Recumbent bikes are awesome because they provide a low impact, comfortable mode of exercise. This makes them a great option for folks dealing with aches, pains, or mobility issues.
And if you get the right one, you can also get a great workout in, improving both leg strength and cardiovascular health at the same time.
The key there is finding the right one.
And that’s where I come in.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll go over everything you need to consider when looking for your first or next recumbent bike.
I’ll go over all the key specs, features, and other considerations you should make to ensure you get the right model for your home.
After reading, you’ll know everything you need to in order to confidently find the best recumbent bike to meet your needs.
Recumbent Bikes 101
I’m inclined to assume we’re all talking about the same thing here, but maybe I shouldn’t.
Just to be safe- a recumbent bike is one in which you’re positioned more horizontally.
These bikes have large seats with backrests with the pedals out in front of you instead of being underneath, like on a traditional bike.
You’ll find these bikes in gyms, therapy clinics, assisted living facilities, and homes around the world.
The great thing about recumbent bikes is that pretty much anyone can use one fairly comfortably.
The horizontal positioning of the bike immediately makes it lower-impact than uprights and spin cycles, both of which can be uncomfortable to use for folks dealing with hip or knee pain.
And the fact that the seat is larger and comes with a backrest takes it a lot easier on your back, allowing folks with bad backs to use them as well.
And, since most come with a step-thru frame, they’re a lot easier to get on/off than any other style of exercise bike.
The result is a bike that’s comfortable and safe to use for most populations.
This is why so many therapy clinics use recumbent bikes, because they make great rehab tools. People who are dealing with achy joints or recent surgeries can usually still use them to some degree.
The comfort factor is why most people who are looking for a recumbent are looking in the first place, but that doesn’t mean a recumbent can’t offer a great workout.
Recumbents that come with heavy flywheels and sophisticated magnetic resistance systems are more than capable of providing as intense a workout as you can handle.
It really all depends on what you’re looking for and what you want from your recumbent bike.
How To Buy A Recumbent Bike
Regardless of whether you’re looking for one that can provide an intense workout or whether you simply want one to get those legs moving a little, there are a few things you should look for when comparing models to ensure you get a quality bike.
You know, having a game plan is always a smart idea.
Not only will it help you focus on the most important aspects of the bikes, but it’ll also allow you to compare all bikes on the same standards.
Apples to apples and all that jazz.
When comparing recumbents bikes, I encourage you to consider the following:
It might surprise you to see the flywheel being mentioned with a guide on recumbent bikes, but stay with me here- it’s an important spec for any bike.
The flywheel is the metal disc that spins as you pedal.
On spin cycles, the flywheel is hard to miss because it’s visible, but all exercise bikes use one (even air bikes, though theirs are a bit different).
This flywheel is responsible for creating your resistance.
This resistance can be created with either a magnetic system or a friction brake system. With a magnetic system, there are magnets near that metal flywheel.
The resistance is adjusted by changing how close those magnets are to the spinning flywheel (bringing them closer increases resistance and vice versa).
With a friction brake, you have a leather or felt pad that makes physical contact with the flywheel- resistance is increased or decreased by adjusting how much contact the pad makes with the flywheel.
Needless to say, magnetic resistance systems are preferred (and usually found on nicer models).
Anyway, back to flywheels.
Most recumbent bikes are designed so that having a heavier flywheel is preferred.
This is because the extra weight builds more momentum as the flywheel spins. This added momentum actually helps the flywheel continue spinning between pedal strokes, which eliminates any lag between strokes.
This makes for a smoother feel during your workouts.
And if you’re looking for a recumbent that can provide a substantial workout, it’s a good idea to go with one with a heavy flywheel.
The heavier the flywheel is, the more energy it’s going to take to get it moving.
Recumbent bikes aren’t generally known for having heavy flywheels (like indoor cycles are), but if you know where to look you can find ’em.
By the way, I consider any flywheel that’s 20 lb or more to be heavy.
Flywheel weight tends to coincide with price, but that isn’t always the case. Generally though, cheaper bikes come with lighter flywheels.
Most home recumbents come with flywheels somewhere between 10-30 lb.
If you’re looking for a more serious workout, I encourage you to go with a recumbent packing at least a 20 lb flywheel. And even if you aren’t, the extra weight will make for a smoother workout experience.
This one might sound a bit obvious, but you might be surprised by how many people don’t consider warranty when making a purchase.
Personally, I’m a stickler for warranties- it’s always one of the first things I check out when looking at any piece of fitness equipment.
The warranty is your insurance policy for your bike.
Having a long warranty will give you peace of mind, especially if you’re making a substantial investment in your recumbent.
Not to mention that the warranty gives you a good idea as to the quality of the bike.
