Exercise Bike & Spin Bike Buyer's Guide

When it comes to fitness equipment, Exercycles are one of the best for value for money exercise machines available. There are many types of exercise bikes on the market today and it can be quite confusing deciding on the best exercise bikes for your needs, fitness level, and training objectives.

There are two types of exercise bike, also known as a stationary bike – upright and recumbent. Upright bikes are more like a traditional bike, while recumbent bikes have a more reclined seat. Spin bikes are always upright.

Exercise bikes are great for low-impact cardio workouts, while cycles are better for more intense workouts.

This buyers guide will detail the features and advantages and benefits of each type of home exercise bike. Whether you are a seasoned spin cyclist wanting to compliment your classes from home, rehabilitating for a knee injury or searching for a basic home exercycle to improve the family’s health and fitness; this guide will help direct you to the right choice.


An often overlooked aspect of buying exercise equipment is after-sales service.

  • Can your retailer or exercise bike supplier answer these questions fully;
  • If there is a problem with the exercise bike how will it be resolved?
  • Does the retailer/supplier have a qualified exercise bike experienced service technician?
  • How long will parts be available for the exercise bike?
  • If the retailer /supplier can’t answer these questions fully – Stay Away!

Don’t rely on the warranty information alone as a safeguard, the company selling the product still needs to able to support the purchaser for the duration of the warranty.

Don’t buy an exercise bike without knowing how it will be supported in the future!

Types of Exercycles

Exercise Bikes

Spin Bike vs Exercise Bike – what’s the difference?

  • Can I stand up on all spin cycles?
  • Will a recumbent bike offer me the same workout as an upright bike?
  • Which exercycle is the most comfortable?
  • I’ve just had knee surgery, which bike is best for me?

These are some of the most popular questions we are asked at Elite Fitness and the best exercise bike for you will depend on your individual needs, so it’s important to get it right. See below for the different types of exercise bikes and their suitabilities for different objectives.

Upright cycles

Suitable for the general fitness user and lower body rehabilitation, there are many different levels of upright exercycles ranging from $350 to over $7500. Positioning and comfort of the user is a paramount consideration, as is a number of users and the intensity of the workouts- this will determine the right grade of bike to choose i.e 3 hours of intense cycling on a $500 bike will reduce the life of the bike significantly. Workout variety on the console is another key priority for a lot of consumers to keep the workout interesting and motivating. USA brands such as NordicTrack, Pro-Form, FreeMotion and Schwinn combine some of the best features for the best value for money.

Best option Entry Level:

Best option Mid-level: 

Best option Premium: 

Proform U2.9 Exercycle
Proform U2.9 Exercycle

Schwinn130u Upright Bike
Schwinn 130u Upright Bike

VR21 Recumbent Exercycle
Nordictrack VR21 Recumbent Exercycle

 Recumbent Exercycle

NordicTrack VR21 Recumbent Bike
NordicTrack VR21 Recumbent Bike

Often thought of as the lazy exercisers choice this couldn’t farther from the truth. Originally designed for pregnancy and people with lower back issues, they are now part of the mainstream exercycle market.

If comfort and support are your main priorities then recumbent exercycles are the very best option. Aerobic and general fitness benefits are exactly the same as an upright bike and with their unique cycling position; recumbent bikes recruit more of the rear leg muscles enabling a more well-rounded lower limb muscle activation than an upright exercycle. Recumbent machines range in price from $400 to $3500, with USA companies dominate with respect to build quality, biomechanics and motivating features.

Best option: Nordictrack VR21 Recumbent Bike


Comparing the Best Spin Bikes

Elite Polaris Magnetic Spin Bike
Elite Polaris Magnetic Spin Bike

Spin bikes were originally 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 mainstream general fitness product and is also a popular option for the more serious and demanding fitness enthusiast.  Spin Bikes are constructed with a heavy-duty steel frame, durable components and a precision balanced flywheel which provides a smooth ride with 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. At Elite Fitness we have designed our own range of spin bikes over the last 25 years which have become market-leading products.

Best option: Elite Polaris Magnetic Spin Bike




Programmable Spin bikes

S15i Studio Spin Bike
Nordictrack S15i Studio Spin Bike

Manufacturing a spin bike that can simulate serious hill climbs like ‘Nordictrack S15i Studio Exercise Bike” automatically whilst coping with the stresses the human body applies to such a program with smoothness, durability and robustness is an engineering marvel,  however, the US brand Pro-Form has done it. Magnetic resistance mechanisms are the only choice for any programmable bike but if not done well, the magnetic resistance system will slip under extreme loading like hill climbs but these bikes are now available for the home user.

