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Picture this, you're laying back on a comfortable bike seat in your own home, watching your favorite TV show, pedaling your worries away and burning calories at the same time.
All while without stressing your back, knees, and joints.
Can you see it?
That's the actual workout experience a recumbent bike is supposed to deliver to its user.
And, It's not that far off from being a reality.
Actually, it's a reality for a lot of recumbent bike users.
And while some recumbents are great at what they do, others, not so much.
That is why, in this post, I will show you all the small and big things you should look for if you want to buy the best recumbent bike for yourself.
What Is A Recumbent Bike?
Simply put, they are specially ergonomically designed type of an exercise bike.
But, we're not here to simply put things, so let's dive deeper.
The first thing you'll notice looking at one is the shape of it.
Recumbent bikes differ from upright bikes, and from the oh so popular spin bikes.
on a recumbent, the seating position is closer to the ground, and the frame is longer than of any other bike.
The pedals are in front of your legs and not under, and there's backrest for the seat.
So that basically, the seating position on a recumbent bike is horizontal, not vertical like in other bikes.
Their ergonomic design is meant to distribute your weight evenly across their lengthy body frame.
As a result, the reclined seating position along with a larger seat that has a backrest provide a greater support for your body, and especially to your back while you exercise.
This will allow you to exercise longer than you would on an upright bike, thus, you will burn more calories and enjoy the benefits of cycling a little longer in every workout.
Recumbent Bike vs. Upright Bike - What's The Difference?
Well, It doesn't take much time to see the difference between the two.
The design of the recumbent bikes is what distinguishing them from other exercise bikes.
And that is also why some users prefer the recumbent's over different indoor cycling bikes.
But more on that later.
So, because of their design, the user's body is well placed, or "planted" if you like, into the seat.
Plus, unlike with an upright bikes, exercising on a recumbent bike doesn't put direct pressure on your legs, knees and joints, simply because the pedals are in front of you.
These two major differences result in a low impact workout that reduces fatigue, pressure, and muscles soreness.
But there's another field in which recumbent bikes are different from upright bikes.
They're packed with lot's of cool features you don't usually see in any other indoor exercise bike.
All to make your workout a bit more enjoyable and to make you come back for more every day.
What Is A Recumbent Bike Good For
First of all, besides the obvious reasons to why you should cycle regularly, I want to focus on how a recumbent bike can help you if you suffer from joint pain, week knees, soaring muscles, mobility problems, and above all, back pain.
All these issues can prevent you from participating in any cycling activities, indoors or outdoors.
So let's do a quick rundown of 3 ways a recumbent bike can help you overcome this issues.
- The workout is easier on the back, lower back specifically.
That's because of the way you seat in the bike, and due to the fact you sit in a large and comfortable seat that have a backrest that supports your lower back.
- The exercise is easier on the joints.
Because the pedals are located in front of your legs and not underneath them, there is no direct pressure on your legs, knees and joints. Primarily it allows you to pedal with little to no pressure at all on your knees.
- It's easier to get on and off them.
Since there's enough space between the seat and the console, you won't have any problems getting on and off a recumbent bike. This is great for users who have mobility problems.
Hence, a recumbent bike will benefit you the most if you suffer from any of the problems I mentioned above.
Recumbent Bike Workout
All of the above sure is great news for you if you have back, joints, or muscles issues.
But what if you're strong as a bull?
Well, as great as recumbent bikes are, they offer a low impact workout.
Not that it's bad per se, but for people who have the muscle to back their workouts, I would suggest going after a spin bike or an upright bike.
It's true that while a recumbent bike reduces the risk of you injuring yourself, it does not work on your body's core or upper body.
That's In contrast to a spin bike or an upright bike that offer a small impact workout on your upper body, core, and even arms.
However, the recumbent is capable in providing you all the benefits cycling has to offer.
It can help you lose weight, improve your cardio, increase blood flow, oxygen and nutrients to your brain, and all the other great benefits cycling holds within.
You see, after you've come to the conclusion that you need a bike, it doesn't really matter (unless you have a specific problem like the ones from the list above) what bike you choose, but if you're actually going to use it.
One last thing though, a recumbent is somewhat safer than an upright or a spin bike.
Simply because you don't need, and you can't actually stand on it's pedals.
Recumbent Bike Pros And Cons
So let's sum up everything we've learned so far about recumbent bikes in a very clear way.
