Leaning back, watching TV, and pedaling on a magnetic resistance bike may seem like … fill in the blank. Is the best recumbent bike on the market even worthy of comparison to an upright bike or classic indoor exercise cycle? What makes this type of exercise bike worth your while?
It all depends on how fit you are, what medical issues you have, and how much money you’re willing to spend.
The majority of recumbent bikes focus on cardio and lower body workouts. But they usually provide low- to medium-impact resistance levels, which means that they’re easy to use.
Since not everyone is fit as The Rock, a recumbent bike may actually be a solid choice.
If you’re recovering from surgery or just easing back into the gym, you can get your cardio done without putting extra pressure on the joints and back.
Best Recumbent Bike Reviews
1. Schwinn 270
The Schwinn 270 offers almost everything anyone could ask for in a recumbent exercise bike, barring a bottle holder and someone else to do the work for you. It’s a highly adjustable bike with accurate readings and a variety of preset programs.
This exercise bike offers a very stable platform for workouts. The solid steel frame features a one-piece design. By not having multiple joints and moving components, wobbling is almost non-existent. This allows you to perform lower body workouts without distractions while watching TV, reading a book, etc.
But the stability features don’t end with the frame. There are three levelers on the bike – one in the middle of the frame and two under the back stabilizer. You can adjust them accordingly if your floor is uneven. You also get a 10-years warranty on the frame which is most impressive.
The frame design and length of the bike make it useful for a lot of people. Given the adjustability features, the Schwinn 270 fits most riders between 4’11” and 6’3”. Of course, depending on the user’s weight there may be some issues with the seat which is somewhat narrow.
The height of the seat is adjustable between 19” and 22.5” (measured from the floor). You can push down on the lever, underneath the seat, to release it from the locking mechanism. Then you can just pull or push the chair into a position you’re comfortable with.
The lever mechanism works smoothly which allows you to do adjustments on the fly. This also makes the Schwinn 270 an exercise bike suited for the entire family.
There are 25 different resistance settings for you to play with. This doesn’t mean that the maximum setting makes for a super intense workout – it just means that the changes are less choppy and less stressful on the magnets. Of course, because of the magnetic resistance system the bike is very quiet.
The pedals aren’t anything fancy but they’re very nice nonetheless. They’re roughly oversized to fit shoes over size 13. The security straps are made of plastic so they’re not too comfortable but they are adjustable. You can adjust the length by using the knob at the side of the pedal. This will be hard to do at first due to how rigid the straps are.
The pedal system is a three-piece crank. It has two arms for the pedals and one for the spindle. It’s nothing too special but it’s well-built and offers a good pedaling experience. In terms of comfort, the users are split. On the one hand, the vented backrest solves any overheating issues. But at the same time, there are some issues with sliding, especially when pedaling fast.
29 preset programs are available on the Schwinn 270’s console. There are two fitness tests, nine heart rate zone programs weight loss programs, 12 profile programs of various difficulties, a quick start program, and a recovery test program.
The console is quite complex as in it has a large display, multiple buttons, and various readings. It will require some getting used to and browsing of the instruction manual.
What's to like about the Schwinn 270
The heart recover test program is one of the most interesting features. It helps you find out how fast you return to a regular heart rate after finishing an exhausting workout. This could give you important information regarding your conditioning and health.
What's not to like about the Schwinn 270
The flywheel is not too heavy at just 13 lbs., so the motion may not be as smooth when you’re pedaling on high resistance.
2. Nautilus R614
Although the R614 is not the newest Nautilus recumbent exercise bike, it’s still one of the most popular models on the market. That’s because it strikes a good balance between useful features and affordability.
The Nautilus R614 is nothing short of exemplary in terms of durability and stability. Although it is mid-priced, the R614 features a solid steel frame that’s equipped with oversized stabilizers. This reduces all shaking and wobbling even when pedaling at the highest resistance levels.
It also features three levelers. One of them is located in the middle of the frame and the other two are on the rear stabilizer. This comes in handy if the floor or the carpeting is uneven.
Due to the adjustability of the chair, the R614 should fit almost all users between 4’11” and 6’3”. The weight capacity is 300 lbs. It is only average for a recumbent bike of this price, but likely more than anybody needs. People over 300 lbs. are not known to be chomping at the bit to use a recumbent bike.
The height adjustment is continuous. To adjust the chair, you’ll use a simple lever mechanism to release the chair and then lock it back into position.
This is as far as chair adjustments go, unfortunately. The angle of the backrest is fixed. The backrest is plastic, which is par for the course for contoured backrests (higher class than cheap paddings). It is fully vented so overheating won’t be an issue.
