With hi-tech spin cycles everywhere you look these days, it’s easy to think that traditional upright bikes may be going the way of the Dodo.
But fortunately, this isn’t true.
There are still plenty of great upright bikes to choose from and there are still good reasons to choose this variety over the other styles of exercise bike.
It really depends on what your goals are and what you’re looking for from your bike.
A quality upright is comfortable to use, has a compact frame, and can still provide a great workout.
The key, however, is being able to spot a keeper from one you should probably throw back.
Luckily, this is where I can help.
In this guide, I’ll go over everything you need to know about upright bikes to ensure you find the best one to meet your fitness needs.
We’re talking specs, features, and everything else in between. After reading, you’ll be well prepared to find the right upright bike for your home.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Upright Bikes 101
When I think of an upright bike, I picture the traditional design with the bike oriented vertically. These bikes don’t usually have a backrest, but the seat is larger and more comfortable than that found on a spin cycle.
Some people might refer to these as “stationary exercise bikes”, and that term does work, but I prefer the term “upright bike” because technically, any exercise bike is stationary.
Except for maybe Bowflex’s VeloCore.
Semantics aside, upright bikes have been around for a long time.
Even though Schwinn takes the honor as probably having the first mass produced exercise bike back in the ’60s with their aptly named “Exerciser”, these devices have been around in one form or another much longer than that.
And they’re still popular today.
The great thing about an upright bike is that it kinda combines the benefits of indoor cycles and recumbent bikes.
Hear me out on this.
Uprights are compact, like indoor cycles, but they’re a little more comfortable, like a recumbent.
They usually come with larger, more cushiony (is that a word?) seats that aren’t quite as hard to sit on (like spin bikes).
This makes them a great option for homes that are looking for a compact cardio machine, but don’t want to go all-in with a spin bike.
Upright bikes aren’t usually thought of as providing intense, interval style workouts like spin bikes and air bikes are, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get a great workout in on one of these.
If you go with a quality upright with a heavy flywheel, you’ll be able to get as strenuous a workout as you want.
When comparing various upright bikes, I encourage you to focus on the performance specs over anything else- this is the best way to find a bike that works great and feels smooth during your workouts.
What do I mean by “performance specs”?
What To Look For When Buying An Upright Bike
When comparing models, it’s a good idea to have a blueprint in mind. You know, help you compare bikes on the same factors, so you can choose the best option.
I suggest you consider the following when looking for your next upright bike:
You might be a little surprised that I started with the flywheel and yes, we’re still talking about upright bikes here.
Believe it or not, all exercise bikes use a flywheel, not just indoor cycles.
And even though flywheel weight is stressed more often in spin bikes, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider this spec when looking at uprights too.
The flywheel is the part that spins as you pedal. This spinning flywheel is responsible for not only providing your resistance, but also giving a bike its “feel” during use.
Having a heavier flywheel is beneficial because the extra weight builds more momentum as it spins.
This creates a smoother “feel” because the momentum helps reduce any unwanted awkwardness between pedal strokes.
The extra weight will also give you a more substantial workout, meaning you’ll be able to work against more overall resistance (if you so choose).
Upright bikes aren’t known for having heavy flywheels like spin bikes are, but you can still find uprights that are packing a lot of heat in this department.
Personally, I consider any flywheel weighing 20 lb or more to be “heavy” -this is enough weight to ensure a smooth workout experience.
Keep in mind your average home upright has a 10-13 lb flywheel (or less). But higher-end models will come with flywheels as heavy as 30 lb.
Heavier is generally better for flywheels and the same can be said about weight capacities.
I like to look to this spec as an objective measure of how sturdy or durable the frame is going to be. Seeing a higher weight limit tells me this bike is built tougher.
You also have to make sure whatever bike you’re looking at can safely hold you.
Cheaper bikes tend to come with lighter weight frames and lower weight limits, while higher end models tend to come with heavier frames and higher capacities.
If you’re looking for that commercial feel, you’re going to want a heavier bike.
Heavier bikes aren’t going to move or wobble with you during use (which is a common occurrence with cheaper, lighter bikes).
Most quality upright bikes will come with a weight capacity of 300 lb. Some nicer models will go as high as 350 lb.
If you’re budget allows, I recommend going with a bike that has at least a 300 lb limit (regardless of how much you weigh) because this is a good indicator of overall quality.
It’s also a good idea to look at the assembled weight.
Going with a bike that weighs at least 100 lb is another good way to ensure you get a stable bike that won’t feel flimsy during use.
I’m a stickler when it comes to warranties- I always check ’em and I consider them to be a key factor in my decision making process.
I would encourage you to do the same.
Seeing a generous warranty is another indicator of overall quality.
Simply put- junky bikes don’t come with long warranties because the manufacturers know it isn’t built to last.
Upright bikes usually come with warranties that are divided into 3 parts:
The frame guarantee should be the longest and many quality models will offer a lifetime frame warranty. But depending on price, 10 years or longer is pretty good.
The parts guarantee will be significantly shorter- expect 2-5 years for most quality brands (although Spirit blows everybody out of the water with their 10 year parts guarantees).
Labor is the shortest and 1 year is pretty standard, although you might see 2 years here and there.
That about does it for the performance side of things. Now we’ll shift over to the other features you’ll want to consider before buying. These include:
- Workout programs- the number of programs a bike comes with will vary greatly. Some may come with 6, others may come with 30. If you’re looking for a ton of variety, go with one that offers more.
- Screen- most upright bikes come with pretty basic LCD screens, but some offer HD touchscreens with instructor led workouts and all that jazz.
- Bluetooth- some bikes offer bluetooth compatibility with fitness apps, many don’t. If you’re into metric tracking, look for one that is.
- Heart rate monitoring- pretty much all bikes come with the standard grip heart rate monitors, but some will be compatible with chest strap monitors too. Some will even include one with purchase.
- Fans- cooling fans are a pretty standard feature. I wouldn’t consider this a deal breaker either way, but sometimes a little extra air is comforting during a workout.
- Speakers- some bikes come with an audio jack so that you can plug your mp3 player or phone up and listen to your music through the console. Others might come with bluetooth speakers, allowing you to connect wirelessly.
- USB charging- this is a convenient feature that allows you to charge your phone or tablet up while exercising.
Realistically, this is probably going to be one of the first considerations you have to make. After all, you have to find something that fits inside your budget.
Luckily, upright bikes tend to be a little more affordable than indoor cycles or recumbents.
The best home upright bikes tend to cost somewhere between $1000 – $1500, but there are a lot of great options as well between $500 – $1000.
If your budget is tight and you have to go with something under $500, that’s ok- just make sure you have realistic expectations.
Bikes under $500 are going to come with lightweight frames, light flywheels, and significantly shorter warranties.
Well, there ya go.
Even though we don’t usually see commercials for upright bikes on tv, they’re still going strong. And all the top home fitness brands are still including them in their lineups.
Upright bikes make a great choice for folks looking for a more comfortable cycling experience that won’t take up a lot of floor space.
These bikes are also pretty budget friendly in the realm of home fitness equipment.
When looking for your first or next upright bike, I encourage you to focus on those performance specs first and foremost and then consider what features you’d like.
Focusing on the flywheel, weight capacity, and warranty will ensure you get a quality bike that’s built to last.
That about does it. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave ’em below and I’ll get back to you shortly.