We gave this article a bit of a refresh to bring it up to date for this year. This included adding one new model – the Schwinn 130, which is our new top pick!
We also revised some content in our guide to ensure all the information was still relevant in 2020.
It’s probably no surprise to know that exercise bikes are one of the most popular home cardio machines around today. Not only are they more portable than other options, but they also offer an enjoyable, low-impact way to burn some calories and strengthen your heart.
Table of Contents
Whether you’re in the market for an upright bike, spinning bike or a recumbent model, our chart has a range of outstanding budget options that get the job done!
Stick around after this for a complete guide to buying your first exercise bike, as well as some answers to some of your questions.
Resistance: 20 levels (Magnetic)
Features: High-inertia drive system, padded contoured seat, adjustable height, DualTrack LCD screen system, USB charging port, MP3 input, built-in speakers, media shelf, heart rate monitor, adjustable three-speed fan, water bottle holder
Schwinn is a name that is usually found in higher-end categories, so to see an upright bike at under $350 is quite exciting. The 130 is a good-looking exercise bike that will cater for casual riders and more hardcore cyclists alike.
It features a sturdy frame (taking users up to 300lbs) with a high-inertia drive system and 20 levels of magnetic resistance for a consistent and quiet cycling session. Pretty much the best you could ask for in this budget range.
This bike offers excellent performance feedback and goal tracking, with a two-screen system providing your stats, and info on any of the 22 built-in workout programs you choose. Meanwhile, a media shelf with a USB charging port and built-in speakers will keep you entertained as you reach that 50th mile!
Height: 5ft 2” to 6ft 2”
Features: LCD display, multi-grip handlebars, four-way adjustable seat, pedals with toe cages, hand pulse sensors, water bottle holder
The Exerpeutic LX7 is another top pick on our budget list. With its athletic spinning frame and realistic chain-drive construction, this model packs performance specifications that far exceed its affordable price.
The 40lb flywheel is the real star of the show here. It’s constructed from cast-iron with a chrome rim, which gives you plenty of available resistance but keeps the mechanics smooth as you pedal. Unlike some magnetic treadmills, the chain drive keeps the LX7 responsive at every point in your workout.
Beyond the performance, the LX7 also includes amenities like an LCD display and toe cages on the pedals. Because of the spin bike frame, this model might not be as well-suited to brand-new riders – but any user with experience should love the feel.
Height: 5ft to 6ft 3”
Resistance: 14 levels
Features: Comfortable padded seat, oversized pedals with straps, LCD display, transportation wheels, step-through design, belt drive system, media shelf, 250lb weight capacity
While our top two picks may be best suited to athletic and advanced users, the ProGear 555LXT is a great budget recumbent bike that’s suitable for riders of all abilities. If you want the benefits of an exercise bike in a more comfortable package, this is one model to check out.
The 555LXT’s sliding seat accommodates users ranging from between 5’0” and 6’3”! An LCD screen in front of the pedals gives you information about your speed and calories burned, while allowing you to toggle between modes.
On the performance side of things, this bike’s 14 levels of magnetic resistance can keep all riders adequately challenged. The belt drive is quiet and smooth, which comes in handy if you want to watch TV or listen to music during your workout.
Height: 5ft to 6ft 3”
Resistance: 8 levels
Features: Folding X-frame, three-piece pedal crank, LCD screen, back rest, manual tension adjustment dial, 3.3lb flywheel, accessory pocket, transportation wheels
This lightweight folding model from XTERRA Fitness may look rather flimsy, yet it packs a big punch with its space-saving frame. The X-shaped design folds up when it’s not in use; this helps the bike take up only around 20.5” by 20” of your floor space. Users in small apartments don’t need to worry about storing the FB350!
While this is an upright bike, it does offer a padded cushion to rest your lower back as you work out. The 3.3lb flywheel combines with the tension system to provide eight levels of manually adjustable resistance.
Multi-grip handlebars flank the central LCD screen. While the bars are still pretty streamlined, they provide enough room for three or more different grip positions depending on how you prefer to ride.
