The Complete Shopping Guide for Indoor Cycling Bikes
Indoor cycling is an intense workout performed with a group or solo. You are visually guided through your ride across roadways, hills, dirt trails and bumps. If you think an indoor cycling workout is just sitting on a bike and pedaling, you are in for a big surprise. If you look around your local fitness center, the indoor cycling bikes and classes are always full. This gives an great indicator of the success of this challenging indoor workout.
Differences Between a Stationary Bike and an Indoor Cycling Bike
Let’s address this issue first to avoid any confusion. Even though both a stationary bike and an indoor cycling bike are considered stationary exercise equipment that you use indoors, the two bikes are very different.
Stationary bikes typically have wide seats for comfort, larger pedals that rotate a belt-driven mechanism. Many stationary bikes have larger displays and larger handles to accommodate a variety of user shapes and sizes, wants and needs. You can also purchase recumbent stationary bikes in which your feet are out in front of you instead of beneath you to ease back pressure. A stationary bike is more for a steady-state, aerobic ride in which you set the tension level and do nothing else but pedal for 30 to 60 minutes.
In contrast, an indoor cycling bike is more streamlined. It is an upright bike in which your feet are beneath you. The seat resembles an outdoor bicycle seat, which you can slip a gel seat cover over for increased comfort. The handlebars on an indoor cycling bike are also more of what you find on an outdoor bike- often with two or three hand placement options to ease the comfort in your wrists. The pedals typically are two sided so you can rest your foot in the cage and secure it to the pedal or so you can clip your bike shoe directly into the pedal. The pedals spin a flywheel with or without magnetic resistance that instantly changes tensions to create various ride modes. The display is minimal, unless you purchase an indoor cycling bike that has a computer monitor for video instruction.
What is an Indoor Cycling Bike?
If you have decided to purchase a piece of exercise equipment for home use and are considering a bike, you want to know exactly what an indoor cycling bike is. An indoor cycling bike is often called a Spinning Bike. The term Spinning is a trademarked brand for an indoor cycling bike that has earned such popularity, its name is often interchanged for the exercise bike.
An indoor cycling bike is an upright stationary bicycle that provides a low-impact, intense, aerobic workout. It is not weather dependent, so you can use your bike every day and throughout every season. Many outdoor cyclists train on indoor cycling bikes if they live in states that receive a lot of snow in the winter. Indoor cycling bikes are not to be confused with indoor bicycle trainers. These stands secure an outdoor bike in place for indoor cycling.
Indoor cycling bikes have pieces that resemble outdoor bikes such as the seats, pedals and handlebars. You sit on the bike, hold onto the handlebars and pedal the same as you would if cycling outdoors. This is a big benefit of purchasing an indoor cycling bike for home- you do not have to learn a new physical movement. Most people already know how to pedal a bicycle.
Indoor cycling bikes are adjustable through a variety of angles including:
- Seat height
- Seat distance
- Seat tilt
- Handlebar height
- Foot straps
Most indoor cycling bikes also have a brake and some type of display monitor. The higher-end bikes have computer monitors with videos of instructors to guide your workouts.
The first thing to remember then, is the term “Indoor Cycling Bike”. When searching for your exercise equipment, the correct terminology will help you find exactly what you are seeking.
What to Look for When Selecting an Indoor Cycling Bike
Indoor cycling bikes, while somewhat similar, have a few variations. If you have the opportunity to try before you buy, this will save you years of an uncomfortable ride or sending the bike back for a refund. One way to test indoor cycling bikes is to purchase a day membership at different fitness centers, health clubs and gyms. Look at the types, styles and brands of indoor cycling bikes these centers have and workout on one or two for 15 to 30 minutes. That is enough time to identify whether the bike is a good fit for your frame. You can also visit stores such as Sears or sporting goods stores that have indoor cycling bikes on display. Be confident and use the bike for at least 5 minutes to see if you like the smoothness of the pedal, the height of the seat and the handlebar options. Also, determine before you buy whether you are able to indoor cycle on your own or at home with exercise videos or if you need the motivation of an instructor on the display.
For safe and effective workouts, consider the following when selecting your indoor cycling bike:
- Seats- You will spend hundreds of hours each year in this indoor cycling seat. Look for a seat that comfortably supports your frame. Does it feel too small or too large? You need the support of the seat to protect your spine and keep your spine in a healthy alignment. With that being said, also look for a seat that tilts up or down. Every person requires a different amount of tilt to keep the back pain free, so this option is nice, especially if you have more than one indoor cyclist in the house. The seat adjustment needs to raise higher and lower and should raise to your hip-height when you are standing next to the bike. The other seat adjustment positions you closer or farther from the handlebars. This is essential if you have any knee concerns and want to avoid knee injuries in the future. If the tension of the seat is too hard, but all the other options are ideal, you can always place a gel pad over the seat or wear gel-padded bicycle shorts. The feel of the seats is one of the most common complaints by indoor cyclists, but there are ways to make it more comfortable so you can concentrate on your workout and not the pain.
