TV-Cycle please!
September 6, 2009 8:27 AM   Subscribe

I want to exercise while watching TV. Help me pick out an exercise bike.

I've been dieting full-time and exercising sporadically for the past six months.

Fall is almost here and I'm in NY so it will turn cold before two months is up. I want to start looking for an exercise bike so I can set it up and exercise while watching my lovely-cannot-be-given-up television programs. I know, pathetic. For exercise before, I was walking... lots. But cannot imagine going out for walks during the winter - EVER.

I don't know anything about exercise bikes. Do you have one? Love it? Hate it? Tell me about it. I'd like to keep it under $500.

Also, I've heard there's a way to finagle a regular outdoor bike into a stationary bike by some sort of contraption. Anyone have experience with one of these?

posted by mittenbex to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Sorry bad link above.

Here is the correct link.
posted by dfriedman at 8:36 AM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

my mom scored a solid exercise bike for $30 on Craigslist. the one she got was a bit older (i.e. none of the technological/fancy stuff that might come with a new bike) but it works just fine. i'm sure you can get a newer one on Craigslist too, and keep it under $150 or so, if you're willing to go the used route.
posted by gursky at 8:36 AM on September 6, 2009

If you liked walking, I would consider looking for an used home treadmill. The nature of exercise equipment is such that it is very often sold off after having seen minimal use. Treadmills are also preferable in my mind because it's much easier to get a real workout from one, even walking. There's an extent, with a stationary bike, to which you really have to concentrate on pushing yourself to get much value out of it. It's really easy (especially while watching TV or reading) to get a really marginal workout from one.

Any of the local "2nd wind exercise equipment" type places should have one or two in stock.
posted by kavasa at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2009

I've used both a resistance-based bicycle trainer and a set of TruTrainer rollers to ride my regular bicycle indoors. Both are pretty good.

A resistance-based trainer doesn't require you to balance, since the trainer holds the bike upright. That makes it easier to concentrate on the TV or whatever, but it can make riding more boring. Well-known manufacturers include CycleOps and Minoura, but there are others.

Trainers get their resistance from magnets, a fan running in air, or a fan enclosed in a viscous liquid. The magnets are adjustable; the air or liquid resistance gets stiffer the faster the wheel turns, so you adjust resistance by shifting the bike. If you live in an apartment building, you should consider the liquid or magnetic resistance because it's quieter than air.

You can get a high quality fluid trainer for around $300. REI sells a CycleOps trainer for $329, for example.

Rollers simulate the experience of riding; they do not hold the bike in place, so you have to balance and steer. That makes it more exciting (or at least less boring) than a trainer, but it's a bit harder to concentrate on the TV. Everyone who uses rollers falls off from time to time, unless they position the rollers in a door frame, to have supports on both sides, so it's important to have a soft surface next to the rollers. Since you're not moving forward, though, the falls are gentle.

Basic rollers don't provide much resistance. They're useful for balance and for learning how to pedal at a good cadence (the rpm of your pedaling). You can get resistance units that attach to rollers. TruTrainer rollers, however, are designed with an internal flywheel that provides resistance, which is why I use them. Another good brand is Kreitler, which produces quality rollers and resistance accessories (including a fan that you can use to cool yourself as you ride).

TruTrainers are beyond your price point, but you can get cheaper rollers (the Kreitlers by themselves are under $500 but if you add a fan and a flywheel, they approach the TruTrainer price).

If you use a trainer, you'll need to prop up your front tire to keep the bike level. You can buy a prop for that purpose, or you can use a phone book, some scrap lumber, or whatever you have on hand.

The combination of bike plus trainer and rollers will take up more space than a dedicated exercise bike when you're using them. But trainers fold out of the way, and many roller sets fold too. So when you're not using them, they take up a lot less space than a dedicated exercise bike.

Personally, I'd take my rollers over a dedicated exercise bike any day. But with rollers or a trainer, you do have to come up with your own workout plan, unless you spend a mint for a computer-based system. As Kavasa says, it's easy to plod along at a low speed. If you get rollers or a trainer, I'd also suggest a heart rate monitor so you can keep your pulse in your aerobic zone.

