Not everyone likes to work out in the same way. But since the first lockdown due to COVID-19 and many gyms and fitness studios closed, people seem to have converged on one coveted piece of fitness equipment: an exercise bike. More specifically, connected spin bikes that offer streaming studio-style workouts via a screen, or what the world refers to as the Peloton Effect. Now, especially as winter draws near, you may be narrowing in on buying a stationary bike of your own for your home gym.
We tested a bunch of spinning bikes, including both Peloton models (of course), as well as a handful of “dumb” bikes that can be outfitted with a tablet and an app subscription for an even lower-cost hack. We landed on the Peloton Bike+(available at Peloton) as the best of the bunch and named the Myx II(available at MYX Fitness) as our best value option, plus the Schwinn IC4(available at Amazon) as the most hack-worthy.
Here are the best exercise bikes we tested, ranked in order:
Sunny Health and Fitness SF-B901
There are a lot of good things to say about Peloton’s new Bike+. But what made it stand out against all the other bikes we tested is that it seems like the easiest one to integrate into daily life. Assembly was nearly effortless (that is, setup is included with purchase—due to COVID-19 precautions, technicians assemble the bike before it arrives so you can roll it inside the house). It is simple to resize for different users’ bodies, between heights 4 feet 11 inches and 6 feet 5 inches per the specs, even though the handlebars only move up and down, not also fore and aft, an option on some other bikes. Its electromagnetic resistance adjusts with a twist from the large red knob and the flywheel spins silently, no matter how high you crank the tension. Peloton’s seemingly limitless live and on-demand classes are so fun that we barely noticed the time passing, even as sweat dripped down on the bike. The 23.8-inch, touch-screen tablet—the largest of the bikes we tested, and larger than the original Peloton—also displays all the metrics one might want—resistance, cadence in RPM (revolutions per minute of the flywheel), distance traveled, calories burned during class, and output measured in watts, calculated from resistance and cadence—which isn’t the case with other bikes. And, if you don’t want all the information on the screen, you can get rid of it with a tap. The class offerings are by far the most extensive of any bike we tested—after all, Peloton was the first—with up to 10 live cycling classes per day and a vast library of recorded on-demand classes, sortable by style, length, instructor, intensity, user review, and music genre (and many will show you the playlist of music before you start if you care about that sort of thing).
The Bike+ screen swivels to face away from the bike, which only three other bikes offer and the original Peloton does not. This makes it easier to see it while you do floor workouts such as yoga, HIIT, or the new bike boot camp classes, in which you hop on and off the bike to mix strength training in with spinning sets. It has an improved speaker system that delivers sound from the front of the tablet, not the rear (the original bike’s setup, for some reason), which makes it easier to hear the instructors and music. Arguably its coolest feature, though, is the Auto Follow function, which changes the bike’s resistance right when the instructor calls it out in the on-demand classes (but not the live ones). The Peloton Bike+ and NordicTrack S22i (see “Other Exercise Bikes We Tested”) are the only other ones to offer this, which prevents guesswork (and cheating), though you may tinker with the resistance to get it to your liking.
The Bike+ is not totally perfect. The price of the bike alone—plus the $44 monthly app membership fee (which permits as many users as you want per bike), plusaccessories you will need, like LOOK Delta cycling shoes (which Peloton sells for $125), and will want, like weights—is enough for us to say it may not be the best bike for everyone. It also looks sleek and sturdy, but its weight limit is a little lower than many others (297 pounds versus 350 pounds of some bikes) and we found that the large screen wobbled a bit during sprints. This never reached a level where it became a real concern, but it was a little distracting to see the instructor vibrating during an intense cardio burst. Also, Peloton’s metrics display could be overwhelming—especially the class leaderboard, which uses your output to show you how you stack up against every single person that has ever taken a class—as many as 100,000 users. For some, seeing how you rank may be motivating; for others, it could be demoralizing or even encourage “cheating” by not taking essential breaks as recommended by the instructors in order not to lose placement on the leaderboard. But because the information shown on the screen is so easy to customize, you can hide it away from view and even opt-out of the leaderboard entirely via your personal settings.
All told, we think the Bike+’s improvements over the original Peloton—its rotating screen, auto-adjusting resistance function, and way better sound—make it worth the extra $800 in price. But if you want the true Peloton experience and balk at the Bike+’s $1,995 price tag, you can get most of its essential features at a (slightly) less eye-popping price with its original bike at $1,195 (read more in the “Other Exercise Bikes We Tested” section below).
