The best bike accessories you can buy

Like a lot of people, I only recently began cycling. After more than a decade of not riding a bike, I bought my first one as an adult at the start of the pandemic and immediately fell in love with what it had to offer. Cycling was my escape from a world that didn’t make sense anymore. It has since become the primary way I stay fit, unwind after a long day and get to where I need to go.

Along the way, I’ve tried many different cycling gadgets. The entries in the list below represent some of my favorites. Outside of essentials like a helmet, multitool and spare inner tubes, you don’t need most of the items listed below to enjoy whatever time you spend on your bike or e-bike, but some will keep you safer or make it easier to achieve your fitness goals – if that’s what you want to get out of the hobby.

Knog Rear Plus Light

Knog Rear Plus Light
Knog

Cycling frequently involves sharing the road with cars, and one of the best ways to stay safe is by making yourself as visible as possible to drivers. One way to do that is with a seat post-mounted LED light. You have a lot of options when it comes to cycling lights, but one of the best in my experience is the affordable Rear Plus from Knog.

You’ll notice the Rear Plus is one of two products from Knog on this list. The reason for that is that the company makes cycling accessories that stand out for their usability and clever design. With the Rear Plus, for instance, you plug it into your computer like a USB thumb drive whenever you need to charge it, meaning you don’t need to deal with a micro-USB cable like with many other bicycle lights. What’s more, Knog claims you can get up to 40 hours of battery life from the device depending on the lighting mode you use. And since it’s so easy to charge, you’re much less likely to find yourself in a situation where you don’t have a light when the sun is about to set.

If you’re willing to spend more, an even safer option is to buy a rearview radar like the $200 Garmin Varia RTL515. In addition to being a light, it pairs with your smartphone or bike computer, with models from both Garmin and Wahoo supported, to provide visual, audible and haptic alerts when cars are approaching you. It can detect a vehicle up to 150 meters away and will more urgently warn you if one is approaching quickly. It’s not a replacement for checking your blind spots, but it will take away much of the stress involved with road cycling.

Buy Knog Rear Plus Light at Amazon - $18Buy Garmin Varia RTL515 at Amazon - $200

Knog Oi Bike Bell

Knog Qi Bell
Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

After an LED light, you’ll want to make sure you have a bell installed on your bicycle. I know what you’re thinking: can’t you just warn people when you’re about to ride past them. The answer is yes, but they probably won’t hear you or react quickly, especially if they’re talking to someone at the time. You’ll be surprised how much more effective a bell is at communicating with pedestrians than your voice. I find one is also invaluable when you’re faced with a driver waiting to make a turn.

For an “aero” option that won’t look out of place on a carbon road bike, consider the Knog Oi Luxe. It’s easy to install and features a slick design that won’t clutter your cockpit. For something with more classic styling, look to the Spurcycle Original Bell. Both produce distinct sounds that cut through traffic and other noises.

Buy Knog Oi Bike Bell at Amazon starting at $17

Ornot Handlebar Bag Mini

Ornot Handlebar Bag Mini
Ornot

There’s a good chance you’ll want to carry your phone and other belongings with you when you set out on your cycling adventures, and that’s where a handlebar bag can come in handy. The amount of choice here is endless, with nearly every major cycling brand offering at least a few different models.

Another option is to support a local company in your area. On that front, there have never been more independent bagmakers than there at this moment. In the US alone, you have companies like Swift Industries, PS Bagworks and Roadrunner Bags making thoughtful and durable cycling bags of all shapes and sizes. Seriously, a quick Google search and you’re bound to find someone sewing cycling bags in your local area. And if all you want is a foolproof recommendation, consider the Handlebar Bag Mini from Ornot. It’s the perfect size for carrying a phone, sunglasses and a few snacks, and like all of the company’s products, the quality of materials and craftsmanship is second to none.

Buy Handlebar Bag Mini at Ornot - $44

Kryptonite Kryptolok

Kryptonite Kryptolok
Kryptonite

At some point, you’ll need to leave your bike in a place where you can’t keep a constant eye on it. Since 2020, I’ve used a Kryptonite Kryptolok to lock my bike up, and so far it has yet to be stolen (knock on wood). A lot of people swear by Kryptonite locks and I like the one I bought for its no-fuss key mechanism. It also comes with a holder you can mount to one of your bike’s bottle cage mounts.

Buy Kryptonite Kryptolok at Amazon - $64

Strava Subscription

Strava
Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

Even if you only consider yourself a casual cyclist, you should use an app like Strava to record your rides. Like with any activity, it can be easy to get discouraged with cycling, particularly if you finish a ride where you feel like things didn’t go your way. But here’s the thing, you’re getting better whether you realize it or not.

