Winter is coming! Do you have a plan to stay fit?
While I mostly review “real” bikes, I’ve taken a strong preference towards using an indoor bike for staying fit in the off-season. (After all, marketing literature claims I can burn 900 calories per hour by sweating my butt off indoors on one of these.)
There is a wide array to choose from and it comes down to finding the balance between quality and price. Unlike most of my posts, I start off by reviewing high-end models. But don’t worry, I have plenty of budget options available as well.
Indoor cycling bikes such as Mad Dogg Athletics Spin Bikes, the M3 Plus indoor cycles by Keiser, the Life Fitness Lifecycle GX series, and the Cycleops Phantom series have a huge following of athletes whose primary goals are to burn a large number of calories while increasing the cardiovascular efficiency. You can find these in gyms across the country, but many of these brands also create an affordable model for home users. There are also many lesser-known models that are working out for fitness enthusiasts, and I’ll highlight those. Finally,I’ll also include a small list of the models I have concerns about.
I love having good equipment in my home. Something I can get on within minutes. None of this time wasted in driving from house to gym. Just a solid hardcore exercise session and then I’m back to living my day.
- Top Pick – Mad Dogg Spin Bike
- Keiser M3
- Lifetime Fitness
- Cycleops Phantom
- Sunny Health And Fitness (A Favorite for Home Gyms)
- CPS 9300
- Sunny SF-B1001
FAQS Dave’s Least Favorite
- Mimic the feel and fitness of a regular road bicycle.
- Creates a more enjoyable workout than slogging through long sweaty workouts on a “exercise bicycle”.
- The large flywheel provides a more realistic workout. This can enable the athlete to “peak” for a few minutes and push their lactic threshold in a sprint or endurance session.
- You can turn up the resistance and imitate climbing a hill.
- Similar Geometry to a road bike translates into better performance in the real world.
- Allows for a workout like you would on a real bicycle: standing, sitting, and using time-trialing and climbing positions that let you get a complete leg and cardio exercise program.
Not to mention, when used correctly, it is fairly easy to burn about 500-600 calories per hour (with up to 900 calories per hour being reported).
- For fitness enthusiasts only. Require focus to get an intense workout from.
- They typically are sparse on the electronics and gimmicks. You are paying for a chunk of metal that is designed to take a beating.
It is suggested that you pair it with your favorite exercise video to get the best workout.
#1 The Madd Dog Spinner® Fit 2017 – The Only REAL Spinning Bike
Many people assume that “spinning” is a generic word for an indoor cycle class. Most communities talk about going to “spin classes”.
However, the words SPIN®, Spinner®, and Spinning® were actually trademarked by the founders of Mad Dogg Athletics. They created the trend and set the standard, and, while there are many bikes on this page that look similar to their design, there is only one original. The rest are, if I can say so while being polite, “knockoffs”.
You could definitely argue that this is the Granddaddy of all the rest, and just like the purchases your Grandpa used to make, this machine is built to last.
In a way, Mad Dogg Athletics are a victim of their own success. They have done such a superb job getting people hooked on these bikes and the realistic workout you can get from them, that users began to assume that it was just a generic term like “yoga”.
Throughout this article, I try to use words like “indoor bikes” or”indoor cycling bikes” to discuss the machines that are made by the competition and retain the name “spin bike” for those that are made by Mad Dogg Athletics.
What I love about these is that this was the first brand I ever rode. They had these Spin® classes at my gym that absolutely kicked my butt. But their machines were so well made. You could adjust them to fit absolutely anyone– and it only took a couple of seconds to make the adjustments. It also performed really, really well. It had an excellent “wind-up” when you got started, and the resistance adjustments were instantaneous.It was my introduction, and I’ve been hard pressed to find a competitor who can do it better. Sure, I’ll talk about some multi-thousand dollar machines below, but even those have very little to offer above this one.
Plus, unlike a lot of the gyms I joined, later on, they almost never had to remove a bike for repair, so those of us who loved the class could almost get one (it was the most popular class they offered.)