You may finance the Bike+ with no interest for $47 a month for 43 months plus the $44 monthly membership fee ($91 per month, total). The included warranty covers one year for the components (including the tablet) and five years on the frame. Extended warranties (which cover parts, labor, and mechanical and electrical breakdowns) are available for an extra 12 or 27 months at an additional cost of $175 or $230, respectively—a good idea if you finance your purchase, so you’re covered if something breaks before you’re done making payments.
First-year total cost (if bike paid in full): $1,995 + $528 (membership) or $2,523, plus required compatible cycling shoes ($125 from Peloton) and accessories like a mat and weights for the floor exercises, if you don’t own them.
Most exercise bikes use a combination of resistance and cadence to guide you through workouts. Our best value pick Myx is a little different. It comes with a Polar heart-rate monitor that you use to see your heart rate on the screen and aim to hit three different exertion zones throughout the workout (most heart-rate training systems use five, but Myx stuck with three zones to keep it simpler). When you first get the bike, you take a 20-minute assessment ride to figure out the range for your zones. During rides, instructors don’t tell you to hit a certain number for speed, resistance, or RPM (revolutions per minute of the flywheel)—instead, they tell you to increase or decrease the resistance based on how you feel and use it to hit the heart-rate zone they want you to be in. The screen also shows the calories burned during the class, and when it’s over, how many minutes were spent in each zone. (It may remind some of OrangeTheory, a workout studio that encourages members to stay in an elevated heart-rate zone for a certain amount of time during class for maximum results.)
This can take getting used to if you’re accustomed to the standard studio-class setup that uses speed, resistance, RPM, and/or power metrics. But once I got going with Myx, I really liked its approach—it’s cool to see how your heart rate changes over the course of a 30-minute cycling class, what you do during the class to make it spike or fall, and how it makes you feel after you're done. I also thought the instructors did a great job of talking us through the zones and explaining how to get there. You can also cycle to “scenic” rides (other bikes offer these as well), which take you through places like Patagonia and Northern Italy on the screen, or watch or read the news from Newsy as you ride. (We could make a joke here about how your heart rate is probably already high enough, but we won’t.) Myx itself offers a decent selection of streaming on- and off-bike classes, and through partnerships with Openfit and Beachbody (with whom it recently merged), additional on-demand as well as live classes are available. (Annoyingly, the Beachbody classes have a serious upcharge of about $20 a month plus a $100 annual fee, so we didn’t test those.)
Another plus: Myx’s 21.5-inch touchscreen display sits on a flexible rod that allows it to swivel in any direction you want, a feature we appreciated in other bikes as well. This is especially useful for Myx’s non-cycling classes, which include barre, Pilates, HIIT, yoga, and meditation when you’d want to flip the screen away from the bike and sit in front of it without having to worry about whacking anything while in a down dog or doing leg lifts. The heart-rate monitor is a nice add-on for these classes, too—I liked seeing how my heart rate changed over the course of something more low-impact like a barre class and thought it was cool that the instructors in these classes emphasized that your heart doesn’t always have to be pounding to get a good workout.
The machine itself is a customized bike made by Star Trac, a reputable commercial-gym brand, so it feels solid and has a 350-pound weight limit and the seat and handlebars are adjustable to suit riders from 4 feet 11 inches to 6 feet 8 inches. Its wheel stays quiet throughout classes—even though it has mechanical resistance, not the higher-end electromagnetic resistance of Peloton, SoulCycle, and NordicTrack—and the screen always showed a crisp, clear picture. The handlebars are narrower and have less padding than others, which made them a little uncomfortable, though this was by no means untenable.
That said, if you want the competitive studio-cycle experience that you get from Peloton, Myx isn’t your best option (for a truer Peloton dupe at a lower price, an Echelon bike is the way to go; see “Other Exercise Bikes We Tested”). There’s no leaderboard on display and no references to racing your peers during class. This isn’t an issue for someone who favors doing their own thing and doesn’t get jazzed by competition, but if that’s not you, you won’t love Myx. With the Myx II’s new speed sensor you can view your cadence, speed, and distance, a feature we missed with the original Myx bike. And, on a superficial note, Myx’s overall class aesthetic is a little bland. The instructors are great, but they sit in a bright, generic room that looks like a shared workspace, as opposed to the darkened stadium rooms with dramatic spotlights that can make a cycling experience more exciting.
