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BUYER'S GUIDE

Best exercise bikes and smart bikes 2022 — feature-packed, adjustable trainers for serious indoor workouts

If you really want to maximise your indoor riding and boost fitness with cutting-edge technology, then one of the best exercise bikes and smart bikes will make a very worthy investment

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Lockdown thrust exercise bikes and smart bikes into the human consciousness with the sight of smiley office workers perspiring in front of an equally smiley online coach, sending Peloton's share price through the roof. And while that share price dipped quite sharply as the lockdown shackles loosened, cutting-edge indoor bikes remain a popular choice for several reasons.


The best exercise bikes and smart bikes will sync seamlessly to the best indoor cycling apps around, including the market-leader Zwift. They’ll present this virtual world either via its own monitor or by linking to your hardware of choice, either a smartphone, laptop, desktop computer or tablet. These apps are made to be far more entertaining than simply staring at the wall as you ride, with the myriad of indoor cycling workouts stimulating the synapses as well as leading to a variety of physiological adaptations as you get fitter. 

One of the biggest wins, however, is simple practicality. While the best turbo trainers will deliver all the data you need via an oh-so quiet flywheel of resistance, you still need to clamp your bike to it each and every time. It’s hardly exhausting but it’s still extra faff in our busy lives. Your road bike, of course, might also be filthy, which isn’t conducive to familial harmony if you’re looking to make indoor cycling an integral part of your training programme.

You can also, of course, complement your indoor training with some of the best indoor cycling accessories such as headphones or even indoor-specific cycling shoes to further enhance your indoor riding experience.

Right, read on to discover the best exercise bikes and smart bikes rated and reviewed by the road.cc team, plus we finish off by answering some of the most popular questions about them…

The best exercise bikes and smart bikes: our top picks

Wahoo Kickr Bike

Wahoo Kickr Bike

8
Best smart bike overall
Buy now for £2879.99 from Tredz
Hugely adjustable
Effective and configurable virtual gearing
Smooth, accurate and predictable resistance
Tilt mechanism adds another dimension
Expensive
Digital gear readout in a daft place
Steering buttons too easy to press by accident
ERG mode algorithms need a tweak

A new, tweaked version of the Wahoo Kickr Bike has recently launched with built-in WiFi and a slightly higher max wattage; but with the original now significantly cheaper and delivering one of the nicest rides of any indoor trainer we’d ever ridden when we reviewed it, V1 of the Kickr Bike is still our top smart bike recommendation.  

The adjustability is very impressive, as you're able to raise or lower the entire bike and tweak the reach at both the handlebar and saddle. Wahoo cranks this up to next level by inputting the numbers from a pro bike bit into the app that then tells you exactly where the adjustable sliders should go. That feel’s also down to the resistance unit, which is a combination of flywheel and motor that offers up to 2,200 watts of resistance.    

Virtual gearing’s effective and real-time gradient changes peak at 20% with descents of 15% with power accuracy around 1%. As you’d expect from the US manufacturer, the  KickR bike seamlessly integrates with other Wahoo products, plus it’s compatible with the major training apps. Yes, it’s not cheap but it is impressive.

Read our review: 
Stages SB20 Smart Bike Indoor Trainer

Stages SB20 Smart Bike Indoor Trainer

8
Best value smart bike at current prices
Buy now for £1649 from Tredz
Reassuringly solid
Quiet
Easy to adjust
Reliable and accurate power
No gear display
Power meters have separate batteries
ERG mode needs work
Shift buttons are a bit fiddly

Stages rose to prominence thanks to Team Sky using its crank-based power meter for numerous seasons in the Chris Froome era. It gave Stages a foothold. Now, its range stretches to commercial indoor bikes for gym goers, bike computers and, as per the SB20, indoor smart trainers.

This is a well-built, quality smart bike that offers up to 2,000 watts of electromagnetic resistance from a huge 23kg flywheel, driven by a quiet and reliable Gates carbon belt. This is sufficient for the most powerful of cyclists. Not surprisingly, the SB20 uses Stages’ crank-based technology, which is accurate enough, although is powered by coin-cell batteries that need replacing after 100 hours. Just remember that or your Zwift ride will be curtailed prematurely.