When I first started cycling in the summer of 2020, I was averaging a speed of about 15km per hour. I can now do about 23km per hour. I know that because I have a record of nearly every ride I’ve gone on since I bought my first bike at the start of the pandemic. And it’s all thanks to Strava.

The best part of the app is that you don’t need to pay for its annual $60 premium subscription to get access to some of its best features. Recording your rides is free, and the company recently made its Beacon feature, which can automatically notify your loved ones of your location, available to all smartphone users. In my view, it’s worthwhile upgrading to Strava’s premium tier if you think you’ll get value out of its route-building tool. It uses the company’s data to generate routes in your nearby vicinity, and I find it’s a good way to add some variety to your rides.

Subscribe to Strava - $60/year

Wahoo Elemnt Bolt V2

Wahoo Elemnt Bolt V2
Wahoo

In your phone, you already own one of the most useful cycling accessories you can buy. Not only can it point you in the right direction when you get lost but you can also use it with apps like Strava to track your rides. In those instances, it can be useful to have easy access to your phone when you’re on the saddle. That’s where a handlebar phone mount can be invaluable.

One of the most secure options I’ve tried is made by Quad Lock. The company’s system involves a case made specifically for your make of phone and a dual-stage locking mechanism that ensures both case and device stay firmly affixed to your bike. They also offer both stem and out front mounts, with the option to orient your phone horizontally – making it a great fit for Zwift.

Another option is to buy a dedicated bike computer such as the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. The Bolt offers turn-by-turn navigation and an interface that’s purpose-built for cycling. That means the inclusion of tactile buttons that make it possible to interact with the device by feel alone, even when you’re wearing cycling gloves. Plus, a $300 bike computer is a lot more affordable to replace than a high-end smartphone if you end up in a crash. Just make sure you go for the V2 version. Wahoo recently updated the Bolt to add USB-C charging and a color screen.

Buy Element Bolt V2 at Amazon - $300

Garmin Rally Pedals

Garmin Rally Pedals
Garmin

If you already own some variation of everything else on this list, then you’re probably at the point where you’re considering a power meter so you have a more consistent way of measuring your fitness gains.

To be clear, the majority of people, even those for whom cycling is their primary form of exercise, don’t need a power meter. But if you’re absolutely set on buying one, Garmin makes one of the best options. The company’s Rally pedals offer several advantages over other models. They’re much easier to install than power meters that replace either your bottom bracket or crankarms. All you need is a pedal wrench. Additionally, with Garmin offering the Rally pedals in Shimano SPD, SPD-SL and Look Keo versions, there’s a good chance you won’t have to replace your existing clipless cleats to use them. Garmin also offers a conversion kit that allows you to use the spindle mechanism across multiple bikes. With a price tag that starts at $649, they are expensive, but also one of the most versatile options on the market.

Buy Rally pedals at Garmin starting at $649

What we bought: Peloton’s Lanebreak offered just the kick I needed to get back in the saddle

Four years ago, I decided to purchase a Peloton bike. I was spending way too much on membership dues at a luxury gym I hardly attended, and I was intrigued by the idea of an exercise bike with live and on-demand classes. Even though the bike is expensive, I bought it on an installment plan; the monthly payments worked out to be around $100 less than that underused gym membership. Add in the fact that both my husband and I could use it for the price of a single subscription, and I was sold.

While I still do like the bike, I’ll admit that I haven't been using it as much in recent months. I just haven’t been very motivated, and when I do get the energy to go for a ride, I sometimes feel discouraged by my poor performance. Of course, I know that the beauty of the Peloton is that you can ride at your own pace, but it can feel demoralizing to rank at the bottom of the leaderboard all the time.

Recently, however, Peloton added a new “gamified” experience to the Bike and Bike+ called Lanebreak. Instead of following instructors in a class, you’ll be cycling along different tracks and at different difficulties in order to get a high score. Seeing as I’m a fan of fitness games – I really like Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure as well as Just Dance, for example – I was excited to try it out.

Peloton
Engadget

Lanebreak is found in the “More Rides” section in the Peloton menu, which is also where the Scenic Rides and Just Ride options are. In the game, there are six different tracks, and you navigate from one to the other with the bike’s resistance knob (you’ll know which one you’re in by the rotating wheel avatar). The farthest left is with the least resistance, while the furthest right is with the most resistance. As you might expect, the farther right you go, the more points you can score.

In order to gain points, you have to complete a few different tasks, which are either one after another on the same track or dispersed on to separate tracks. One is to simply cycle in the lane with blue bars, each of which represents “Beats.” These score points every time you go over them. Another is to cycle really fast in an orange “Breakers" section until the meter is “charged” – the more it’s charged, the more points you’ll get. Last but not least, there are “Streams,” where you’re tasked with holding your target cadence within a specified range.