Finally, you can select some classes based on theme, like “Disco” or “90s Rap,” but the playlist changes every time the class is played—it’s curated from a streaming service and plays songs that align with the approximate rhythm the instructors want you to hit. On one hand, this is cool, because it means you can return to a workout you liked and get a fresh playlist each time. On the other, it means you can’t vet the playlist in advance (like you can with many Peloton workouts),but you have the option to skip up to five songs in most classes. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the music that played during the workouts, though I missed some of the things spin teachers tend to do when they curate their own playlists, like calling out a cadence to hit to match the beat or just singing along or commenting about how this song is the song that changed their life, which can inject more energy into the workout. Overall, though, we liked that Myx offered something that felt more and different than a wannabe Peloton. If you’re not overly motivated by competition, Myx provides a lot of opportunities for long-term physical growth without relying on comparing yourself to others.
The Myx II bike comes in two colors, “natural white” and “deep charcoal.” The company also sells two packages with its bike: An a la carte for $1,399, which comes with the heart-rate monitor only, and the “plus” version for $1,599, which is the same bike and monitor and heart-rate strap, but also comes with an exercise mat, a stabilizing mat for the bike, a foam roller, a resistance band, a kettlebell, and three sets of dumbbells. You can choose whether you want a trio of light weights (3, 6, and 9 pounds) medium weights (6, 9, and 12 pounds), or heavy weights (9, 12, and 15 pounds), as well as a 15-, 20-, or 25-pound kettlebell. Many of Myx’s off-bike classes call for weights, so shelling out the extra $200 for the gear is actually a pretty good deal. The bike’s pedals come with cages to use with regular shoes—though, annoyingly, the straps are really long, particularly if you have small feet, and flap and slap against the bike—or you can clip in with bike shoes outfitted with SPD cleats. Myx also offers no-interest financing on the bike at roughly $29 a month for 48 months (or $34 for the Plus package) plus the $29 monthly app fee, which allows up to five users to have accounts. The included warranty covers the components, labor, and accessories for one year and the bike frame for five years, and you can purchase an additional one or two year warranty for $99 or $149.
First-year total cost (if bike paid in full): $1,747 for the basic package or $1,947 for the plus package
Schwinn's IC4 Indoor Cycling Bike is our “hack” pick for a quality exercise bike that you may use alone or by outfitting with a tablet to stream workouts from a separate app. The bike has Bluetooth connectivity, so it can be paired with your own tablet, smartphone, monitor, or smart TV to stream workouts from apps like Peloton and Zwift, and the included media rack offers a secure perch for your handheld device. The IC4 offers variable mechanical resistance and cadence tracking in RPM, like many of the other connected bikes we tested, which it displays on a small backlit digital display. However, only the bike's cadence data beams into the Peloton app, so you won't see how you're doing on the leaderboard, though you'll at least have a log that you took a class. (With Zwift, you'll have better data integration, including a record and display of cadence, power, and heart rate in the app.)
We like that the IC4 bike comes with helpful accessories like a pair of three-pound dumbbells, a Bluetooth heart-rate monitor, and a USB charging station, all of which contribute to its value for the price. Schwinn offers an in-home assembly servicefor $129, but we found the bike easy to build without any paid help. The handlebars and seat are adjustable for riders of heights 4 feet 6 inches to 6 feet 6 inches, and it has a weight limit of 330 pounds. The pedals come with cages or can be used with SPD-cleat cycle shoes.
Overall, the bike works well when connected with other devices and apps. On occasion, we had a few minor issues with streaming when paired with the Peloton app and found it best to preload workouts ahead of time to avoid glitches during class. Also, though both the Peloton and Schwinn bikes use 100 units of resistance, the levels aren’t equivalent—the resistance is heavier on the IC4 than the Peloton, so you have to modify what the instructor calls out. If you don’t want to remember the conversions off the top of your head, you can buy a decal on Etsy to stick on your bike (or just write numbers down on a sticky note). You also won't get a very detailed log of your rides as the Schwinn itself doesn't store them, so if you want to track your overall data, you'll have to write it down from the display at the end of your workout. One thing we don’t love about riding the IC4 is the very firm seat, which we haven’t gotten used to after more than a month of riding, though adding a seat cushion may help.
The real reason someone might opt for the Schwinn hack, of course, is the lower cost. The bike itself costs $899, which you may opt to break down with the interest-free financing plan of $49.90 a month for 18 months. To make it "connected," you’ll have to add a phone or tablet or set it up in front of a smart TV, and you’ll need a subscription to an app—Peloton’s costs $12.99 a month for each account (so if two people will use it, that’s two accounts to pay for).
Schwinn offers a generous 10-year warranty on the bike frame and a three-year warranty on parts and components, with the first year of labor costs also covered in full. You can add on five years to the parts and labor with the Schwinn Protection Plan for an extra $109.
