat height adjustment in the frame is crucial to the proper biomechanical fit for the user. This is a common mistake for the unsuspecting customers purchasing online and can lead to poor cycling form or technique, not to mention cycling comfort. 

It is advisable to always try an exercycle for correct fitment before purchasing.

Crank Length & Types

The 2 types of systems commonly seen on exercise bikes are either; 1 Piece (left image) or 3 piece crank setups (right image). Generally you will find 1 piece crank setups in your low cost exercise bikes as they are inexpensive to produce, however they are more prone to  bearing wear  than a 3 piece system.  A 3 piece crank offers a stronger and more reliable setup, due to the better quality bearings and thicker castings of the crank arms and axles. The cranks arms are also detachable and can be replaced easier if required. The common length of these crank arms range between 5 – 7”.  For taller bikers or those requiring a greater range of motion, an exercycle with a 7” crank is advisable.

Handle Bar and Seat Adjustment

The handle bar assembly does vary from bike to bike, providing either a fixed or adjustable platform. Many upright bikes will have an adjustable tilt feature that will allow you to move the handlebars to a vertical or horizontal position quickly that suits the user best for comfort and/or functionality. Spin Cycles often use both limitless and push-pull pin selector adjustments to allow multi user positions.             

Multi-Grip Aero Bars

 

 

 

 

 

 

Push-Pull Pin Selctor                     'Limitless' Adjustment

Where a push-pull pin selector system is used, check the sleeve bushing units to ensure the handle bar post/Seat Post is secured tightly.

 

 

 

 

 

Push-Pull Selector Pin                        'Limitless' Adjustment

 

Consoles & Programs

Exercycle consoles are a great source of feedback and provide motivation to continue achieving your fitness goals. These consoles will provide different features and functions depending on the level of exercycle you choose.  A basic manual index adjusted cycle will provide necessary feedback on time, speed, distance, calories and heart rate (Handlebar Pulse), where as a programmable cycle will also include a library of preset workouts that control resistance  and change automatically to simulate hill climb or elevation changes. 

High quality fitness exercycle manufacturers, invest large amounts of money in research and development of their fitness cycle computers.  This includes University tested programs that utilize Heart rate and Power output (Watts) information to provide the most accurate way of training.

New exciting innovations like iFit SD cards and iFit Live from Icon Health & Fitness have brought the latest technology into the fitness industry to enhance and accelerate the users progress towards achieving their goals through interactive user defined programming.  If you need additional motivation to continue your way toward quick results, then a programmable bike is a must.