Stationary Bicycle


The stationary bicycle, also known as the exercise bicycle or exercise bike, is an indoor exercise machine that is pedaled like a bicycle. It has a seat, handlebars, pedals, and usually has a device to adjust tension or resistance.


The stationary bicycle provides a low-impact aerobic workout for people who want to exercise indoors. People who choose this option include individuals seeking a cardiovascular workout, those who want to lose weight, people participating in physical therapy like a knee rehabilitation program, and those whose exercise options are limited because of pain in their lower backs, hips, or joints.

A woman exercises on a stationary bicycle at her fitness center. Stationary bicycles provide a low-impact aerobic exercise that strengthens back, leg, and thigh muscles without putting too much strain on the body.

A woman exercises on a stationary bicycle at her fitness center. Stationary bicycles provide a low-impact aerobic exercise that strengthens back, leg, and thigh muscles without putting too much strain on the body.

Pedaling a stationary bicycle is a nonweight-bearing exercise, one done when a person is not standing. The exercise strengthens muscles in the lower body in areas including the back, legs, and thighs. Exercising on a stationary bicycle is an aerobic workout that benefits the heart and lungs. Furthermore, the calories burned help with weight loss. Those benefits are increased when working out on a dual-action exercise bicycle, one that usually has moveable handlebars. The person grips the handlebars for an upper body, cardiovascular workout.

Some machines are equipped with a computer board that measures actions such as the calories burned, pedaling speed, and distance pedaled. This device is often referred to as an ergometer.


The concept of the stationary bicycle could be said to have come before the invention of the bicycle. On September 30, 1796, inventor Francis Lowndes received a patent in London for the Gymanasticon, an indoor exercise machine. Sir Richard Phillips published that patent in a 1796 issue of The Monthly magazine, a publication that carried items of interest from around the world.

Lowndes's invention to exercise “all parts of the body at once” consisted of a frame large enough to contain a person. There was also the option to exercise some parts of the body. People used their feet to operate treadles in the Gymanasticon that turned cranks and wheels. The cranks were handheld, and the person could talk, read, or write while exercising at a pace equal to “two or even ten miles” per hour, according to the patent. While designed for someone to stand for exercise “similar in its effect to walking or running,” an unhealthy person could sit and exercise in the Gymanasticon.

Early bicycles

Standing was also the posture for using the draisine, the two-wheeled walking machine that German Baron Karl von Drais invented in 1817. Similar to a scooter, the draisine was the forerunner of the bicycle. When Kirkpatrick Macmillan of Scotland put pedals on the draisine in 1839, he created the bicycle.

Modifications to the bicycle included the 1865 velocipede, also known as the boneshaker because it was made of wood. Later models were wood with metal tires. The public enjoyed riding velocipedes at indoor rinks called riding academies.

In 1866, French mechanic Pierre Lallemont took out the first United States patent on a bicycle with pedals. Although it is not clear who first invented the stationary bicycle, Exercycle company records showed the invention of that exercise machine in 1932.

The Exercycle

According to the 1938 United States patent, New Yorker Howard J. Marlowe renewed the patent for his nonmotorized exercising machine. It was designed to exercise the muscles used when bicycling, horseback riding, and using a rowing machine. The 1940 patent granted to New York mechanical engineer Gordon Bergfors described improvements to Marlowe's exercising machine to provide a greater variety of exercises. Bergfors also motorized the machine. That patent and later ones were filed by Bergfors and assigned to the Exercycle Corporation.

The machine was marketed for home use and sold during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Sales increased during the 1960s when the public became more interested in fitness. That trend led to the fitness boom of the 1980s and 1990s, according to David St. Germain. He bought Exercycle Corporation in 1993 and serves as president of Theracycle. The name change in 1996 reflected St. Germain's redesign of the Exercyle. The Theracycle is an exercise machine used by people with movement disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

Over the years, notables who bought Exercycles included Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. The Exercycle was shown in the 1988 movie Working Girl, and celebrities who used the exercise machine included the movie's director Mike Nichols, Barbra Streisand, John Wayne, and Jane Fonda.


In 1968, American chemist Keene Dimick invented a stationary bicycle that he equipped with electronics to track his progress exercising. He and his wife Adele believed that bicycling could make people more fit and extend their lives, so they named his invention the Lifecycle.

The chemist planned to sell the Lifecycle to business people and invested a million dollars in that plan. He did not succeed and sold rights to the cycle to Ray Wilson around 1973. Sales were slow, so his partner Augie Nieto suggested they send free Lifecyles to 50 major health club owners and managers in the United States. The strategy worked and sales were brisk.

