For an engaging indoor cycling experience, you need the best exercise bikes.

The best exercise bikes have really come into their own in the past few years. Not only are fitness enthusiasts turning to them when it’s too cold, dark or wet outside; they’re also realising they are useful tools for getting in regular, measured training.

On a traditional bike you have less time or opportunity to assess your workout. On the road there’s traffic to contend with; off-road there’s changing, technical terrain to tackle. So you’re less able to monitor whether you’re riding in a certain heart rate zone, or at a particular power output or revs per minute etc.

It’s also difficult to get your interval sessions in when you’re stopping at traffic lights or riding on rolling off-road terrain.

Exercise bikes allow you to dictate your workout. They provide a platform for more measured efforts than cycling outdoors. But unlike previous iterations, they also offer an immersive experience, with the aid of virtual rides or exercise classes on demand. It may not beat the feeling of real riding but with features like incline and road surface replication, the best exercise bikes come pretty close.

These are the best exercise bikes we’ve tested

  1. Best for smart features – Wattbike Atom
  2. Best for realism – Garmin TACX Neo Bike Plus
  3. Best for dynamic workouts – Bowflex Velocore
  4. Best for tight budgets – Apex Smart Bike

Product of a Wattbike Atom exercise bike

Best exercise bike for smart features

Wattbike Atom

Smart features: 5/5
Stability: 5/5
Comfort: 4/5

There’s a reason the Wattbike Atom has become the number one exercise bike in public gyms and elite-level fitness spaces alike. It’s the perfect machine to make the most of the Hub’s wealth of workouts and training plans. Use the Hub’s pedal efficiency score to hone your technique or replicate some of the toughest climbs on the pro racing circuit.

The bike itself is super-sturdy and will last years of abuse, yet is precise enough to read your crank position 1,000 times a second to ensure exact shifting. You can go from using the 22 integrated gears in manual mode to ‘ergo’ mode, which automatically selects your gear to suit the gradient or power requirment – at the push of a button. OK, so you need to bring your own screen to the party, but the Wattbike has everything else you need to take your cycling to the next level.

A Garmin TACX Neo Bike Plus set up in a living room

Best exercise bike for realism

Garmin TACX Neo Bike Plus

Smart features: 5/5
Stability: 4.5/5
Comfort: 5/5

The days of exercise bikes being divorced from the real-world cycling experience are long gone. Garmin is changing the game with the TACX Neo Bike Plus, which has a built-in motor to replicate the ‘rumble’ of riding on different road surfaces, including cobbles and gravel, as well as resistance to mimic climbs of up to 25%.

Its programmable shifters can be made to behave like Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo ones, and although there’s a build-in data screen, you can pair any Bluetooth screen with the Garmin app, as well as Strava, Zwift and TrainerRoad, for an immersive real-time ride experience. Close your eyes and feel the wind from the adjustable-power fans on your face and you could easily be out on your favourite ride or a famous climb on the cobbled Spring Classics.

Front-on shot of a man riding a leaning Bowflex VeloCore exercise bike

Best exercise bike for dynamic workouts

Bowflex Velocore  

Smart features: 5/5
Stability: 4.5/5
Comfort: 5/5

No bike works your core quite like the Bowflex Velocore. That’s because at the press of a button it morphs from a stationary bike to a tilting one, adding a sense of realism and a whole new dimension to your cycling workout. It’s built-in screen comes in two sizes – this 22in version and a cheaper (£2,499) 16in one – both of which can be used with a variety of streaming apps.

You get a readout of all your usual metrics, as well as the amount of lean – which you can switch on and off mid-ride. You can also use the large red knob to select one of 100 resistance levels to make your workouts more challenging. A one-year subscription is included to the JRNY adaptive fitness platform, which includes a personalised coaching system and daily custom workouts.

Apex Smart Bike

Best exercise bike for tight budgets

Apex Smart Bike

Design: 5/5
Features: 3/5
Home-gym friendly: 4/5

With most bikes on test costing two grand and over, it’s refreshing to find an well designed exercise bike that comes in under the $1,000 / £1,000 mark. The Apex may be cheap, but it’s by no means light on features, with Bluetooth, WiFI and USB connectivity. Though there’s no built-in screen, you can tap into the fully featured Apex app through your iOS device.

Apex membership gives you access to a plethora of engaging instructor-led workouts, as well as playlists galore. All your riding stats are accessible throughout, including an approximate power output (calculated using current resistance and your RPM). It looks more stylish than most, so won’t look out of place in your living room. It’s also available in three colours, as well as the usual black.

What to look for in the best exercise bikes

Resistance: Ideally you want as wide a resistance or gearing range as possible. Systems can vary immensely, from a simple adjustable flywheel to replicating complete drivetrains from specific manufacturers such as SRAM, Campagnolo and Shimano. Some systems are advanced rollers, on which you can mount your own bike, making the transition between indoor and outdoor riding as seamless as possible.

Adjustability: All indoor cycles will have some form of saddle and bar adjustability. Ideally you want both horizontal and vertical adjustment so you can dial in your perfect fit. Most also have quick-release adjustments and measurement scales, allowing you to quickly swap set-ups between riders.

Connectivity: Are you looking to connect a heart rate monitor or Bluetooth headphones or to stream content to a larger screen? Be sure to check out ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity.

Comfort: Contact points are particularly important for promoting comfort – particularly over longer sessions. Saddles are a particularly subjective piece of kit. Only real-world testing will tell you if the saddle and bar set-up will be comfortable for you. So if you can try before you buy, so much the better. Most models also have swappable pedals so you can ride with trainers in toe straps or use your own SPD-specific pedals.

Interactivity: Whereas air bikes tend to just have simple screens with visual feedback showing speed, rpm, calories or heartrate, any indoor bike worth its salt will have some form of interactivity. Whether its via a built-in monitor or your own phone or tablet, you should be able to stream interactive content or access on-demand classes to supplement your workout. Though you may well have to pay a monthly subscription for these services.

Compact footprint: The actual bodies of most exercise bikes are quite compact, but watch out for the stands, which will increase the footprint significantly. Handlebar extensions and screen housings or holders can also create a significant overhang at the front, which will increase the space needed to store the bike.