The curved design on the backrest does make the plastic surprisingly comfortable, but it may not offer the amount of lumbar support you need. The actual seat has pretty good padding. It’s firm but quite comfortable even if you plan on using the bike for more than 30 minutes.
But what the R614 may lack in comfort it makes up for in other features, one of which is resistance adjustments.
The Nautilus R614 has 20 resistance settings, controlled via the digital console. With so many resistance levels, the increments are barely noticeable if you control the tension gradually. The magnetic resistance system is quite high end, which helps provide a smooth pedaling experience even at higher resistance. It also makes the experience as quiet as possible.
The normal-sized pedals use a single crank system. They have some good texturing to ensure stability and adjustable plastic straps for added security. The problem is that the pedal’s adjustment capabilities are not on par with the chair adjustments. If you wear a size 11 or larger, you may experience difficulties when strapping on.
The digital console is quite big but the numbers are somewhat difficult to read while leaning back in the seat. There are two LCD displays which make monitoring different readings easier when you’re done with your workout.
The programming features 22 different presets, 13 measures, and two separate user profiles. You’re also able to use Nautilus Connect and track or analyze your progress over time with ease. There are a couple of heart rate programs which make on-the-fly adjustments to the resistance to keep you at a certain heart rate.
There’s also a fitness test program which starts with a warm-up routine before it moves into an intense workout for three minutes at 75% of your heart rate. When done, you’ll be able to check your fitness score. This is an easy way of checking your progress over time.
The power cord for the bike is 6 ft., which is standard for electrical gear in the US.
What's to like about the Nautilus R614
The multiple preset programs, as well as the ability to upload results on Nautilus Connect, are both very nice features. They serve both beginner and advanced users by allowing them to track progress and create more customized training sessions when needed.
What's not to like about the Nautilus R614
For a recumbent bike that’s supposed to fit both short and tall users, it’s a bit unfortunate that the pedals don’t offer the same level of adjustability. Not only are the pedals normal sized but the straps are also quite short. This means that if you’ve grown proportionally, you may need to change the pedals to use the bike properly.
3. Stamina Elite Total Body
If regular recumbent exercise bikes seem a bit boring, then the Stamina Elite may just change your opinion. This machine comes with a twist, and though it lacks certain digital features it makes up for them in terms of comfort and utility.
Right off the bat, the Stamina Elite recumbent exercise bike has a very rare feature. The bike features a dual-action system that allows users to train both the upper body and the lower body. The handlebars work similarly to the pedals by way of magnetic resistance.
However, you can’t use both the handlebars and the pedals at the same time, and there’s no resistance if you turn them towards you; you have to maintain a forward spinning motion. The length of the handlebars may be adjusted to fit different arm lengths and to provide added resistance. If you move them closer to your body, you’ll need to push harder to complete a rotation.
The bike’s stability is really good due to the wide stabilizer bars. However, unlike other models in its price range, the Stamina Elite isn’t equipped with any levelers. Therefore, you may need to make a few adjustments after the assembly.
The frame is sturdy, but surprisingly the bike’s weight capacity doesn’t seem to surpass the 250-lb. mark. At least in terms of adjustability, it still makes quite an impression. Unlike similar exercise bikes, you can move the chair up, down, forward, and backward instead of following an angled path.
This should allow you to be a lot more comfortable when resting in the chair. Although the backrest is not adjustable, it is padded so it provides a lot more comfort than a regular plastic design. The seat itself is also padded and it’s a wide design.
Because there are no armrests – instead there are small handrails with sensors – the bike has a step-through design. This allows you to easily get on and off it without having to make any adjustments to the positioning of the chair. The handlebars are fixed and ergonomic which should make it easy for you to accurately monitor your heart rate during longer workouts.
The console is rather simple compared to what you may have seen so far. Given the price tag, this is unfortunate, but the lack of preset programs is offset by the dual-action design. There’s also one benefit of having a small console – you don’t have to worry about cables and plugging in the bike, as all you need are two AA batteries.
If you lack motivation then maybe the lack of preset programs is cause for concern. But, if you think you can handle it, you do get all the necessary readings – time, calories burned, distance traveled, speed, and pulse. The measuring units are imperial only.
To see different measures, you can change them one by one or set the console to scan mode so that it displays a new value every six seconds. There’s also a nice sound alert if you exceed the desired heart rate value. This helps a lot when you’re working out in the dark or in bad lighting conditions as the console isn’t backlit.
As far as resistance ratings are concerned, the Stamina Elite is really more of a medium impact machine. At the 8th position – the highest – you do feel some feedback but nothing close to an uphill riding experience. At least the system is quiet and easy to work.
