Pros: • Compact • Sturdy • Core features, no gimmicks • Decent instruction manual
Cons: • Quality control • Monochrome display • Won't run off batteries.
The Schwinn 130 upright exercise bike, but for a different color scheme, is identical to model 126, and the setup and usage instructions are identical. The 130 is available at most fitness retailers, whereas model 126 appears to be available exclusively at Sports Authority stores. Model 131, which shares the same form factor, is yet another step up in price, but appears to differ insofar as it offers an illuminated display, fan and more generously padded seat. This review, however, will focus on the 130/126, which ranges in price from $349 to $499.
This review will start with an overview, transition into specific pros and cons, weigh the benefits of a traditional upright exercise bike over its popular counterpart the recumbent stationary bike, and conclude with a word of advice to would-be buyers.
Features & Specifications
• LCD display features Time, Interval time, RPM, Watts, Distance, Pulse, Speed, Calories, Resistance and alphanumeric prompts;
• Consul tilts three ways to optimize viewing angle;
• BioFit wide padded seat with micro-adjustable fore/aft seat slider;
• Biomechanically-aligned pedals with adjustable foot straps;
• Handlebars feature integrated heart-rate grips and may be pushed forward or back on a sliding mechanism;
• 16 levels of computer-controlled magnetic resistance 12 user options including Quick Start, Calorie Goal, BMI Measurement, Recovery Test, Results Mode, Manual Mode and 6 Profile Courses;
• Magazine rack;
• Sports bottle holder (bottle not included);
• Quiet magnetic Eddy current brake resistance;
• BioDynet drive system with high inertia 20 lb. flywheel for true road feel;
• Transport wheels for easy movement;
• Levelers integrated into stabilizer bars;
• Includes assembly tools;
• Accommodates users up to 300 lbs.;
• Dimensions: 32" L x 21" W x 52" H;
• Weight: 77 lbs.;
• Power Requirements: AC Adapter (included);
• 10 year warranty on frame, 1 year on mechanical and electrical, 6 months on wear items, 90 days on labor.
The first thing I noticed when comparing this Schwinn to its sports store counterparts was its small footprint. It strikes a nice balance between taking up as little space as possible and not being a lightweight piece of equipment with a flimsy feel, which is what typically goes hand-in-hand with compact stationary bikes. Most websites, it should be noted, overstate product dimensions. In reality, the footprint is 32 inches long by 21 inches wide, a full 10 inches shorter in length than indicated online. This error appears to be the result of a typo on SchwinnFitness.com.
Although this upright stationary bicycle is feature rich, it doesn't include gimmicky options such as MP3 ports or fans. There isn't anything wrong with such features, but users who have them generally pay more only to report on review sites, regardless of brand, that integrated fans and audio speakers are underpowered.
One advantage of the Schwinn's electronic display is that you can view many of workout statistics in a single glance, whereas less expensive exercise bikes scan through them. The disadvantage is that while the consul may appear oversize, the bulk of that space is occupied by an arrangement of flat, touch-sensitive buttons, which require an unusually firm press to operate. The LCD area dedicates a great deal of space to rudimentary graphics. This includes a character on a racing bike whose revolutions keep pace with your speed, and what Schwinn refers to in their owner's guide as "bricks", which are used to graph out your progress. The busy layout means that vital statistics are rendered in digits that are not very bold/large. Additionally, digits are not illuminated or backlit to make reading them any easier.
A number of magnetic resistance exercise bikes on the market offer a choice of battery or AC power. This model doesn't. Those who live in older homes with few available outlets may wish to think twice, for this reason. The necessity of a nearby outlet for the cord, which is approximately three feet in length, may also limit the viability of transporting it throughout the house, a benefit Schwinn touts in product literature. The bike does, in fact, have wheels mounted on the front stabilizer bar for this purpose, but at 77 lbs. it is not all that easy to move, particularly on carpet. Stationary bikes manufactured by the likes of Weslo and Marcy may be good alternatives for those who place a high premium on in-home portability (bearing in mind that a lighter weight bike typically cannot accept a high weight limit and may wobble a bit under vigorous use).
Although I have yet to run through the entire array of profile programs, preferring thus far to stick with the "Quick Start" option and user-selected resistance, I have discovered something that cannot, apparently, be shut off. The consul beeps with every lapse of a minute. It's not terribly loud, but it is a source of annoyance. Eventually, I hope to learn to tune out the interruptions. Just the same, those who are inclined to carry on telephone conversations while using fitness equipment may wish to take this under consideration. Typically, upright bikes of this type can also be used near light sleepers without generating enough noise to wake them. This one just might.