First-year total cost (if bike paid in full): $899 plus $155.80 for the Peloton app, or $1,054.88, plus the cost of a tablet if you don’t own one and cycling shoes, if you want them. If you have other users, they will have to pay for additional app subscriptions as well.
Bluetooth connectivity to ride with different apps
I’m Esther Bell, Reviewed’s health and fitness writer. Before me, Sara Hendricks tested exercise bikes. I don't own and had never used a home stationary bike before testing. But I've taken plenty of cycling classes in my day, and was excited to find a home bike that could compete with in-studio quality.
I’m Sara Hendricks, the emerging categories writer at Reviewed. I’ve covered a lot of health and fitness content, such as workout apps, at-home fitness equipment, and, once upon a time, real-life exercise classes. This means I’ve been on many kinds of exercise bikes, both for work and for leisure, but I don’t have an at-home bike myself—so I was open to trying a whole bunch of them.
I also leaned on the experiences of four other Reviewed staffers, who own and/or have tested some of these bikes. Courtney Campbell, our shopping editor, tested the Echelon bike for us, while Samantha Matt, director of commerce content, has owned the original Peloton for more than a year, executive editor Megan McCarthy made a Peloton pandemic purchase, and smart home writer Rachel Murphy hacked the Schwinn IC4 with an iPad and the Peloton app for her own home use.
What did testing bikes entail? The short answer: We rode a lot of exercise bikes. The long answer: We rode a lot of exercise bikes, but following specific guidelines set up by Reviewed’s senior scientist, Julia MacDougall.
We ordered bikes and arranged for them to be delivered to Reviewed’s office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If setup was included or available for an additional fee, we sprung for it and evaluated how simple the process was. If it wasn’t, we set it up ourselves and decided how doable this would be for most people. For the bikes in the office, I tried each bike for a week, paying attention to things like sizing, comfort, metrics displayed, and overall ease and enjoyment of use. I also tried to move it around the room, just to make sure it was possible once set up (no surprise: the ones with their own displays were harder to maneuver than the ones without). If it was a connected bike with access to an app and other kinds of classes, I checked it out and took some of the non-biking home workouts. I considered pricing, too, starting with the overall cost and seeing how that translated to warranties and financing options the brand made available, and if the bike came with accessories needed to get the most out of it.
I also sourced the opinions of the other Reviewed staffers with exercise-bike experience, once I narrowed down my top picks, I had other testers come into the office to give them a spin, too.
What You Should Know About Exercise Bikes
The uptick in at-home exercise bikes sales is undoubtedly due to the coronavirus pandemic and closure or limited capacity of most gyms and fitness studios, but it isn’t a fluke. Indoor exercise bikes are a great way to get a low-impact cardio workout with a machine that takes up less space than a treadmill or other home workout equipment. You shouldn’t have an intense cycling session every single day—the American Heart Association recommends getting 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, and most trainers recommend mixing up cycling with some strength-based cross training and at least one rest day per week. But for many people, it’s an all-in-one device that doesn’t take up too much space and can serve as motivation to work out just by looking at it.
For our tests, we tried studio-cycling bikes—rather than upright exercise bikes or recumbent bikes—which have a sleek build, slim seat, pedals right below the feet, use a weighted flywheel and mechanical or magnetic resistance to make pedaling more or less challenging, and put the rider in a slightly leaned forward body position when riding. In other words, they look like what you would sit on in a spin class at a gym or cycling studio.
There’s variation among these kinds, too. Most of the bikes we tested are “connected”—that is, they come with a built-in tablet and internet connectivity, which means they can stream exercise classes through an app that you access for a (required) monthly fee. Some bikes that we tested, like the Schwinn IC4 and Bowflex C6, fall somewhere in the middle, with a basic digital screen for metrics and Bluetooth capability that allow you to link it to a cycling app if you want, by downloading it onto a tablet, smartphone, or smart TV. We also tested one bare-bones bike, the Sunny Health and Fitness cycling bike that’s the top seller on Amazon, which has a resistance knob, a flywheel, and not much else, but many budget-minded reviewers report adding a tablet stand to hack it for a Peloton experience on the extra-cheap.
One final thing to consider is the bike’s pedals. Some require riders to wear cycling shoes with LOOK Delta cleats that clip in. Others have two-sided pedals, one with a cage to be used with regular gym shoes, and one that's compatible with cleated cycling shoes (usually for two-bolt SPD cleats). Others only have the toe cages that hold sneaker-clad feet in place. Even if your bike has toe cages, it’s worth getting cycling shoes (and switching to a set of pedals that allow you to clip in if your bike doesn’t come with those). It’s an extra cost, but it reduces foot strain and slippage that can occur when your foot is pushed into a cage and helps maintain a sense of connection with the bike, which can increase the strength of your pedalling and the body benefits you get from it.
