Buying an Exercise Bike

Whether you don't have the time to get to the gym, live in an area with a variable climate or are beginning a new fitness program and looking for a low-impact way to start exercising, an exercise bike workout may be your best option. You'll want to consider the type and special enhancements available before purchasing your new exercise bike. With a little research, you'll find the best exercise bike for your budget and exercise needs.

Types of Exercise Bikes
There are two main types of exercise bikes: upright bikes and recumbent bikes. Upright exercise bikes resemble traditional bicycles, with a hip-high bicycle seat and pedals situated below the seat. Some upright exercise bikes offer a "dual action" feature, which means that the handlebars move so that you can work your upper body while you pedal.

Upright exercise bikes are a good choice for a person who is already fit and needs a good exercise bike workout at home. Because upright exercise bikes have small seats that lack back support, they may cause back pain or a sore bottom for those just beginning a fitness program. These bikes also tend to be the lightest and smallest, making them easier to move or store when you're not working out.

Recumbent exercise bikes have a wide seat with a back and pedals extended in front of the seat. Using these exercise bikes is a bit like driving your car. The recumbent style is more popular among people who are just beginning a fitness program or who have back issues, as the support provided by the seats in these exercise bikes is significantly better than that found in upright exercise bikes. You won't find a dual-action feature on these exercise bikes, but the design frees your hands, allowing you to lift weights while you pedal.

Exercise bikes offer many methods for adjusting resistance, or the amount of effort it takes to pedal. The most popular are direct tension and magnetic frictionless resistance.

Entry-level exercise bikes use direct tension to control resistance, which is typically a tension knob. Direct tension methods may require you to stop and manually adjust the resistance, which reduces the effectiveness of your workout. You may prefer exercise bikes that offer magnetic frictionless resistance. These have electronic control panels that you use to adjust the resistance levels, eliminating the need to stop pedaling.

Some mid-range and high-end exercise bikes offer computerized workouts. This feature lets you choose the distance and steepness of your cycling, and some exercise bikes include preprogrammed courses that simulate conditions on real world roads. Programmed workouts can be helpful if you are training to ride certain types of terrain or if you compete in bicycle races.

When comparing resistance controls, look for placement that is easy to reach while you're on the exercise bike and distance from any exposed moving parts, such as wheels or gears. For programmable exercise bikes, look for iFit, an option that lets you download exercise programs from the Web.

Heart Rate Monitors and Displays
Many exercise bikes come standard with heart rate monitors. These help you determine when you are in an effective cardiovascular workout range. If possible, choose a heart rate monitor that is attached to the exercise bike by a chest strap. Strap monitors do a better job than handlebar monitors, which measure your pulse instead of actual heartbeats.

Some programmable exercise bikes incorporate your heart rate into computerized workouts, automatically adjusting the resistance to raise or lower your heart rate as needed to keep you in the effective cardio range. This may be a useful option for someone unaccustomed to tracking heart rate or uncertain of the effective range.

Most exercise bikes include a display, which can range from a basic LCD digital readout to a flat panel with Internet access so you can browse the Web while you ride. Some users find that they exercise longer if they have something interesting to look at, so monitor choice is a matter of personal preference. At a minimum, make sure that the monitor displays your heart rate, calories burned, time elapsed and distance traveled.

Power Sources and Design
Simple upright exercise bikes without monitors are entirely manual, resembling a bicycle on a stand, and require no power other than your legs. Once monitors enter the equation, you need a power source. Some exercise bikes get their power from your pedaling. If you're just starting out, be aware that these self-powered exercise bikes may deliver more native resistance than you prefer.

Exercise bikes with programmed workouts, magnetic friction resistance or extensive monitors and displays must be plugged into an electrical outlet. Make sure you have an outlet near the area where you intend to place these exercise bikes.

Exercise bikes can be noisy. This can cause household disruption and interfere with activities you intend to do while exercising, such as watching TV. If the noise level is a concern for you, look for designs where the bicycle mechanics are completely enclosed. These exercise bikes produce much less noise. A sturdy frame also helps, as movement caused by the stand while you exercise can create additional noise.

Warranty and Weight Capacity
The warranty options offered by a manufacturer say a lot about the quality of an exercise bike. If a manufacturer only offers a 90-day warranty, chances are that the exercise bike is built using inexpensive materials and may not stand up to repeated use. Look for exercise bikes that offer one year, ten year or lifetime warranties. These bikes will stand up to daily use and will be more economical in the long run since they will not need to be replaced as frequently as inexpensive, low-quality exercise bikes.

Be sure you know the weight capacity of an exercise bike. Some exercise bikes only offer a weight capacity of 250 pounds, while others can support 400 pounds or more. Weight capacity can be another indicator of build quality-the higher the weight capacity, the more use the exercise bike will be able to withstand.

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