There is a theory among the more long-sighted and pragmatic personal trainers that although stationary upright bikes offer a more intense cardiovascular and muscular workout at any speed, they’re more likely to be found reincarnated as dusty clothes horses than their comfier, recumbent cousins.
These trainers might well have a point. Most of us like the results of hard, painful-at-the-time exercise. We like the trimmer waist and the toned thighs. We like the sensation of freewheeling down an imaginary hill at frightening speeds without any danger of crashing into a hedge at the bottom. What we don’t love quite so much is the stress of putting ourselves through a thigh and tailbone-murdering stress fest three or four times a week over long time periods. To those of us who don’t live for the endorphin high, this lacks appeal. Recumbent bikes can also be very hard work (particularly when you ramp up the resistance level) but there is this faint underlying notion that any exercise that involves putting your feet up isn’t as grueling.
On a more critical note, recumbent bikes are gentler on our joints and a better cardiovascular health solution for those with lower back problems. The experience of improving our fitness just feels smoother and our weight better supported.
There are a lot of recumbent bikes out there. They range from the very basic (adjustable seat, pedals, odometer) to the very elaborate. Some of the premium bikes are fitted out with kinetic fans, Bluetooth screens to which you can transmit your favorite Netflix shows, connectivity with fitness apps, and throne-like seats hemmed in with elliptical arms for those who also want to exercise the upper body to the same extent. These more complex machines tend to be available exclusively through upscale sports vendors, however.
To give you a clearer idea of what’s on offer for the average and enthusiastic recumbent cyclists, we’ve listed our five Amazon-based favorites, of which there are over 300. We’ve looked at popularity among customers, ease of set-up, price, and a range of features from the extremely basic (for those of you who have your own programs for measuring and recording your calorific expenditure), to the digitally complex. Following this list is a brief buyer’s guide to help you form a pros and cons list for each bike that grabs your interest, should you wish to look more widely.
In a rush to get going? Here’s our top pick.
Our Top 5 Favorite Recumbent Bikes in 2021
OUR TOP PICK
MaxKare keep it simple with this recumbent bike which has all the features you need for a sub-$200 spend. You can step through 8 levels of magnetic resistance with the flywheel, which sends data up to a neat and clear LCD screen, which reports your progress back to you. The handles alongside the seat will generate calorie expenditure data using your pulse rate.
The seat is larger than average at 14” wide and 10” deep. It’s plush and upholstered in quick-dry fabric, which is good news at the end of a more hectic session. The comfort of this seat for the price, and the quietness, are the stand-out feature on this nicely functional bike. It’s convenient to have a holder for your tablet, if you want to catch up with your box sets while pedaling, and because it can take up to 300lb capacity, your stamina for the longer rides may surprise you.
Despite the broad seat, it’s a slender unit with a comparatively modest footprint (46” long by 19.3” wide). If your living premises have limited floor space, perhaps this is a good first option to look at.
- Light and easy to move around home once assembled
- Good customer service
- Good value for money
- Mostly very good assembly instructions…
- …But the instructions for mounting the tension cable aren’t quite so clear
- Taller guys (6’1”+) have struggled with leg room, even with the seat all the way back
- 【8-LEVEL MAGNETIC RESISTANCE】The magnetic resistance can give you a smooth and whisper quiet riding experience, no worry to bother family members. 8-level magnetic resistance system customizes...
- 【PADDED SEAT with ADJUSTABLE LEVER】Ergonomically designed seat and backrest furnished with comfortable high-density sponge. With the seat adjustable lever, it is easy and convenient for you to...
- 【ERGONOMIC HANDLES with PULSE】The handles of the bike are padded with vinyl foam to provide a solid grip for a comfortable workout. And it could trace your heart rate.
There are several things to love about the Vanswe. It boasts some higher-end features at a mid-market price.
We get the feeling that this bike has been designed by people who actually do spend a lot of time on a recumbent bike. The seat is decently cushioned, and the back support angled helpfully. The front-facing display is arranged so that you can put your tablet or phone above your monitor display rather than right in front of it, which obscures your progress somewhat.
While this bike’s computing system isn’t loaded with programs as you’ll see with the Fitness Reality X, it does come with smart programming and Bluetooth linking to a free tablet/phone app.
In terms of its performance as fitness machinery, it’s probably fair to say that this bike will raise your stamina, tone your legs and improve your cardio performance, but it’s unlikely to turn you into an Iron Man competitor. The system boasts 16 levels of magnetic resistance, but even the very happy customers (and they are in the majority) have gently observed that it’s quite difficult to distinguish between those resistance levels until you reach stage 8. So, perhaps this is not the machine for the serious athlete. However, as a comfortable means of keeping you fit at a lower-middle market price point, it has a lot going for it.
It’s very robust for its size, incidentally. The bike itself only weighs in at 53lb with a compact 45” long by 20” wide footprint. However, it can take up to 380lb weight, which puts it ahead of most of the competition in terms of capacity strength.
