The good news for those in the market for an exercise bike is that if you’re willing to invest in your health, you can get not just a pretty good one, but the best.
Exercise Bike Terminology
First, a little terminology. An “upright” bike is one where you sit a lot like you do a standard road bike—straight up, on a saddle, holding the handlebars. A “recumbent” bike has a “seat” vs. a “saddle” where you can lean back while you bike. You can sit back and read a book while riding one.
After a lifetime of road and mountain biking I admit that riding a recumbent bike sometimes feels like I’m “cheating”, but as long as your heart rate remains elevated for a certain amount of time, don’t worry, it “counts”. So enjoy that book. Alternatively, upright bikes are great as well, especially since the better bike makers put screens right in front of you where you can enjoy your favorite show or even a virtual cycling path.
Which Brands Have Sold Out to China?
One thing that’s not cool is how many established brands have sent all of their production to China. We’ve seen this phenomenon in other industries where a market leader keeps its production out of China and competitors who can’t compete on quality do their best to undercut the market leader on price, hoping that American consumers are too dumb to see the difference in quality. Sadly, far too many are not. Think, for example, of KitchenAid vs. Cuisinart or Le Creuset vs. Lodge.
One thing I noticed is that it’s fitness brands that are
- Bowflex – Made in China
- Schwinn – Made in China
- NordicTrack – Made in China
- Sunny – Made in China
Look for “Made in Taiwan”
“Made in Taiwan” was somewhat of a joke back in the 1970s. How times have changed. Taiwan did free market economics the way it was supposed to be done: they took on the jobs that no one wanted making small electronics and trinkets. Eventually through hard work and craftsmanship their own population became affluent, pricing themselves out of producing cheap stuff and allowing other developing nations to pick up the torch. When it was China’s turn they produced the cheap stuff, but instead of letting go of it they held on to it, monopolized it, and are using their monopoly power to take over more expensive things as foolish corporate executives in America and Europe salivate over their ever-growing profits at the expense of their companies’ futures (which they don’t care about).
Ironically, the road bike industry is one of the industries that China is trying desperately to take over, and yet Taiwan is holding on, at least to high-end bike manufacturing. Speak to any knowledgeable cyclist, and they’ll tell you that some of the best bikes come out of Taiwan.
The same is true of fitness bikes. Unlike brands like Bowflex and NordicTrack, who just want to make money off their names, serious exercise bike makers like Peloton, Spirit, and Sole still manufacture out of Taiwan, a country that in many ways is more free than any other, including its big bully neighbor to the northwest.
Best Exercise Bikes Not Made in China
1. Spirit Fitness CR800 Recumbent Bike or XBR25 Recumbent Bike
I use a Spirit Fitness bike in my gym, who ordered a bunch of them. As it’s second nature for me these days, I crawled onto the floor to look to see where it was made. To my delight they’re made in Taiwan, like the Peloton bikes.
Our gym bought a bunch of Spirit CR800 bikes, which were created for commercial use and intended to be sold in bulk to gyms, hotels, and other large organizations. But if you look, you can find them pretty easily on eBay from enterprising fitness stores. Like I said, when I ride it I feel like I’m almost cheating as I recline and read a book, but the built-in heart monitor doesn’t lie. If the $2600 price tag for the commercial edition is a bit too high, they also offer their consumer version, the XBR25, at a slightly more affordable $1400. When you consider that gym memberships can cost upwards of $50-70 a month, it’s not so bad when you consider you can own one in 2-3 years of the cost you pay to “rent” one.
Spirit Fitness is owned by a company called Dyaco, another Taiwanese company listed on the Taiwan stock exchange. They do have production facilities in China, presumably to serve the local market there. But the majority of their units are still made in Taiwan.
The Horizon 7.0 IC Exercise Bike was the #2 pick overall of best exercise bikes by Consumer Reports, an the only one in the top 5 that costs less than $800. You can buy it directly from Horizon or on Amazon.