The Spinner® Fit model is the at-home version of what I enjoyed at the gym. So those of you who don’t have the time to hit up your local gym — or would rather save money by working out at home — will really appreciate being able to get a top-quality bike to use in the comfort of your own home.
This one is extremely simple to use. There are not a lot of moving parts, so there is not much on it that could break or would need maintenance. I also love how well-balanced and stable it is. Even when you stand up and crank out your most difficult workout, it is not bouncing around or feeling like it wants to tip over. Absolutely rock-solid.
It is also balanced well for moving. Just grab it by the back legs and it will roll easily on the front tires. It’s only 90 pounds, and when you have it tipped up on for moving it feels like you are only holding about 15 pounds. This makes it easy for even those skinny 4-foot tall ladies in the gym class to move these bikes around. So if you are storing it in a corner when not in use, you’ll have no problem scooting it around.
They also have a great set of videos that are included with your purchase. The Spinning® 8-Week Weight Loss Program is a comprehensive video that will take up most of your winter to complete and can leave you feeling (and looking) like a completely new individual by the end of it.
Even at its full retail price, this is one of the best values on this list.
If you think that indoor cycling could be your ticket to a new body, then don’t skimp, and get this name-brand machine. It is worth every penny. (And if you end up not using it, the resale value is pretty rocking, too. )
#2: Keiser M3 Plus
Aside from looking completely snazzy, this is one of the coolest indoor fitness cycles you will ever set eyes on.
>> Read In-Depth Review <<
Developed by one of the top providers of commercial workout equipment, and used by some of the most elite gyms in the country (including several professional teams), the M3 is designed with all of the bells and whistles that coaches across the country have consistently asked for, along with the durability to withstand daily, abusive workouts, by hundreds of sweaty gym members.
(In fact, one of the company’s biggest selling points when they are pitching their product to gyms is to compare their cost of maintenance with the competition’s!)
Aside from how well this bike is built, one of the unique design features is the V-shape that keeps the handlebars and the seat in proper ratios as the bike is adjusted to the rider height. This translates into a better experience for riders with less finagling. This also makes this one the only cycle on our list that is equally comfortable for our under-5-foot and over-6-foot readers.
Unlike the other models that we review, this bike uses their Eddy Current magnetic system to provide the resistance.
This bike uses an 8 pound flywheel. Now, if we were comparing apples to apples, we ‘d say “this is a horrible design”. However, what is genius about the Keiser system is that their flywheel spins more rotations with each pedal stroke than the competitors do. This faster speed creates inertial resistance.
Competition: Flywheel Weight Resistance
Keiser: Inertial Resistance
In practice, inertial resistance seems to deliver a smoother ride. You don’t have to muscle a large flywheel up to speed so folks looking for a solid rehab bike can appreciate the lower-impact of this smaller flywheel. And the elite athlete will love the more accurate road feel that comes from the faster wheel and physics-based resistance.
Then, you combine that with the magnetic resistance system and it creates a nearly silent ride, so you can workout in the living room without ticking off the rest of your relatives. Plus, the resistance adjustment is so exact, so you can just click it into the correct level of resistance every time instead of “guessing” what level of resistance you should have it set, like you do with the cheaper, pad-resistance systems.
This has virtually unlimited adjustments that let you fit any body size and type. It is durable enough to support all of the extra fat that you are planning on sweating off. And both small and tall users love that you can completely adjust the seat and handlebars to get an ideal fit.
Rounding out the incredible offering is the built-in computer. I love that it calculates your power output. Typically, only pro cyclists get to see their wattage, and the Keiser M3 Plus lets you see exactly how hard you are working out and allows for advanced fitness. It also delivers other great features such as cadence (pedaling RPMs), elapsed time and distance and will even read your heart rate if you use a polar chest strap (purchase separately).
Sure, it is an investment in your health, but with a machine this smooth and quiet, it is an investment that no one has ever regretted making.
#3: Lifefitness Lifecycle GX
This is another rear-wheel system that is one of the top picks of high-end gyms around the country.
The similarities between this model and the Keiser M3 are so similar that it is surprising Keiser hasn’t sued Life Fitness for infringement. We’re talking about a belt-driven, rear-flywheel system that uses the eddy current design for magnetic resistance for a deathly quiet workout.
