Even before they got “smart”, exercise bikes had a lot going for them: space-efficient, great for cardio and muscle strengthening and with low impact on joints. However, with not much more to keep you going than an LED bar chart flashing numbers that could never really be trusted, there was little get-out-the-saddle motivation to push for a personal best. The new generation of smart bikes is a game-changer. Constantly monitoring pedal power and resistance, these high-tech machines can be paired with apps such as Zwift (zwift.com) or Sufferfest (thesufferfest.com) – interactive, multiplayer online cycling games (complete with customisable avatars) that allow riders to train and compete with hundreds of thousands of others in the virtual cycling world. With them, you can traverse mountains with a group of friends, join worldwide races, enjoy training programmes 24/7 or simply go for a solo cruise along a seaside harbour. The experience is the next best thing to riding on the open road. Here are four of the best for the home.
Wattbike transformed the indoor cycling game when it launched 12 years ago. It was the first to offer accurate and consistent data monitoring and a real-ride feel. The Atom, released in 2017, was the brand’s first home-specific model. Hence, reliability-wise, it’s a good choice as the design draws on a wealth of knowledge and manufacturing experience. In terms of usability, simply pair with your tablet or phone (that can be mounted conveniently on the handlebar stand), and you’ve got the choice of the Wattbike Hub – its own multi-programme training app – or popular apps such as Zwift. The purist will note the gear change isn’t the speediest, but the bike has a smooth ride feel and is easily adjustable to suit all body types. It’s one of the noisier models in this line-up, but can be used comfortably inside the home. That said, it’s by far the most affordable in the selection, plus riders have been hammering it for two years, so it’s the tried-and-tested option. £1,599, wattbike.com
Wahoo Kickr Bike
This new release is packed with cool features – the most notable of which is that it can tilt forwards and backwards by up to 20 degrees, replicating the climb and descent of a hill. It’s a slick piece of design – the pedal action is very smooth, with gear changes and brakes that closely simulate those of a real road bike, while the addition of physical gear shifters is also a great touch. The only gripe is that there’s nowhere to mount a phone or tablet. Otherwise, it’s easily adjusted for multiple household users – taking just 30 seconds without tools – and one of the quieter models available. The price tag is hefty, but cycling enthusiasts and purists will no doubt be able to justify the cost. £3,000, uk.wahoofitness.com
Tacx Neo Bike Smart
The recently launched, updated Neo is fitted with the latest hardware. Combine this with a great dash and interface elements and it is a fantastic option neatly priced between the Atom and the Wahoo Kickr. It has a large built-in 4.5-in display (albeit in a simple LED style) offering essential data such as gear level, power and heart rate. Handily it has two USB charge points and a neat storage area, twin adjustable fans (although these are not super-powerful) and a mount for a tablet above the display. Another neat feature is “Road Feel”, which replicates the sensation, for example, of riding over cobbles, as you cycle in your virtual world app. The Neo is also very quiet, making it ideal for tucking in the corner of the sitting room. £2,300, tacx.com
Stages Smart Bike
This brand-new bike is hot off the production line, and first impressions are that it is a very solidly built and stable bike with great function. It is super-quiet and the ride feel is very smooth. Buttons built into the handlebars control gear shifting and the dashboard offers a lot of flexibility: it has an adjustable tablet holder, plus there’s a separate smartphone dock complete with two USB charge points so you can keep riding all day long. £2,700, saddleback.co.uk