Going nowhere fast has never been so much fun with the current line up of indoor cycles, which seek to emulate the intensity of your favourite, sweat-drenched, exercise class at home.
The new breed of “smart” bikes add an extra layer of digital fitness to their appeal and connect you to existing indoor cycling apps, like Zwift, or live and on demand classes. This means you’re unlikely to lose interest, so they’re in no danger of turning into a glorified clothes horse after a couple of weeks.
We tested a range of bikes suited to very different budgets and fitness aspirations, but with each one we were first looking to see how big the footprint was once it had been set up. After all, you don’t want an entire room re-purposed just because the bike takes up so much space.
We also had an eye on how adjustable and comfortable each bike was so that you can get into a good riding position, regardless of height; with a quality saddle and good ergonomic handles that will retain lots of grip, even when they’re drenched in sweat. Now that so many come with the option to connect to apps or online classes as you cycle, we looked at the quality of the training and the production values of those streams and videos.
Of course, an indoor cycle workout is all about resistance and no matter how they provide this to the fly-wheel (manual, electronic, magnetic or fan) you want to be able to step things up gradually and smoothly to replicate how gradients feel in the real world.
To this end, you need the resistance dial on the bike to be responsive and easy to use when you’re working hard and you also need the bike to stay nice and grounded throughout to minimise any unnerving side-to-side sway when you’re standing up in the saddle. The pedals on the bike should help keep the rider stable too – most bikes have dual pedals that allow you to slip regular shoes into the cage or use an indoor cycle shoe, with cleats, that clips in.
Smart bikes have really come into their own this year. If you were an indoor cycle class devotee before lockdown you might not relish the thought of re-entering the gym at the moment, so these machines mean that you can get your fix at home. They cost a lot more than traditional machines, but if you’ve been paying for gym membership and class fees, it can take the sting out of the original investment.
We tested on a range of workouts lasting from 15 to 45 minutes, at varying intensities, and these were the machines that were out ahead in a very crowded field.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Schwinn IC8 indoor cycle: £999, Fitness Superstore
As you’d expect from renowned bike manufacturer Schwinn, this indoor cycle is straightforward to put together, doesn’t take up a lot of space, and feels solid and stable once you’re done. The flywheel is super quiet and impressively smooth, using magnetic resistance to level up from 1-100 on the bike’s computer, making it easy to play around with to find the level needed. We found the dipped handlebars were ergonomic and comfortable to grip, and the saddle takes the pressure off in all the right places. There is a small digital display to feed back your usual metrics (time, calories, speed etc), but the bike really comes into its own when you connect it (via Bluetooth) it to an external app like Zwift, Explore the World or even the Peloton app and use the media cradle with your own tablet or phone. We also liked the dual water bottle holders for those super sweaty sessions.
Wattbike atom: £1,899 plus £60 delivery, Wattbike
As its name suggests, the Atom packs a powerful punch for one of the smallest and most compact bikes that we rode. The time trial handlebars are comfortable and well gripped and the whole set up is geared to help all levels of road racer analyse and improve their performance. There’s no display because rather than focusing on a sweaty, shouting trainer, all the focus is on how you can improve, with a bewildering array of feedback data that will delight many riders, coming from Wattbike’s own Hub app. In addition to this you can connect to other platforms like Strava or Zwift, to name but a few. In conjunction with the apps, the bike closely replicates what it feels like to be out on the road and you can either manually adjust the resistance or switch to “ergo” mode, which does it for you.
Peloton: £1,990 plus £39/month subscription, Peloton
The current king of connected cycling has the crown for a reason. It’s a sleek looking piece of kit that clearly means business thanks to the wifi enabled, 22in sweatproof touchscreen that is used to stream the huge array of content to the subscriber. The flywheel uses magnetic resistance and is so sensitive that it’s possible to adjust it in 1 per cent increments each time. Comfortable and adjustable, it will suit all shapes and sizes and has a manageable footprint. Where the Peloton really extends its lead over some of the competition is in the high production values of its subscription classes, which are live streamed and then added to an archive of classes for on-demand use. Whether you’re watching a live-stream or using archive classes, both types offer an on-screen leaderboard option which adds to the competitive element of the workout and pushes motivation to go all out. A membership to Peloton’s subscription service is a mandatory purchase when buying the bike. It’s a pricey investment, but if you’re an indoor cycling enthusiast, it’s worth it.
Echelon smart connect EX3: £1,119 plus £39.99/month subscription, Echelon
The EX3 is on a mission to make the smart bike more accessible in terms of price and experience. To maintain a competitive price, it doesn’t come with an in-built display, so you have to connect your own tablet to the Echelon Fit app. Adjustable to suit different heights, it’s very comfortable to ride with nice ergonomic handlebars. You can choose up to 32 levels of magnetic resistance, so you know you’re always going to be challenged no matter what fitness level you bring to the bike. In terms of connectivity, this offers up an excellent spin experience with a range of live-streamed classes accessible through the app, as well as being stocked with on-demand fitness plans and scenic rides. The amount of content on offer is impressive, the trainers know their stuff and the bike has a small footprint, so it won’t take over your space. This is a subscription-only service, so you have to sign up for a membership when buying the bike, but different subscription packages are available.
Assault Fitness airbike classic: £725, Wolverson Fitness
This bike is loved by CrossFitters as it operates on fan resistance, which means the only limits on resistance are your physical capabilities – the faster you pedal and push the moving handlebars, the more hardcore your workout will become, as resistance increases. It’s like an exercise bike that fights back, that some people will love, but others will hate. It might seem a bit daunting to put together, but it actually assembles with relative ease and the display will give you all the information you need to know that your fitness levels are improving. It is, however, a bulky bike, so you’re going to need to set aside some space if this is your machine of choice.
TechnoGym bike: £2,450, TechnoGym
As the name suggests, this bike can be connected to the 1Rebel fitness studio in London or Revolution in Milan to offer up live and on-demand classes, streamed directly to the bike. It features a very intuitive, easy-to-use, 22in HD touchscreen and you can see your progress on a leaderboard of connected cyclists. The handlebars were comfortable and there were lots of options for hand placement to find a comfortable riding position. The seat was also very easy to adjust mid-workout and the bike didn’t take over the room.
Pro Fitness FEB1000 folding exercise bike: £119.99, Argos
This collapsible bike is surprisingly stable to ride and, of course, is perfect for those who want to get fit at home, but are short on space. Comfortable in the saddle with good supportive handlebars, the FEB1000 also features an impressively smooth flywheel that offers the user eight levels of resistance. The seat is adjustable and self-levelling pedals help you to find the perfect cycling position for you.
Nohrd indoor bike: £2,425, Nohrd
This bike looks so good that you probably shouldn’t confine it to the bedroom. Crafted from solid ash wood, it’s as much of an exercise in design as it is engineering, but this does come at a hefty price. The bike is supremely comfortable to ride, either upright or in a racing position, with a whisper-quiet flywheel and magnetic resistance that offers infinite resistance. Connectivity comes from Bluetooth sensors that connect you to a proprietary app (available for free on iOS and Android) that provides an excellent source of original training plans. It’s not the most compact of bikes, but if you’re shelling out this amount of money, you’ll probably want to show it off anyway.
The verdict: Exercise bikes
The Schwinn IC8 is trying to deliver a smart bike experience without the accompanying price tag and they have succeeded with a brilliant bike that will connect you to third party apps and content that will deliver for all levels of indoor cycling.