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Home gym equipment has been flying off the shelves since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. But, even with the arrival of fancy fitness mirrors, rowing machines and other high-end equipment, exercise bikes remain the most popular option for people looking for an effective at-home workout.
This market has been largely dominated by the brand Peloton and its (pricey but fancy) stationary bike. But they’re not the only option out there. Some of the best Peloton alternatives are popping up right now, giving the exercise bike giant some serious competition.
Before the pandemic hit, spin classes were at an all-time high. Why? Here are three reasons: data, easy instruction and low-impact training. Exercise bikes can provide a huge amount of data (heart rate, distance, calories burned, etc), which lets you fine-tune your workout for smoother improvement. It’s also easy for instructors to guide a spin class full of trainees, and cycling’s low-impact nature means far fewer injuries (compared to, say, running).
Now that we’re all working out at home, stationary bikes are a clear choice for minimal home gyms. They take up very little space, and easy virtual instruction (whether from live trainers or on-demand classes) offers necessary guidance and motivation.
Exercise Bike Buying Guide
For most of us, this may be the first time purchasing an exercise bike (or any serious home gym equipment, for that matter). Discerning the best stationary bikes from the good can therefore be tricky, so here are a few key components to look at when shopping.
Construction: Build quality varies quite drastically between exercise bikes. The best indoor bikes are tough enough to take a beating, and typically feature steel frames. Two other build specs you’ll want to check are flywheel weight and transmission. The heavier the flywheel the smoother the ride, as you’ll get more momentum with each pedal. You’ll also want a bike with a belt transmission (not a chain) as these are quieter and smoother.
Classes: You’ll get much more out of your exercise bike (I.e. a better bod) with guidance from virtual trainers. Most exercise bikes come with the option for a membership that gives you access to live studio classes and a catalogue of pre-recorded classes. Plus, some exercise bikes have a screen that can rotate for off-bike workouts as well, such as yoga, strength training, meditation and boxing, to name a few.
Noise Level: Noise level is a big deal with exercise bikes. You don’t want to wake up the house with your morning ride or, say, disturb any TV-watching in the room. As mentioned, bikes with a belt transmission will be much quieter. Some brands also use specific technology like magnetic resistance systems to keep noise at a minimum.
Monitor: Most of our picks come with a tablet-like monitor to see your stats, coaches and virtual scenery. These screens come in varying sizes and sometimes provide different stats, so be sure to check out how big and how comprehensive each monitor is.
Equipment: The best exercise bikes come with dumbbells for access to a more complete full-body workout. Others (namely, the MYX) come with a whole set of workout gear to compliment your cycling workout. Either way, this inclusion of weights is always a nice plus.
The Best Peloton Alternatives
If you’re currently looking to invest in an exercise bike, it can be tempting to splash out on the popular Peloton. Sure, Pelotons are great, but there are other high-quality options that we think everyone should consider. Check them out below.
1. Bowflex VeloCore
Bowflex is an old name in home gym equipment, but they’re still on the cutting edge. Case-in-point is their VeloCore exercise bike, which boasts a feature that no other stationary bike (even Peloton) can offer: leaning mode. That’s right – the bike actually tilts with you movement, simulating a real ride and, more importantly, engaging your core, arms and back. Plus, it’s just plain fun.
The VeloCore scores big points in terms of adjustability with 100 levels of resistance (the same as a Peloton) and adjustable handlebars for a comfortable fit. Bowflex also uses a magnetic resistance system on the flywheel, ensuring a silent ride that everyone in the house will appreciate.
You can also sign up for Bowflex’s JRNY membership, giving you access to on-demand classes, workouts that adapt to your level and virtual coaching. The membership also brings Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ to the bike’s console screen for a boredom-free ride. Speaking of the screen, it comes in two sizes: 16- and 22-inch, the former being for those of us who don’t like a large screen.
2. NordicTrack Commercial S22i Studio Cycle
NordicTrack went a similar route as Bowflex with their S22i cycle. Instead of the regular fixed position, the S22i can adjust for incline (up to 20%) and decline (down to -10%) for a more realistic ride and better muscle engagement. The kicker with this feature is that trainers can digitally adjust your bike’s incline/decline in real-time during a live class.
The S22i’s construction is top-quality with a steel frame and a solid 32-pound flywheel. The bike also uses NordicTrack’s SMR Silent Magnetic Resistance system which improves fluidity while making the bike quieter as well.
NordicTrack offers both live, studio-like classes as well as a library of on-demand sessions through their iFit membership. You also get off-bike exercises including strength training, meditation and mindfulness sessions with a swivel of the screen. This iFit service has somewhat of a leg up on other brands because you get a whole year free to test it out.
The classes, along with a swath of exercise metrics, are shown on a large, crisp 22-inch display. Among these stats is heart rate, which the bike measures via hand pulse sensors or a separate Bluetooth-connected monitor.
3. Echelon EX-5s
Echelon has quickly become a brand to be trifled with, offering a range of connected, high-end home workout gear. This EX-5s is their current top-of-the-line exercise bike, and gives Peloton a run for its money.
The EX-5s compact, easy-to-move build is one of it’s best features. At just 123 pounds, you can easily wheel it around the house or garage to store when not in use, and the V-shape design makes it compact enough for most spaces.
Echelon’s digital training is on-point with a wide range of cycling classes, as well as plenty of non-cycling classes from meditation to HIIT workouts to stretching. These off-bike classes can be utilized by flipping the EX-5s’ large 22-inch screen outward. Echelon’s classes are great for any level of expertise, offering motivating instructors and plenty of metrics to whip you into shape. In our experience, the Echelon was a sturdy, durable bike that holds up to hill sprints, heavy climbs and fast-paced rides alike.
4. MYX Plus
If you prefer on-demand classes (and don’t mind skipping live training), the MYX bike is a great pick. The exercise bike takes a different approach than most with in-depth heart rate data – a Polar OH1 heart rate monitor is included – for you to create a fine-tuned training program and compete against yourself. And, with a heavy 41-pound flywheel, riding this bike is smooth enough to crave more.
Design-wise the bike is very sturdy yet compact with a footprint of just 3’4” by 1’7,” so it should fit in almost any space. Fitting yourself on the bike is also made easier thanks to handlebars that adjust forwards and backwards as well as up and down. This makes it suitable for riders up to 6’8” tall.
But one of the best features of the MYX bike is the included gear. By upgrading to the MYX Plus (linked below) you get a six-piece weight set (with light, medium or heavy weight ranges), a kettlebell, an oversized exercise mat, a foam roller and a resistance band. To make use of all this gear, swivel the MYX screen to access off-bike training classes.
5. Keiser M3i Indoor Cycle
If you’re looking for a more streamlined, no-frills exercise bike, check out this Keiser M3i cycle. The bare-bones design measures just 45 x 25.98 x 48.98 inches, making it ideal for small spaces – not to mention very attractive. And with a weight of just 85 pounds, anyone can wheel it around for storage or occasional use outdoors.
The handsome V-shaped frame isn’t just for looks. The design enables more adjustability, allowing this bike to fit riders from 4’10” to 7’ tall. It’s also whisper-quiet thanks to a magnetic resistance system.
Obviously, the major difference with the M3i is that it doesn’t have a built-in screen. Instead, it’s equipped with a digital display to show key metrics, but can also be connected via Bluetooth to a smartphone or tablet for more in-depth stats and classes. A large media tray makes the latter option easy. Plus, an included Bluetooth-equipped Polar heart rate monitor means you don’t need to purchase one yourself.