It syncs effortlessly to your laptop, smart phone and tablet, and is ANT+ and Bluetooth friendly. The real-world experience is mightily impressive, albeit the ERG mode is a mild disappointment. Gear changes are good, though. Sweet touches like a phone tray and two water bottle holders either side of the bike are appreciated.

Read our review:
Tacx Neo Bike Smart

Tacx Neo Bike Smart

9
Best smart bike for resistance
Buy now for £2199 from Tredz
Incredibly smooth and quiet
Great resistance unit
Accurate
Very well built
Fans are weak and a bit fragile
Gear selection buttons are fiddly and not assignable
Some thigh rub on seatpost

This is one special bit of kit that’s highly reflective of your real bike. You can swap out the 42cm handlebars if you see fit, while the cranks have replaceable inserts for 170mm, 172.5mm or 175mm options. The pedals also have a Q factor of 147mm, which is similar to many road cranks.

The first thing you notice is how incredibly quiet it is. It features an enclosed single-speed transmission that’s basically silent apart from a rather cool whooshing sound! At the front of the bike is a dedicated screen, two fans, an iPad mount, a mobile phone tray and two USB ports so you can charge your devices while you train.

Gear changes are swift, authoritative and appreciated, while power-output feedback is accurate and reliable. It can resist sprints up to 2,200 watts, which should cope with efforts from the most powerful of track sprinters, and can effortlessly simulate climbs of up to 25%.

Read our review:
 Wattbike Atom

Next Generation Wattbike Atom

7
Best exercise bike or smart bike under £2,000
Buy now for £1999 from Wattbike
Much quicker resistance changes
Easy to set up and adjust
Accurate power
No display
Gear changes not as slick as rivals
Gear functions require third party app development

The Next Generation Wattbike Atom is a much better indoor trainer than the first incarnation, making it a contender for your hard-earned cash. The biggest change is swapping out the previous slightly clunky mechanical resistance unit for an electromagnetic  one. Yes, that means you’ll need a power source nearby but it makes the resistance changes so much quicker and more authoritative.

The Atom’s accurate when it comes to measuring power and claims a maximum resistance of 2,500 watts and a 25% incline. It’s impressive. There’s no screen, which is a shame at the price, but there is a mount built in for your smartphone or tablet. Here, you can sync to one of the best indoor cycling apps, like Zwift, or use Wattbike’s own app, which is pretty good. It includes Wattbike’s familiar stroke-analysis metric where you can aim to stay in the green for proficient souplesse. 

Road feel’s also excellent, making this a real contender for your indoor training this off-season.

Read our review:
Renpho AI Smart Bike

Renpho AI Smart Bike

6
Most affordable road.cc-recommended exercise bike or smart bike
Buy now for £599.99 from Amazon
Cheap for a smart bike
Solid
Easy to adjust
Easy to connect
Accuracy is poor
Pedalling experience is poor
Bundled app is limited

Okay, Renpho’s AI’s not the panacea when it comes to smart bikes, but at a third of the price of many of its more illustrious contemporaries, that’s hardly surprising. There’s good and bad, like life itself.

Arguably the most important feature of a smart bike is the power meter. Here, Renpho was around 10% out, which wasn’t great for Zwift rides – when under-reporting, of course; when over-reporting, we were delighted! – albeit Renpho does stress it’s 90% accurate. The pedal action doesn’t match the smoothness of more expensive models and feels a little clunky. Then again, the ERG mode works well.

It comes with its own indoor training app, which is decent, especially given it’s free. There are structured workouts, video spin classes and even a few real-life video routes baked into the app. Overall, it’s decent. The question will be whether you should go for this or a better-quality smart trainer. Ultimately, that might come down to whether you’re a fitness goer looking to train indoors or a more committed cyclist. Over to you…

Read our review: 
Zycle Z Exercise Bike

Zycle Z Exercise Bike

10
Best value 'proper' smart bike
Buy now for £1499 from Powerhouse Fitness
Very quiet
Good range of resistance
Gearing is a bit clunky

Since Zycle took over Bkool's range of indoor training hardware, they've not only kept on producing them but also updated the platforms, meaning that the rebranded and updated Zycle exercise/smart bike makes the grade for our guide. 