- Wire-free LCD screen is a bonus
- Exceptionally strong and sturdy
- Nice Bluetooth feature and helpful app
- Reliable performance
- Comfortable for extended use
- Not one of the more challenging bikes in terms of resistance level
- Non-backlit LCD monitor is hard to see in dim light
- 💪【FULLY ADJUSTABLE】This recumbent exercise bike features a fully adjustable seat that can fit a wide range of individual users. Keep your legs at a comfortable length for the best results
- 💪【PRESET TENSION OPTION】16-levels Magnetic Tension Control System of this recumbent bike allows you to customize your ride and challenge yourself over time. This offers a smooth pedal feeling...
- 💪【DIGITAL TRACKING PANEL】The Adjustable Reclined Resistance Exercise Stationary Bicycle is equipped with an LED computer screen that tracks your heart rate, speed, distance, time, and calories...
This wee bike is our budget option of the selection. We’ll admit upfront that this is not a technical piece of equipment. There is indeed a small LCD screen showing your calorie expenditure, distance, speed and overall distance progress, but it is not connected to handle-based pulse monitors. The calorie expenditure is very much calculated from revolution-per-minute averages. If you prefer to put yourself in the hands of a more accurate machine which can specify the extent to which you’ve expended energy, then this isn’t the bike for you. However, if your only desire is to spend little money to exercise frequently and comfortably, perhaps while watching TV, then perhaps this is a stellar option.
It provides a magnetic resistance system with 8 distinguishable layers of difficulty and, from all accounts, it seems impressively quiet. With so few complications, it has a potentially long service life. Nonetheless, it comes with a 2-year limited warranty.
It’s reliable, robust, and easy to put together. The bike can extend up to 55” long for taller riders (inseam lengths from 27” to 36”), is 25” wide, and can take up to 300lb capacity.
- Great value for money
- Very sturdy build
- Good leg extension for taller people
- Clear LCD display
- Seat range is good but it’s awkward to adjust for two people of very different sizes
- The seat is a little thin and uncomfortable for some after 45 minutes or so
- This item benefits from an Extended 90 Day Return Window
- STEP-THROUGH DESIGN – Featuring heavy-duty construction 14-gauge steel tubing with a powder coated finish, the step-through design allows maximum mobility during training for quick mounting and...
- EIGHT RESISTANCE LEVELS – This stationary bike uses a magnetic resistance mechanism with 8 levels of resistance. The tension knobs control the difficulty to simulate riding on different terrains and...
If you’re looking at the title of this one and thinking, “this is the expensive item,” then you’re right. The Fitness Reality X is certainly one of the better equipped home exercise bikes for someone who likes digital updates of their fitness progress.
This is the most expensive option in this list by a clear $200+ margin, but it will quickly settle as part of your home and not just part of your exercise routine.
The large monitoring display is clearly backlit and features 24 pre-set programs, which is fabulous if you just want to set and pedal while mulling things over or catching up with Netflix with your tablet resting in the dedicated holder. You can, of course, set up an escalating challenge program for yourself, which will become all the more rewarding as you upload your progress from bike to cloud with the free app (myCloudFitness – android and IOS compatible).
It’s one of the most comfortable recumbent bikes, as you would hope for the level of investment you’re putting into it. That said, clear and devoted time has been put into creating a comfortable ride. The 3” deep airsoft seat cushion will extend your stamina, and it certainly helps that the robust back support is mesh for that all-important ventilation. Even better, the fabric does not hold onto unpleasant levels of heat, so you don’t get that unseemly slurping sensation of peeling yourself away from damp leather when you finally settle your feet back on the floor.
The footprint of this bike is 60.50” long by 34.50” wide. This makes it the least compact bike of this selection. It will hold a cyclist up to 325lb and between 5’0” and 6’3”.
- Exceptionally comfortable
- Numerous features for long-term fitness monitoring
- It can evaluate your heart rate
- More accurate monitoring than many other competitors
- More than averagely robust
- Easy to assemble
- Easy to adjust for two riders of very different size
- Favorable warranty terms (5 years on the frame, 1 on the parts)
- The cost
- A bottle holder would be a nice ‘standard’ feature for the price given some of the program lengths
- [Bluetooth Smart technology]: Bluetooth Smart Cloud Fitness with free my cloud fitness app available on Android and iOS to Track your workouts via your mobile devices. “Step in” design provides...
- [24 programs & tension resistance]: challenge yourself with one of the 24 preset workout programs and 24 levels of smooth magnetic tension resistance. 3 computer Goal workout settings: distance, time...
- [Oversized airsoft seat]: patented large 3” extra thick airsoft foam cushioned seat provides extra comfort for long session workouts using aerodynamic healthcare technology allowing air to breathe...
Tall men, this recumbent bike is for you. Built to accommodate people with an inseam height of between 29-38”, the distance between the seat and Velcro-strapped pedals is generous. It features an extra-wide and deep cushioned seat (14” x 11” respectively) and can take up to 300lb weight on its robust frame.
Otherwise, it’s an inexpensive, reliable and easy-to-assemble bit of kit. The LCD digital monitor may not be backlit, but the display items are clear, bold and crisp. They even supply the two AA batteries to get it up and running straight out of the box, which is a nice touch.