- Recumbent Bikes Are Safer Than Other Indoor Cycling Bikes.
- They're Comfortable.
- They Don't Stress Your Back.
- There's Little To No Pressure On Your Legs, Knees And Joints.
- They Can Be Used By Almost Anyone Regardless Of They're Fitness Level.
- They're Packed With Features You Don't Normally See In Other Indoor Bikes.
- They Don't Provide High Intense Workout As Other Indoor Bikes.
- They Don't Simulate A Real Road Bike Cycling Experience. (Meaning You Can't Emulate Sprinting Or "Climbing Hills")
- You Can't Pedal Standing Up.
- They Take Up More Room Than An Upright Bike.
- Generally They're A Bit More Expensive Than Other Types Of Indoor Bikes.
- They're Bulky And Heavier Than Other Bikes.
Bottom line, the answer to the question "Should I get an upright or a recumbent bike?" is the same as with any other home fitness equipment.
It all depends on you, your budget, your needs, your goals, your dedication, and the free space you have in your home.
No one else can answer these questions for you.
How To Choose The Best Recumbent Bike For Yourself
So far we've learned what is a recumbent bike, how it is different from other bikes, what type of exercise it offers, the upsides and downsides of it, who would benefit from one and how it can help us improve our health.
And now you'll learn what you should look for and at, when you want to buy the best recumbent bike for yourself.
But before we dive in, take a moment and roughly try to think or estimate, how many times a week you'll actually use the bike.
It's important for one main reason.
The number of times you'll actually use the bike will help you narrow your choice of models, and will also help you focus your budget on a recumbent bike that is best for you.
This is the first thing you should do, before you move on to the "Figure The 2 Factors That Depend On You System"
"Figure The 2 Factors That Depend On You System"
Alright, so I admit the name is not that cool or appealing, but It is a straight forward name.
And I chose that name simply because these factors are a direct result of your needs, your affordability, and the available space you have in your place.
These factors have nothing to do per se with the recumbent bikes and you can't look these things up in the product description page.
They will help you eliminate all the models that are not relevant to you, thus saving you a lot of time in your research.
For example, once you've set your budget to 500$, and you know the footprint available in your place is 5.5 ft X 1.2 ft, it will be easier for you to start the process of finding the best recumbent bike for yourself.
As elementary that it may sound, a lot of people find it hard to stick to these really simple factors because the temptation is so big and we all just have to own the best possible things.
Well here's a news flash, you don't have to own the best model, you just need the best one that is suitable for you.
So without any further delays, let's start.
The first thing you should set is your:
There are literately dozens, if not hundreds of recumbent bike models out there for you to choose from.
Can you tell why it is a blessing and a curse at the same time?
It's a blessing because the variety is so big that you know you'll find the right bike that is the best for you, if(!) you'll do a proper research.
But in the same time, you may get lost while trying to decide which one should you get.
This is the point when you'll get confused from all of the features, sizes, materials and all the other gadgets and perks manufactures love to brag about in the description page of the product.
Setting a budget, or a budget range and actually sticking to it can help you filter out at least 60 to 70 % of all the models that are not relevant to you.
And I'm being very cautious with the numbers, because they're usually even higher.
Now you won't drive yourself crazy thinking about "Should I get this one, or that one?", "But this one has this feature", "And this one has such a nice color".... And on on.
Your budget should be based on your means, the number of times you would use the bike, and your fitness goal in mind.
Now that the first part is behind us, we can get to the technical stuff, which I personally love.
The second factor in the very short list of the "factors that depend on you" says that you should measure the space available in your place.
Be it your living room, garage, bedroom, basement or where ever.
Recumbent bikes take up quite of room.
But while they are longer than upright bikes, luckily they don't take up much room width wise.
Since recumbent bikes come in a lot of sizes it won't be hard to find one that will fit your place.
However, it will be hard to find the perfect one that fits your whole checklist.
Sometimes, the one that is good for you size wise, doesn't have the features you want and vise versa.
I strongly suggest you prioritize the size of the bike over features.
And that's not only because the bike should fit in your place, but it should also fit you and your size.
So by now you've set your budget, you know the available space you have in your place, it's time to get technical and analyze what makes the best recumbent bike.
What To Look For In a Recumbent Bike
So the flywheel is one of the most important factors when choosing a recumbent bike, or any other indoor bike for that matter.
