New year, new exercise program? Indoor cycling is insanely popular right now, especially with many gyms and exercise studios still shut down. However, if you’ve been eyeballing a Peloton bike, you know that it starts at $1,895 and requires a pricey monthly subscription. Show of hands: Who’d like an experience similar to the Peloton app and bike, but for less money?
Me! Thankfully, there are many indoor bikes that cost less. Below I’ve rounded up some of the latest and greatest, including one that’s “free” (sort of). I’ve tried most of them and will continue to update this post as I’m able to try others. (In the meantime, if you want the cheapest possible option, see my story on a.)
For now, let’s talk about two key features that affect an indoor cycle’s price: The screen and the subscription.
The screen: Built-in or BYO?
The sexiest aspect of the Peloton exercise bike is, without question, its integrated 21-inch HD touchscreen. It feels luxurious to interact with such a spacious display, whether for browsing Peloton classes, viewing your cycling stats or just watching your onscreen Peloton instructors like you’re right there in the studio with them. Of course, that’s also a big reason the bike is so expensive; most indoor spin bike competitors come with a smaller screen or none at all.
The Bowflex C6, for example, doesn’t come with any kind of display. Instead, it has a mount for your tablet, which connects to your choice of a third-party cycling app via Bluetooth. The smaller screen may not draw you in as much, but a tablet allows you to do things other than watch indoor cycling class videos, like read books, stream Netflix or even go on virtual outdoor scenic rides. I’m not saying one is definitively better than another — there are pros and cons to built-in and BYO screens.
The subscription: Mandatory or optional?
If the goal of purchasing a piece of home-fitness equipment is to avoid pricey gym or class memberships, some of these bikes may leave you scratching your head. As noted, Peloton charges $39 per month; Myx Fitness runs a little cheaper at $29, while Echelon’s plans range from $20 to $40.
If you buy a NordicTrack cycle, you get your first year of the companion iFit service at no extra charge. After that, it costs $39 a month, or about $33 if you prepay annually. Bowflex is the outlier here, with no required membership: Its cycling bike is designed to work with various third-party services that offer cycling classes, including($13 a month) and Zwift ($15 a month).
You can use any of these bikes independently, of course — you don’t have to take a class (though Peloton does require a minimum one-year subscription as part of your purchase). But if you decide not to pay for a membership and fitness app, some bikes will no longer collect or display data, such as speed and distance, about your rides, which is one of the reasons someone might choose an indoor bike over a road bike.
What’s more, as much as you might dislike the idea of yet another monthly subscription, even $40 is less than what you’d typically pay for just two or three drop-in cardio workout classes at your favorite indoor cycle studio. Just be sure to factor that cost into the overall expenditure and, where possible, look for discounts on the prepaid, annual subscriptions.
Let’s take a look at the indoor bikes and see which is the right one to get your heart rate up and your legs pumping. Note that these prices are accurate at the time of this writing and subject to change. Also note that many of the sellers offer financing.
Indoor bikes compared
|Bowflex C6||Bowflex VeloCore||Echelon Connect EX3||NordicTrack S15i||Myx Fitness Myx||Peloton Bike||ProForm Studio Bike Limited|
|Subscription requirement||N/A||Optional||Optional||Optional||Required||Required||Required for 3 years|
|Screen size (inches)||BYO||16″ and 22″||BYO||14″||21.5″||21.5″||10″|
Peloton’s cycle is, without question, the Bentley of home exercise bikes — a sturdy and beautiful machine that feels every inch like a premium product. Of course, it has a price tag to match the Peloton experience: $1,895, delivery and setup included, plus $39 a month for on-demand and live classes. And that’s just for the original bike; the new Peloton Plus runs $2,495.
Because I tested only the less expensive alternatives, I’ll turn you over to CNET colleague Megan Wollerton’s review of the original Peloton. Even with the need to purchase special clip-in cycling shoes, she found the Peloton ride a “worthy splurge,” as far as indoor exercise bikes go.
At $1,700, the VeloCore indoor cycling bike barely qualifies as an “affordable Peloton bike alternative” — and if you opt for the model with the 22-inch screen, now you’re up to $2,200. However, there’s one very good reason to consider the VeloCore, and it’s right there in the name: your core.
Whereas the NordicTrack S15i can tilt forward and back to help simulate going up and down hills, the VeloCore actually lets you lean side to side: The whole bike chassis can unlock to swing left and right, which makes the biking experience feel much more realistic when you’re up in the saddle and pedaling hard. And if you hold that lean (as instructed in some classes, or whenever you want to amp up your ride), you feel it in your arms and abs.