- Pedals- Since you will be pedaling while standing and sitting, a secure foot pedal is an important part of your indoor cycling gear. Look for a foot pedal that has an adjustable cage. You slip your shoe into the pedal and adjust the straps so you cannot wiggle your foot around. The pedal should position the ball of your foot over the center, or rotating base of the pedal. If you cannot move your foot forward or backward to achieve this position, try a different bike. Many bikes offer two options on their pedals. One option is the cage to slip your foot into. The other option is a clip. If you are an experienced outdoor cyclists, you may have cycling shoes that click into your pedals. You can have this same option on your indoor cycling bike. This really secures your foot to the pedal for stability during standing hill climbs, jumps and hovers. As you pedal the indoor cycling bike, the feeling should be continuous and smooth. If it feels jarring or interrupted, move on to a different brand.
- Handlebars- Wrist complaints are another common concern with indoor cyclists. You perform a variety of cycling movements on this bike, and you want to be able to adjust your hand positions accordingly. Most indoor cycling bikes, have two handlebars that are long and taper up at the ends. This is helpful as you can position your hands closer or farther away depending on the exercise. Some indoor cycling bikes offer two sets of handles which is even better for wrist and shoulder comfort. Once you learn the various indoor cycling movements, try them on the bike to decide if the handlebars offer enough variety for your comfort. Unlike a stationary bike, in which the handles are often used to hold a book or to grip for heart rate monitoring, the handlebars on an indoor cycling bike are used for stability and support.
- Display- Most indoor cycling machines typically have smaller, digital displays that show you time, distance, calories, revolutions per minute. Some indoor cycling bikes have no display and others have large, computer monitors. You can stream studio cycling workouts to the comfort of your home right on the attached computer. Consider your needs and what you require for motivation when factoring in the type of display on the indoor cycling bike.
- Flywheel- You can immediately distinguish an indoor cycling bike from a stationary bike by the flywheel underneath the handlebars. The flywheels are available in various weights. Typically, the heavier flywheels are more expensive and more sturdy but they are also larger. For the first few pedal rotations, you feel the weight as you begin to move the heavy flywheel. Similar to gaining momentum on a road bike, the wheel continues to spin and will keep spinning even if you do not pedal, until it runs out of momentum. The more you pedal and the more the wheel spins, the easier it feels. As you rotate the pedals and turn the flywheel, a belt or chain drives this motion. Belts are typically quieter than chain-drive flywheels so consider where and when you are using your indoor cycling bike. If you live in an apartment with neighbors below you, the considerate thing is to purchase the quieter bike. If you live alone in a large home and like to cycle to loud music, you can select the bike that feels smoothest to you and not worry about the minimal sound difference between the chain or belt-driven wheel.
- Resistance Type- Since a heavy flywheel spins with momentum, you need something to provide resistance and make it more challenging for a workout. Most indoor cycling bikes use a friction resistance of brake pads or friction pads. The pads place tension against the flywheel when you increase the resistance level. As a result, you find it more difficult to pedal and spin the wheel. For the opposite, when you remove the pressure from the pads, the flywheel spins easier and you experience little or no resistance. The other type of resistance is magnet resistance. These indoor cycling bikes use magnetic influence to create tension. The benefits of magnetic resistance include a quieter ride, faster tension adjustment and magnets do not wear out the way brake or friction pads will over time.
- Emergency Brake- The best indoor cycling bikes have an emergency brake. You may be curious about the importance of this since you are cycling indoors and in a stationary position. The emergency brake is pressed when you feel the flywheel is spinning too fast and out of your control. Since your feet are connected to the pedals, they will rotate with the speed of the wheel. If for any reason you do not feel in control of the wheel, press the brake to slow down the flywheel or stop it altogether. This protects you from an injury.
- Base- Consider the supportive base of your indoor cycling bike. Does it have two frames? One under the handlebars and one under the seat? Or, does it connect these two frames by a steel rod? Again, your comfort and feeling of stability will offer a great deal of information to guide your purchase. Another thing to consider is the ease of cleaning underneath your indoor cycling bike. Although the center rod may provide more stability, you cannot easily vacuum, sweep or mop under it. The amount of sweat that will fall definitely needs cleaning, so keep that in mind. Another thing to look for on the base is roller wheels. The two roller wheels often found on the front support, make it easier to roll your bike to different locations or to store until your next session.