This bike rivals what you’ll find in a gym. It has a precision aluminum flywheel and magnetic resistance. It’s compact at about 4 feet x 2 feet x 4 feet but can support users up to 300 pounds. It can connect via Bluetooth to the fitness app of your choice on your phone or tablet, and holds your tablet securely as you ride above its regular LCD display.
While Horizon makes some of its other products in China, the manual clearly says that this unit is made in Vietnam.
Horizon Fitness is a company owned by Johnson Health Tech, a company that was founded in Taichung, Taiwan in 1975. They are one of the top 3 fitness equipment manufacturers in the world, and the top manufacturer in Asia. They produce the Matrix brand of products for commercial use, and Vision and Horizon products for consumers.
They own their own factories, which are located in Taiwan, Wisconsin, Osaka, Hanoi, and unfortunately, Shanghai. While I wish they didn’t do business in China, I do understand the geopolitical realities. Sadly, it is American companies swooping in to China to put Taiwanese companies out of business that is the biggest threat to Taiwanese industry.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last 10 years, you’ve heard of Peloton. Peloton makes sells essentially one product: The Peloton Bike.
Peloton began operations in 2012, just as online video technology, high speed Internet, and social media were beginning to take off. The idea behind Peloton was to give its customers the chance to access streaming and on-demand studio cycling classes in their homes.
During the COVID lockdown, Peloton took off; at one point it had a market cap of $49.27 billion. They had grand plans to build manufacturing facilities in the United States. They acquired Precor, with factories in North Carolina and Washington. They acquired Tonic, a manufacturer in Taiwan.
But once the lockdown lifted, their sales plummeted. Sadly, today their market cap is just over $2 billion. They recently made the decision to no longer manufacture their own bikes, outsourcing to Taiwan manufacturer Rexon instead.
Despite all of their ups and downs, the Peloton Bike is still one of the best engineered bikes you can buy, and as of all the data I have it’s still being manufactured out of Taiwan to the original specs that Peloton developed (and will continue to innovate). The online cycling and spinning classes are still as popular as ever and going strong.
The Sole Fitness SB900 also made the list of best exercise bikes in Consumer Reports’ review. You can buy one directly from SOLE Fitness, and if you’re lucky you might find it for much less on Amazon; just be sure you’re dealing with SOLE Fitness’s online store.
Dyaco actually owns SOLE as well, with their target market being home and light commercial markets. Like the Horizon and Peloton, Consumer Reports puts it in the top 5 of best fitness bikes you can buy. It uses a 35.27 pound flywheel with magnetic braking.
Like Horizon’s bike, you can usually find these at a more affordable sub-$900 price.
It’s a shame that whatever site you look at—Wirecutter, Consumer Reports, Amazon—it’s almost impossible to find Keiser, even if you know what you’re looking for.
Keiser has been in business for over 40 years and has sold more than 300,000 indoor bikes. Their equipment is used by more than 80% of the top professional sports teams in the world, including every Major League Baseball team. They’re the bike of choice by major gyms like L.A. Fitness, as well as US government agencies like NASA and the Department of the Navy.
Keiser is the one exercise bike company I found that says unequivocally that it is Made in the USA (well, there is some equivocation in that they say that some of their parts are sourced domestically, but that’s mainly to not draw the ire of the FTC). The fact that they continue to produce products out of the USA should give them a huge boost, but it’s as if sites like Amazon treats it as a drawback. I love the quote from their Founder and CEO, Dennis Keiser: “While our competitors are losing their manufacturing skills, we’re perfecting ours.”
The Keiser M3i Indoor Cycle has rave reviews. Here’s a lengthy one from someone on the Peloton subreddit. You can see just by looking at it that it’s a unique design that gives an unprecedentedly smooth ride.
I try to encourage everyone to buy things not made in China, but especially so for high price items like mattresses, cars, and yes, exercise bikes. There’s the obvious reason that you want to make sure that your investment doesn’t break, which you can be assured of with manufacturing in Taiwan or the USA. But even if China were to catch up with manufacturing excellence (and given the rate they steal intellectual property, that’s a possibility), buying not made in China assures you that very little of your money will be going to fund tyranny.
Do you know of other exercise bikes that are not made in China? Let us know in the comments!