Best option: Nordictrack S15i Studio Exercise Bike





Dual Action Fan Bikes

Schwinn Airdyne AD8
Schwinn Airdyne AD8

Dual Action Cycles are a great versatile piece of fitness equipment, predominantly found in Gym Circuit areas and Physiotherapy Studios; these are becoming more popular as a home fitness product. This type of bike is traditionally an air fan resistance system, which allows the user to engage the 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 the use of the lower body, fitted footpegs on this type of exercise bike allow the user to do an upper body only cardio workout. Dual-action fan bikes are worked hard and need to be robust, USA brand Schwinn are pioneers in this area.

Best option: Schwinn Airdyne AD8



Resistance Systems

There are 5 resistance systems to consider when buying an exercycle.

Manual Magnetic  Brake Pad Resistance Servo Magnetic System Electromagnetic Resistance Electromagnetic self-generating resistance
Usually, on cheaper upright models, turn the dial to increase and decrease the resistance with no automatic change. These usually consist of 8 levels of resistance with a simple internal cable adjusting the magnets to and from the flywheel for resistance change. Manual Magnetic systems are also available on some spinner bikes such as the ELITE POLARIS SPIN BIKE and these offer minute near-limitless resistance adjustments to simulate road cycling conditions. Found on Spinner bikes this system consists of turning a resistance knob which presses a felt or leather brake pad onto the flywheel creating resistance. The resistance can be adjusted in minute amounts from low to very high.  

Lower to mid-range bikes have this mechanism which can automatically adjust the resistance within programmes to simulate the terrain when cycling outdoors. Push a button on the console or the program will automatically adjust the resistance by sending a signal to a motor to pull the magnets to and from the flywheel.

 Less moving parts, smoother and more resistance levels than servo systems these systems are usually on premium level bikes.  With all the benefits of the electromagnetic systems but with the added advantage of being self- generating, meaning the exerciser powers the bike without it requiring a plug-in power source. Usually on commercial bikes but is on higher-end home bikes also.


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 resistance exercycles and some spin cycles.  In spin cycles, occasional adjustment of the belt tension is required to minimise 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 ride, 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 to 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



Exercycle warranties vary from one manufacturer to another.

Internationally recognised brands support their products with excellent warranties and an example of this is

  • 10-year frame warranty
  • 2-year parts warranty

As is the case in some NordicTrack products

These are substantial warranties which demonstrate that the manufacturer has confidence in their product to last and has been tested vigorously to provide years of trouble-free training (with basic maintenance by the consumer) but one thing is for sure the warranty has to be able to be supported locally because when a problem arises, expertise needs to be close at hand to offer advice.

Basic maintenance is a must to prolong the life of the Exercycle which includes, regular cleaning of exposed surfaces to prevent corrosion from sweat, the tightening of nuts and bolts periodically, and checking the exercycle is levelled.



The frame of every indoor exercycle is important, ensuring that it meets or exceeds manufacturing standards i.e., CE, TUV, GS standards.  This indicates 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 ranges 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 handlebar 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.



All exercycles will have vertical seat adjustments for different heights and limb lengths of the users. A lot of bikes also have horizontal seat adjustments to fine tune the positioning for the exerciser.

Some adjustments are “limitless” meaning the positions can be adjusted via a sliding mechanism to any point on the adjustment arm.


Most adjustments are made via “push-pull – pin” selector. Meaning that adjustments can be made only where the selector holes are drilled into the adjustment arm limiting adjustment positions but still matching for all users other than the most ardent cyclist.

Rule of thumb with adjustments is to try the product out to make sure the user fits the product well, as comfort and positioning are the utmost priority when choosing an exercycle.

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), whereas 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 such as Pro-Form, NordicTrack and Schwinn, 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 such as iFit Live and Schwinn connect apps have brought the latest technology into the fitness industry to enhance and accelerate the user’s 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.

Just like test driving a new car, it is important to come and try the range of Exercycles available.  We invite you to pop into your nearest Elite Fitness Store to experience them for yourself and have any questions answered by our knowledgeable and friendly staff.


Written by Elite Fitness Team, 2022