- Size- Measure the space you have designated for your bike and see if the one you like fits into the space. Also, allow for extra room on the sides of the bike for easy entrances and exits.
- Weight limits- Different indoor cycling bikes support different user weights. Evaluate the weight limit to ensure it will hold you and another other indoor cyclists at home.
- Set up- An indoor cycling bike requires set up. Are the directions clear? Are there videos available or customer service to call if you have difficulties? You do not want to begin your indoor cycling adventure in frustration, so look for bikes that are easy to set up.
- Warranty- If anything should go wrong or break on your indoor cycling bike, you want it to be fixed right away. Review the manufacturer’s warranty to determine if a repair person comes to your house or if you have to send the bike or the part to the company. How much turn-around time do they allow for repairs? This investment in your health deserves a solid and convenient warranty so you can continue to make progress toward your goals.
Muscles Used During Indoor Cycling Workouts
When you think of pedaling a bicycle, you probably think the only muscles used are in your legs. This is not true. Yes, the muscles of your legs do the majority of the work, but your core and upper body also contribute. First, you have to think of the pedal stroke in two segments: the down stroke and the up stroke. During the down stroke the muscles on the fronts of your upper legs and the backs of your lower legs contract. These includes:
- The Quadriceps group- Vastus Lateralis; Vastus Medialis; Vastus Intermedius; Rectus Femoris- which connect your knee to your hip.
- The hip flexors- known as the Iliopsoas- the Iliacus and the Psoas Major
- The calves- Gastrocnemius; Soleus
During the up stroke of the pedal rotation the muscles on the backs of your upper legs and the fronts of your lower legs contract. These include:
- The Hamstrings- Biceps Femoris; Semitendinosus; Semimembranosus
- The shin- Tibialis Anterior
As you perform specific movements such as jumps and hovers you also activate the Gluteus Maximus and Gluteus Medius.
The muscles of the upper body contract to keep your torso stable and also when you grasp the handle bars for jumps and hovers. Upper body muscles used during indoor cycling workouts include:
- Shoulders- Deltoids
- Upper back- Trapezius; Rhomboids
You rely on your core to provide a strong base for all your movements. As you climb hills, jump, hover and sprint, your core contracts to keep you in place and to avoid lower back pain. These muscles include:
- Rectus Abdominus
- Transverse Abdominus
- Erector Spinae- the muscles next to your spine
While indoor cycling is not a muscle-building activity, you improve muscular endurance and tone your muscles during the indoor cycling workout.
Calories Burned During Indoor Cycling
A typical 60-minute indoor cycling workout burns between 400 and 600 calories. The variation exists to allow for your current body weight and the intensity of the cycling workout. For example, the more you weigh, the more calories you burn per minute during indoor cycling. Another example includes the pace you keep, the amount of resistance and the movements included in your workout.
Benefits of Indoor Cycling
If you have not tried an indoor cycling workout, you will be impressed with the feeling of satisfaction, and possibly fatigue, you experience after the session. Since most people do not spend an hour a day on a bike, adjusting to the workout itself takes some time, but you soon discover the benefits of indoor cycling. These include:
- Burning calories- indoor cycling uses a high number of calories per hour. This is more than an hour of other activities such as walking, dancing and swimming. Your 60-minute workout easily fits into a weight loss program to move you toward your goals.
- Aerobic endurance- the repetitive pedal motion and constant activity during indoor cycling do not allow you to rest. You are always pedaling. This improves your aerobic endurance capacity making you less likely to be winded when climbing stairs or playing sports.
- Anaerobic endurance- depending on the way you use your indoor cycling bike, you also improve your anaerobic endurance. This endurance capability is enhanced when you sprint and exercise at higher heart rate levels. Your body learns to remain at this level for longer durations which is beneficial if you are competing.
- Stress release- not only does an indoor cycling workout release endorphins to relax your body, your mind is also engaged during the session so you finish feeling less stress than when you began. Indoor cycling is a mental workout. The instructor or yourself if you have designed your own program, guide the workout with visual cues. These cues lead you through a bike route that may be city-based, country-based or mountain-based, for instance. You remain in the moment during indoor cycling and pay attention to how your body is feeling so you can push your limits and illicit physical changes.
- Improve heart health- the aerobic benefits of indoor cycling extend to your heart and cardiovascular system. Your heart pumps out oxygen with each beat to supply fuel to the working muscles. The more you exercise, the more efficient each pump becomes and soon your heart has to work less to pump the same amount of blood and oxygen.