Other Exercise Bikes We Tested
The Echelon Connect EX-8s is Echelon’s high-end exercise bike designed to compete with Peloton’s top-of-the-line Bike+. At $2,300, it’s a few hundred dollars more than the now $1,995 Peloton Bike+, and one of the most expensive bikes we tested.
The EX-8s has some features that made it stand out during testing. It has user-friendly buttons on the handlebars that allow you to adjust the resistance while riding out of the saddle, which are much easier to use than reaching for the central knob. Additionally, the 24-inch curved touchscreen allowed me to tune out my surroundings more easily compared to the typical flat display—a promise I was initially dubious about. Furthermore, the bike’s wheels can light up in sync with workout metrics such as heart rate or cadence for a more captivating experience.
Echelon’s live and prerecorded classes are engaging and challenging—the upbeat instructors cheer you on throughout your workouts, and you can use the optional leaderboard to compete with your virtual classmates. If you aren’t one for group sessions, you can take scenic individual rides that transport you around the world, letting you ride through cities from Sydney to Singapore.
The EX-8s makes for a smooth and silent ride, even while you’re sprinting at high speeds. You can ride while wearing cycling shoes or sneakers, which strap securely in the pedal cages. But the EX-8s’s seat isn’t as comfortable as the Bike+’s during long rides, and while the screen turns 180 degrees so users can take off-bike workout classes, it doesn’t swivel left to right, which can be limiting in small spaces. Because of this, it didn’t beat out the Peloton Bike+ for first place, but it’s still a worthy contender.
First-year total cost (if bike paid in full): $2,300 + $468 (membership)
In our tests, the Bike+ outscored the original Peloton Bike—but this one is no slouch. Both bikes share the important fundamentals, such as access to live and on-demand classes taught by Peloton’s charismatic instructors. You also have all of the same metrics, like the leaderboard, calories burned, output, resistance, and cadence (and the ability to hide them away if you don’t want to look at them). The OG Peloton has the same weight limit of 297 pounds and can be adjusted for riders of heights from 4 feet 11 inches to 6 feet 5 inches.
With the original bike, though, you miss out on some Bike+ benefits, including the self-adjusting resistance, the swiveling screen, and improved sound quality. The Auto Follow feature may be the least important out of all of these—when you have it, it’s easy to rely on, but Peloton’s instructors do a good job of talking you through the numbers that it isn’t a total game changer. But you may regret not having the rotating screen if you plan to do a lot of the floor workouts, and you may find the sound muffled, as it’s piped from rear-facing speakers on the 22-inch touch screen display. (A good fix is to get a pair of wireless Bluetooth earbuds, especially if you work out while others in your household sleep.) If those details are enough to make a difference for you, go for the Bike+. If not, you’ll be a-OK saving some cash with the original Peloton.
The original Peloton bike costs $1,195, which you may finance for $38 a month over 39 months, plus the $44 monthly membership fee. You’ll have to get LOOK Delta cycling shoes, too, if you don’t already have some, which Peloton charges $125 for. The company offers the same warranty as the Bike+, with one year for the components and five years on the frame, and the option to buy extended warranties for up to 27 months (a good idea if you finance your purchase).
First-year total cost (if bike paid in full): $1,195 + $528 (membership) or $1,723, plus required compatible cycling shoes ($125 from Peloton) and accessories like a mat and weights for the floor exercises, if you don’t own them.
The SoulCycle bike, released in March 2020, is the long-awaited at-home version of the nightclub-like studio experience. It’s also the sturdiest bike we tried—it’s very similar to the one you’d see in the SoulCycle studio, with a wide base and adjustable feet. The frame, which has a 350-pound weight limit (the highest of bikes we tested and on par with only two others), never wobbled or felt unsteady as we pedalled, and the 21.5-inch touch screen held completely still throughout every class, which wasn’t the case with any other bike. The SoulCycle bike is easy to adjust to suit riders between 4 feet 10 inches and 6 feet 10 inches —you can move both the seat and the handlebars up and down and fore and aft—and an instructional sizing video starts right when you boot up the bike.
The instructors are, unsurprisingly, top-notch. SoulCycle didn’t invent the concept of fitness instructors with culty followings, but the denizens of its many studios will say SoulCycle perfected it. In any case, the instructors lean into the inspirational jargon that is Soul Cycle in the virtual classes, at least in the ones I took, though it wasn’t so over-the-top as to be grating.
