Buying a new indoor cycle can be an exciting process, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can become overwhelming in a hurry.
I mean there are thousands of models to choose from, and after you look at a few they can all start to look the same.
The key to a successful search is knowing what to look for and what to compare between models to find the best option for your budget.
And that’s exactly what I’m here to help with.
In this guide, I’ll go over everything you should know before you decide on a new indoor cycle. After reading, you’ll know how to buy one the smart way.
Indoor Cycles 101
Indoor cycles, aka “spin cycles” aka “spin bikes” make great additions to any home gym because they’re compact and they can provide as intense a workout as you’re looking for.
These bikes are designed a little differently than your traditional upright bikes, which aren’t usually used for higher intensity workouts.
When looking at an indoor cycle, you’ll notice that it kinda looks like a mounted road bike. Well, this isn’t a coincidence- these bikes are designed specifically to mimic the feel of riding a road bike.
Johnny Goldberg was the brilliant mind behind the first spinning program way back in the ’80s. He came up with the idea after getting hit by a car when riding at night.
The motivation was to find a way to train safely for road races indoors. Not only does this keep you away from cars, but it would also allow you to train anytime, day or night, regardless of weather conditions.
P.S.- the term “spinning bike” was coined by Johnny Goldberg’s business, Mad Dogg Athletics, and is technically a trademarked term, although there are some legal battles going on hoping to release that term to the general public.
Anyway, this is how indoor cycles came about- they were designed to allow cyclists a way to train indoors.
Well, over the years, their popularity has exploded.
Now, with the help of brands like Peloton and NordicTrack, indoor cycles have become some of the most popular home fitness machines around.
Indoor cycles are well-known for having heavy flywheels, standard bike saddles, and multi-grip handlebars- you know, all the stuff you’d need to mimic the feel of riding a bike.
These bikes are a great option for people looking to do interval training or other forms of higher intensity training because they’re designed to be able to handle higher cadences and many can provide a great deal of resistance.
The good ones anyway.
How To Buy An Indoor Cycle
I think it’s a good idea to have a set game plan before you decide comparing bikes. You know, having a blueprint to keep ya on track.
Personally, I like to concentrate on the performance specs because if I was buying a new bike, I’d want one that feels smooth and comfortable to use, but also one that feels heavy-duty and durable.
It’s a great idea to read user reviews and get a general consensus of what the public likes or dislikes about individual bikes, but keep in mind that opinions are subjective.
Just because one person likes or dislikes something, doesn’t mean you will.
The best way to tell about an indoor cycle would be to test it out before buying, but unfortunately, that’s rarely an option.
The next best thing is to consider the key specs.
Looking at these specs will give you an objective outline to use when comparing bikes against each other. I encourage you to consider the following when researching indoor cycles:
I mentioned the flywheel briefly above, but this is really a key component to any bike.
And just to make sure we’re all talking about the same thing here- the flywheel is the metal disc that spins as you pedal.
The flywheel can be located in the front or rear of the bike, but its job is the same- to create the resistance and “feel” of your ride.
You’ll hear a lot of talk about flywheel weight when researching.
Most indoor cycles (I say most because some brands like Keiser have designed their bikes so that they don’t utilize a heavy flywheel) are designed so that they benefit from having a heavier flywheel.
This extra weight builds more momentum as that flywheel spins.
This momentum actually helps the flywheel continue spinning, which eliminates any unwanted lag between your pedal strokes.
The result is a smoother pedal action.
Having a heavier flywheel is also beneficial for those looking for more intense workouts. After all, it’ll take more energy to get a 40 lb flywheel turning than it does a 20 lb flywheel.
Speaking of resistance, indoor cycles generally come with 2 forms of resistance to choose from: friction brakes or magnetic systems.
With a friction brake, as the name implies, there is a felt or leather pad that makes physical contact with the flywheel as it spins.
Resistance is increased or decreased by adjusting how much contact that pad is making with the flywheel. These systems can work fairly well, but over time that pad is going to break down and have to be replaced.
Most people prefer magnetic systems (myself included) because they provide a smoother resistance and since there’s no pad making physical contact, they’re virtually maintenance free.
With magnetic systems, you have a magnet (or series of magnets) beside the metal flywheel.
Resistance is increased or decreased by adjusting how close the magnets are to the flywheel as it spins. Bringing the magnets closer increases resistance and vice versa.
But back to flywheel weights.
So, having a heavier flywheel is generally a good thing, but how heavy is heavy enough?
Personally, I’d say anything over 20 lb is heavy enough to be considered “heavy”, but these days you’ll see even affordable cycles packing 30 – 40 lb flywheels.
When comparing indoor cycles, I think it’s a good idea to see how heavy the flywheel is and whether it uses a friction brake or magnetic resistance system.
When in doubt, go with the heavier flywheel (and magnetic is always better than friction).
Just like it is with flywheels, when it comes to weight capacity, heavier is always better.
A bike’s weight capacity tells you a lot about how well-built it is- seeing a high weight limit is indicative of superior frame strength and overall durability.
Makes sense when you think about it- a bike that can hold 350 lb users has got to be stronger than a bike that can hold 250 lb users, right?
