The Best Affordable Exercise Bikes to Crush Your At-Home Cardio Workouts – Sports Illustrated
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Riding an at-home bike—AKA spinning your wheels while riding to nowhere—used to feel boring. Today? Not so much. The early days of the pandemic sent bike sales soaring, and they’re not stopping any time soon: Reports suggest the at-home exercise bike market will grow by nearly nine percent by 2027. It’s hard to be bored doing cardio at home when technological advancements have made indoor cycling a more connected, interactive experience—even when it comes to budget exercise bikes.
For under $1,000, you can get an affordable exercise bike that rivals those from even the biggest name brands (ahem, Peloton). But with so many bikes to choose from, it can be hard to narrow down your search. These are the bikes that stand out from the rest, plus the features to look for and extras to consider to make sure you’re getting a deal.
Bowflex’s budget exercise bike—which rings up at $1,000 less than the brand’s more expensive models—takes the guesswork out of riding. Not only does it sync with apps including Peloton and Zwift, it’s compatible with Bowflex’s JRNY app, which offers real-time coaching that automatically adapts as your fitness improves and 200-plus virtual riding destinations to explore. You will need a smartphone or tablet to access those features (a holder is built into the handlebars), but the standard console displays time, calories, speed, resistance levels, distance and heart rate.
Purchase Bowflex C6 Bike
Riding an air bike is a totally different experience than your average exercise bike, because it’s powered only by your effort. That gives you unlimited potential; the faster you go, the more resistance you’ll pedal against. Built from sturdy steel, Titan’s air bike uses a chain drive for a riding experience more akin to what you’d get on a real bike, but it’s definitely noisy, so keep that in mind if you’re going to cycle in your house versus your garage.
Purchase Titan Fitness Fan Bike
Stay connected on a budget with the Carbon CX exercise bike, which uses iFit to bring live classes and on-demand workouts into your home gym (the trainers can even control your resistance for you to max out your effort). There’s no built-in screen like on a Peloton, but a small LCD display tracks speed, time, distance and calories burned, and there’s a built-in console for your phone or tablet that can twist to the side for workouts off your bike, as well.
Purchase ProForm Carbon CX Exercise Bike
Short on space? This cheap exercise bike folds to further minimize its small footprint. There are few bells and whistles on the XTERRA Fitness FB150 Folding Bike, but it’s made from stainless steel and coated with a rust-resistant, chip-resistant paint for durability. Use the pulse sensors on each side of the handlebars for ballpark heart rate readings, and up the intensity with the dial built into the frame. No matter how long you ride, you can do so in comfort thanks to a thick, anatomically designed padded seat and large multi-grip padded handlebars.
Purchase XTERRA Fitness FB150 Folding Exercise Bike
If you don’t want to splurge for a Peloton, but you still want a connected riding experience, opt for this affordable exercise bike from Horizon Fitness. You can stream live or on-demand classes from the Peloton app or join virtual reality training rides and competitions on Zwift. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a bike with as many resistance levels as this one (it’s powered by a quiet belt drive and magnetic resistance system). The dual-sided pedals allow you to choose between toe cages or SPD clips.
Purchase Horizon Fitness 5.0 IC Indoor Cycle Bike
An upright bike differs from a spin bike in the handlebar positioning; instead of hunching over, you sit tall in the saddle. These bikes tend to be a little more comfortable, and the Nautilus U616 is no exception. The seat is contoured, padded and fully adjustable vertically and horizontally to help you find the best positioning, and the multi-grip handles add to the comfort factor. You won’t get the same kind of “spin” workout on an upright bike, but with 29 built-in programs, you’ll still burn some serious calories.
Purchase Nautilus U616 Upright Exercise Bike
When a cheap exercise bike has a 35-pound flywheel, you know it’s a good investment. Yosuda’s budget indoor cycling bike also has “infinite” resistance options, a nearly silent belt drive, an ergonomically molded seat and multiple positioning options to seal the deal. The frame is made from steel for durability, but the whole thing weighs in at under 75 pounds and has built-in wheels so you can move it around with ease. Not bad for under $500, right?
Purchase Yosuda Indoor Cycling Bike YB001
Sunny Health & Fitness
Another no-frills affordable exercise bike, Sunny Health & Fitness’ Upright Exercise Bike gets the job done and does it well. It comes outfitted with an LCD monitor that displays all the essentials: revolutions per minute, time, speed, distance, heart rate and calories burned. A device holder atop the monitor makes it easy to prop up your smartphone or tablet as you ride. The handlebars are equipped with pulse sensors to track your heart rate, so you don’t even need a Bluetooth connection to sync to armbands or chest straps.
Purchase Sunny Health & Fitness Upright Exercise Bike
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Reclining while working out? Yes, please! A recumbent bike puts you in a reclined position that’s easier on your lower back and mainly targets your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and glutes. The padded seat can be easily adjusted using a quick-release locking mechanism (even while seated), and padded multi-position handles covered in thick foam along with adjustable straps on the foot pedals provide a customized, comfortable fit. At 66 pounds, the frame is light enough to move, but it’s constructed from powder-coated steel, so you know it will last.
Purchase Marcy Magnetic Recumbent Exercise Bike
Dick’s Sporting Goods
If one of the main pillars of health is consistent movement, an under desk cycle is a great way to keep your legs in motion without actually having to get up during all your calls and Zoom meetings. The Stamina Mini is a compact, portable and cheap exercise bike you can stash under your desk or in a cabinet (a built-in handle makes it easy to tote around the house, too). To up the magnetic resistance, just turn the tension dial; there are gears hidden within the machine to eliminate jerkiness and reduce sliding while you’re pedaling.
