A cynic might take one look at the laid-back design of a stationary recumbent bike and say, "Only Americans could think up a way to get their exercise in a recliner." But despite costing $200 to $300 more, recumbents outsell their upright counterparts today because they provide a real service: more comfort for your back, safety and ease of use for all ages, loads of user-friendly electronics and the same killer workout as an upright -- albeit with more emphasis on the glutes. And if you want to kick back after your workout and read the newspaper, they're pretty good for that too.
Best seat in the house
Star Trac Pro: Luxurious exer-bike with unique creature comforts and electronics.
Likes: Solid, quiet, club-quality machine includes innovative features such as fold-down armrests, a telescoping heart-rate contact bar (to accommodate different arm lengths), a fan and a well-ventilated seat with a large hole carved out of the middle. It also lets you create personalized workouts utilizing a personal digital assistant, then records and tracks your average heart rate, calories burned and other workout data on printable charts and graphs. Low-step, walk-through design adds safety for older exercisers.
Dislikes: On the pricey side for a home exer-bike.
Price: $3,195. (800) 228-6635; www.startrac.com.
SportsArt C53r: Custom fit, feel and convenience.
Likes: Solid, quiet machine has resistance controls on handholds so you don't need to reach up to the screen to make changes. Two easy-reach water bottle holders up front. Easy-adjust back support on the soft, mesh seat can tilt to a custom-fit position and includes a seat-back pouch that can hold an ice bag. A large, centered handle in the front assists getting on and off. Has numerous programs, a walk-through design and self-generating power supply (so no electrical plug-in needed).
Price: $2,299. (800) 709-1400; www.sportsartfitness.com.
All you need
Vision R2250 HRT: Exer-bike programmed for serious fitness.
Likes: Solid, near-club feel and good looks. Includes large dot-matrix screen and "Sprint 8," a tough, high-performance 20-minute program that quickly ramps up fitness and weight loss with eight 30-second "anaerobic" intervals. Walk-through frame.
Price: $1,499; (800) 335-4348; www.visionfitness.com.
The cutting edge
Lifecore 900RB: Innovative, compact bike with stunning graphics.
Likes: Dead silent. Beautiful, high-tech console display includes unusually crisp, bright, large, easy-to-read numbers, plus tells you time and temperature. Screen sits low, so you can easily watch a TV over it. To change resistance, you dial an iPod-inspired toggle-wheel that scrolls numbers. Seatback slides up or down; seat bottom can be finely adjusted instead of just in 1-inch increments. At 44 inches long, is a foot shorter than the others. Power cord plugs in from the front or back of the machine; also runs off batteries. At 108 pounds, it's two-thirds the weight of the others.
Dislikes: Heart rate display is very slow to return to an accurate reading after you take your hand off the sensor.
Price: $1,099. (888) 815-5559; www.lifecorefitness.com.
- Roy M. Wallack
Irvine-based Roy M. Wallack is an endurance cyclist and runner whose latest book is "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 67100." He can be reached at email@example.com.