This is no mere gimmick; I tested the VeloCore and found that the leaning capability really does add something. Riding this way has a more natural feel than the mechanically adjusted (and noisy) inclines afforded by the NordicTrack. The bike itself feels very solid, very premium, with pedals that support both regular and clip-in shoes, magnetic resistance and virtually silent operation. One complaint, however: There are five control buttons (volume, power, etc.) mounted behind the screen, but they’re not labeled anywhere in front, so you’ll have to somehow remember which does what, and access them by feel alone. Dumb design.
For the most part I liked Bowflex’s JRNY software and service. The UI is lovely and fairly intuitive, offering a mix of trainer-led and virtual-coach classes (though only recorded ones, nothing live), scenic virtual rides, streaming radio stations and so on. You can also sign into streaming services like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus, a capability I wish other bike platforms would allow. JRNY even supports syncing ride data with other cycling apps, like Peloton and Zwift, on your phone or tablet.
The service costs $20 a month or $149 annually. You can use the bike without it, but you lose most of the aforementioned features. Peloton’s subscription (with bike) costs $39 a month.
If you don’t feel strongly about live classes and leaderboards, the VeloCore is definitely an appealing Peloton alternative. And when you factor in the cheaper subscription, you will indeed save money in the long run.
NordicTrack’s bike uses a mechanical shaft to simulate the inclines and declines of actual bike riding, so that when you’re pedaling a virtual hill, it feels more like a hill. What’s more, cycling class instructors and virtual-ride leaders can remotely adjust your bike’s incline and resistance levels, meaning you’re not constantly futzing with controls.
That’s pretty cool, and one reason the S15i stands out among the bikes in this roundup. However, while the flywheel itself is all but silent, the rest of the machinery gets loud every time there’s an adjustment to your workout. Likewise, the built-in fan is noisy to the point of distraction, even on the lowest speed.
My bigger complaint is about the integrated iFit software, which provides access to a wide assortment of classes, virtual rides and off-bike workouts like high-intensity interval training and kickboxing, all via a 14-inch touchscreen. Unfortunately, it’s marred by an aggravating interface. Scrolling is slow and jerky, and there’s no way to sort or even search the content, which isn’t categorized in any meaningful way. So if you wanted to find, say, a yoga class, you’d have to scroll-scroll-scroll down the list until you eventually found the yoga section. Thankfully, in addition to prerecorded bike classes, iFit now offers live sessions as well.
And the first year is free. After that, it would cost you $39 a month or $33 if prepaid annually. You don’t have to use it, but there’s nowhere on the bike to rest a tablet if you’d rather, say, watch Hulu.
The bike itself is comfortable to ride, easy to adjust and fairly attractive, save for the the chunky-looking arm-mounted screen. On the plus side, the screen can rotate for any off-bike classes you might want to take (though it can’t tilt down, so it’s hard to see during floor exercises).
Hardware and iFit issues aside, I really liked riding on virtual global roads and trails and letting instructors control the bike’s incline and resistance. If that kind of exercise experience appeals to you, there’s no better option than the S15i.
Myx Fitness offers the closest thing I’ve seen yet to a straight-up Peloton clone: a bike with a 21.5-inch screen and original, in-house fitness programming. The pricing is decidedly different, however, as the Myx stationary bike costs just $1,299, with a monthly membership fee of $29. So while it’s not the least expensive option in the roundup, it offers considerable value.
I’d skip the $1,499 Myx Plus, however, which adds only accessories like mats and weights that, frankly, aren’t worth the money for an indoor cycling bike. You could buy the same gear piecemeal for the same or less.
The bike itself is as solid as they come, with reversible pedals (toe cages on one side, shoe clips on the other), handlebar height and depth adjusters and a monitor that can tilt and pivot. This last represents a huge advantage over Peloton, as it allows you to point the screen in different directions for off-bike classes. NordicTrack’s S15i does likewise — but costs $400 more and has a smaller screen.
Although the bike can track your heart rate (courtesy of an included Polar armband monitor), it doesn’t collect or display cycling data such as speed, distance or resistance. That means instructors don’t throw out numbers (“Speed up to 22!”) during classes; instead, the guidance is more along the lines of, “OK, let’s increase the resistance a little.” You’ll have to decide whether or not those metrics are important to the experience.
You’ll also have to decide if live classes are something you want; Myx offers only on-demand sessions, with no plans to match Peloton’s live ones. This is largely a matter of personal preference, but I liked the prerecorded Myx workouts I tried: It felt like I was one-on-one with a personal trainer instead of being just a random person in a big group. Similarly, I liked the metrics-free approach to cycling better than constantly chasing and checking speed and resistance numbers.