Features: 30lb flywheel, felt pad braking, foam-grip handles, built-in transport wheels, four-way adjustable seat, caged foot pedals, 220lb weight capacity
The SF-B1001S from Sunny Health and Fitness provides plenty of performance for spin bike lovers in a sleek and stylish package. The raised seat and forward handlebars make this an attractive option for experienced bikers who want a more advanced cardio machine.
A 30lb flywheel anchors the design of the SF-B1001S – the heavy disc provides plenty of challenge, particularly when combined with the chain drive, felt pad braking system, and adjustable tension knob. Even the most experienced bikers should be able to find a challenge here!
For comfort, this bike offers a seat that’s adjustable in four different directions. You can move the pad between 16.5” and 23.5” away from the handlebars, depending on your size. Speaking of the handlebars, their foam padding keeps your hands comfortable as you bike.
If you’re looking for a high-performance recumbent bike on a tighter budget, it’s hard to beat the features of the Marcy ME-709. This bike has everything you need to get in a great cardio workout from your home.
The ME-709 runs on magnetic resistance, with eight different levels of challenge available, manually adjusted via the knob on the center pole. The LCD screen displays some of your workout statistics including speed, distance covered, time and calories burned while you pedal.
Beyond the performance specs, this bike also includes extra amenities, such as weighted pedals, a padded backrest and extended handlebars. Meanwhile, the powder-coated steel frame is comfortable and durable enough to last through even the most grueling workouts.
Motor: 2.25 HP
Speed: 0 to 10mph
Incline: Two positions (Manual)
Belt: 16” x 50”
Features: Backlit display screen, thumb heartrate monitor, iFit compatible, six preset programs, storage space, media shelf
The Weslo Cadence G 5.9i is certainly one of the most popular treadmills in the budget market and tops our list due to the impressive power and extra features not seen on many of its peers.
In fact, some of the listed features seem too good to be true, with a powerful 2.25 HP motor powering a 16” x 50” comfort-enhancing belt. While pretty narrow, this accommodates both runners with a longer stride and faster runners, with a top speed of 10mph.
Additional features include a folding design for easier storage and compatibility with the iFit system. While there are some flaws – highlighted in the full review of the Cadence G 5.9i – the pros outweigh the cons here.
Shopping for an exercise bike is difficult at any price range, but it can be a particularly tough task on a tight budget.
In this entry-level category, you’ll find plenty of duds mixed in with some gems. To pick the right model, it’s more important than ever to stay vigilant and do plenty of research.
To help you as you look, we’ve compiled a guide to highlight the most essential features you should consider. After this, we’ve answered some of the most common questions that first-time buyers have.
Together, these elements give you all of the information you need to make the right purchase! Read on to find out.
Even after you’ve decided to buy an exercise bike, you’ll still need to pick which type! Most bikes fall into one of three main categories: spin bikes, upright bikes, and recumbent bikes.
The different designs can create a completely unique experience – each style has its strengths and drawbacks that make them better suited for different users.
Spinning bikes feature the seat at the same level as the handlebars. In terms of feel, they’re the closest to a genuine bike. Because the seat is so elevated, they also force you to rest some of your weight on your arms, which can help incorporate your upper body into your exercise routine.
However, the forward posture may be uncomfortable for many users. If you’re completely new to biking, these bikes may also be a bit aggressive to start out with. They function best for advanced users and those who want a total-body workout from their bike.
Upright bikes may seem similar to spinning bikes, but there are a couple of key differences. These models place the seat somewhat below the handlebars for a more relaxed feel.
You’ll still need to place some weight on your arms, but if you want to sit back it’s easier to do so on an upright bike. These are the most common exercise bikes that you find in gyms.
Upright bikes preserve the feel of an outdoor bike, but the seats usually offer more cushioning to keep you comfortable during your session. These make a great option for beginners and advanced users alike, particularly if you want to simulate the feel of a real bike indoors.