As with most other options on this list, other than the Marcy ME-709, you get your minimum 8 levels of resistance imposed through a magnetic flywheel system, and readings sent from the handle-based pulse monitors to the computer in the display screen.
- Great price (2nd cheapest on this list)
- Best leg length for taller people
- Biggest seat
- Batteries for digital monitor included
- Leg length a little rough on shorter riders (5’2” and below)
- RESISTANCE: Adjust the intensity of your workout to your fitness level by taking advantage of 8 levels of magnetic resistance.
- DIGITAL MONITOR WITH PULSE: Track your workout progress on the digital monitor that displays scan, time, speed, distance, calories, odometer, and heart rate.
- EASY SEAT ADJUSTMENT: Adjust your seat forward or back with the flick of a handle, all while remaining seated on the comfort of your bike.
How to Choose a Recumbent Exercise Bike
As promised, this is a brief list of things that you might take into account when deciding whether or not a bike meets your criteria as the right purchase for your needs. Everyone wants something different within their own respective budgets. The most important thing is that you can make an informed choice about whether the bike in question ticks enough of your must-have boxes.
Continuity of data: Are you someone who needs to digitally record your fitness stats and share them? Are you a member of Strava, for example? Are you working towards a sponsored indoor cycling goal? If so, make sure that your bike has Smart features—at minimum, Bluetooth connectivity to its own specific app—and that previous customers have been happy with the reliability of the data storage.
Entertainment features: Will this be your personal time to exercise while catching up on your own box sets while others dominate the TV room? Do you cycle-and-audiobook? Do you just listen to music? If any of these apply, make sure that there is support for your phone or tablet. If you’re happy to just watch TV or meditate, then it’s not a critical feature, of course.
Size of the bike: are you using this in an apartment or home? How much room do you have for it? The length and width dimensions will typically be the most important (rather than the height). All the options in this list have wheels for easy moving around the house—we considered this to be a mandatory feature (along with a minimum 8 resistance settings).
Ease of self-assembly: We tried to select bikes which were said to be easy to put together—all within an hour or so, mostly by one person. However, if you’re not confident and you live too far from family or friends to bribe them into lending their assistance, make sure that the bike comes with an on-site assembly package.
Robustness and Durability: What’s the upper weight limit of the bike in comparison to the unit weight? Is there at least a two-year warranty on the frame, if not the constituent parts? If you’re spending over $200, try not to settle for a one-year frame-only warranty.
Finally, does it look comfortable? How wide and deep is the seat? What have others said about the cushioning? If you’re over 200lb, you might want a flat bucket seat which is 12” wide at minimum, and which has a minimum 1.5” cushioning.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are recumbent bikes as good as walking?
Well, that does rather depend upon what you’re hoping to get out of the particular form of exercise that you’ve chosen. If you’re watching TV while pedaling away at levels 1-3, you could be taking a brisk walk instead. Your upper body tends to get a better workout if you walk fast, covering a mile in a time between 15 and 17 minutes.
Some people walk for emotional escape and meditation, which is rather hard to achieve when you’re working out at home, surrounded by domestic noise and potential interruptions.
However, there are at least a couple of advantages to using the recumbent bike. Firstly, it is gentler on your joints. If you’re exercising indoors and feel a rheumatic or sciatic twinge, you can just warm down and climb off. You don’t get stranded by pain in the middle of nowhere, forced to limp your way home. Secondly, you can build up your cardiovascular stamina on the recumbent bike far more efficiently by opting for a higher level of resistance and using the bike every day, regardless of the weather.
Which muscles does a recumbent bike target?
The good news is that a recumbent bike is a great toning machine. Obviously you’ll feel the effects in your legs, most specifically the calves, quadriceps (tops of thighs), and hamstrings. Your gluteal muscles (from upper thigh to buttocks) also get a good workout, along with your hip flexors, adductors, and abductors.
In the upper body, your abdominals get a good workout from the effort of holding you upright and balanced, as do your core lateral muscles (wrapping around the ribs). After a few months of brief but rapid exercise on the recumbent bike, several times a week, you will see the silhouette of your upper body changing. Unless you invest in a recumbent elliptical bike, your shoulders and arms will not see as much action as your muscle groups south of the pectorals.
Does a recumbent bike burn belly fat?
Everything that raises your pulse rate significantly and leaves you out of breath will help to burn belly fat—provided you’re operating within a calorie deficit. If you don’t make much use of the back rest on a recumbent bike (sitting bold upright with your shoulders back), then your core muscles have to work hard to help you keep your upper body balance on the seat. This will ensure that you see some upper body toning to complement the changing shape of your calves and thighs over the course of a few months.
Alas humans are not capable of spot-reducing fat in any location on the body. It would be a beautiful thing if we could do a single exercise which would deal directly with those wobbly bits between chest and navel, but the only solution is healthy food, consistently high calorie expenditure, and exercises which tone the muscles beneath the parts we’re not so fond of.