If there is one reason upright exercise bikes are returned or reviewed poorly, excluding complaints about damage or defects, it's the ache that develops in the posterior upon use. The good news is that it is possible to acclimate with regular use. In three days I was able to increase the amount of time I could tolerate on the seat, and within a month I expect to be nearly pain free. If not, however, there are options. Schwinn designed this exercise bike using a standard bike seat mount. This is significant because many stationary bike manufacturers use a platform style mount consisting of four bolts into the bottom of a springless seat. The Schwinn 126 Upright Bike, by contrast, has the option to replace out the seat entirely, not just cover the existing saddle with a padded seat cover. Better yet, this option allows users to opt for a seat with springs. Saddles containing springs are often more forgiving than those that lack them.
The look, compact size and the quality of the in-store demo unit sold me on this model, but the Schwinn I brought home presented problems that the display model did not. After a period of roughly an hour's worth of assembly using the included tools and Schwinn's refreshingly clear assembly instructions, an improperly angled weld on which the display consul and handlebars mount came to my attention. The flaw was obvious enough to appear "off" from across the room. The second problem I noted was that peddles kept flipping upside down or remaining sideways while not in use despite the fact that they are weighted to prevent them from coming to rest in an inverted or vertical position. This was at first a passing annoyance, which I encountered when I would have to flip them back over with my foot while attempting to mount the bike. Initially I thought the peddles had been bolted on too tight because they spun only ~1.5 revolutions when flicked with a finger. Yet upon closer inspection it would seem the bearings within the peddles are faulty. And I know enough from researching this purchase in recent weeks that faulty peddles tend to loosen, jam or strip threads. Minor though it seems, this is not a problem to be ignored.
Most recently, I noticed that while the bike remains virtually silent, as nearly all magnetic resistance bikes are, there is about a quarter inch of play during use. The result is that if I don't peddle in a perfectly smooth fashion, I feel a bit of disparity — a slight slip or slap — as if the flywheel and the peddle rotations momentarily fall out of synch. Because I have almost no prior experience with magnetic resistance stationary bicycles, I cannot say if this is normal or not. What I can safely conclude is that none of these concerns lend themselves to a positive "first impression" about Schwinn's quality control. (For those of you who don't know, Schwinn lives on in name only because the original manufacturer was bought out several years ago. Much of Schwinn's manufacturing takes place in China, whereas a number of competing upright bikes are apparently built in the United States.)
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this product. Previously, I purchased a Weslo U30 upright bike at Walmart that featured a surprisingly sophisticated consul with easy-to-operate buttons, a clean look and large digits that made reading it possible without leaning in to look (a refreshing contrast to the pedometer-sized consuls on exercise bikes in the price range). Better yet, it was less than $130 out the door, sales tax included (not to mention 10 resistance levels and four pre-programmed fitness programs). I returned the inexpensive magnetic bike for one reason: It had a bolted-on seat, sans springs, that was far, far more uncomfortable than the two upright bikes I owned in the past. The Schwinn retails for nearly 4x as much yet immediately out of the box is in need of major part replacements to correct the problems described above. Now I'm wondering if I should have just slapped a seat cover on the U30 and made do.
Another reason I opted for this model over the Weslo is because I own a Schwinn mountain bike and felt that the in-store demo unit represented a high level of quality. However, I visited another store recently and found that the Schwinn 126 Upright Bike on the sales floor made a clicking sound when peddled and the consul was misaligned due to a similarly skewed weld angle. I am uncertain if I've got the patience to wait while Schwinn/Nautilus ships out new parts, although to their credit customer service has offered to do so. For all I know though, the replacement parts will be faulty too, and by the time I receive them my in-store return period will have expired. The next best option is store exchange, but based on the reviews I am reading elsewhere online for the 130/131 it would appear I would be taking more chances than I ought to be for the price.
Bottom line? Don't spend the money without purchasing an in-home service contract. The peace of mind may be worth the price because Schwinn's warranty does not cover labor charges after the initial 90 day period. (Worse, if an authorized service center is not near you, you may be responsible for warranty-repair transportation costs.)
The Choice: Upright vs. Recumbent
Besides the challenge of locating a quality fitness product with favorable reviews and a reasonable price, stationary bicycle shoppers face another dilemma: upright bike vs. recumbent bike. Recumbent bikes are touted as a solution for back pain suffers, but do they really measure up to the hype? In my personal opinion, as someone with a long history of back pain who has used both styles, absolutely not.