Purchase Stamina Mini Exercise Bike
A bike’s resistance setting indicates how hard you have to work to push the pedals. It’s meant to simulate what you would experience riding a bike outside: low resistance settings should feel easy, like you’re riding on a flat road, while higher resistance settings should feel harder, like you’re climbing up a hill. The more resistance settings a bike has, the more versatility you’ll be able to incorporate into your workouts.
Most exercise bikes generally come with a console that displays your heart rate, speed, distance, cadence and elapsed time. A backlit LCD screen located near the handlebars is usually the easiest to read. But many of the higher-end budget exercise bikes come with built-in tablet or smartphone holders, where you can use your device to stream app-based workouts and view even more metrics.
The drive system on an indoor cycling bike connects the pedals to the flywheel. There are two options: A chain drive is similar to what you’d find on an outdoor bike; it has an authentic feel, but it does require regular maintenance and can break. A belt drive won’t feel as true to road cycling, but it’s very smooth and very quiet, which is ideal for home use.
Feeling comfortable on an exercise bike requires the right positioning. The best cheap exercise bikes should allow for a certain level of customization. Look for bikes with an adjustable seat that not only moves up and down, but forward and backward. Adjustable handlebars also lead to a better fit, and multi-grip handlebars let you switch up your hand position to target different muscle groups.
A comfortable ride mostly depends on adjusting the bike to fit your proportions correctly. But one other essential factor to keep in mind when it comes to comfort is the seat. Some bikes have wider, padded seats while others have traditional road saddles. Check to see if a seat can be swapped out for other options, or if you can slide a seat cover over it in case it’s too hard or narrow.
Unlike their bulkier, more expensive counterparts, budget exercise bikes tend to have a smaller footprint and a lighter frame that make them easier to move around. Some have built-in transport wheels, and others even fold up when not in use, so you can easily store them out of sight.
Budget exercise bikes tend to be more affordable because the quality of the materials isn’t as high as top-end models. While the frame might be made from steel, you’ll likely find lots of plastic in other parts of the bike. Make sure to check what materials a bike is made from, how it handles sweat and wear and what kind of warranty the company offers.
A budget exercise bike should be relatively easy to assemble. Generally, a large chunk of it will arrive pre-assembled, and you just have to add on the finishing touches. Some brands offer professional assembly for an added cost. If you’re hesitant about DIYing a piece of fitness equipment, check the reviews to see if buyers had any difficulties.
“Budget” can mean something different to different buyers. When compared to top of the line bikes that can cost upwards of $1,500, anything coming in at under $1,000 sounds like a steal. But you can still get a great bike that does all the basics for under $500, so figure out what works for your budget and go from there.
Most indoor cycling bikes use a flywheel, a heavy weighted disc that spins when you pedal. (Generally, you want to opt for heavier over lighter to ensure a smoother, more controlled ride.) There are several ways to create resistance against a flywheel: via direct contact braking, in which brake pads are directly applied to the flywheel to reduce its speed; or via magnetic resistance, which uses magnets to create tension against the flywheel. Both can be adjusted using a knob or dial on the bike frame. A fan bike, on the other hand, replaces the wheel with a giant fan that generates resistance—the faster you go, the more resistance you’ll pedal against.
Weight loss is about burning more calories than you consume, and using a stationary bike is an efficient and effective way to burn calories. A 155-pound person can burn about 260 calories riding an exercise bike at a moderate effort for just 30 minutes, according to Harvard Health, and that number will increase if you up the intensity by increasing your speed or the resistance on the bike. After six weeks of indoor cycling for 30 to 60 minutes three times per week, women who were overweight by World Health Organization standards lost enough weight to move into the normal weight category, a 2018 study in the Journal of Education and Training Studies determined. The researchers declared indoor cycling workouts to be an effective method to lose weight and reduce body fat.
If you have a limited budget, but still want to cycle indoors, a low-cost exercise bike is absolutely worth it. While a more affordable bike may lack some of the bells and whistles that brands like Peloton have brought into people’s homes, any bike that generates resistance is going to help you burn calories and improve your fitness.
The best budget exercise bike is the one you’re going to use most consistently. If you’re struggling to justify spending an extra $100 or $200 on the higher-end affordable bikes but know you’ll use features like Bluetooth connectivity or built-in programming that the cheaper bikes lack, it’s worth the splurge. The biggest waste of money is buying a piece of fitness equipment that just ends up gathering dust in the corner.
Indoor cycling doesn’t have to require a huge investment. Budget exercise bikes that ring up at less than $1,000 (or $500…or $300!) share many of the same features as the brand names you’re most familiar with, whether that’s connectivity or durability. Use this guide to figure out the best choice for your needs and preferences, so you can feel good about whichever affordable exercise bike you end up with.
Prices are accurate and items in stock as of publish time.
Ashley Mateo is an award-winning journalist and editor whose writing has appeared in outlets including The Wall Street Journal, TIME, Runner’s World, Women’s Running, Men’s Journal, Health, Women’s Health, Bicycling, and more. She is also an RRCA- and UESCA-certified running coach based in Denver.This author is writing sponsored content paid for by Pillar4 and not affiliated with Sports Illustrated.
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