Finally, recumbent bikes are completely different from the first two categories. These bikes allow riders to sit back in a reclined position and pedal by extending their legs forward. While recumbent bikes don’t feel as much like a traditional bike, they are far more comfortable – particularly for extended cardio training sessions.
These models are particularly popular among beginners and older riders because of their increased comfort.
However, they don’t incorporate your upper body into the session, and may not target your leg muscles as effectively as some other designs. If you’re in search of a high-intensity and fast-paced workout, you will be better off with an upright or spin bike instead.
Apart from the design, it’s also important to consider your bike’s frame in its own right. Some bikes are built to fold up for easy storage, while others are designed with sturdiness and durability in mind.
Both types – folding and non-folding – have their own merits, but depending on your priorities you may only want to consider one setup. Let’s take a look at each design to help distinguish them.
If you live in a small apartment, or don’t have much space to work out, a folding bike can be a godsend. Their skinny frames can fold up to fit neatly into a closet or spare room when you’re not using them. Most of these bikes also incorporate wheels to make them even easier to transport.
However, to fold up smoothly, most of these bikes utilize a thinner ‘X’ frame. You’ll also need to sacrifice a large flywheel – folding bikes often incorporate tiny flywheels instead in order to keep things streamlined.
The combination of the smaller wheel and lighter frame means these bikes aren’t as well-suited to heavy-duty riders. Larger, heavier flywheels can provide more resistance and take more effort to get moving at the start of your workout. They are therefore the favorite choice of experienced exercise bike riders.
Non-folding bikes use thicker, wider frames to handle larger or more advanced riders. Heavy flywheels (ranging from 25lb to 30lb+) are also commonplace on these machines.
While they offer a more stable and often smoother riding experience, particularly over long periods of time, they are also harder to store if you are tight on space. Even if they do include wheels, non-folding bikes may still be too heavy or unwieldy for some people to move on their own.
Beyond the size of the flywheel, it’s also important to consider how your exercise bike generates resistance. On the budget market, you’ll encounter two primary systems: magnetic flywheels, and chain/belt drives.
Magnetic flywheels operate very similarly to ellipticals and other fitness gear. These machines center around a weighted drive wheel, with magnets providing resistance as you push to turn the pedals. These models are nearly silent and can provide plenty of challenge for beginners and advanced users alike.
However, magnetic resistance wheels require set levels of resistance. This works well if you want to maintain the exact same level of effort throughout your workout, but it prevents your bike from responding as naturally as an outdoor model would.
The other main type of exercise bike drive – chain or belt drive – remedies this problem.
Chain drive and belt drive bikes incorporate a system of gears and chains/belts that are nearly identical to what you would find on a standard outdoor bike. The only difference is the heavy flywheel that keeps the movement challenging. Because these models don’t incorporate static resistance levels, they are more responsive and smoother than magnetic resistance systems.
It is important, though, to distinguish between the specifics of chain drives and belt drives. Chain drives mimic the feeling of off-road bikes in the real world, while belt drives are smoother and quieter for a faster feel.
Chain drives require regular maintenance to stay lubricated. Belts don’t require this, although must be replaced every year or two to keep the bike functional.
Many people overlook height range when they search for their new exercise bike. Far from being an afterthought, though, height range is one of the most important measurements to consider when buying your machine! Buying a bike with the wrong height range can ruin your experience entirely.
Thankfully, most exercise bikes offer a wide height range that can accommodate users of many different heights while remaining comfortable.
You’ll usually find a range between 5ft and 6ft 3, though different bikes may vary by a couple of inches. If you’re shorter than 5ft or taller than 6ft 3, you may need to search for a bike that’s specifically designed to fit shorter or taller users.
Even if you don’t need to purchase a specially made model, you should make sure to stay as far within the ideal height range as possible! A bike may be advertised to fit a certain height, but you can still struggle to find a comfortable position if you’re at the very edge of that height range.
While the features we have already covered may determine how challenging and how comfortable your ride is, a bike’s control module can make or break how pleasant and entertaining your exercise routine becomes.