- Decreased blood pressure- other health benefits of indoor cycling include reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Feelings of empowerment- the more you participate in indoor cycling, the better you feel about yourself. Your self esteem rises as you realize your accomplishments. Maybe you are now able to pedal at faster revolutions per minute or you can sprint for longer durations. All of these measurable successes empowers you to take control of your body, your mind and your health.
Setting up an Indoor Cycling Bike
You have made your purchase and assembled your indoor cycle. Now, you are ready to begin your indoor cycling workout. Take a few minutes to set up your indoor bike to protect your joints from injury and also to ensure a long, comfortable ride. The best indoor cycling bike set up follows these guidelines:
- Seat height- stand on the floor with your hip next to the indoor cycling bike. Adjust the height of the seat to match the height of your hip. If you are unsure of how to locate your hip, bend one leg and lift it until your thigh is parallel with the floor. Raise the seat to approximately the height of your thigh. To check the accuracy of your seat height adjustment, sit on the saddle and put your feet in the pedals. Slowly pedal a few rotations as you observe the bend in your knee. You are looking for a slight bend when your foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
- Seat distance- this is the distance the seat is from the handlebars. You are checking for the position of your knees over your toes. Slowly pedal and stop with one leg at the top of the rotation. In this position, your knee should be directly over your toes or slightly behind your toes. Move the saddle forward or backward until you accomplish this. If you have any knee injuries or pain, it is always best to move the seat backward one notch.
- Seat tilt- the upward or downward tilt of the seat goes a long way toward improving your comfort level. This all depends on the natural curve of your spine and the position of your pelvis and hips. Begin with the seat in a flat position and parallel to the floor. If this does not feel comfortable, move it slightly upward or downward. You should not feel as if you are sliding forward or backward in a fight to stay on the saddle so make these adjustments miniscule.
- Handlebar height- the height of the handlebars determines the curve of your spine. You want a height that allows a natural curve and a straight back. For example, if you are hunched over and reaching down for the handlebars, your upper back will get fatigued. Adjust the height so you can easily reach the handlebars while keeping your neck and back straight. You are also looking for a slight bend in your elbows. You should not have to fully extend your arms or bend them greatly to ride comfortably. If your bike has an adjustment that slides the handlebars forward and backward, use that to correct your elbow bend.
- Foot placement- rest the ball of your foot on the axis of the pedal. Clip your indoor cycling shoe into the pedal or secure the cage around your athletic shoe.
- Tension- begin with the tension on a very low level and gradually increase as you continue your indoor cycle ride.
- Double-check- tighten all adjustment knobs for safety. You do not want to be in the middle of your ride and have your seat fall to the bottom position. Not only is this scary, it is also dangerous.
- Write it down- if your indoor cycling bike has numbers or notches that correlate with your adjustments, write them down until you have them memorized. This allows for a quick indoor cycling set up for your next workout. This is beneficial if others are using your indoor bike.
Indoor Cycling Workout Guidelines
Your bike is set up to fit your body comfortably and you are finally ready for your indoor cycling workout. A few reminders will keep you safe as you exercise.
- Place a limited amount of weight on your hands. Your hands are there for balance, especially during standing positions. Try to keep your weight centered over your feet and legs. Tighten your core to maintain your body positions instead of relying on your hands.
- Relax your grip. You do not have to hold on tight as if cycling down a mountain. Keep a relaxed, but firm grip on the handlebars.
- Look straight ahead as you ride as if you were watching the road in front of you. This reduces neck strain.
- Keep your shoulders pulled down away from your ears and avoid hunching your back or rolling your shoulders forward.
- Tighten your abdominals to support a straight spine.
- As you rotate the pedals, think about pushing down and pulling up. Use the full pedal rotation as part of your workout. For example, as you push down on the right pedal, pull up with your left leg.
- Think about a full bucket of water between your hips. Aim to keep your hips steady to avoid spilling the water. If your hips are moving side to side over the seat, you risk injuring your lower back.
Indoor Cycling Workout Terms
As you perform your best indoor cycling workout, you will hear terms that designate the activities. These are different from other group exercise terms since you are exercising on a stationary bike. Similar to most workouts, you begin with a 3 to 5 minute warm-up to prepare your body for the indoor cycling exercise. Use this warm-up to determine if the bike’s adjustments are comfortable. Also take this time, to focus your thoughts on the workout and center your breathing. Some of the terms you will hear or use to perform your indoor cycling workout include:
- Flat road- this is to describe the amount of resistance. Imagine you are cycling down a flat road and select a tension level that gives you that feeling. You use this during your warm-up, cool-down and recovery times.