At the end of a Lanebreak workout, your total score is based on all the Beats, Breakers and Streams that you’ve completed and collected throughout the game. You’ll also see a high score on the Lanebreak leaderboard for that particular game.

The length of a Lanebreak workout runs the gamut from five minutes to 30, and there are four different levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert. There’s also a wide variety of music playlists to pick from, such as “Rock Riot'' and David Bowie remixes.

Peloton
Engadget

I have to say, I had a lot of fun. The look and feel really reminds me of Guitar Hero, a game which I have fond memories of. I enjoy navigating to the different tracks and then cycling as hard as I can to score the maximum points. I tend to score fairly well in the beginner and intermediate levels, but I dare not venture into advanced or expert modes just yet. I was a little concerned that a 20 or 30 minute game might feel repetitive, but I actually really liked it – the song mixes help keep things interesting.

There are a few downsides, though. For one thing, the resistance knob can be a little fiddly, which is not great when I’m trying to make quick lane changes. Plus, there’s no real break for you to take a sip of water; you kind of just have to miss out on a few points when you’re hydrating. Of course, as there’s no instructor, you’ll also miss out on motivation shoutouts and stretching exercises. But I find that the gameplay aspect of Lanebreak is fun enough to make up for that.

Perhaps the best part of Lanebreak is that it got me back cycling after several months of not doing so. It really made me fall in love with cycling all over again. After a five-minute Lanebreak session yesterday, for example, I navigated over to the on-demand library and took a 20-minute beginner class. I felt great afterwards, and didn’t care at all about where I was on the leaderboard.

Raleigh’s expanded Motus e-bike line offers more power and range

How does a veteran bicycle maker like Raleigh survive an increasingly crowded e-bike market? By promising more oomph, apparently. The company has revamped its strong-selling Motus hybrid e-bike line with more power and range. The base Motus now starts with a 400WH Bosch Active Line motor (up from 300WH) and, accordingly, a bump from 60 miles to 80 miles of range. You shouldn't have as much trouble blasting up a hill or completing a lengthy commute. You can also expect four levels of electric assistance, a seven-speed gear system and hydraulic disc brakes.

More demanding riders have more options, of course. The Motus Tour and Motus Grand Tour both have the choice of either a derailleur or hub gearing, and they pack integrated front and rear lights as well as a wheel lock. The Tour and Grand Tour both pack sleeker, easily removable Bosch PowerTube batteries, while the top-end Grand Tour includes both a larger 500WH battery and a brawnier Active Line Plus motor. Raleigh claims up to 100 miles of range.

All the bikes are available in the UK and Ireland with either a crossbar frame or an easier-to-mount low step design. Expect higher prices in return for the added performance, however. The 'entry' Motus starts at £2,199 (about $2,987), while the Motus Tour begins at £2,499 for a derailleur version and the Grand Tour costs £2,699. The hub versions of the Tour and Grand Tour add another £100 to the price. They're slightly pricier than the models they replace (the previous Motus started at £1,900), but the additional outlay could easily be worthwhile if your bike is your chief mode of transportation.

Raleigh’s expanded Motus e-bike line offers more power and range

How does a veteran bicycle maker like Raleigh survive an increasingly crowded e-bike market? By promising more oomph, apparently. The company has revamped its strong-selling Motus hybrid e-bike line with more power and range. The base Motus now starts with a 400WH Bosch Active Line motor (up from 300WH) and, accordingly, a bump from 60 miles to 80 miles of range. You shouldn't have as much trouble blasting up a hill or completing a lengthy commute. You can also expect four levels of electric assistance, a seven-speed gear system and hydraulic disc brakes.

More demanding riders have more options, of course. The Motus Tour and Motus Grand Tour both have the choice of either a derailleur or hub gearing, and they pack integrated front and rear lights as well as a wheel lock. The Tour and Grand Tour both pack sleeker, easily removable Bosch PowerTube batteries, while the top-end Grand Tour includes both a larger 500WH battery and a brawnier Active Line Plus motor. Raleigh claims up to 100 miles of range.

All the bikes are available in the UK and Ireland with either a crossbar frame or an easier-to-mount low step design. Expect higher prices in return for the added performance, however. The 'entry' Motus starts at £2,199 (about $2,987), while the Motus Tour begins at £2,499 for a derailleur version and the Grand Tour costs £2,699. The hub versions of the Tour and Grand Tour add another £100 to the price. They're slightly pricier than the models they replace (the previous Motus started at £1,900), but the additional outlay could easily be worthwhile if your bike is your chief mode of transportation.