If sitting on the living room floor with your back leaning against a sofa and your legs straight out ahead of you doesn't sound like a comfortable way to sit, chances are it may not be comfortable to exercise in a somewhat similar position. This may also be one reason why recumbent bikes do not have a reputation among fitness buffs for offering the same workout potential as a traditional upright stationary bike. If you are not comfortable, it is difficult to pick up the pace.
One of the tests doctors give back pain suffers is known simply as a "straight leg raise". Those with a diagnosis of Sciatic nerve pain know all too well that lifting and extending the leg at or near a 90-degree angle can send a fire- or electrical-like stabbing sensation racing down the leg or hip. Hence, recumbent bikes are easier on posteriors than notoriously uncomfortable upright bike saddles, but not necessarily easier on the back. The recumbent does have the clear advantage, however, where initial accessibility is concerned. Unlike many upright bikes, there's no need to hoist yourself up over a tall seat post.
Depending on the design of the recumbent bike and the user's body build, a recumbent bike may transfer a portion of one's lower body weight back on the hips and spine because the lower half of the body is operating against the natural pull of gravity. Keeping the feet/legs from slipping out of the peddles and toward the floor may become the work of the low back.
Recumbent bike users lean into a back rest. And "rest", in this case, is the key word. Anything that permits back muscles to go slack will do a poor job toning postural muscles. Why is this important? Because strong spinal muscles take weight off of discs, facet joints and nerves, thereby diminishing pain. A traditional upright bike offers some degree of postural strengthening — as long as you aren't leaning in too far for too long — whereas a recumbent bike does not.
Neck pain suffers, too, may also wish to take note. Depending on how far the back rest extends, it may have the effect of reclining the head and neck without the benefit of a headrest. A prolonged attempt to sit in a reclined position with the head level — to watch TV or read, for example — may place strain on neck muscles and cervical discs (the neck and jaw jut forward, a fatiguing position that can be noted in some of the photographs for recumbent bikes featuring exercise models).
While individual results will vary, these are a handful of factors to consider when choosing between a recumbent and upright exercise bike.
So how can you determine if the Schwinn 130/126 Upright Bike is right for you? Test an in-store demo, if available. Secondly, keep in mind the size of the bike relative to the intended user's height. Stationary bikes are typically geared toward average height ranges, roughly 5'4 for women and 5'10 for men. Those who are considerably shorter or taller ought to look for a similarly scaled bike. This is because short people sometimes require an additional hole drilled in the seat stem to make it possible to lower the saddle sufficiently to reach the peddles, whereas taller individuals sometimes report hitting their knees on the handle bar assembly. For these reasons, pay a visit to Schwinn's website, www.schwinnfitness.com. While you're at it, check out the user and assembly manuals, available for download here:
http://www.schwinnfitness.com/schwinn-fitness/customerservice/manuals.jsp?lid=Owners Manuals - Manuals
In conclusion, I would personally think twice before ordering a product of this price/size/type/weight online. Online shoppers may save money at tax-free sites such as Amazon, but they risk that package contents will arrive damaged. Cardboard is a relatively weak packaging material and often fails to make the journey entirely intact when loaded with heavy contents, particularly when exposed to the elements. Moreover, there's the hassle of an inconvenient, costly and time-consuming return should the product fail to satisfy expectations. This is one type of purchase that may be better made locally. Good luck!
NOVEMBER 10 UPDATE
I exchanged my first Schwinn Upright Bike due to the defects I described above: crooked mast/handle bar assembly, bad peddle bearings and a momentary slip/slap sensation while peddling. The replacement stationary bike would have been returned also but for the fact that the alarming clunking noise emitted from the right side peddle area upon initial use was quickly eliminated by removing the right peddle and reinstalling it. There was nothing in the feel of the peddle that suggested it wasn't on right. However, removing it and reinstalling it seemed to do the trick. Unlike the first bike, both peddles spin freely and always land in the upright position, the handle bars are dead center and the resistance is consistent.
On a curious note, the exchange brought to my attention an observation that could make a lot of difference on how this this model is perceived compared to its competitors. The Schwinn exercise bike I originally purchased had a very firm seat whereas the replacement saddle, despite an identical appearance, turned out to be considerably softer. Because there seems to be a lot of variability in the density of the seat padding, it wouldn't surprise me if some people find the saddle relatively comfortable while others complain that it is not.
Overall, I feel that Schwinn Fitness ought to step up product consistency/quality. There's far too much variability in these exercise bikes. For this reason, I can only recommend this bike to those who are purchasing it locally (for the ease of return or exchange).