It’s important to consider the weight capacity because for one, you have to make sure the bike can safely hold you, but because it also gives you insight into overall build quality.
Weight capacity tends to vary with price, with really affordable bikes coming with lighter weight frames and lower weight limits.
High quality bikes should come with at least a 300 lb weight capacity, although some will go as high as 350 lb.
When searching for a spin cycle, I recommend looking for one with at least a 300 lb limit because this is high enough to show that the bike is solidly built.
You should also take a look at the total assembled weight.
Again, seeing higher weights means the bike is heavier-duty, which is a good thing.
Indoor cycles come in all different sizes and the flywheel weight will play a big part in total assembled weight, but if your budget allows for it I’d try to find one that weighs at least 100 lb.
Going with a bike this heavy is a pretty sure way of getting one that won’t feel flimsy or wobbly during use.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t really pay attention to the warranty before buying.
And then they’re surprised to find out the warranty sucks.
Always, always, always figure out what kind of warranty is on a bike before purchasing (always!)
Higher quality bikes will usually come with longer warranties. And lower quality bikes will come with shorter warranties.
This is how it goes because manufacturers aren’t dumb- they know whether their bikes are built to last or not and they’re not gonna waste the money paying off long warranties for their substandard bikes.
Indoor cycles come with warranties that include the frame, parts, and labor. Some will also offer separate electronics guarantees for the consoles.
The frame should be the longest guarantee because it’s the least likely to break down over time.
Some brands, like Sole, will offer lifetime frame warranties and this is awesome. Most other high-end bikes will offer somewhere between 5-10 years on the frame.
When it comes to the parts, expect somewhere between 2-5 years for most quality brands.
And when it comes to labor, 1 year is pretty standard.
When comparing bikes, all other things equal, go with the longer warranty.
That about does it for the performance specs. When you think about it, indoor cycles are actually pretty simple devices.
After you’ve compared the flywheel weights and weight limits/warranties, you’ll want to consider the other features these bikes come with.
Console- bike consoles used to be really simple. They were basically little LCD screens that kept track of a few metrics like time, distance, and cadence. Now you’ve got all kinds of options. There are a bunch of bikes these days that come with large, HD screens and are designed for workout streaming and instructor-led videos. Others offer entertainment apps like Netflix and Hulu. If you don’t care about having a fancy console, you can safe a lot of money by going with one with a simpler display.
Seat- all indoor cycle seats are basically the same. They’re small, firm, and kinda uncomfortable for those who aren’t used to them. Most bikes come with standard road bike seats that can be swapped out easily with any other bike seat. The thing to look for is whether the seat is fully adjustable or not. Fully adjustable meaning you can adjust both the seat height and horizontal (fore/aft) position. Having a fully adjustable seat is a good idea because you’ll be more likely to get a comfortable fit.
Handlebars- you’ll see slight variations on the grips available for bike handlebars, but all should come with at least 3 grip positions (narrow, standard, and wide). Most bikes will come with height adjustable handlebars and some will come with fully adjustable handlebars. I don’t think having fully adjustable handlebars is as important as having a fully adjustable seat, but it’s never a bad thing to have more customization options.
Pedals- indoor cycles can come with pedals designed for sneakers (toe cages) or ones designed to be used with riding cleats. Some bikes will come with dual-compatible pedals, meaning they have a toe cage on one side and a cleat compatible clip in on the other side. If you don’t want to mess with cleats, go with a bike that has a toe cage. If you plan on using cleats, that’s great, just make sure you have the right kind to fit with your chosen bike (most are SPD compatible).
I wanted to mention Q-factor really quick because you might see a lot of talk about this in your search.
A bike’s Q-factor is the horizontal distance between the 2 pedals.
Some riders put a lot of emphasis on this spec and stress the importance of going with a bike with a narrow Q-factor.
If you’re an elite cyclist, or someone with a particularly narrow frame, I think that makes sense, but honestly, I don’t think your average rider is going to notice the difference.
The idea is that having a narrow Q-factor (pedals closer together), puts less stress through your hips and knees during workouts.
And from a physical therapist’s perspective, I get and understand this.
But we have to keep in mind that we are all built differently and that we all have pelvises that are different widths.
Most indoor cycles will come with a Q-factor somewhere between 5-8″ (140 mm to 210 mm). Those looking for a narrow Q-factor should consider a bike with a Q-factor in the 140 – 170mm range.
Although, it can be tough to find this spec on a lot of bikes.
Just something to keep in mind (or not).
Alrighty, that about does it for indoor cycles.
When starting your search for your first or next spin cycle, I think it’s a good idea to have a game plan. Knowing what you to look for can make your search process a lot smoother.
I encourage you to concentrate on the performance specs, first and foremost, and then consider what features you’re looking for.
If you know you want a streaming bike, that immediately eliminates a large portion of the bikes out there.
I didn’t mention this above, but price will obviously be a factor for most folks out there. Luckily, indoor cycles don’t have to cost a fortune.
If you’re in the market for an elite, hi-tech bike like Peloton, expect to spend around $2k or more, but there are tons of great bikes out there well under $1k.
I hope you found this guide helpful. If you have any questions or concerns, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you shortly.