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tipsFoodFit's tips for buying a stationary bike.

In Shape

Pedal Pusher's Guide to Stationary Bikes
by Carol Krucoff

One of the first aerobic exercise machines ever developed remains one of the most popular. Stationary bikes provide an excellent, low-impact cardiovascular workout, strengthening the muscles of the lower body without excess strain on the knees. They eliminate worry about balance, traffic, darkness or bad weather — making it a top choice for older exercisers and those who are overweight. Stationary bikes are also one of the best values in home equipment. A quality bike costs about $300, although you can spend more than $2,000 on gadget-laden models.

Upright or "Laid-back"

The two main designs of stationary bikes are traditional upright bikes and the newer recumbent models which have been increasingly popular in recent years — especially among people with low back problems. Recumbent bikes literally offer a "laid-back" workout because they feature a bucket-type seat that extends the exerciser's legs out to the front. These bikes are extremely comfortable, especially for people who want to watch TV or read while biking.

People who also want an upper-body workout can look for dual action bikes, which have movable handlebars that allow you to work the upper torso and arms.

Resistance Training

Stationary bikes offer variable resistance through a variety of mechanisms. Experts recommend picking a bike that provides resistance through a belt or strap surrounding the flywheel, or one with fan blades. The harder you pedal, the more resistance you get — and the cooler the breeze that accompanies your ride. But with air-resistance models, the only way to intensify your workout is to pedal faster. Another more costly option is a bike with computer controls that uses magnets to apply resistance to the flywheel.

When you're shopping, dress to workout and always try before you buy. Check for:

  • Noisiness
  • Ease of use
  • Adjustability
  • Warranty and Service requirements
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Be sure to consider:

 Seat height Position the saddle high enough so that your knee remains slightly bent when the pedal is at the bottom of the stroke. Place the ball of your foot securely on the pedal and make sure you don't have to stretch your leg to reach the pedal at the bottom of the stroke. The seat height should adjust easily and smoothly.

 Handlebars The handlebars should be adjustable, so that you can easily reach them, with a slight bend to your elbows. If you find one handlebar position too confining, look for bikes that provide alternate handlebar positions.

 Saddle comfort The seats are a lot softer than you might remember. New, foam anatomical saddles are available in men's and women's widths, often with "cut outs" that correspond to pressure points. Women are frequently most comfortable with the saddle level or tilted slightly downward, while men often like a saddle to be tilted upward.

 Pedal fit Be sure that the ball of your foot, not your instep, rests on the pedal. Wear bicycling shoes or walking shoes with a firm bottom, avoiding shoes with too much cushioning.


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