Recumbent or Upright? My guide to buying an exercise bike

Nov 28, 2006

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The Bottom Line Do some research; make sure the bike is comfortable; look at the warranty and have fun!

Recumbent versus Upright:

People ask me why they should or should not buy a recumbent over an upright. They are very different. Recumbent bikes have a back rest and are low to the ground. If you have balance problems, like to be lower to the ground or back problems this will be better for you. If you are a bicyclist you will want an upright bike because it feels more like an outdoor bike than the recumbent bikes do. If you like to read while doing your cardio-vascular workout the recumbent lends itself to reading better than the upright bike.

I use both recumbent and upright bikes. I find I do not work as hard on a recumbent bike. It is more comfortable on my back because it has a seat with a back. If my back is bothering me a bit from my workout the day before, then I might choose the recumbent. Or perhaps I am in the middle of a book that I cannot put down and just want an easy workout then I will want to ride casually and read. I find this easier to do on a recumbent bike. An upright bike simulates an outdoor bike so if I know I will be bike riding I will choose an upright to get into shape.

The Seat:

I am a personal trainer so I have more than a casual interest in fitness equipment. There are a lot of aspects of a machine that I pay attention to. On a bike one of the first things I look at is the seat. Bikes notoriously have had uncomfortable seats in the past. I am finding some seats that are contoured that you may find more comfortable. Also if you are a larger person make sure the seat is a bit wider. Seats are different sizes and shapes so keep that in mind.

This is true of the back of the seat as well if you are looking at a recumbent bike. Some are higher than others. I like high seats but depending on how much money you want to spend I don’t see a low back as a reason not to buy a bike. You won’t find one that will allow you to put your head back so in my opinion the comfort of the back is more important in my opinion than the height.

You may want a seat that is easy to adjust. Some take a bit of maneuvering with a handle and some have knobs that pull up or out very easily. There are many aspects of bikes that shouldn’t be a deal breaker. If I found a bike I love with a good price tag but the seat adjusted via a less friendly handle than a knob I would live with the handle. On a recumbent bike the seat will slide forward and back. On an upright it will go up and down. You want to make sure you are comfortable and have enough adjustments for your height. There should be a slight bend in your knees when fully outstretched on the pedals.

The Pedals:

You will find adjustable straps on all bikes. The easiest to use in my opinion are straps that have a spring loaded clip connected to the outer edge of the pedal. All you will have to do to make it tighter is pull the strap and it should lock in place.

Pedals are difference sizes. If you have very large of wide feet you want to make sure you’re comfortable on the pedal. Some bikes come with over-sized pedals so you will want to look for that if necessary.

The Handles:

Which ever type of bike you are buying the handle bars should be comfortable to hold and in a comfortable spot. You will usually find handle bars next to the seat on a recumbent bike and also on the console where the heart rate sensor is. On an upright you will have one set of handles that house the heart rate sensor. Padded handles are a nice feature.


Bikes vary when it comes to what kind of accessory racks they have. If you don’t care about a water bottle holder because you will have a table next to the bike at the right height fine. If not then you want a water bottle holder. I prefer them integrated rather than plastic holders mounted on the bike but again this isn’t a deal breaker. I have come across bikes with the water bottle holder on the side. This is very inconvenient and I would stay away from this style. You should find a magazine rack that is integrated in the console.

Since you are buying this for home use most likely having a spot for keys isn’t necessary but you might like a spot for your cell phone. This will be a decision you will have to make. Bikes do not have the options that treadmills have so you may not have a lot of choices in this area.

Size, Weight, Stability:

Upright bikes usually take up less space than recumbent bikes so if you don’t have any physical issues requiring a recumbent and don’t have a lot of space then you will go with an upright.

It should sit on long horizontal poles for stability. When you get on and off, the bike shouldn’t go with you! It is easier to get on a recumbent bike and it often feels sturdier because it is low to the ground.

Make sure the bike doesn’t shake at high speeds. Some of the very inexpensive low-end brands may shake. If you don’t plan on picking up your speed then you might be able to get away with an inexpensive model.

If you plan on moving your bike you will want one that is light. In general I don’t recommend moving fitness equipment unless you have to. Some have wheels to make moving them easier.

Check on the maximum weight of the user. If it is 225 pounds and you come in at 275 then you’ll have to look at a different model.

The ride on the bike should be quiet and smooth. That’s a must. If you are going slowly and it is neither of these then skip whatever you are looking at.

The Console:

Bikes do not usually have sophisticated consoles or the many programs that treadmills have. I would recommend a console that showed time, distance, speed, resistance level, calories, heart rate and calories burned. The console readouts should be easy to see.

You will want some resistance levels. You may get as many as 20 on some machines. In general I find that the resistance of bikes is very different than that of an elliptical machine. Level 4 on a bike is much more challenging than level 4 on an elliptical. If you find a bike you love that doesn’t have a large number like 20, I wouldn’t nix it.

The Programs:

In general the more money you pay the more workouts you will get. However one top of the line Life Fitness model may give you 15 workouts and another model may give you 5. If you get bored easily I would look for a model with a lot of programs. If you are new to all this than save the money and go with few workouts if the difference is a monetary one.

Other Considerations:

~The warranty

~The brand name and reputation

~Bang for your buck

~Your goals and expectations

I hope this has helped you. Please feel free to leave me a comment or question. My bike reviews including other fitness equipment reviews can be found here.

Please check with your doctor before starting an exercise program; if you have medical conditions; are a man over 40 or a woman over 50.

Happy riding. jo

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