What's to like about the Stamina Elite Total Body
The most interesting feature is the dual-action design. The handlebars can be used to train your arms, shoulders, and chest to some extent. At the same time, the pedals take care of conditioning the lower body. Just keep in mind that you can’t train both areas simultaneously.
What's not to like about the Stamina Elite Total Body
Having just 8 resistance settings doesn’t seem like much compared to other recumbent bikes, and for good reason. Not only is the transition between settings choppy at times, it’s also not suitable for high-impact training (which isn’t what most people are looking for in recumbent bikes).
4. Marcy Magnetic NS-716R
If you’re looking for a recumbent bike and you’re worried about your budget, the Marcy NS-716R may be your best option. This bike is cheap and lightweight and provides decent back support.
The bike only weighs 53 lbs. It’s highly portable for a recumbent bike and the weight capacity is 300 lbs., which seems about right given the steel tubing frame, wide stabilizers, and minimal wobbling.
Surprisingly – for a bike this affordable – there are levelers on the rear stabilizer. Unfortunately, you may need a rubber mat to prevent the stabilizers from slipping if you’re pedaling very fast. As far as warranty is concerned, you only get 2 years on the frame, which is nothing spectacular but good enough for a budget-friendly recumbent bike.
The NS-716R is best suited for users between 5’ and 6’ tall. Those under 5’ will struggle to perform a complete rotation while also sitting comfortably in the chair. To adjust the seat position, you may need to put in some work.
Unlike traditional lever-action mechanisms which allow you to slide the seat, the NS-716R requires you to pull or push the chair across a line of preset holes. You then insert a pin at the desired location and tighten a knob to lock the chair in place.
You can switch resistance levels by using the tension knob on the support pole at the front of the bike. There are only eight levels to experiment with, and given the light flywheel you’re not getting too much resistance even at higher levels.
Because of this, the bike is most suited for beginners, people in rehab or with bad back, and elderly users. The pedal action is rather smooth but the pedals themselves aren’t anything special. They’re not ergonomic and the size is normal. They also come with standard hard plastic straps.
The level of comfort provided by the NS-716R is very good at this price point. The seat is flat and padded and so is the backrest. Although the majority of people prefer a contoured backrest design, there’s enough lumbar support even when working out for over an hour.
What's to like about the Marcy Magnetic NS-716R
The coolest features of the NS-716R are perhaps the extras. The bike features a bottle holder and levelers which are both features you won’t necessarily find on more expensive recumbent bikes.
What's not to like about the Marcy Magnetic NS-716R
The chair’s adjustment system is not the best out there. Not only does it require more physical force to move the seat, the pin system also requires you spend to more time and you have to get off the chair to get it to work. It may be secure but it’s definitely not a crowd favorite.
5. Exerpeutic 900XL
The Exerpeutic 900XL is an economical recumbent bike but your friends will never know it if they see one in your house. While not exactly high end, it looks and works easily more expensive than it is.
The bike weighs no more than 63 lbs. which makes it quite easy to move around. The fact that it also features transport wheels makes things even better. Although it’s lightweight, the maximum weight capacity is still 300 lbs. which is very impressive.
This also speaks volumes in terms of durability. The steel tubing frame is well-built and perfectly angled. The stabilizers are wide enough to provide stability even though they lack levelers.
The bike doesn’t have a weighted flywheel. This and the fact that it only comes with 8 resistance settings make it a low-impact recumbent bike. The workouts are good for overall conditioning, which is the whole of recumbent bikes.
One minor disadvantage that the 900XL has is the minimum user height. If you’re under 5’3”, you won’t really be able to achieve a full knee extension while also resting your entire back against the backrest.
In terms of adjustability, you’ll have to get used to it. Fitting the chair for different height levels requires you to work with three adjustment knobs and to get off the bike, firmer but clearly not as fun or quick to work with as a lever system.
The console is as basic as they come. It’s powered by two AA batteries and it displays the speed, distance traveled, time, calories burned, and heart rate. There are no preset programs available, so if you generally lack motivation you should follow an online program another device.
What's to like about the Exerpeutic 900XL
The quality of construction and stability are most impressive. Although the bike is one of the lightest of its kind on the market, it still manages to support riders up to 300lbs without wobbling.
What's not to like about the Exerpeutic 900XL
The chair’s adjustment mechanism is not ideal, to say the least. Although it’s easy to learn, it is time-consuming. This may make things even worse if you plan on using the 900XL as a family exercise bike where everyone has their own settings.