Nicer bikes usually come with longer warranties, so seeing a really short guarantee should be a warning.
Recumbent bike warranties are usually broken down into 3 sections: frame, parts, and labor.
The frame guarantee will be the longest. More generous brands will offer a lifetime frame warranty and this is always nice to see. Other quality brands will offer 10-15 years on the frame.
Parts guarantees are significantly shorter, expect 2-5 years on quality bikes. Cheaper bikes might offer a year or less.
One year is pretty standard operating procedure for labor, although lower quality bikes might not offer any labor guarantee.
This is another important spec to consider for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, you have to make sure you can safely fit on your chosen bike.
Second to that, the weight capacity can tell you a lot regarding the durability of a bike- seeing a high weight capacity is indicative of a heavier-duty, stronger machine.
I mean a bike that can hold a 300 lb person has got to be more structurally sound than one that can only handle a 250 lb person, right?
A weight capacity of 300 lb is pretty average for a home recumbent bike and if your budget allows it, I recommend finding a bike that can hold at least this much.
Seeing a weight limit this high is a good sign of overall quality.
Higher-end models will come with weight limits as high as 350 – 400 lb.
I like to look at total assembled weight too, because it also gives you an idea as to how heavy-duty a bike is. And if you ask me, heavier is always better.
I like to see an assembled weight of at least 100 lb because it’s a safer bet that the bike will be solid and stable during use.
Heavy bikes will be less likely to wobble or shake during use.
I mentioned earlier how recumbents come with larger seats that are more comfortable to sit on- this is pretty much true for all models.
When comparing bikes, it’s a good idea to check the min/max height limits, especially if you’re really tall or height challenged.
If you’re between 5’2″ and 6’2″, you’re pretty safe with any recumbent bike.
This spec isn’t always easy to find, so you might have to do some snooping around to find it.
When in doubt, you can always reach out to a company’s customer service for answers (or ask your friendly neighborhood blogger).
All recumbent bikes should come with backrests, but they come in many different shapes and sizes.
Some recumbent bikes come with adjustable angle backrests, but many do not. If you have a bad back, this might be a feature you look for.
Some back rests are mesh, others are solid. Personally, I don’t think this really matters, but a mesh back might allow better air flow.
Most back rests have some type of lumbar support built-in, but some are better than others. Some might even come with arm rests on the seat.
That about does it for the performance side of things, now we’re moving on to the more fun stuff.
I’m a believer that you should focus on the performance specs first and foremost, and then consider the console features, but to each their own.
The console features are usually directly dependent on price, but there are some really expensive bikes that come with dated consoles.
The features you want on your recumbent bike are up to you, but you can expect to see the following in your search:
Screen- most recumbents come with pretty simple, LCD screens that vary in size. There aren’t a ton of bikes out there with large, HD touchscreen displays, but those are out there too (NordicTrack comes to mind).
Workout programs- the number of workout programs that are included will vary greatly. Some bikes will come with 8 programs, others will come with 30. Some, like NordicTrack, offer workout streaming through paid services that gives you unlimited access to instructor-led workouts.
Bluetooth- bikes with bluetooth compatibility will allow you to connect your bike to one or several fitness apps for metric tracking and what not.
Heart rate monitoring- pretty much all recumbents will come with grip heart rate handles, but some will also offer chest strap compatibility. Most bikes with bluetooth capabilities will be compatible with bluetooth chest straps.
Speakers- some bikes come with built-in speakers that have an audio jack to plug into. Others come with bluetooth speakers that you can connect with wirelessly.
Fan- ah, the humble cooling fan. Many bikes will include a fan to help keep ya comfortable during your workouts.
Writing this, I realize I probably should’ve lead with this because realistically, price is going to be one of the most important factors most of us have to consider.
But luckily, recumbent bikes are pretty fairly priced, all things considered.
Like any other exercise bike, recumbents come in a wide range of prices.
Many of the best home recumbent bikes fall in the $1500 – $1800 price range, but you can find a lot of great bikes for around a $1000.
Schwinn’s 270 is a good example of a $600 bike that has a lot to be proud of.
If you go with a bike under $500, expect lighter flywheels, lighter frames, and short to non-existent warranties. But, if you’re working with a limited budget, you have to do what you have to do.
Well, there ya have it.
Now you know everything there is to know about recumbent bikes.
To summarize, when comparing recumbents, I highly encourage you to take the time and consider the performance specs- specifically, the flywheel weight and weight capacity.
Heavier is better in both circumstances.
And of course you should be comparing those warranties too.
You’ll want to find a bike that has as many of the features as your budget will allow as well, but personally, if you have to choose between performance or console- go with performance.
I hope you found this guide helpful.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I’ll get back to ya soon.