Peloton owners can now play a video game while they work out

Peloton today launched Lanebreak, a new series of workouts that mimic a racing game for its connected stationary bike. Riders get behind a virtual wheel, race down a multi-lane highway and gain points for higher levels of output and resistance. The fitness company briefly beta tested Lanebreak last July, and is now launching the new mode as a software update to all Peloton bikes in the US, UK, Canada, Germany and Australia.

Unlike the majority of other Peloton workouts, there’s no instructor on Lanebreak offering encouragement throughout the ride. Instead, riders can choose from a selection of different pop-centric playlists to listen to in the background, featuring the likes of David Guetta, David Bowie, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran.

For Peloton riders who are bored with the usual slate of instructor-led classes, Lanebreak adds a change of pace. It’s also the first new program that the fitness company has added to their fitness library in a while, following a major expansion in 2020 that included barre, yoga, pilates and strength training classes.

The fitness company, once a darling of the pandemic, has now run into financial woes due to a decline in demand. Earlier this month, Peloton replaced its CEO and laid-off roughly 20 percent of its workforce in an effort to streamline its expenses. But despite its struggles on Wall Street, Peloton's incredibly loyal customer base has a 96% one-year retention rate. The bikes are a large upfront investment, and few Peloton riders want the added hassle of reselling and moving their $1,495 bike. While it’s unlikely that Lanebreak will recruit new Peloton riders, it’ll add some variety to a fitness library that, for some seasoned riders, has become stale.

Zwift is holding a cycling esports event in a virtual NYC

Zwift is bringing together some of its more dedicated cyclists for another competitive riding event. On February 26th, the workout platform will host the second UCI Cycling Esports World Championships ever, which takes place on a course set in a virtual version of Central Park in New York City.

Riders will complete two laps of the 22.5 km (~14 mile) Knickerbocker route plus some additional track to make up the complete 54.9 km (34 mile) circuit. The New York course features some glass roadways that are suspended above the park to add more elevation and a sci-fi twist to the ride. Pay close attention and you'll see flying cars zipping around too.

The competitors will all use the Wahoo Kickr V5 Smart Trainers. Zwift says these intelligently respond to climb gradients as well as simulated draft from other riders.

Since this is a virtual event, Zwift is able to shake things up a bit from traditional road races. Riders will have seven chances to pick up Mario Kart-style PowerUps during the race (a regular feature on Zwift courses). They can deploy these at strategic times to temporarily increase the draft effect, boost aerodynamic efficiency or reduce the bike's weight.

Around 180 riders will compete across the men's and women's races. The winners will each receive a physical and digital championship jersey they can wear for sanctioned esports races and activities and while their avatar is active on Zwift. The event will be broadcast on Eurosport in Europe and on GCN+ and Zwift's YouTube channel around the world.

Zwift notes that all users had the chance to secure a spot in the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships through continental qualifier races. It says that while it's early days for cycling esports, some specialist riders have already emerged. As the metaverse continues to take shape, perhaps we'll start seeing more physical esports events in other disciplines.

Muoverti says its tilting stationary bike feels like real cycling

While nothing can truly match the real thing, a number of stationary bike companies have tried to replicate the outdoor riding experience. A startup called Muoverti is the latest to take a swing with its TiltBikes.

As the name suggests, the machine can swing from side to side while you're standing and you can lean to turn a virtual corner. "You can balance and steer, accelerate and brake and fully engage legs, core and upper body," a narrator notes in an announcement video.

The on-pedal feel is said to mirror the physical forces of a real bike, such as gravity, incline and inertia. The electromagnetic resistance is controlled by an algorithm that updates a thousand times per second. This, according to the company, enables simulations of factors including drafting, angular wind speed and rolling resistance in real time.

TiltBikes are compatible with training apps including Zwift, RGT and Trainer Road. What's more, there are built-in gaming controls, so you can connect the bike to an Xbox and perhaps squeeze in some Riders Republic as you're getting a workout. The bike can pair with a smartphone, tablet or PC via Bluetooth too.

The thumbstick control on a Muoverti TiltBike.
Muoverti

The frame is swappable, you can switch it out if you have different handlebar or pedal preferences to someone you share a TiltBike with, or go from a time trial setup to a mountain bike one. You'll also be able to monitor your workouts through a companion app that tracks more than 20 stats in real time.

These aren't exactly the first tilting stationary bikes on the market. Bowflex's Velocore, for instance, can stay locked in place or switch to leaning mode. Alternatively, you can put a bike on rocker plates for that side-to-side motion.

It appears Muoverti's goal is to bring together elements from other bikes and to elevate the experience. As it stands, some features that serious cyclists will be looking for don't seem to be available, such as vertical climb simulation, so it might be a better fit for more casual riders. Still, with its stylish frames, TiltBikes look a bit more like actual bikes than rival models.

