The Peloton changed the modern-day exercise bike as we know it. But since it launched in 2012, a whole slew of Wi-Fi-connected SoulCycle-esque bikes have flooded the market. Some will let you join live classes or work out with a virtual personal trainer right from the comfort of your own living room, while others are meant to simply emulate a long bike ride.
“Shopping for a bike is like shopping for an appliance like a blender,” says Lindsey “Gater” Gaterman, group fitness instructor and cycle lead at Vital Climbing Gym in Brooklyn, New York. “It’s worth buying the pricier option, rather than trying to find some cheap one. If you get the cheap one, you’re just going to regret it. It’s going to break. All your avocado is gonna get all mixed up in the blade. And eventually, you’ll just end up having two or trying to sell one.” She recommends investing in a bike that will offer longevity; cheaper, less-recognizable brand-name options will likely cause more headaches down the road. “Things fall apart really easily. For a lot of the older or cheaper models, it’s hard to find singular things like knobs or wheels to replace.”
To help you find the best one for you and your preferred workout intensity, we talked to experts to find out what they recommended, dug through our archives, and pulled out our staff-favorite exercise bikes.
What we’re looking for
Resistance: Resistance is what makes your indoor-cycling session a challenge, and the resistance mechanism that a bike features will have an impact on its noise level and ease of repair. Magnetic resistance has become more and more popular (and most of the bikes on this list use magnetic resistance); they’re quiet but also generally more expensive than the more mechanical flywheel with friction or air resistance.
Bluetooth or Wi-Fi capability: The main advancement in exercise-bike technology over the last decade or so has been the introduction of the internet and connected devices. Indoor bikes like Peloton are Wi-Fi-enabled, so you can stream programs straight to your bike. Others are enabled with Bluetooth, so you can connect a heart monitor or another device. Some have none of the electronic connectivity, which also makes them much cheaper.
Screen or device mount: Some exercise bikes come with built-in screens that allow you to follow along with instructors, or they might come with a spot to place your phone or tablet to watch something while you ride. It comes down to how much guidance you want. “When I first bought my home bike, I personally didn’t need a screen because I could just guide myself through all of my own classes,” Gaterman says. “But for someone like my friend’s husband, who asked me which bike he should get his wife for her birthday — she might not have a clue what to do, so a screen would probably be a priority for her.”
Pedals and shoe compatibility: The types of pedals each bike has will determine what type of cleat or shoe you need. “Pedals, pedals, pedals. They’re super-important, because you don’t want to get stuck with the wrong type of pedal-and-shoe combo,” says Joseph Foley, head instructor and co-founder of cycling studio Pedal House. Some bikes, like Peloton bikes, are only compatible with Delta cleats, which have three holes in the bottom of the shoe that click into the pedal. Other models use SPD-compatible cleats, which click into the pedals with a two-hole design. (Here’s a helpful, straightforward video that explains the difference.) Other models have flat pedals or flat ones with a toe cage — you can use any gym shoe for these two types. Despite the name, a clipless pedal is one that’s designed for a shoe to attach to. These will require cleats with SPD or Delta clips.
Best overall exercise bike
Magnetic Resistance | Bluetooth | Phone holder | Dual-sided: SPD-cleat compatible, or flat pedals with toe cages
The Schwinn IC4 was recommended to us by Cheryl Wischhover, who has been going to indoor-cycling classes since the mid-’90s and missed going to in-person cycling classes during the pandemic. This bike uses magnetic resistance, “which results in an incredibly smooth and quiet ride,” she says. The bike itself is also easy to adjust in all directions, so any family member can use it: “I’m five-foot-five, and my teen son is five-11, and we both feel comfortable on it.”
If you’re interested in the group-workout experience, you can adapt this bike to make it work: There’s a built-in holder for your iPad or phone on the handlebars, a USB outlet for charging, and an arm-strap heart-rate monitor to track your performance. According to Wischhover, “You can connect the app to the bike via Bluetooth to get a cadence display, and for riders who really want hard-core data and power output, there are countless threads in the Facebook group about how to Frankenstein a setup using apps like Kinetic and Wahoo.” If that sounds like too much work, check out our review of the Peloton below — but if you’re looking for maximum flexibility for all levels of rider, you can’t do much better than the Schwinn IC4 (especially at this price point).
Best (less expensive) exercise bike
Friction Resistance | No Bluetooth or Wi-Fi | LCD display with phone or tablet holder | Dual-sided: SPD-cleat compatible, or flat pedals with toe cages
This Schwinn exercise bike comes recommended by our senior writer Liza Corsillo, who bought the IC3 during the height of the pandemic after canceling her gym membership. She considered the IC4, and says that this model is more bare-bones, but for her and her fiancé, “the extra features were not worth the extra $300. Like the IC4, the IC3 has double-sided pedals so you can use sneakers or clips, and it’s fully adjustable. One big difference between the two is that, instead of magnetic resistance, the IC3 uses flywheel resistance. It’s louder, but not so loud that it’s a distraction, and I actually kind of like the feedback of the slight whirring sound it makes when you really push yourself.” It also doesn’t have Bluetooth, which means you can’t connect your phone to it, and it’s hard to dial in your resistance.