Size and Weight Limit
You may think that recumbent exercise bikes come in many shapes and sizes. That’s partially true. The majority of bikes are designed for users between 5’2” and 6’. If you’re over 6’ tall, you usually have to pay a premium for a bike that works for you.
However, not all manufacturers list the recommended range of user height, and this is what makes it somewhat difficult to shop for recumbent bikes these days.
There are very few recumbent bikes that support up to 400 lbs. Most bikes are designed for anywhere between 300-350 lbs. max. The support also accounts for various backrest positions and the highest levels of intensity.
Unlike other stationary exercise bikes, recumbent bikes come with a higher standard weight limit. This makes them quite attractive to people struggling with their weight. These are the easiest of all exercise bikes to work out on. They might be the most suitable option for those with bad back.
Console displays on recumbent exercise bikes seem to be a bit more advanced than what most other exercise bikes feature. Heart monitoring is a top priority, and the majority of these bikes feature hand pulse sensors. More expensive bikes come with heart rate straps which are able to get more accurate readings. That should also allow users to make better use of the preset programs.
The menus used to switch between programs and tension levels don’t come with too many buttons. Generally, the consoles are user-friendly with just one or two buttons, while others come with a touchscreen.
The amount of information displayed on a console differs a lot from one bike to another. Obviously spending more money will give you access to more features. But do you need them?
Generally speaking, it is enough to have a timer and your heart rate, speed, distance traveled, and resistance level. Preset programs don’t take much else into account when setting the bike into specific modes. However, some people also like to see the calories burned. Keep in mind that this measurement is only a rough estimate based on ideal equations.
Magnetic Tension Levels
Unlike other exercise bikes, recumbent exercise bikes only use magnetic tension to create friction and resistance when pedaling. The level of resistance is controlled by the electric current that goes through the magnets inside the bike.
Magnetic tension levels are also referred to as resistance levels. They determine how hard you have to push on the pedals to get a full rotation. Generally, recumbent exercise bikes don’t offer too many tension levels nor do they offer very difficult settings. This makes them well suited for a wide range of people that want conditioning training.
However, the more you spend, the more you get. Some of these bikes can give you a high tension level which is similar to a steep uphill climb in terms of difficulty. Whether or not they’re good for building muscle or losing weight is debatable though. Seeing as how the recumbent bike doesn’t offer a full-body workout, it doesn’t always make sense to pay top dollar for harder tension levels.
Seat and Backrest Types
Most seats come with decent cushioning for full back and neck support. Bikes in the lower price range will probably come with a fixed backrest. In any event, it’s the adjustable seats that are more popular.
Some bikes allow for at least three angle adjustments. How those adjustments are made depends on the backrest.
Some seats may also be adjusted for different height levels. Those with fixed armrests will raise or lower the armrests with them. There are three methods depending on the bike’s design.
- Move the back of the bike
- Move the seat while not seated
- Move the seat while on the bike
Getting a seat with different height levels is very important if you consider a recumbent exercise bike for the entire family. Even the slightest height difference can have a major impact on your workout.
Most seats are pretty firm and not all of them come with an additional lumbar pillow. You can always roll up your own towel for extra support.
Getting a recumbent exercise bike with preset programs usually means spending extra. It also means that you get some level of assistance and guidance during your workouts so that you can achieve multiple goals.
Some preset programs are designed specifically for weight loss. They set a certain resistance or intensity level to keep you pedaling at specific heart rates to maximize calories burned. Some programs also suggest a certain speed that you should be hitting to get the most out of your workout.
Timers are also a part of preset programming. They are included to prevent you from cutting your workout short or from overworking your muscles and becoming fatigued too soon. You’ll find that a lot of preset programs come with different sets, which means you’ll be alerted when it’s time to take a break, speed up, or push harder.
Depending on how advanced the exercise bike is, you may also get access to data such as real-time heart rate monitoring, fitness tests, heart recovery tests, and more.
Some exercise bikes come with Bluetooth technology and recumbent exercise bikes are no exception. Bluetooth allows users to connect the bike to various fitness apps, some of which are developed by the manufacturers and others by third parties.
However, it’s important to understand that you can always manually adjust the resistance; in other words, your success isn’t tied to how digitally advanced the bike is.
Handlebars are usually to the side of the seats and positioned at the same height. Some designs have them placed a couple of inches above the height of the seat. In terms of utility, they’re not really that amazing.
Since you’re not using your core when pedaling, there’s little need to put pressure on your arms. However, what armrests can do is prevent you from sliding in your seat while pedaling. Some seats may be too soft or they could be very slippery, which is when the armrests come in handy.
Some high-end armrests come with additional features such as adjustability. Or, you may even find them fitted with bottle rests or displays.