Finally, Myx’s touchscreen user interface is excellent: clean, responsive and easy to navigate. It’s currently home to hundreds of classes (not just biking, but also weight training, meditation, yoga and so on), with more added weekly. Virtual trail rides are now available as well, along with Myx Media content such as news and coach diaries.
Peloton and some other bikes feel like they’re about competition: stats, leaderboards and all that. If you don’t want to compete but do want a great cycling experience paired with an extra-large screen, the Myx bike feels like a steal. It’s sure to turn a lot of Peloton shoppers’ heads.
If you want something close to the Peloton indoor bike experience without the price, look to Echelon. The company offers a very similar class structure, both live and on-demand, but it’s available via less expensive hardware. The EX3, for example, costs $1,040, or you can get it with a one-year subscription for $1,400.
Echelon’s newer EX5s ($1,640) comes mighty close to matching the actual Peloton hardware, thanks to its massive 21.5-inch screen. Other models in the lineup, including the EX3, require you to bring your own screen, in the form of an iPad or similar tablet. That means a smaller display, but it also opens the door to activities like reading books or streaming Netflix, options unavailable on the Peloton.
However, you can’t use an Echelon bike with any third-party cycling apps — not if you want real-time stats. For the moment, the bikes can pair only with the Echelon app. As noted, that app delivers a very Peloton-like experience, but also has roughly the same subscription rates.
To find out more, read my Echelon EX3 hands-on first take from last year.
Nearly all the other bikes here have one thing in common: They effectively rope you into their ecosystems, requiring a membership to fully take advantage of the hardware. Not so the Bowflex C6 — it can pair via Bluetooth with a variety of different exercise apps, including Peloton’s. Add to that one of the lowest prices of any “connected” bike and you’ve got a serious contender.
The included assembly manual provides very little actual instruction; it’s mostly just a few diagrams. Using these, I was able to assemble the bike in about 45 minutes, with only a few head-scratching moments along the way. But Bowflex really should include a printed version of the more complete manual that’s available online. That guide also covers using the control panel, which is barely mentioned in the print version. Even then, there’s not nearly enough instruction on Bluetooth pairing.
The C6 spin bike looks a little skinnier, and therefore less substantial, than bikes costing more, but it feels mostly sturdy while you’re riding and makes virtually no noise. The pedals have toe cages, but can also be used with clip-in cycling shoes. I did encounter one mechanical issue: My handlebar post wobbled just a bit, even after being fully tightened, though thankfully it didn’t bother me while riding.
What did bother me was the tablet mount, which puts the screen at a very shallow angle and can’t be adjusted. That mount sits just beyond the bike’s control panel, which comes to life as soon as you start pedaling and displays six key metrics: time, calories, speed, distance, resistance level and pulse. Pulse readings come from an included rechargeable forearm monitor. Also included: a pair of 3-pound weights and two roomy water bottle holders.
As noted above, the C6 works with a wide variety of third-party apps. I tried it with a few, including Peloton and Bowflex’s own Explore the World. The latter takes you on virtual rides around the world, matching the video playback to your pedaling speed, but it’s nowhere near as good as one called FulGaz. What’s great, though, is you can try these and other apps to find whatever you like best during your indoor workout sessions.
That flexibility, coupled with the relatively low price of the machine itself, makes the C6 a solid choice for the budget-minded biker.
It sounds almost too good to be true, but ProForm’s deal is real — and awesome: Pay $39 a month for an iFit subscription and the bike is yours for free. You have to keep that subscription for three years, but that brings your total out-of-pocket cost to right around $1,400. That’s what you’d pay up front for a lot of bikes, and then you’d still be paying a monthly fee on top.
I haven’t tried the Studio Bike Limited myself, but it resembles the NordicTrack S15i. No surprise there: Parent company Icon Health and Fitness owns both NordicTrack and ProForm, as well as iFit, among other brands.
The bike features a silent flywheel, height-adjustable seat and handlebars, digital resistance settings, 3-pound hand weights and a 10-inch touchscreen that can turn 180 degrees in either direction — helpful for any off-bike classes you want to take.
Speaking of classes, iFit here is the same as iFit above. It serves up a wide variety of classes — not just biking, but also high-intensity interval training, strength training, yoga and so on. Two things I particularly like: the virtual rides (in which you follow your instructor on gorgeous real-world trails) and the “live” resistance control, meaning the instructor changes your bike’s resistance settings during your class or ride.
Note that ProForm also offers its Carbon E7 elliptical on the same terms ($0 down, $39 a month for 36 months).
Stay tuned for additional listings as I’m able to evaluate more bikes. In the meantime, if you’ve already used one of these models yourself, hit the comments and share what you like or don’t like!
Up your health game in 2021
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