Muoverti hasn't announced pricing for TiltBikes as yet, though given that some configurations don't include a display, they could prove less expensive than some other models. The company plans to ship the stationary bikes in 2022, giving you some time to find a decent wind machine to get the full outdoor riding effect.

A rider on a Muoverti TiltBike using a virtual training experience that's displayed on a TV.
Muoverti

‘Modular Cycling Helmet with a full-face attachment for motorbikes’ secures Silver at the YD x KeyShot Design Challenge

Among hundreds of entries for the YD x KeyShot Design Challenge that asked participants to redesign the Envoy Helmet to make it safer,
António Martins’ redesign turned the bicycle helmet into a versatile piece of headgear that could even offer full-face protection while riding motorcycles.

“To make ENVOY Helmet safer, I designed a removable chin protector along with a practical snap system. Its clean design makes the chin protector look like part of the helmet”, said Martins about his Silver Award-winning design.

It makes a world of sense, because people shouldn’t have to buy two separate helmets for bicycles and motorbikes. Martins’ elegant modular design allows you to have both helmets within one product. The redesigned Envoy proposes having a separate, detachable chin-protector that can easily and securely be snapped in place using tabs on either side of the helmet. Just attach the chin protector and the Envoy goes from being a cycling helmet to something perfect for motorbiking, quad-biking, and even snowmobiling in.

Unanimously declared the Silver Winner by the YD x KeyShot Design Challenge Jury Panel, António also wins a pair of AirPods Pro along with a KeyShot HD Licence.

Follow Yanko Design and KeyShot on Instagram to know about upcoming Design Challenges.

Designer: António Maria Oliveira Martins

The Carol smart exercise bike is a $2,400 paradox

If you had the opportunity, would you pay more in order to use an exercise bike less frequently? That is, give or take, the sales pitch for Carol’s at-home spin bike. It’s the anti-Peloton, designed to be used for just 8 minutes and 40 seconds per workout. At the end of its standard program, it even tells you that you can go to the gym if you want to, rather than because you need to. But stealing back all of those hours from the capricious gods of exercise comes at a price: $2,395, plus $12 per month after the first three months. It’s up to you to decide if that eye-watering fee is worth swerving all of those cardio sessions.

Science

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

Carol leverages the principles of Reduced Exertion, High Intensity Interval Training (REHIIT), a variation on the Tabata method of HIIT. Put simply, you’re asked to exercise at a very high intensity for a very short period of time, rather than a long period of time in a steady state. In this example, Carol says that its standard sub-nine-minute workout gives you the equivalent workout to a 45-minute jog. This involves you going all-out for 20 seconds, but then having the better part of three minutes to recover.

That 20-second frenzy is designed to deplete your body’s stores of glycogen and pushes the heart rate through the roof. The long recovery time is designed to reset your body, enabling you to grind out far more from your muscles than you would in a standard Tabata workout. And studies have shown that, at least in male participants, a six-week REHIIT program can improve their insulin resistance and oxygen consumption.

“One of the things I like about REHIIT is the long length of the recovery periods,” says Stuart Moore, trainer and owner of Wheel Fitness, a specialist cycling practice. “This enables people without a lot of experience to recover properly between bouts of hard work and then go again with another round.” He added that “all interval training can be useful,” but stressed that would-be adopters “should get the important checks with your doctor” before trying this sort of thing. “I’d prefer complete beginners to interval training try something more mild than modified versions of HIIT,” he said, “this could help with developing a base before delving into the more intense exercise later.”

Andrea Speir, co-founder and lead trainer at Speir Pilates, added that the psychological benefits on neophyte exercisers were crucial. “Because it spikes the heart rate and improves VO2 Max, cardiac output and boosts the metabolism [...] without being too strenuous,” she said. “It’s not as daunting to commit to it three-to-five times a week, which is where you really see great results,” she added.

History

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

It’s not often that a company founder announces that their product exists because of a BBC documentary, but Carol isn’t exactly a standard Silicon Valley story. Co-founder Ulrich Dempfle was a management consultant working with the UK’s National Health Service on behalf of firms like McKinsey and PWC. Part of his role was to look for ways to encourage people to exercise more, despite the fact they would often say they didn’t have enough time to become gym bunnies. It wasn’t until he watched 2012’s The Truth About Exercise that he became a convert to REHIIT.

The documentary was fronted by Dr. Michael Mosely, who is chiefly responsible for making intermittent fasting mainstream in the UK. One of Mosely’s gimmicks has always been to look for more efficient ways to feel healthy, and this was a love letter to REHIIT. Dempfle and his team contacted the academics whose research was featured in order to get a look at their equipment. Dempfle explained that the bikes featured had their intensity controlled by one of the academics while a person exercised on them, and that the price was astronomical. It was here that the idea of building an affordable REHIIT bike was more or less born. In fact, Carol would wind up being featured in a Mosley’s 2018 follow-up documentary, The Truth About Getting Fit, albeit not named because of the BBC’s rules against product placement.

