Day 57: Exercise Bike Purgatory

I’ve decided to get an exercise bike.

This decision has been prompted by a combination of factors, but two loom largest.

  1. I read Run Less Run Fast and a part of the suggested program is to cross-train twice per week using some sort of non-weight-bearing cardio exercise: cycling, rowing, or swimming. Of the three, cycling, using a stationary exercise bike, seems like the best fit for my life.
  2. My wife has been dropping hints for a few months that she’d like to get an exercise bike and the Peloton app (but not the Peloton bike, thank god).

With these two motivations pressing me forward, I’ve been doing my research.

There Are a LOT of Options

My first discovery in this process did not come as a surprise, but the sheer volume of models and options to choose from has been a bit overwhelming. There are a lot of options out there.

  • You can either get a stationary bike, or you can get a trainer to use with an actual bike, which allows you to use an actual bike effectively as an exercise bike.
  • If you opt for a stationary bike, the pricing is all over the place, from $120 to $2500, and the options are limitless: seat types, LCD screens, magnetic resistance, belt drive, chain drive, and on and on.
  • If you opt for an actual bike and trainer, things get even more complex and you’re probably looking at over $1,000 to get started with a decent quality setup, and that’s if you shop hard, and buy a used bike. Too rich for my blood, starting out anyway.

At this point, I think I’ve settled on a stationary, belt-drive bike, with caged (not clip-in) pedals, but one robust enough to allow replacement of both the pedals and the seat in the future, and one that sits up like an actual bike rather than a recumbent setup. I have dreams of one day participating in sprint-distance triathlons, so I want a machine that does a decent job of simulating actual cycling, thus it needs to have 40lb flywheel, or larger. It also needs to have a water bottle holder that I can reach while exercising, and a place to mount my smartphone relatively securely as I’ll likely be casting a spin class from my phone to the TV in my basement (which doubles as my workout space).

Finally, it needs the spousal stamp of approval–a rather nebulous characteristic that you can never know for sure is going to arrive until it actually does.

There’s a LOT of Garbage Out There

So now that I have a general sense for what I want, I’m doing research. Let me tell you, there are a lot of exercise bikes out there, and most of them seem to be prone to relatively rapid and frequent breakdowns.

If you just search the online marketplace of your choosing, such as Amazon, you’ll find bikes for as cheap as $120. However, when you start to really dig into the reviews, you’ll find that anything below about $300 is likely to break pretty rapidly if you actually use it regularly.

The impression I get is that, under a certain price point, manufacturers don’t really expect you to use your exercise bike that much. Thus you see lots of reviews talking about pedals breaking off, belts snapping, and various other mechanical failures hitting these lower-cost machines much too frequently and after just a short interval of use.

Exercise bikes are relatively complex machines, and it seems that the axiom “you get what you pay for” does apply when selecting one.

Pandemic-Fueled Over Pricing?

Something interesting has happened over the last few months in the stationary bike market. I could be wrong about this, but anecdotally, it appears that exercise bike prices have gone up considerably in the last 3 months. I base this statement on two facts:

  1. If you read reviews on Amazon you’ll frequently see someone say something like “not a bad product for $XXX.” I’m consistently seeing bikes priced higher, by $50-$150, than the prices mentioned in the reviews.
  2. My wife has a friend who recommended a specific model, which she reportedly purchased for $300 a year ago. That model is $599 on Amazon today (where this friend purchased the bike). Even if I allow for some misremembering (it was actually $399 not $300, for example), that still leaves a massive gap between the current price and the price this individual paid a year ago.

My theory is that this has to do with the global coronavirus pandemic. I think because people can’t get to gyms and spin classes they’re buying exercise bikes to keep in shape at home. Demand is up, manufacturers are struggling to keep up, and voila: bike prices go up.

It’s a theory, but one with some merit, in my opinion. The impact to me is that if I buy an exercise bike right now, I’ll probably be overpaying.

Where I’ve Landed, for Now

Right now, I’m down to two options:

  1. The Schwinn IC3
  2. The Sunny Health & Fitness SF-B1002

The first looks to be a really solid bike by a mainline manufacturer that ticks all the boxes. Also, the pricing for that bike seems to be stable. I don’t think I’d be overpaying for that bike at the current price.

The second is the bike my wife’s friend recommended. It also ticks all the boxes, but it’s $100 more than the Schwinn (right now, though apparently a year ago it cost less than the Schwinn) and is made by a less well-known manufacturer. However, it already has the spousal stamp of approval, and that’s akin to presidential veto power around these parts.

I’m still not quite ready to pull the trigger. This is a pretty significant investment and one I want to feel confident about when I do move forward. But I am getting close. I predict that before July has ended there will be an exercise bike in my basement.

Featured image by Mark Bertulfo on Unsplash

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