So, what gives?
This one uses a different frame design. It requires more knob adjustments (2 for the handlebar, 2 for the saddle) which means more fiddling than required for the Keiser, but also provides a better fit than some of the lower-end models. The large knobs and locking systems are easy to grasp and use making this attractive to folks with arthritis and other gripping problems. All of the up and down adjustments are in about 1/2-inch increments. There is more adjust-ability with the handlebars than you get with the M3+ (Remember, the early M3 wasn’t adjustable at all), which makes this one a top consideration for the serious athlete who wants a better workout than a bike trainer offers (or who simply doesn’t want to abuse their bicycle by putting it in a trainer), but who needs to replicate the aggressive aerodynamic stance they have on their road or tri bike. You can dial your fit in better on this bicycle than on any of the rest.
This one does come with a computer that displays your speed, distance, cadence, calories, time, heart rate (if you purchase or own a heart rate strap) and resistance level. The resistance level is important as it is difficult to see the resistance markers on the knob without sitting up. The computer lets you easily identify which level you are in without leaving your workout position. Noticeably missing from the display is a wattage (power output) reading.
Professional cyclists consider the combination of heart rate and wattage to be the most productive way to train. You want to increase your ability to produce power at a set heart rate.
Few of us will be training for professional sports, and so this feature may not be as necessary. However, it adds a lot to the workout and the programming for these systems and very expensive. The fact that a competitor offers this feature, puts the Lifecycle at a disadvantage.
That doesn’t keep it from being one of the most-used bicycles in gym classes around the country.
Not to mention that the home gym doesn’t have the peer pressure of a gym class. You’ll want every piece of motivation you can get to track your performance and push yourself to the next level. Power measurement is a large piece of that.
The greater flexibility in fit does not offset the lack of power, in my opinion. Within reason, you can train in about any position and then translate that to real-world bike riding with minimal tweaks.
The saddle is a more narrow “performance” saddle that some riders might want to switch out for a wider. Thankfully, they use an universal saddle, so you can stop by any bike shop or just buy a wider saddle online if you find this one to be uncomfortable. Despite this saddle’s narrower width, I don’t hear anyone complaining about it.
The largest drawback on this model is that it there are complaints about the left-hand crank-arm coming lose. If you experience this, tighten it up immediately. Riding with a lose crank-arm only worsens the problem and makes it more difficult to repair in the future. It might be worth double-checking the tightness of the crankarms the first time you get on the bike to ensure that you don’t accidentally wallow them out by riding them loose. (We’ve seen a similar problem on new bicycles. They aren’t tightened sufficiently and then it gets worse with riding. This problem might be similar.)
The short legs create a stable base for the most aggressive workouts and the wheels on the front make this model easy to wheel out of the way when not in use.
I expect that we are going to see this model continue to increase in popularity. It is a quiet, well-built model and hold it’s own against the competition. Especially for the rider who is extremely concerned about getting the best fit.
This bike may have one of the highest rate weight limits of any machine on our list with a 350 pound limit. This provides a high-quality option for the person who is serious about their weight loss journey to consider.
#4: Schwinn A.C. Performance Plus – The Only ANT+ Compatible
With this model, we unceremoniously switch back to the models that have front-mounted flywheels.
This model could easily go head-to-head with the Keiser M3. Schwinn does their best to claim the top spot and they might just do it, albeit from left field.
(They are only in fourth spot because, by the time you invest in the computer upgrades for this unit, you could have purchased a Keiser. That said, you get a couple of compatibility features with the Schwinn’s computer that you don’t get with any other model.)
There is some seriously cool tech in this machine, and the easiest way to cover it is to dive in, piece by piece.
Flywheel – So with this one you have a 31-pound flywheel similar to what you see with my #1 pick above. However, this one also has a magnetic resistance unit. Two magnetic hover over that wide, skinny rim and when you turn the knob, it lowers them over the wheel, increasing the resistance. This gives you the super-quiet performance of the other magnetic bikes without creating all of the brake dust like the pad-resistance machines (such as the Spinner)
Drivetrain – This is where this model truly shines. It uses a carbon-weave belt created by Gates. Once they figure out how to shift gears with this, I expect every bicycle to use a drive system like this. In the meantime, you get a belt drive that requires no maintenance and does not stretch like other belts. There have been some concerns that it is noisier than other models, such as the Keiser, but I can’t hear any appreciable difference. It’s whisper quiet.