Bike

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

At first glance, Carol could be mistaken for pretty much any at-home exercise bike. It has a very large, rear-slung flywheel and a beefy drive unit, which houses the system to electronically control the resistance, the secret sauce behind the REHIIT program. A pair of short handles with the customary heart rate-monitoring electrodes sit below the display housing, which holds a 10.1-inch screen. The seat height and distance is adjustable, as well as the height of the handlebars, and there are toe cages and clips on the pedals, for pro cyclists.

After you’ve registered, you can then log in to the bike, which is a process you’ll have to do every time you want to use it. After the first attempt, you can just tap on your initials on a list of stored users, but there’s no way to stay logged in by default. Given how beefy the bike is, and that it’s designed for both at-home and professional use, I feel as if this makes it well-suited to offices and gyms, more so than people’s homes. You could easily see this in the corner of a small business, with staff members getting their 10 minutes each day as they take a break from their work.

Display

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

When it comes to screens, there are two schools of thought dominating the at-home fitness market. Peloton’s ubiquity means that consumers may soon expect all machines to have a glossy, massive HD display as the default. Companies like Wattbike, Concept2 and others, however, are happy pushing out machines that still leverage old-school LCD head units. (On a personal note, the Polar View offered by the Wattbike PMB is one of the best training tools I’ve ever encountered).

Carol splits this difference by offering a 10.1-inch color touchscreen that offers the same sort of data you’d find on an LCD set, but cleaner and more colorful. The UI flashes an angry red when you hit the high intensity phase, and the visualizations showing your power output are great. A software update, too, came through during my review that has made the UI a lot cleaner and smoother than it was before. And, even better, you can use the display to live stream classes from Peloton’s own app, although you’ll need to subscribe to them separately.

Boot the bike up for the first time and you’ll be greeted by a Lenovo splash screen because Carol’s display is quite literally a Lenovo tablet in a housing. On paper, this is genius: An Android tablet should last longer, is more affordable and should be easier to replace than a custom solution. Plus, you can (and Carol does) leverage Google’s pre-built accessibility features for adjusting screen fonts and voice overs that it would take time and money to copy for little-to-no upside.

Not to mention that, because it is an Android tablet, you can run third-party apps through the Play Store, albeit only ones that have been sanctioned by Carol’s makers. So far, that’s just Peloton, but there’s no technical reason that your favorite fitness, or entertainment, app couldn’t wind up on this screen as well. But, for all of those positives, slamming an Android tablet onto a bike and calling it quits still feels a bit lackluster for a bike costing two thousand four hundred dollars.

In use

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

Once you’ve answered the medical questionnaire, you have to go through six taster sessions for the bike to gauge your overall fitness level. After that point, you’re free to sample the delights that the bike has to offer, including four different REHIIT workouts. I pretty much stuck to the standard program — the reason anyone would buy a Carol bike — but there are other options available. This includes an Energiser ride, which offers shorter, 10-second sprints, as well as 15-minute or 25 minute Fat Burn program, with 30 or 60 sprints, respectively. You also get the option for a Free Ride, with power controlled by yourself, or an Endurance ride with the resistance slowly ramping up beyond your ability to cope with it.

Once you’ve chosen a program, you’re asked to choose from a series of generic audio options but, again, I was advised by the company’s representatives to stick with the default. (This was probably for the best, because the other options are essentially musak.) In it, a calm voiceover talks about how neanderthal man never jogged, they either walked slowly, or ran like their lives depended on it. At the same time, the on-screen coaching tells you to breathe in for four seconds, hold for a beat, and then exhale over six seconds, which is hard to coordinate if you’re bad at multitasking. All the while you’re asked to cycle at a very low level, never exceeding an output of 20 watts or so.

There’s a countdown timer on screen (and a timeline), so it’s not as if you’re not told when the sprints are about to begin. But the narration treats it more like a surprise, talking about the vista when, suddenly, she tells you that there’s a tiger leaping out at you!, and you have to pedal for your life. The screen turns red three seconds before the sprint begins, letting you spool up as you prepare to go hell for leather to escape your predator. Because the resistance is calibrated to your fitness level, it continues to go up after your initial burst of energy to ensure that you’re nicely wiped out by the end of the sprint. Hell, I found that I was flagging at the 10-second mark, and could never get back to my first output peak no matter what I tried.