Unfortunately, in this budget price range, you won’t find any touchscreen displays or high-definition full-color consoles – curb your expectations!
Thankfully, most of the models on our list feature some form of LCD screen. These designs get the job done to display statistics and keep you in control of your bike, but they can’t do much else. In many cases, these basic control displays only show your speed and don’t record any other statistics!
Beyond the screen itself, you will also find a couple of buttons to help you manage different aspects of your ride. At the very least, pretty much any bike will include a button to cycle between the different statistics on screen.
If you purchase a magnetic model, your bike may also include a stop/start button to activate the magnetic resistance and other arrows to toggle the resistance level up or down.
We class secondary features as amenities that may not make or break your ride, but they can certainly improve the quality and feel. Keep these things in mind before you pull the trigger on a new machine.
First off, you’ll need to consider the design of the handlebars on your preferred exercise bike. Biking seems like an exclusively lower-body exercise but, in reality, you’ll spend a lot of time resting your weight on your arms and shoulders over the course of a workout.
Most of the bikes we list here include long, flat handlebars which extend outward from the central shaft above the front wheel. These handlebars provide ample room to grip (and often multiple angles to grab hold of), but they do require you to at least lean out over the front wheel of your bike.
A couple of the bikes we’ve mentioned are recumbent bikes, which operate much differently. Users sit back when they pedal a recumbent model, which obviates the need for handlebars which protrude over the front of the bike.
Instead, these bikes usually incorporate armrests fixed to the side of your seat while you bike. The exact location varies from model to model, though the vast majority are designed to keep you from slouching or slipping while you work out.
Finally, some of the machines in this range can offer a unique spin on traditional handlebars – monkey bar handlebars, looking very similar to those you’d find on a motorcycle.
Because these handlebars are nearly always constrained to the flywheel, you can adjust their speed and pull them to help speed up the flywheel. This is an advantage if you want to work out your chest and arms, but it does take away some extra exercise from the lower half of your body.
Beyond the handlebars, you’ll also need to pay attention to the rest of your bike to get the best possible riding experience.
For example, don’t forget to examine the pedals. Pedals can be a relatively minor factor, but depending on the model you may find some designs constricting and others pretty roomy. Some pedals also tilt slightly, angling in towards the center to help users perfect their ergonomics.
Seats are another great way to distinguish two similar bike models from one another. Slim and streamlined seats can keep you feeling comfortable and relaxed even over the course of long and grueling rides.
On the other hand, wider and more padded seat cushions may work out well for people who don’t use their bike for super-long sessions. This is because the extra padding and support remains comfortable if you’re not riding your bike at high speeds or at high resistance levels.
Finally, you should also consider whether or not your bike includes any storage. Bikes don’t have as much natural console space as other machines like ellipticals or treadmills. However, many exercise bikes still include a water bottle holder. This can come in extremely handy if you’re stuck in the middle of a workout and need a quick drink to stay hydrated.
Before you commit to purchasing an exercise bike, you probably want to make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth.
Running is often the first thing people compare to cardio equipment – after all, with free cardio available outside your doorstep, why pay for a machine in your house?
However, exercise bikes differ substantially from running outdoors and, in many ways, they provide a safer, more complete workout to cover all of your cardio needs.
Running tends to burn a few more calories over the same amount of time when compared to biking for that time, which makes running the preferred cardio method among many professional athletes and trainers. With that being said, if you look beyond the calories, you might find that bikes stack up pretty favorably to running.
Most importantly, exercise bikes are closed-circuit systems (see below). Fundamentally this means that your feet remain in contact with the machine throughout your full range of motion.
In contrast to running, which requires you to strike the ground with your feet on every stride, exercise bikes can leave your ankles and knees almost completely unaffected.
However, exercise bikes, and indoor cardio machines in general, hold a couple of additional advantages over plain old outdoor running. The best indoor bikes are accessible year-round – a serious concern for residents in many parts of the nation.