Because it’s a newer bike, SoulCycle’s class catalog isn’t as extensive as others, but it offers more than 100 classes that range between 20 and 60 minutes, and a few live classes every day. The live classes have a leaderboard, and usually have about a 100 people on the list, and instructors give shout-outs in the live classes to keep up the motivation (the smaller class size increases your chance of getting those, too). In general, SoulCycle’s workout style is more focused on how you feel and connect with the music than anything else—and handle its on-bike choreography, which involves a lot of getting in and out of the saddle and moving your arms to the beat‚ so the only metrics you see on the screen are your cadence, “power” (a number based on your resistance and speed), and distance. When you finish the class, you see a number that reflects the percentage of the class you stayed on beat with the music. This can be confusing, as the teachers will tell you to adjust your resistance but don’t give you an exact number, which makes it feel like guesswork. (For what it’s worth, IRL SoulCycle classes are like this, too, minus the on-beat percentages.) You also don’t get a calorie-burn estimate when the class is done. Still, this didn’t prevent me from feeling like I got a good workout on the bike—I was sweaty and invigorated after each class. One quibble I had is that the electromagnetic flywheel made a soft whirring noise when it was in motion—it wasn’t unpleasant or distracting, but it stood out compared to other, much quieter bikes.
SoulCycle is part of the Equinox Group, and requires opting into its $40 monthly app, Variis by Equinox, for a year with purchase of the bike, just like most other connected bikes. This is what gives you access to cycling classes (with unlimited members permitted per bike), which play on the bike’s screen, plus cross-training workouts, like yoga, strength, and indoor and outdoor running. However, you can only access the off-bike classes on your phone or tablet, not the screen of the bike. We didn’t mind this, but it’s different from the other connected bikes, which show you all of its available classes on the bike screen as well as on any device where you download the app. (Possibly, for this reason, SoulCycle’s screen does not rotate at all.)
The additional classes are all from Equinox Group's in-house brands like Pure Yoga and Precision Run but, in true SoulCycle fashion, app users will have more brand names to sift through. In the coming months, Variis promises to offer additional classes through partnerships with fitness brands Rumble Boxing and Solidcore Pilates. It also just added a “free ride” function to the bike, in which users can pedal while streaming Netflix or Disney+—something Peloton does not allow, and will be a boon for people who like the idea of taking a ride while catching up on "The Crown."
Then there’s the cost: The SoulCycle bike rings in at $2,500, or the same as the Peloton Bike+. Its assembly is included in the purchase price but you have to buy LOOK Delta cycling shoes (SoulCycle’s cost $215), weights, and mats separately if you don’t already own them. The SoulCycle bike’s no-interest financing comes out to $64.10 a month for 39 months, plus the $40 monthly app fee. The warranty covers the display and other components for one year and the frame for five years, with no extension available for purchase.
First-year total cost (if bike paid in full): $2,500 for the bike + $40 (membership), or $2,980, plus required compatible cycling shoes ($215 from SoulCycle) and accessories like a mat and weights for the floor exercises, if you don’t own them.
Sturdy and easy to adjust to fit the broadest array of body sizes
The NordicTrack S22i bike offers a tantalizing premise for restless cyclists: the ability to ride at home while feeling like you’re biking somewhere out in the open. This is possible through iFit, the app offered through NordicTrack’s bikes (and other connected exercise equipment), which features classes taught as guided scenic rides in which instructors lead you through trails in Colorado, Japan, and more. The scenic rides are truly special, with camerawork that makes you feel like you’re really wherever the screen is showing you—so much so that when an instructor rode over a root, I braced myself for an impact that didn’t come. If you’re someone who doesn’t love the traditional studio-cycling class model, it could make the S22i worth it for you.
The bike automatically adjusts its electromagnetic resistance, like the Peloton Bike+, as well as incline, something that isn’t offered on any other bike we tried along with the trail. This gives the sessions a more natural feel than turning a knob—though you can also adjust the resistance and incline on your own with buttons on the handlebars. All the instructors I experienced were great, and iFit also offers studio cycling classes and cross-training classes including yoga, HIIT, and Pilates. The bike also comes with a pair of three-pound dumbbells and the 22-inch touch screen that tilts and rotates 360 degrees for off-bike classes, though we sometimes found the screen rotated a little too much, as well as shook during hard pedaling. iFit also has live classes, accessible through an “On Air” button on the homescreen, and offers treadmill, bike, rower, elliptical, and strength classes several times a day. All classes have a leaderboard—and, like Peloton, thousands of people who take them, so you may find yourself lost in a sea of usernames, and your chances of getting a shout-out are pretty slim (though it’s possible to hide the leaderboard if you don’t want to see it). However, iFit also has a pre-live class “waiting room,” where you can check in and send the instructor questions before class, which helps boost a sense of community.