In our review of the original Bkool model we weren't too impressed with the wide Q-factor (the distance between the pedals) so you'll be glad to know that's been narrowed on the Zycle Z. There are two built-in buttons to allow you to easily switch gears, and the handlebar offers plenty of hand positions. Anyone between 160cm-195cm can easily fit it by making simple adjustments, the power accuracy is claimed to be +/-2% and there's even a USB socket for charging your smartphone or tablet. 

How to choose from the best exercise bikes and smart bikes

faq-icon
How much does an exercise bike or smart bike cost?

It’s clear from our quality selection that you’ll be digging a bit deeper to buy a high-end exercise bike or smart bike, and will be hitting the four-figure mark for something of very high quality. Of course, you will see exercise bikes advertised at prices in the low hundreds, but these are unlikely to give you accurate, real-world figures to really enhance your training. If you're not fussed about data at all and just want to turn some pedals indoors for some light exercise, then a cheaper model might suffice. 

You might also have to shell out extra on monthly subscriptions to the likes of Zwift. But it’s like any piece of cycling equipment, be it your road bike or a cycling accessory; if you use it and it increases your fitness and helps you burn fat, it’ll be money well spent! 

faq-icon
How much room do I need for a smart bike?

There’s no doubting that any exercise bike or smart bike will take up a hearty amount of space. They’re also heavy thanks to such technologies as the flywheel. When it comes to a turbo trainer or roller, which fold up neatly and can be tucked away, they can’t compete in the space stakes.

However, the majority are pretty manoeuvrable as they’ll have wheels on their base that are actioned when you lift the smart bike slightly. That said, if you’re going to buy a smart bike, ensure there’s a dedicated space for it. You’ll also need a power source, so position your smart bike near a socket.

faq-icon
How do I monitor my cycling performance?

Where do we start? Unlike your basic indoor bike at your local leisure centre, the best exercise bikes and smart bikes come with a host of technologies to track – and hopefully improve – your fitness. Power meters come as standard with accuracy varying between models. As well as power output, you can track cadence, time ridden and heart rate, all designed to increase your cycling performance.

They sync to their own app and third-party apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad and RGT Cycling. These provide extra motivation as you can ride real-world courses and ride against cyclists from all over the world. There’s nothing like competition to help you dig that bit deeper.

Also, a neat feature on most indoor apps is ERG mode where your trainer automatically sets the resistance for you. So, if you’re climbing Alpe d’Huez on Zwift and are looking to keep at, say, 250 watts, it’ll automatically adjust the resistance to match your cadence. Now, you can just focus on cadence and hitting set training zones. You can obviously switch this feature off and take control of gear changes. Whatever suits you on a certain day.

faq-icon
Can you tell me more about training with power?

The key to training by power is understanding your functional threshold power (FTP). This is the maximum power output, expressed in watts and watts per kilogram of bodyweight, that you can hold for an hour. The majority of smart bike apps and third-party apps like Zwift will have an FTP feature where you can calculate your zones, and also allow you to perform tests to find out your FTP. 

To work it out, you can just go as hard as you can for an hour and divide the number in watts by your weight; although a more popular and time-efficient way of getting a number is a 20 minute test, which involves a series of warm-ups and going as hard as you can for 20 minutes instead. To get the number you could sustain for an hour, take 95% of the watts you put out for 20 minutes. For example, if you put out 200 watts for 20 minutes, then (theoretically) the number you could hold for an hour is 190 watts. To work out how many watts you put out per kilogram of bodyweight, you would divide 190 by your weight in kilos. 

Once you know your FTP, you can then ride at different training intensities to stimulate specific physiological adaptations. Coaches Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan devised this seven-zone method of training to make the most of your cycling…

Coggan power zones

 

faq-icon
What other gear do I need to maximise my exercise bike or smart bike?

You don’t enjoy the air-chill of an outdoor ride indoors, so a fan is a must; that said, many smart bikes now have a fan, or fans, built in that actually change their thrust depending on how hard you’re working.

It might sound a little X-rated but it’s also worth angling a fan near your bib shorts to add some cooling down south and reduce the chances of chafing. Also, have water bottles to hand, plus a towel, energy gels for longer rides, and perhaps headphones to avoid upsetting your housemates or family.