All of this means, according to Corsillo, that this isn’t a great bike for serious cyclists who want to track their stats. “But as someone who just discovered Peloton and indoor cycling in general, I’ve found it to be a game changer. Whether I’m biking to an episode of Bridgerton or to a 20-minute Beyoncé ride, I still end up working up a good sweat — and having a pretty good time.”
Best durable exercise bike
Magnetic Resistance | No Bluetooth | Screen or device holder available as add-on | SPD clips and toe cages
“I always recommend the SC2 bikes because of their durability,” says Foley, who uses these bikes for the cycling classes he teaches at Pedal House. “If these can last through roughly 300 hour-long classes a month, with our speed and what we do to the bike, then they’re a very good long-term investment. It’s a bike you could have for decades.” What’s unique about the SC2 is its shifter, which, like gears on a bicycle, allows you to switch between big amounts of resistance. “It’s the best bike for mimicking what it’s like to ride outside,” Foley adds. It doesn’t come with a dedicated spot to hold your tablet or phone, but you can buy one separately as an add-on.
Gaterman also loves her Stages bike for its shift feature. (She uses the SC3, the newer model of the SC2.) “It adds an element of resistance that isn’t there on the Peloton bike or most traditional Schwinn bikes. And when you shift, it’s like adding a lot of resistance in a short amount of time,” she explains. “So if an instructor is telling you to go from easy to hard with a traditional dial and nothing else, you’re gonna have to turn it up a lot to finally get there. With the shifter, I can’t really cheat because it adds resistance really quickly.”
Best exercise bike with screen
Magnetic Resistance | Bluetooth and Wi-Fi | 22” HD touchscreen | Delta-cleat compatible
These days, Peloton is all but synonymous with at-home cycling, and for those who want to get in-depth about their stats, as well as have access to guided workouts, it’s hard to do much better. When former Strategist senior writer Karen Iorio Adelson tested a slew of smart gym equipment, she concluded that the Peloton — with a constant stream of new rides and playlists — is the best option for “spinning-class devotees who love the community aspect but would rather not schlep to the studio.” She explains, “With the large HD display and bike that’s identical to the one you’ll find in the studio, an at-home Peloton workout is probably the closest you’re going to get to an in-person workout with one of these machines.” But heads up: The purchase of the bike doesn’t include the monthly membership to its app. That costs an additional $39 a month and is a must-have if you’re trying to make the most of your Peloton.
Best exercise bike for Bluetooth-connected fitness
Magnetic Resistance | Bluetooth | Phone or tablet holder | SPD clips and toe cages
The C6 comes recommended to us by Strategist contributor Tobey Grumet Segal, who found it a more affordable alternative to the Peloton (and the Schwinn IC4, too). “While it doesn’t have the fancy 22-inch touchscreen that Peloton provides, you can use pretty much any phone or tablet to connect and stream classes,” she writes. The C6 is a great option for folks who don’t need a dedicated fitness subscription or a large video screen but still plan to use Bluetooth devices to track their workouts.
Best exercise bike for tall riders
Magnetic Resistance | Bluetooth | Phone or tablet holder | Dual-sided: SPD-cleat compatible, or flat pedals with toe straps
We learned about this compact indoor bike from Keiser while reporting on the best big-ticket home-gym items. This bike’s compact design puts the magnetic resistance wheel in the back, rather than the front, and takes up less space than a treadmill or elliptical. The unique V shape also means that it can accommodate riders as short as four-foot-ten and as tall as seven feet, without making them clamber over a bar.
Best exercise bike with air resistance
Air Resistance | No Bluetooth or Wi-Fi | Display console with reading rack available as add-on | Flat pedals with footstraps
Old-school, wind-powered air bikes with handles, which were originally popular in the 1970s and ’80s, are having a comeback, according to Nick Clayton, personal training program manager at the National Strength and Conditioning Association. “You’re biking and pushing and pulling at the same time, so it’s low-impact, but as far as working muscles and getting the most out of any kind of interval session, [it’s] probably the best bang for your buck,” he says. Simple to use, easy to set up, and with no motor to potentially break down, it’s a valuable addition to any home gym.
• Karen Iorio Adelson, former Strategist senior writer
• Nick Clayton, personal training program manager at the National Strength and Conditioning Association
• Liza Corsillo, Strategist senior writer
• Joseph Foley, head instructor at and co-founder of Pedal House
• Lindsey “Gater” Gaterman, group fitness instructor and cycle lead at Vital Climbing Gym
• Cheryl Wischhover, Strategist contributor
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