The bike—and iFit—have some snags, however. The first, for us, was assembly. NordicTrack is currently not offering in-home assembly, so we did it ourselves ... and struggled. This is partially because the job fell to one person and NordicTrack recommends that two do it, and partially because there were some small malfunctions in the parts we received that required maneuvering and calls to customer service to figure out. (On the plus side, customer service was great, and it seems the issue was a random fluke, not something that happens regularly.) Without the weird malfunction, and with two people to set it up, it would almost certainly be easier. Once set, you have a bike that fully adjusts to fit riders from 4 feet, 10 inches to 6 feet, 10 inches and up to 350 pounds.
Another concern is that the pedals that come with the bike don’t allow any kind of shoe to clip in, and the seat included is pretty stiff and uncomfortable. Both can be swapped out (or padded), but if you’re someone who doesn’t want to take the time (and money) to do this, you may be better served with a bike that comes with a comfier seat and clip-in pedals. iFit’s interface is also a little confusing, both on the bike and a tablet, because it has extra content like TedTalks and meditation sessions and lumps them all together without an easy way to filter things out. So, to find a ride or HIIT class, you have to sift through a bunch of other stuff. Most of the classes tended to be on the longer side at about 40 minutes to an hour, too, and it’s hard to find anything shorter than a 20-minute session—not bad for overall health, but not great if you just want to add a 5-minute ab class to something else, or only have time for a 10-minute workout.
Pricing is in the mid range compared with similar connected bikes. The bike itself costs $1,999 plus a $199 delivery fee, but your purchase includes the iFit membership for one year; after that, you’ll pay $39 a month or $396 a year for a family membership that accommodates up to five riders (or $180 a year for an individual one). You may also opt for no-interest financing for $57 a month for 39 months, which, again includes a year-long iFit membership. The warranty is better than most: It covers 10 years on the frame, two years on parts, and one year of labor. NordicTrack is also the only company that offers service plans (for an additional cost) to have your bike tuned up regularly.
First-year total cost (if bike paid in full and with full app access): $1,999 bike + $199 (delivery), or $2,198, plus a mat and weights (if you don’t own them) and new pedals and cycling shoes if you decide to switch them out.
Resistance automatically changes during classes
Offers incline in addition to resistance
Scenic rides offer a different approach to cycling classes
The Echelon EX-5 is the closest option you can get to a Peloton without paying the price of a Peloton. The bike itself costs about $1,000 less than the Peloton Bike+, and there are two subscriptions types you may select: Echelon United Monthly for $39.99 a month, which packages live and on-demand bike classes with additional workouts, such as HIIT, pilates, and more, and Echelon United Yearly for $399.99 a year, which includes the same workout classes and averages to about $33 per month. The classes can be streamed via the Echelon app on your device of choice or on the 180 degree-rotating bike screen, with five users permitted per account.
Instructors teach out of Echelon studios in Chattanooga and Miami, and the classes are fun, engaging, and an overall good workout. Compared to the Peloton, the quality of both the bike and the video isn’t as good and the community of bikers is much smaller (though that also increases your likelihood of getting personal shout-outs during live classes, which typically have about 50 participants). The bike, which is rated for riders up to 297 pounds (the same as Peloton but less than others that go up to 350), felt less stable than other bikes, and we noticed some shaking of the tablet during higher intensity pedaling. On the plus side, the seat and handlebars are fully adjustable, and riders from 4 feet 5 inches to 6 feet 11 inches will find a fit. The pedals also come with cages so you can ride with your regular sneakers, or you may clip in with SPD-cleat cycling shoes. Like the Peloton, the screen shows your cadence, resistance, and output, so you know exactly how hard you are working. Throughout classes, instructors suggest the cadence and general resistance should aim for, but more often than not, they say to be at a “moderate,” “challenging,” “hard,” or “all-out” level, allowing users to go at their own intensity.
The Echelon EX-5 has some hidden costs. If you buy it from the brand's site, it retails for $1,239.98 if paid in full up front, plus your membership fee, but if you don’t pre-pay for a full year of classes when you buy your bike, you have to pay a $199.99 “premium delivery” fee—plus, financing is not available without paying for the full year of classes. And, unlike other bikes, some of its financing plans charge interest. You may pay $133.33 a month, which includes the bike membership, for 12 months at no interest for a total of $1,599.96. If you want a longer term and lower payments, you’ll be adding just over 15% interest to the total cost, spread over 18 months or 36 months, respectively (see below for breakdown). Assembly is also not included with the bike (despite what you may think "premium delivery" should include), so you have to do it yourself. That said, we thought it was relatively easy for two people to put together. The Echelon warranty covers one year on parts and components and two years on the frame, the stingiest of all we tested, though a three-year extended warranty is available for an extra $199.