There are some recumbent exercise bikes that come with above-head handlebars. Those may be used for some upper body exercises. Although they’re also made with armrests, they have very little use on full-body workout machines. That means that the comfort is minimal and the padding is nothing worth mentioning.
Recumbent Bikes FAQs
What is a recumbent exercise bike?
The best way to describe a recumbent exercise bike is by pointing out the design differences between it and a regular standing bike. A recumbent exercise bike allows the user to sit in a reclined position well into the bike’s frame in order to ease the stress on the lower back.
The design places the pedals in front of the rider rather than underneath them. This makes it a lot easier on the joints too. Recumbent bikes aren’t just designed for people with neurological conditions or back pain but also for anyone who wishes to adopt a low impact workout regimen.
Overall, the recumbent exercise bike emphasizes comfort over intense cardio training or muscle building, while also offering more stability and safety during exercises.
How to use a recumbent bike?
The first step is making sure that you’re comfortable when leaning back and that you can achieve a full leg extension when pedaling. If you’re also able to move your toes up and down while pedaling, that’s even better as you’ll be able to work on your calves.
Whether or not you choose to exercise while watching TV or reading a book is up to you. However, the more distractions you have, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to maintain your desired intensity during the workout.
How you use a recumbent exercise bike depends on three key factors – available presets, end goal, physical conditioning. Your end goal should be clear in order to tailor your pedaling intensity and the length of your workouts.
Depending on how fit you are, you may use the bike at higher intensity levels for a more meaningful workout. The diversity of the preset programs allows you to set the bike for different exercise routines to either target specific muscle groups or work out at a certain heart rate.
What muscles does a recumbent bike work?
Recumbent bike manufacturers advertise full-body workout benefits. In reality, recumbent bikes, just like many other exercise bikes, work a limited number of muscles. For example, the core gets little to no workout due to the positioning and angle of the seat which relieves physical stress from the user’s lower back and abs.
These muscles are worked pretty hard with the thighs. By stretching the thighs, or extending them, the glutes get engaged with each push of the pedals.
Because quads essentially work as knee flexors, working out on a recumbent exercise bike gives them a decent run for their money. Even the adductor muscles located on the inner side of the quads get worked during the pedaling motion. The highest impact happens when the leg is being extended.
Seeing as how the hamstrings are considered the opposite muscle group to quads, they get a good workout when the knee is flexing. Each time the foot is drawn back to the highest position of the pedals, the hamstrings get engaged.
The calves are also engaged but only when pedaling is performed properly. In order to work the calves on a recumbent exercise bike, the user has to use plantar flexion. This essentially means that each time a leg is pushing down on the pedals, the toes have to point downward to create sufficient contraction.
These muscles cover the shins. As they’re considered opposite to calves, they get most engaged when the toes point upwards or towards the body during pedaling.
Is a recumbent bike good for weight loss?
Any exercise machine is good in one way or another for weight loss. However, the recumbent bike is an interesting case. Unlike standing exercise bikes, treadmills, or plain running, a recumbent bike eases much of the stress placed on the joints and on the core. This allows users to pedal for a lot longer, albeit at a lower intensity.
A lot of fitness experts swear by high-intensity cardio routines only if one’s serious about weight loss. Now, that doesn’t mean that low-intensity workouts can’t help you lose weight. The problem with recumbent bikes is that they don’t target where most people hoping to lose weight target – the abdominals.
Losing belly fat with a recumbent exercise bike requires a very long-term commitment and spot-on dieting. There’s just no way to out-pedal a bad diet, especially when the workout has a low intensity. Still, it is better for weight loss for people that suffer from chronic joint pains, back problems, or various neurological problems.
How many calories does a recumbent bike burn?
Determining an exact value is difficult because people tend to burn calories at their own rate. Each individual’s heart rate, weight, workout intensity, and time spent pedaling influence how many calories burned.
If you already know how much you lose after 30 minutes on a treadmill, you can make an estimate for how much you’ll lose on a recumbent exercise bike. You can burn anywhere between 60 to 100 on a recumbent bike in the same amount of time. However, this is not a set standard.
Is it really a surprise that Schwinn makes the best recumbent bike? The Schwinn 270 may seem a bit high-tech and perhaps overpriced for some, but it is the ultimate lower body workout machine. It takes accurate readings, it has various degrees of adjustability, and it’s very easy to use once you learn the console.
That’s not to say that something like the Stamina Elite dual-action recumbent bike isn’t a good alternative. Whichever one is better for you is a matter of personal preference or requirements. Overall, each of the five bikes in this article is very good at what it’s supposed to do and at its price range.