- Hill- another term to describe a resistance level. Think about cycling up a hill. The tension slowly increases until you reach the peak. Depending on how high the hill, your resistance level may slowly or quickly increase.
- Downhill- if you go up a hill, you will come down. This release of resistance is also gradual as you gain momentum coming down a hill.
- Standing hill- you may be asked to stand as you near the top of the hill or if you are performing a series of repeat hills. You stand out of the saddle, keep your hips steady and use the strength in your legs to push you toward the peak.
- Sprints- this refers to the pace of your indoor cycling pedal. Aim to keep the revolutions per minute at approximately 100, but not over 110. Set a tension level that allows you to pedal fast as if you were finishing a race and want beat the person ahead of you.
- Jumps- jumps have you coming in and out of the saddle to a determined amount of time. For example, sit and pedal for 10 seconds, then stand and pedal for 10 seconds. Shorter durations are more difficult as you lift and lower your hips.
- Hovers- this is a body position in which your hips are hovering just above the saddle. Your upper body is positioned forward over the handlebars for less wind resistance.
Instructors and video instructors use these terms and more to arrange your workout. You may hear things such as “set your resistance as if you were pedaling through mud.” Indoor cycling is all about visual cues, so keep your mind open and really seek to perform what they are asking of you. You will be challenged and strengthened by your indoor cycling sessions.
Organizing Your Indoor Cycling Workout
Begin your workout with a 3 to 5 minute warm-up. Start with the resistance on minimal and gradually increase as you warm up. This readies your legs for the workout and during this time, you can assess whether the bike set up is comfortable.
Arrange the work portions of your routine into 5 to 10 minute segments. For example, after the warm-up, perform 5 minutes of sprints in which you sprint for 30 seconds and recover pedal for 30 seconds. Keep the tension level at an amount that feels as if you are pedaling on a flat cement road.
Recover for one minute and take a drink of water. Then, perform 5 to 10 minutes of hills. For a 10-minute climb, you increase the resistance once a minute. When you reach 6 minutes, stand and climb for the last 3 or 4. Reduce the tension and recover for one minute.
Perform a series of jumps for 5 minutes. Select a comfortable resistance level and raise out of the saddle for 15 seconds, then sit in the saddle for 15 seconds. Continue this pattern for this portion of the workout. Your legs will definitely feel the burn.
Recover for 5 minutes and pedal at a steady state down a flat road. This keeps your heart rate elevated while helping the lactic acid removal from your legs.
After a 5-minute hover ride in which your behind is hovering above the saddle, you are ready to cool down and stretch.
This is just one example of how to arrange your workout session. Select moves that you enjoy and use a variety to target different muscle groups. The best indoor cycling workout videos use variety and intensity to challenge you and keep you returning for more.
Indoor Cycling Bike Display Information
The final piece of the indoor cycling arrangement is the display. If your indoor bike comes with a display, you are able to see the time, distance, revolutions per minute, watts, heart rate and gear selection. Not all bikes have every value and some offer more. What you need is the time, especially if you are designing your own workouts. You will be timing hills, sprints, recovery periods, jumps, etc. so you need a way to track these durations. The distance is motivational as you can see how many miles you covered. Distance is also a great way to track your progress. For example, if you cover more mileage than you did during the previous workout, you know you are improving. The revolutions per minute, RPM, are also important to monitor your speed. Staying within certain RPM ensures you are challenging yourself and not out for a leisurely ride. The watts represent the power per pedal stroke. While not always accurate or necessary for an indoor cycling workout, it is nice to see if you are getting stronger. Some indoor cycling bikes have heart rate displays or connect with chest strap monitors. Other indoor cycling bikes display your resistance, gear, level on the monitor allowing for easy tension adjustments.
Summary of Top Indoor Cycling Bikes
Your decision to purchase an indoor cycling bike is exciting. This fitness class provokes images of loud music, sweaty face and hard work, so bringing this into your home allows you to find workout success. One of the best things about indoor cycling bikes is the variety of adjustments. Most often, you will be able to adjust any bike to fit your body type. With that in mind, your decision is one of comfort, cost and the display information. Be mindful of the sound of the bike and how easy the flywheel turns. Consider the comfort of the saddle but know you can place a gel pad on it to increase your comfort level. One of the biggest decisions then will be the display. If you are a seasoned indoor cyclist and can design your own workouts or enjoy watching indoor cycling exercise videos, you will not need a fancy display. On the other hand, if you are a beginner or want to have the group experience from the comfort of your home, you may enjoy a larger computer with access to hundreds of indoor cycling workouts.