The flywheel is located in the front of the bike, and It is connected to the pedals with a chain or a belt drive and Its purpose is quite simple, to spin and build momentum.
Flywheels vary in size and weight.
Usually the heavier the flywheel the harder it will be for you to spin it, and because of this a lot of people think the heavier, the better, and that's it.
But there are couple of more factors that make a good flywheel besides it weight.
The first is the way that it is connected to the pedals, and second is the resistance system.
A chain drive will simulate somewhat a real bike ride feeling, while a belt drive will be more subtle and smooth.
And although initially it will be harder for you to spin a heavier flywheel, it is the resistance system that dictates the difficulty of the ride.
But as a general rule I would say that the ideal weight of a flywheel is between 30 to 40 lb.
This range is more than enough to provide a good hard workout to almost anyone.
Also, don't forget that the flywheel adds to the total weight of the bike, so keep that in mind.
When it comes to recumbent bikes, the majority of them use either a pad friction resistance system, or a magnetic based one.
A pad friction system, as the name suggests, means that there is a pad being pressured down on the flywheel of the bike in order to increase the friction and to apply more or less resistance as you increase or decrees it.
It provides a more accurate resistance system, and bikes that use this system usually cost less than magnetic based bikes.
At this point, I'd like to point out the one major downside of the pad friction system.
Wear and tear.
Over time the friction the pad apply's will decrees, making your exercise a lot easier, and it's not because you got better.
And in worse cases, you might even have to replace the entire flywheel.
However, if you'll take good care of your flywheel by using a dedicated lubricant you can keep your bike in good shape.
The resistance level is your way to adjust the difficulty of your workout.
More levels doesn't necessarily means it will be harder to pedal.
Level 8 on one bike can be equal to level 16 on another bike.
And don't forget there's the factor of the flywheels weight, and the type of the resistance system.
As far as resistance levels goes, what you should look for is a bike that will enable you to progress over time.
What I mean is that you should look for a bike that has a decent amount of resistance levels, and that its at the same time its extremely hard to impossible for you to pedal on higher levels.
This is to make sure you have room for improvement on the bike and that you won't have to buy a new one cause the highest level on your current bike has become easy for you.
Another thing you should check is how easy and fast it is for you to change the resistance level.
In order to max your workout and stay in tune in case your doing a preset workout program, or an online cycling class, you'll want the resistance system to respond instantly as you adjust it.
Some bikes just use a good old knob to let you adjust the resistance, and some use an electronic system.
Both are good, but it something you'll have to check with each bike you test drive.
The seat is one of the few reasons you might get a recumbent bike in the first place.
Other wise you can just go with an upright bike, or a spin bike.
But in our case the seat plays a major role.
The first thing you should look for in a seat is that it is adjustable and easy to fit to your size and distance from the paddle.
Your leg at the end of the pedal range should be bent between 10 and 15° and your knee should be at approximately 90°.
If you're able to reach this level of degrees with your legs, then the seat is in its right place.
The next most important thing is to check if the seat is comfortable and provides proper support to your back WHILE YOU PEDAL.
This one is self explanatory and the only way to check it is by actually going to a local store/retailer and plant your tush in as many as possible seats.
This way you'll get a general idea of how the seats feel and it will become a lot easier for you to find the perfect seat for yourself.
This one is pretty straight forward.
Most bikes come with toe straps, but you should look for a bike that has adjustable toe straps.
An adjustable toe strap can further help you adjust the strap to your feet size so you'll feel more comfortable while you workout.
And it can also provide a safer workout.
But most importantly you can workout harder because your feet is more engaged with the pedals.
Preset And Custom Defined Workout Programs
The ability to choose from various preset program can save you time with figuring out how you should workout.
Most manufactures set their program to fit various fitness goals.
This helps spice things up, workouts wise.
But you should also have the option to set your own program and save it in the consoles memory.
Some bikes even have the option to set up two users profiles, so that each one can have his own custom made program in addition the preset ones.
These preset program sure make the whole workout process to an easier one.
But these days you can do a YouTube search for preset bike programs and enjoy one even if your bike doesn't come with one.
Heart Rate Monitor
A heart rate monitor simply monitors your hear rate while you exercise.
On recumbent bikes you'll usually find in the shape of an oval metallic sensor located in both of the lower handlebars.
All you have to do is to hold on to those sensors so they can amplify the small electric signal that is being transferred from your hands and turn them into numbers you can read on the consoles screen.