You may scoff at the idea that biking for just 20 seconds can wipe you out and make any positive impact on your fitness. You begin to feel your legs go as your body suddenly starts to wuss out, and the final quarter of the sprints have you running on fumes. As effective exercises go, the system makes good upon its promises, and you need that long recovery time to restore any sense of humanity you may have had. The screen will graph your output (and compare it to your output on the second sprint, when you hit it) and let you see how far you’ve dropped between runs. Although the on-screen display’s promise that you won’t sweat is mostly true, it’s not entirely fair for sweaty, sweaty boys like me.

Wrap-up

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

In the period in which I was using Carol, I think my fitness did improve, as did my mood when I was trying to complete one of these more or less every single day. (The bike repeatedly advises you, as does its representatives, to only do a single sprint session in a 24 hour period and only three times a week to avoid injury.) You certainly start the day feeling more energized, and I can’t complain that this has eaten a big chunk of my day when it hasn’t.

But I’m finding myself hamstrung by the price, especially given the fact that it’s designed to do one job, one fitness program, to the exclusion of most others. Do I want to spend $2,399 plus an additional $12 a month on an appliance I’d use for 30 or 40 minutes a week? Yes, that’s less than you can spend on a Wattbike Atom or Peloton Bike+, but it’s still a lot. In that philistinic sense of knowing the cost of something but not its value, the numbers make my eyes water.

It’s a bike that does one thing, really, and it does it well, but I feel in my gut that I’d have an easier time singing this thing’s praises if its price was just below the $2,000 mark. It’s a weird psychological barrier for sure, and maybe you’re scoffing at my imaginary parsimony. But as much as this thing is designed for a mainstream audience, right now, it’s priced at the level where only enthusiasts can buy it.

The Carol smart exercise bike is a $2,400 paradox

If you had the opportunity, would you pay more in order to use an exercise bike less frequently? That is, give or take, the sales pitch for Carol’s at-home spin bike. It’s the anti-Peloton, designed to be used for just 8 minutes and 40 seconds per workout. At the end of its standard program, it even tells you that you can go to the gym if you want to, rather than because you need to. But stealing back all of those hours from the capricious gods of exercise comes at a price: $2,395, plus $12 per month after the first three months. It’s up to you to decide if that eye-watering fee is worth swerving all of those cardio sessions.

Science

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

Carol leverages the principles of Reduced Exertion, High Intensity Interval Training (REHIIT), a variation on the Tabata method of HIIT. Put simply, you’re asked to exercise at a very high intensity for a very short period of time, rather than a long period of time in a steady state. In this example, Carol says that its standard sub-nine-minute workout gives you the equivalent workout to a 45-minute jog. This involves you going all-out for 20 seconds, but then having the better part of three minutes to recover.

That 20-second frenzy is designed to deplete your body’s stores of glycogen and pushes the heart rate through the roof. The long recovery time is designed to reset your body, enabling you to grind out far more from your muscles than you would in a standard Tabata workout. And studies have shown that, at least in male participants, a six-week REHIIT program can improve their insulin resistance and oxygen consumption.

“One of the things I like about REHIIT is the long length of the recovery periods,” says Stuart Moore, trainer and owner of Wheel Fitness, a specialist cycling practice. “This enables people without a lot of experience to recover properly between bouts of hard work and then go again with another round.” He added that “all interval training can be useful,” but stressed that would-be adopters “should get the important checks with your doctor” before trying this sort of thing. “I’d prefer complete beginners to interval training try something more mild than modified versions of HIIT,” he said, “this could help with developing a base before delving into the more intense exercise later.”

Andrea Speir, co-founder and lead trainer at Speir Pilates, added that the psychological benefits on neophyte exercisers were crucial. “Because it spikes the heart rate and improves VO2 Max, cardiac output and boosts the metabolism [...] without being too strenuous,” she said. “It’s not as daunting to commit to it three-to-five times a week, which is where you really see great results,” she added.

History

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

It’s not often that a company founder announces that their product exists because of a BBC documentary, but Carol isn’t exactly a standard Silicon Valley story. Co-founder Ulrich Dempfle was a management consultant working with the UK’s National Health Service on behalf of firms like McKinsey and PWC. Part of his role was to look for ways to encourage people to exercise more, despite the fact they would often say they didn’t have enough time to become gym bunnies. It wasn’t until he watched 2012’s The Truth About Exercise that he became a convert to REHIIT.

The documentary was fronted by Dr. Michael Mosely, who is chiefly responsible for making intermittent fasting mainstream in the UK. One of Mosely’s gimmicks has always been to look for more efficient ways to feel healthy, and this was a love letter to REHIIT. Dempfle and his team contacted the academics whose research was featured in order to get a look at their equipment. Dempfle explained that the bikes featured had their intensity controlled by one of the academics while a person exercised on them, and that the price was astronomical. It was here that the idea of building an affordable REHIIT bike was more or less born. In fact, Carol would wind up being featured in a Mosley’s 2018 follow-up documentary, The Truth About Getting Fit, albeit not named because of the BBC’s rules against product placement.