Adjust-ability/Fit – this model is more adjustable than the Lifecycle. Gosh. I never thought I would be able to say that. Where the Lifecycle lets you move the fore and aft movements infinitely and the up and down movement by 1/2-inch increments, the A.C. Performance Plus gives you infinite adjust-ability in all directions. For the professional athlete who needs the bicycle to meet their training position, this one fits the bill.
The handlebars are also some of the best. They are wide, and offer multiple seated, standing and aerobar positions. These handlebars may be some of the best on the market. They give you that wide base so you can grip hard and go for all you are worth, or you can settle in for a “comfortable” time-trial effort. The wider width also helps keep your wind-cage open so you can breathe at your maximum during the entire effort. It’s so effective that you might find yourself adding wider handlebars to your bicycle.
Finally, the winning move on this one is the optional M Power Echelon 2 unit that you can add to the bicycle. This computer isn’t as flashy as some of them, but it delivers so much data: Heart rate, RPMs, Speed, POWER and more. But here is the best part: IT CONNECTS VIA ANT+
You guys may not understand what a big deal this is. ANT+ is the language of cycling. With this bicycle, you can sync it to your existing Garmin or Suunto unit and record your workout. From there you can upload it to Strava or any of the other tracking systems you are already using. This is incredible as it provides a level of integration for the dedicated cyclist you don’t see out of other models.
There may be other ANT+ models out there (if you have a good one, leave it in the comments below), but this one meets the requirements on all fronts.
This bicycle is the top pick for the professional and serious amateur athlete.
I’m still recommending the Keiser M3 as an equal or better option for the home fitness enthusiast.
#5: Sunny Health and Fitness Pro
In the brave, new era of the internet, this might be one of the best options available online.
And I probably see more of these sell through our site than any other model (it fluctuates, from month to month but is always well-represented). Even better, I constantly hear good feedback from its users.
If you enjoy cycling class and want to be able to workout from home, this is an excellent choice. It has enough similar features to the higher-end models so that you will feel right at home on it, without the expensive “bells and whistles” that tend to rapidly drive up the costs.
To begin with, it has a 40-pound flywheel, so it is going to feel a lot like those bikes that you’ve already ridden in class. I wouldn’t switch from the Spinner bike just to get the extra 9 pounds on this flywheel, but it does underscore that this bike is no lightweight. If you are a fitness nut and you worry that you’ll find the lighter flywheel bikes to be too “easy”, then go ahead and go with this model.
And the seat and handlebar adjustments are also very similar to the ones you find at the gym, making it easy to fit yourself to.
Granted, it doesn’t have any of the cool computers, but if you have a good workout video and a heart rate monitor, you should get all of the feedback you need. Just make sure that you set it on a rubber pad to catch all of that sweat.
#6: CPS 9300
Let’s face it. The reason we need one of these bikes is because we are, well, “poofy”.
Most of the ones I review have weight limits of only 220-250 lbs.
However, there’s a lot of us who are an athletic 200 lbs (Or an overweight 270) and we are eyeing that 220-pound limit thinking “I could probably break that”.
So it is quite re-assuring to get on a bike that is rated for someone much larger.
For a long time, we promoted the Weslo Pro. However, there is a lot of times that it hasn’t been available on Amazon. So we were thrilled to run across the Stamina CPS 9300.
Designed sturdily, it is loved by 300+ pound riders and sub-100 pound riders alike. This added durability is a nice feature if you are in the early stages of your working out.
Now, the stamina only has a 22-pound flywheel. I wish it was at least 30 pounds. There’s something about that larger flywheel that has a better feel to it. However, it is only a preference. I have never had any difficulty working up a sweat with lighter flywheels.
