Fitness Basics: Exercise Bike (cont.)

Another point in its favor: If you don't belong to a gym, you can use one at home.

Stationary bike enthusiast Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, says there are many advantages to having a bike in the house.

"I can do it watching television," says Magee, WebMD Weight Loss Clinic's "Recipe Doctor." "I can do it at night, when it's dark, when it's raining or cold. It's a great way to burn calories and fat stores, and it's a good oxygen boost."

Though not a beginning exerciser herself, Magee says the stationary bike is an excellent choice for those who are new to exercise.

"For many of my friends that are halfway motivated and are beginner exercisers, I think it's a great place to start. You're working hard, but not so hard that you can't be entertained at the same time."

Before You Buy a Bike

Before you buy a stationary bike, do your homework because the options can be overwhelming. Some things to consider:

  • Do you want an upright bike or a recumbent style (the type you pedal from a reclined position)?
  • Do you need a small manual bike because you have limited space, or do you have room for a programmable electronic one?
  • Should you buy new or used?
  • What do you want to spend?

First, decide what you will use the bike for -- as your main exercise source, one of several aerobic activities, or just a rainy-day alternative. Then, determine how much room you have to spare and what your budget allows.

Next, do some research. Ask friends or trainers at your gym for their recommendations. You may also want to check out Consumer Reports or other impartial reviews. Check with local equipment retailers -- from department stores to fitness suppliers -- about the kind of bike you should get, based on your needs. (Keep in mind that electronic bikes with program modes offer more workout variety but usually take up more space, require more maintenance, and cost considerably more than their manual counterparts.)

Here are some questions to consider:

How much should you spend? A stationary bike can cost from a hundred dollars to a couple of thousand, depending on its features. Experts suggest buying something within your price range that offers the stability, convenience, and control you desire. But don't overspend -- particularly if you're not sure you'll stick with a cycling program.

Eskola recommends buying from a local fitness equipment dealer, who can offer a warranty, service contract, and more assistance in operating the bike than a chain department or discount store. She also says, "You get what you pay for," so choose a bike made by a reputable company. Spending $700 to $800, she says, will give you a great bike that will last.

"I definitely suggest you get one that has some options," Eskola says. "As you get better, you're going to want to upgrade."

However, Magee is perfectly happy with a manual stationary bike she bought for $300. At the time, she thought that was a lot, but she has since decided it was worth it.