First-year total cost (if bike paid in full): $1239.98 + $399.99 (annual membership paid up front), or $1639.97. If you do any financing plan, and if you choose a term longer than a year, add 15% to the bike cost (making it $1,426). Add on $199.99 for delivery and the one-year subscription cost to $479.88 if you pay the membership monthly. (Yeah, our heads are spinning, too.)
The Bowflex C6 is a pretty good bike. And you know why? It’s the exact same build as the Schwinn IC4, both made by Nautilus, with a few cosmetic tweaks—but it costs $100 more.
The Bowflex has its own small screen that displays basic metrics including distance and RPM and comes with the same accessories as the Schwinn: a pair of three-pound weights, a Bluetooth heart-rate monitor, and a device holder, for propping up a Bluetooth-connected phone or tablet from which to stream app-based workouts from the likes of Peloton or Zwift. It has the same weight capacity of 330 pounds and can be fully adjusted for riders from 4 feet 6 inches to 6 feet 6 inches in height. Its pedals have cages that can be used with regular sneakers as well as brackets for clipping in with SPD cleats. The mechanical flywheel is smooth and silent, too, which makes pedaling comfortable and unintrusive. The Bowflex has the same resistance levels as the IC4, which don’t match up with Peloton’s instruction, so you’ll have to do some math or adjusting to get it right as you ride. We got the extra $129 in-home assembly, which made it quicker, though online shoppers say it shouldn’t be too hard for two people to put together.
The biggest issue with the C6 is that its retail price is about $100 more than the Schwinn IC4. It retails for $999.99, or you can opt for no-interest financing at $56 for 18 months. Its warranty covers three years on parts, 10 years on the frame, and one year on labor, just like the Schwinn’s. You can also add on five years to the parts and labor with the Bowflex Protection Plan for an extra $109.
First-year total cost (if bike paid in full): $999.99 + $155.88 for a year of the Peloton app, or $1155.87 plus the cost of a tablet if you don’t own one and cycling shoes, if you want them.
Bluetooth connectivity allows you to ride with different apps
Compared to others we tried, it’s no surprise that the Sunny SF-B901 bike ended up in last place—with its chunky steel frame rated for riders up to 275 pounds (the least of all we tested), a 40-pound mechanical flywheel for resistance, and not much else, it’s about as basic as a studio-type cycle gets. It has no Bluetooth connectivity or extra features, and if you want to use it with an app like Peloton with your tablet or phone, you’ll have to buy a holder to keep it in place and you won’t get any feedback from bike to tablet. The bike we tried also did not have a water bottle holder, though Sunny sells some variations that do.
That said, it costs a fraction of every other bike we tried, and for the price, it’s not a bad buy. It’s available with a chain or belt drive—the chain drive is usually less expensive and thus more popular, so that’s the one we tested. It made a slight grinding sound when we pedaled and never felt like a totally smooth range of motion. And, no surprise, the pedals are outfitted with cages for regular shoes, not cycling cleats. We also thought the resistance knob was hard to twist and didn’t seem to have much room between very light and very heavy, which is annoying for workouts that require nuance (i.e., most app ones).
On the other hand, the seat was surprisingly comfortable, and the bike itself is easy to adjust—you can move the seat up and down and fore and aft and change the handlebar height and reach to fit riders with inseams ranging from 30 inches to 42 inches (we’re not sure how that translates to height, either). We sprung the extra $89 for assembly—which was provided through Amazon and went without a hitch—but Amazon reviewers say it’s not very difficult to do with two people.
If we hadn’t been fresh off a $2,500 bike, we probably would have found the Sunny fine enough. Some Amazon reviewers swear by using it with the Peloton app, once a tablet holder is added to the bike—so, if you don’t want to spend a ton of money on an exercise bike but still want to get some indoor cardio, the Sunny is a suitable vessel.
If you prefer to finance the ~$300 price, you may pay $49.83 a month interest-free for six months when approved for an Amazon Store Card. Sunny offers a three-year warranty on the bike frame and 180 days on other components and no extra extension is available for purchase.
First-year total cost (if bike paid in full): $299. Add $10 for tablet holder + $155.88 for a year of Peloton app, or $464.88, plus the cost of a tablet if you don’t own one.
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