And, lighter flywheels make these machines that much lighter and easier to move around. This bike weighs about 85 pounds, making it convenient to tuck it in the corner between workouts.
Altogether, it is a solid setup and is what I would recommend if you are a heavier rider.
#7: Sunny SF-B1001
Sunny once again makes it reappearance on our list with the SF-B1001. This one offers a lot of value for very little money.
One caveat: you need to be under 220 pounds.
I’m giving this one mixed reviews. You’ll want to go over it with a wrench and tighten everything. It has a bad habit of developing loose pedals and the such like when you first get it. And, at only 85 pounds, it isn’t naturally as stable as some of the other bikes we have reviews.
However, it is one of the shortest bikes on the market. So for those 5′ ladies who have been looking for a version that they can actually fit on, the SF-B1001 is a life saver.
My recommendation is to spend the extra money and upgrade to the Weslo or the nicer Sunny model — unless you are a petite, lightweight, lady. In that case, enjoy your savings and get the workout of your life with this entry-level stationary fitness bike.
I mean, for the price, you will rapidly pay yourself back working at home instead of paying for those workout classes!
FAQ’s And Special Terms
Flywheel – The Flywheel is the heart of this device. It helps simulate the unique rolling resistance that you can only get when riding on the road. The heavier the flywheel, the more realistic the road feel and the better the workout.
Resistance – Magnetic resistance is one of the best. It is quiet and provides an extremely realistic response. However, it is one of the more expensive options. Which is why you will notice that most of the ones I recommend are using a friction based resistance. This latter option also works well, it is just noisier and slightly less realistic. However, most of the bikes you use in gym class are using this method.
Pedals – Some of these bicycles come with “clip-less” pedals which use a special adapter that allow you to clip in to them using specially designed shoes. Most of these brands also have a flat pedal surface on the opposite side for athletes who don’t want to use these special adapters.
I don’t want to malign any company. So if you’ve had an excellent experience with any of these models, I would love to have you leave a comment below.
There are a couple of models, that I would be seriously bummed if my wife bought them for my Christmas. And so I want to include them here so she knows which ones to not get me.
I saw this one advertised during one of the Tour de France like a decade ago. Maybe it was a different model, but it sure looked similar. It was a clever advertising campaign: buy this bike and you can train on the same courses as the professionals. Plus, their monthly ifit membership is an attraction as you can train in group classes in your home on your own schedule. However, a quick Google search turns you onto Icon Health and Fitness’s BBB profile with over 71 Negative reviews. These are people who had such a bad experience that after months of going around and around with the customer service they turned to the BBB as a last-ditch result. We’re talking about people who are making the largest purchase of their lives and are having to go to court to get resolution. I wouldn’t just make this review based on a random, frustrated internet people, but I had an acquaintance who purchased one back before the ifit membership was a part of the deal, and he found the bike to be gimmicky. There are so many more excellent models out there, I’m leaving this one off the list until someone can convince me otherwise.
This one has an amazing advertising campaign behind it. I see ads for it every time I log into Facebook. It would actually make a lot of sense for me to promote it.
But a quick computer search pulls up my biggest gripe: the $39/month membership:
(At least they are up-front about their fees. You don’t even have to click to see this fee! Screenshot 10/31/2017)
Guys, I’ve joined gyms that had a lower membership fee. Adding insult to injury, the electronics on this bike are locked out. So if you quit paying the monthly fee you are rewarded with a large black screen, as a constant reminder of how thoroughly they screwed you (you still get basic readouts for speed, etc).
I am sure there is a small subset of the population who this is a good idea for. But if that Jillian Michaels DVD you bought 5 yeas ago is still collecting dust, then let’s get you on one of these more affordable options, first.
Other Indoor Equipment Reviews:
- Navigate To Your Review!
- #1 The Madd Dog Spinner® Fit 2017 – The Only REAL Spinning Bike
- #2: Keiser M3 Plus
- #3: Lifefitness Lifecycle GX
- #4: Schwinn A.C. Performance Plus – The Only ANT+ Compatible
- #5: Sunny Health and Fitness Pro
- #6: CPS 9300
- #7: Sunny SF-B1001
- Dave’s Blacklist