Recumbent bike—
A bicycle that places the rider in a laid-back reclining position.
Stationary bike—
A device with saddle, pedals, and some form of handlebars arranged as on a bicycle, but used as exercise equipment rather than transportation.

Partners Ignaz Schwinn and Adolph Arnold launched Schwinn in 1895 in Chicago. The company began manufacturing an upright exercise bike in 1967, and unveiled the Airdyne stationary bike in 1978. While resistance in stationary bicycles was created through the use of brake pads and a flywheel, the Airdyne featured air resistance generated by a fan installed in the exercise bike. In addition, the Airdyne provided an upper body workout because the pedals were connected to the handlebars.


The headline in a 1960 New York Times advertisement proclaimed that “now millions can enjoy youthful energy after 35” by using the “Exercycle with Bergfors All Body-Action.” According to the ad, some people seemed to lose “vim and vitality” after age 35, and one reason for that was that they lacked the right kind of exercise.

In the twenty-first century, people in almost every age group can ride stationary bicycles. Nonmotorized exercise bicycles are designed for riders as young as two years old. For youths and adults, the offerings include the traditional upright stationary bicycle and the recumbent stationary bicycle. The upright machine resembles a bicycle.

The recumbent stationary bicycle has a bucketlike seat that provides back support. The pedals are in front, and the person sits in a reclining (recumbent) position with legs extended to pedal. The seat is larger and may be more comfortable for some riders. Fully recumbent bicycles are completely reclined; semirecumbent machines are partially reclined.

Although the knee motion range is the same as that of an upright bicycle, the direction of the recumbent machine causes less force on the knee joints. This could be helpful for people undergoing knee rehabilitation and those with knee and back problems.

Stationary bicycle features

Dual-action bicycles add upper body exercise to the lower body workout. Some upright and recumbent machines have an ergometer, a computer system that tracks information such as time, speed, distance pedaled, and calories burned. In addition, some machines are equipped with a heart-rate monitor.


The resistance mechanism on a stationary bicycle allows the person to adjust the resistance to the pedals in order to have a more intense workout. The types of resistance include the:

Stationary bicycle selections

The range of stationary bicycles include the following models, with list prices in April 2017.

EXERCISE BICYCLES FOR CHILDREN. Some upright models for preschoolers include educational features so that the children learn while they pedal. Offerings include the Fisher-Price Smart Cycle Racer for ages 3–6. Priced at US$250, the stationary bicycle is also a learning center and an arcade game system.

The Redmon Happy Bike cost US$129.99 and has an odometer that measures elements such as time, distance, and calories burned.

Furthermore, elementary school Kids Read and Ride programs rely on the donation of larger stationary bicycles. The exercise machines are placed in classrooms where students read books and magazines in class while exercising on the bikes.

UPRIGHT STATIONARY BICYCLES. Upright exercise bicycles include these models from Marcy, Schwinn, and Life Fitness:


RECUMBENT EXERCISE BICYCLES. Recumbent stationary bicycles include these models from Marcy, Schwinn, and Life Fitness:


A stationary bicycle is easy to use for nearly every age group and is generally safe to use. The exercise bicycle provides a low-impact aerobic workout for the healthy as well as people with conditions such as back or joint pain. Pedaling an exercise bike strengthens muscles in the legs and glutes; it is also beneficial to the heart and lungs. A dual-action machine adds to the upper body workout.

In addition to those benefits, riding an exercise bike burns calories and should lead to weight loss. The amount of calories burned depends on factors such as the person's weight and how fast the individual pedals. Someone who weighs 150 lb. (68 kg) will burn 250 calories when pedaling at a moderate rate for 30 minutes. At a brisk pace, the person burns 375 calories.

In addition, school Kids Read and Ride programs make learning fun while giving children the opportunity to exercise.


Home stationary bicycles are usually not stored, and parents need to be aware that young children may climb on them and fall. In addition, care should be taken with youngsters and child-sized bikes because some cycle parts could pose a choking hazard.

For older riders, stationary bicycles are generally safe. However, it is important to consult with a doctor before beginning any exercise program. This is especially important for people who are obese or have conditions including hypertension and cardiocirculatory problems. The medical professional can help to establish a safe program for using an exercise bike.



“Exercise Equipment.” Consumer Reports 74, no. 2 (February 2009): 33–37.


Kids Read and Ride Program. (accessed January 19, 2017).

Selecting and Effectively Using a Stationary Bicycle. American College of Sports Medicine. (accessed January 19, 2017).


American Council on Exercise, 4851 Paramount Dr., San Diego, CA, 92123, (858) 576-6500, (888) 825-3636, Fax: (858) 576-6564,, .

Liz Swain

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.