Finally, wear and noise: Trainers and most rollers tend to wear out tires more quickly than riding on the road. And if your tire has raised tread, it will make a lot of noise. If you get a trainer or rollers, also get a cheap, slick tire to put on your rear wheel. Your ears will thank you. For that matter, you should test anything you get to see how noisy it is. The Schwinn exercise bikes that I used in college made a huge racket, since they used a giant fan to generate resistance.
posted by brianogilvie at 9:18 AM on September 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

We really like our Stamina Intone Folding Recumbent Bike that we got from It cost less than $200, but it more than meets our rather minimal needs. The gear system on ours "thunks" for the first few minutes of use, but then it works itself out and is surprisingly quiet--a plus if you're wanting to watch TV while using it. I find the recumbent position is easier on the posterior than the traditional bicycling position.
posted by cowpattybingo at 9:19 AM on September 6, 2009

P.S. Another possibility is a good rowing machine. Concept2 machines are the gold standard, and while a new one is $900, you can often find used ones. Rowing is a low-impact, full-body exercise. And then there's cross-country skiing: NordicTrack machines are good, and it's very easy to find used ones. As a plus, they develop the muscles you'll need if you decide to take advantage of the NY winters and go cross-country skiing outdoors. (I'm guessing that you're upstate since you gave your location as NY, not NYC.)

As with any exercise equipment, don't go for the cheapest stuff; you're likely to get frustrated with it and stop using it.
posted by brianogilvie at 9:25 AM on September 6, 2009

Also, I've heard there's a way to finagle a regular outdoor bike into a stationary bike by some sort of contraption. Anyone have experience with one of these?

I've used three different exercise bikes in the past, and all three fairly quickly wore out or fell apart with regular use. Then I got a cheap, used trainer and stuck an old road bike on it, and it has been 100% reliable for years and years. From this, I conclude the latter is the way to go if you actually plan to use the thing.

I theorize this is because low-cost exercise bikes are primarily made to minimize the cost in order to generate sales. They expect that people will buy these and then they will mostly collect dust, so actual durability doesn't matter as much as having a low price. Whereas people who use the bike on a trainer approach probably tend to be more serious cyclists who actually are going to use the thing a lot, so if it falls apart, the brand gets a bad name and sales dry up.

I'm sure gym-quality exercise bikes would hold up to actual use a lot better, but they seem to be pretty expensive as a result.

And don't feel bad about the TV thing... as someone who has to put a lot of mental effort into starting a workout, I get it. It's about figuring out what excuses you use to avoid exercising and then doing something to defeat them. Setting it up so you can work out in front of the TV is a great solution. I bought a cheap flat-screen TV to set up in my workout room for this exact reason, and it works as intended.
posted by FishBike at 9:45 AM on September 6, 2009

Definitely make sure that whatever you get, it's not too noisy - I imagined that I'd enjoy watching TV while riding my exercise bike, but it was too loud and I ended up not using it at all. Also, think about the position of your neck while you ride, and include some kind of TV stand/riser in your plan so that you're good to your back.
posted by Bergamot at 11:43 AM on September 6, 2009

Think hard about whether you want a recumbent or sit-up bike. Personal opinion: you don't get as good a workout on a recumbent, but it's much easier to watch TV or read a book, so I like them better.

Old exercise bikes are widely available for sale. I've never bought one, but I took apart a free "broken" elliptical, oiled every part, replaced a few missing screws, and now use it regularly. If you don't care about getting an ugly bike that doesn't have electronic controls, you could easily get one for under $100.

Don't get a bike that uses air resistance if you're watching TV, they make some noise. Magnetic resistance is silent, and brake-style resistance pads are fairly quiet.
posted by miyabo at 2:08 PM on September 6, 2009

I bought a Kinetic fluid trainer a few years ago and love it. They were at the time ( maybe now too) rated one of the best makers of trainers. Just put the back wheel of your outdoor bike on it and your away to the races. Oh yeah, prop up your front wheel the same height as the back wheel after its in the trainer ( about 2 inches or so). They sell little plastic risers made for that, but you can probably use a small piece of 2x4 to do the same thing. My Kinetic fluid is fairly quiet ( more so than the magnetic ones) and doesn't vibrate at all. Those are two important qualities I'd look for when buying. You'll need it to be quiet if your watching TV and the low vibration is helpful too. There are also videos available to simulate riding outdoors on the roads. They are kind of neat. Try your library maybe. Changing the gears on your bike intensifies the degree of exertion you need to supply on the peddles to drive the trainer I have. The only thing missing are the hills and wind. Oh and the bugs in your teeth as well. In the past, I have had two stationary bikes and both broke down after use. I found the stationary bikes to be too noisy and the tension didn't stay the same after using it for over 15 minutes or so. Too much heat buildup.

Tips. Put a fan in front of you while training indoors. Make sure you have the TV remote, water bottle, and a rag for the sweat handy before starting.
posted by Taurid at 11:50 PM on September 6, 2009

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