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I recently picked up an exercise bike of eBay for a good price. I'm trying to get more into mountain biking but time, weather and family life often mean that I might only get out on the bike a 2-3 weekends a month and not always up in the hills. My thoughts were that I could do some mid-week exercise on the exercise bike and use it on the weekends I can't get out on the MTB.

I wasn't sure how long I should be exercising on the EB for. Most of what I've read online suggests about 30 minutes to an hour, but I've not read anything that says over an hour. To put it in context, I did a 31 mile ride on my MTB this weekend and was out for 3 hours. I don't expect to be doing 3 hours on the EB, but I was hoping more than an hour. Is there any reasoning behind the one hour limit, or is just arbitrary?

Note: I know that rollers or turbo trainers are considered better for cyclists, but these are more expensive and I didn't want the hassle of having to connect / disconnect the bike to / from it or have to get a special tyre. Plus, my family can all use the exercise bike.

Update: Thanks for all your suggestions, they've been very useful. I had my first ride on the EB last night, and did 45 minutes. The seat and riding position aren't the best, but for 20 quid, it's been a good buy and it's already been used 3 times by the family.

Based on the advice here, I'll be aiming for a couple of < 1 hour rides a week, rather than 1 long one. Longer term, I might look at getting some rollers when I've got the space and money. Until then, I'll make the most of the EB.

4 Answers 4

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The reason you're seeing mainly short sessions recommended is that exercise bikes are usually marketed to fairly casual users wanting just a bit of exercise.

So long as it's ergonomic enough,* there's no reason for you not to spend longer on it. But mass-market exercise bikes often have saddles that aren't designed for cyclists, but big padded things that tend to chafe after a while. You may be able to upgrade, but it may not use a standard mount.

It will wear out faster, but that just means getting your money's worth in less time. If it can handle the heat load of a one hour session, it must be able to dump enough heat continuously, so longer sessions shouldn't cause it to overheat, the main risk of early failure.

There are more upmarket stationary bikes, and some of them are explicitly meant for long usage, or back-to-back classes in a commercial setting. They tend to have higher maximum resistances as well as better saddles and hand positions. So the concept is valid.


* Ergonomics are a real issue here: I could have had one for free when recovering from an injury that kept me off the road. It wasn't an option ergonomically, because I'm much taller than the maximum user height it's designed for.

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Is there any reasoning behind the one hour limit, or is just arbitrary?

No, there isn't. An exercise bike is not different from a normal bike assuming the fit is right, with several exceptions:

  1. Rocking the bike from left-to-right is harder so pedaling standing might be less comfortable
  2. Less airflow so you sweat more, I recommend a very big floor pedestal fan to make some airflow, otherwise you will be soaked in sweat
  3. The scenery doesn't change so it's very boring to use an exercise bike, so boring in fact that I don't think you will enjoy it for several hours consecutively, but you might enjoy a real bike for several hours consecutively

I find I can ride a normal bike 3 hours consecutively with no bad effects, and do the same day after day, every day. I think I could do the same on an exercise bike, but I don't want, because it's so boring.

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  • This is the only answer to mention a fan, which is definitely very important.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Jun 18 at 13:22
  • @WeiwenNg — so you are plugging the bike into the wall to power the motor that generates resistance to pedal against and plugging the fan into the wall to power the fan’s motor? I bet there is a market for an exercise bike that includes a fan, driven by your pedaling, both for cooling and to simulate the real biking experience. Commented Jun 19 at 0:27
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As with all new exercise, build it up. Start with an half an hour at most session, feel how your body reacts that day and the next before you stay on longer. Increase the sessions and when you get off feel the parts that get warm or hot and if they get hot that may well be the limit for the bike.
And when your body starts to complain that is the personal limit, although you can improve that with a better bikefit for the exercise bike.

Many people watch TV, listen to podcasts or read a book while on an exercise bike, to break the boredom. That might help you if the sessions get longer. Or use your imagination and 'write' a book or song in your mind or record it in spoken form.

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    At low effort levels people even work on exercise bikes, typing, taking notes on paper, etc. That's not a recommendation but to demonstrate the range of possibilities
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 17 at 8:44
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The 30min - 1 hour recommendations largely come from what is needed for people to remain healthy and get value from the time they have invested. Most of us have to balance 'life' with fitness goals and are 'time poor'. For cyclists, training indoors is usually a substitute for the real thing, most people want to make the most from it the shortest time.

From an exercise perspective, many short sessions is better than one long one. You are better to do 5* 1 hour sessions than 1 * 5 hour session a week. While you do have to do long sessions for endurance, most rather do these on the bike, and those riding for general fitness are happy with limited endurance of shorter sessions.

One big advantage of the trainer is you can set a target - say 45 minutes at 85% Max heart rate/ 90% max power). If you get gassed at 30 minutes, you cool down and go have a drink of water. If you feel great at 45minutes, carry on for another 5 minutes. On the bike, you get gassed at 30 minutes, you have 25minutes (you're gassed, you're riding slower) of gut busting, moral sapping riding home. Feel good at 45 minutes, go home feeling short changed, or put in another block and risk getting gassed.

Provided you do your training wisely, if you can make time to do just 2 or 3 thirty minute to one hour sessions, you will gain all the fitness you need for weekend warrior riding. Longer sessions will only add value if they are really well planned.

If you want to go longer and are doing because you enjoy it (i.e. the thought of a 3 hour trainer session does not fill you with dred), no reason not to aim for it, but you should build up to it. Be very careful not to over do it. If you are training long sessions, to start with especially, be very careful to keep intensity low.

I would suggest getting (if you do not already have one) a heart rate monitor (power meters are better, but price beyond what I presume the OP is prepared to spend) and developing some training plans. Start with two - three 30-minute steady state, build up to 45-60minutes. After a couple of weeks, swap one to interval session.

Make sure you add some flexibility and stretching (daily 10 minutes), and ideally some weight work (Body weight is great: e.g. squats, lunges, calf raises, sit ups, planks, press ups, pullups). These are super important for technical mountain biking.

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