With the handlebars and grip structure, indoor bikes may also help engage your upper body more than a classic treadmill workout ever would.
The debate between upright and recumbent exercise bikes is a strong one. Both sides have some convincing arguments, but they also include some serious drawbacks that might make you think twice.
At the end of the day, you can get a great workout with either type of bike – you may just prefer one model to the other based on your specific needs.
Upright bikes, as we have mentioned in our article above, do a good job of mimicking a real-world biking experience. If you have never used an indoor exercise bike before, but love to ride on trails or paths on a standard bike, you should strongly consider an upright exercise bike.
These bikes also include your upper body more than recumbent bikes do. By forcing you to lean over the handlebars as you ride, upright bikes and spin bikes help you feel the burn in your abs, shoulders and arms, in addition to your legs.
Spin bikes, in particular, offer a more aggressive experience for hardcore riders. These models place the seat at the same height as the handlebars – you’ll need to keep your core and arms tight throughout your workout session just to keep pedaling!
Recumbent bikes avoid the upper-body strain that upright bikes incorporate. However, recumbent bikes allow you to get just as good of a leg workout as you would on an upright bike. The cushy bucket seats keep your lower back protected throughout your workout and take the load off your abs and arms.
These bikes are more popular among older or less experienced bikers. However, don’t let the typical user base sway your opinion. Both young and advanced riders can use a recumbent bike to get an outstanding leg workout without any impact on their joints or spine. It’s all down to how much effort and intensity each individual user puts in.
Fear of knee and joint injuries keeps many people away from cardio exercise altogether. Many machines, like treadmills, are known for causing damage to joints over time thanks to the repeated impacts between your body and the machine.
If you are one of the people that avoids cardio for fear of injury, an exercise bike could be the solution to get you back working out. Exercise bikes are some of the lowest-impact forms of cardio exercise around.
You should use an exercise bike over treadmills or even ellipticals if you have a history of knee pain or struggle with other joint problems.
Exercise bikes are a closed system – rather than striking the machine over and over, your body remains in contact with the bike throughout the full range of motion. Closed-system machines will work your leg muscles without placing the stress on your joints and cartilage that certain pieces of equipment do (i.e. treadmills).
In particular, you should take a look at some recumbent exercise bikes for a knee-safe workout. Sitting back in a reclined position will take even more of your body weight off your legs and protect the joints from damage.
If your condition improves, you can always make the switch to an upright exercise bike when you recover.
If you’re comparing different cardio machines, it can be helpful to know which muscles each machine targets best. That way, you can take your strength goals into account as you make your decision.
Exercise bikes are similar to other cardio machines in a lot of ways. They provide a great workout for your cardiovascular system, and target lower-body muscles like your quads, calves and glutes. However, there are some nuances to how different models of cardio machine work each of these muscles.
For example, a good treadmill can provide a top-notch cardio experience with your running stride. They are great for strengthening most of your lower-body muscles, though they don’t provide as much of a strength workout as some other machines.
Ellipticals keep the same fundamental stride pattern, though with the tension cranked up they can provide a better resistance workout.
The seated nature of exercise bikes makes them fundamentally different from treadmills and ellipticals.
At low resistance levels, bikes are a smooth and reliable option for cardio training. As you increase the amount of resistance, however, exercise bikes can build your lower-body muscles in a manner similar to strength training. This makes them more versatile than some other home cardio options.
Beyond lower-body benefits, exercise bikes can also incorporate your upper body. Designs like spin bikes force you to engage your core and shoulders while you ride, which can give you a full-body workout during your normal cardio routine.
After spending some time looking at all of the budget bikes on the market, we decided on Schwinn’s excellent 130 as our top pick. The combination of the solid frame and versatile resistance system with plenty of extra features justified its high rating.
However, depending on your own fitness needs, you may prefer to check out some of the other bikes on our list instead – or do your own research and settle on something completely different!
No matter which model you decide on, we hope our shopping guide and FAQ answers have given you the knowledge to make an informed purchase. Best of luck in your search for a new home cardio centerpiece!