Its important the bike you'll get will have one for a couple of reasons.
The first is that your body will mostly burn fat while your heart is in it's "fat burn zone".
The second reason is, you don't want to over exercise yourself. Trust me.
You'll have to know at what rate your heart beats in order to keep your workout as safe as possible.
The problem with most bikes heart rate monitors is that most of them are not very accurate.
But you must know that the bpm reading you'll get is an estimate of your true heart rate.
Personally I always add an extra 10% over the heart rate any heart rate monitor is showing me. Be it of a bike or a treadmill.
So if it reads that I'm at 130 bpm, I estimate it to be 143 bpm and adjust my workout accordingly.
Of course you can always look for a professional heart rate monitor that you know is accurate.
The console is one of my favorite parts in a recumbent bike.
Unlike in other types of indoor bikes that usually have a dull looking console, the console on a recumbent is something to admire.
Well not in all of them, but a lot do have a cool console that is meant to make your workout a little less boring.
Cause lets face it, a recumbent bike can be quite boring.
With the console you're able to control the functions of the bike.
High end consoles will allow you to control the resistance and incline levels, along with the preset programs the bike offers, the cooling fan, the sound system, and pretty much every operational function of the bike.
Getting a bike with an easy to read and operate console is something that I would put an emphasis on.
Some bikes will feature a high end LCD screen with tons of functions and info, while others will have the most simple LCD digit display.
So the choice is really up to you and your budget.
But if you find a bike that fits your personal "2 factors that depend on you system", just go with it.
Don't overthink things, or you might find yourself fuzzy and overwhelmed with all the models out there.
Most recumbent's have handlebars near the console and another lower pair right around your waist belt.
If the bike has a pulse monitor it is usually located in the lower handlebars.
You should look for handlebars that can be angle adjusted.
It's not a must thing to have, it just helps if there are several people who're using the same bike.
Another think to look at is the padding, if there is one on the handlebars.
It's not that fun to hold on to handlebars that don't have padding on them.
Especially for long period of time.
Not all recumbent's have a cooling fan, especially not the cheap ones.
But to be honest, a cooling fan can be a cool gimmick on some bikes, and an actual vital feature on others.
Do not expect to get a cool breeze in your hair while you sweat your life on the bike.
In a lot of cases the fan is only noticeable on it's highest level.
However a cooling fan can help prevent overheating, and it can make your workout a little bit more bearable.
Which make it a great feature for elderly users who want to improve their fitness level.
What if you can't place your bike in front of the TV?
Is it not enough that it is boring to workout on a recumbent, that you have to pedal while you listen to your own thoughts?
What about some good TV quality time? (Jerry Springer anyone?)
Just kidding, obviously we all have our own preferences when it comes to our workout routine and time.
But can you do if you want to read or watch something while you workout?
Well especially for that reason we're starting to see more and more bikes that have a magazine rack.
Only that now, it's not only a magazine rack, but also a media rack that enables you to place your tablet or phone in front of you so that you can watch whatever it is you want to watch.
It sure is a workout saver if you can't workout without watching your favorite show.
Plus keeping your workout entertaining is a great way to make sure you'll come back for more.
Unfortunately the chances of you finding a such a magazine/media rack on a cheap bike is very low.
If you're more into listening to music while you workout you'll definitely want to get a bike that has either a sound system, or a simple aux input.
Having a sound system on a bike may sound a grandiose option, and it is.
You won't see it on any cheap bike, and the quality of the sound varies in different models.
And in any way do not expect to get a true "sound system" listening quality.
Most of the speakers on bikes produce a flat sound.
Although some do offer more than decent sound quality, but that's in the more expensive range of recumbent's.
That's why I say you should also look for a bike that has an aux input and earphone output.
It will allow you to hook up your phone or mp3 player, and with a good headphones you can enjoy a great sound quality.
Finding the best recumbent bike for yourself doesn't have to be difficult.
In fact now that you know what is a recumbent bike and how its different from other bikes, you can make a more educate decision.
In this article I've showed you all the important factors you'll have to look for in a recumbent bike.
However there are a few more things you should consider before buying one.
Things like warranty period, shipping costs, assembly costs, return rates, and any other "small print letters" that might turn the deal into not worthy one.
Stick to your budget, pick a bike that has features you'll actually need and going to use, and of course make sure the bike fits size wise to your place.