Bike

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

At first glance, Carol could be mistaken for pretty much any at-home exercise bike. It has a very large, rear-slung flywheel and a beefy drive unit, which houses the system to electronically control the resistance, the secret sauce behind the REHIIT program. A pair of short handles with the customary heart rate-monitoring electrodes sit below the display housing, which holds a 10.1-inch screen. The seat height and distance is adjustable, as well as the height of the handlebars, and there are toe cages and clips on the pedals, for pro cyclists.

After you’ve registered, you can then log in to the bike, which is a process you’ll have to do every time you want to use it. After the first attempt, you can just tap on your initials on a list of stored users, but there’s no way to stay logged in by default. Given how beefy the bike is, and that it’s designed for both at-home and professional use, I feel as if this makes it well-suited to offices and gyms, more so than people’s homes. You could easily see this in the corner of a small business, with staff members getting their 10 minutes each day as they take a break from their work.

Display

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

When it comes to screens, there are two schools of thought dominating the at-home fitness market. Peloton’s ubiquity means that consumers may soon expect all machines to have a glossy, massive HD display as the default. Companies like Wattbike, Concept2 and others, however, are happy pushing out machines that still leverage old-school LCD head units. (On a personal note, the Polar View offered by the Wattbike PMB is one of the best training tools I’ve ever encountered).

Carol splits this difference by offering a 10.1-inch color touchscreen that offers the same sort of data you’d find on an LCD set, but cleaner and more colorful. The UI flashes an angry red when you hit the high intensity phase, and the visualizations showing your power output are great. A software update, too, came through during my review that has made the UI a lot cleaner and smoother than it was before. And, even better, you can use the display to live stream classes from Peloton’s own app, although you’ll need to subscribe to them separately.

Boot the bike up for the first time and you’ll be greeted by a Lenovo splash screen because Carol’s display is quite literally a Lenovo tablet in a housing. On paper, this is genius: An Android tablet should last longer, is more affordable and should be easier to replace than a custom solution. Plus, you can (and Carol does) leverage Google’s pre-built accessibility features for adjusting screen fonts and voice overs that it would take time and money to copy for little-to-no upside.

Not to mention that, because it is an Android tablet, you can run third-party apps through the Play Store, albeit only ones that have been sanctioned by Carol’s makers. So far, that’s just Peloton, but there’s no technical reason that your favorite fitness, or entertainment, app couldn’t wind up on this screen as well. But, for all of those positives, slamming an Android tablet onto a bike and calling it quits still feels a bit lackluster for a bike costing two thousand four hundred dollars.

In use

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

Once you’ve answered the medical questionnaire, you have to go through six taster sessions for the bike to gauge your overall fitness level. After that point, you’re free to sample the delights that the bike has to offer, including four different REHIIT workouts. I pretty much stuck to the standard program — the reason anyone would buy a Carol bike — but there are other options available. This includes an Energiser ride, which offers shorter, 10-second sprints, as well as 15-minute or 25 minute Fat Burn program, with 30 or 60 sprints, respectively. You also get the option for a Free Ride, with power controlled by yourself, or an Endurance ride with the resistance slowly ramping up beyond your ability to cope with it.

Once you’ve chosen a program, you’re asked to choose from a series of generic audio options but, again, I was advised by the company’s representatives to stick with the default. (This was probably for the best, because the other options are essentially musak.) In it, a calm voiceover talks about how neanderthal man never jogged, they either walked slowly, or ran like their lives depended on it. At the same time, the on-screen coaching tells you to breathe in for four seconds, hold for a beat, and then exhale over six seconds, which is hard to coordinate if you’re bad at multitasking. All the while you’re asked to cycle at a very low level, never exceeding an output of 20 watts or so.

There’s a countdown timer on screen (and a timeline), so it’s not as if you’re not told when the sprints are about to begin. But the narration treats it more like a surprise, talking about the vista when, suddenly, she tells you that there’s a tiger leaping out at you!, and you have to pedal for your life. The screen turns red three seconds before the sprint begins, letting you spool up as you prepare to go hell for leather to escape your predator. Because the resistance is calibrated to your fitness level, it continues to go up after your initial burst of energy to ensure that you’re nicely wiped out by the end of the sprint. Hell, I found that I was flagging at the 10-second mark, and could never get back to my first output peak no matter what I tried.

You may scoff at the idea that biking for just 20 seconds can wipe you out and make any positive impact on your fitness. You begin to feel your legs go as your body suddenly starts to wuss out, and the final quarter of the sprints have you running on fumes. As effective exercises go, the system makes good upon its promises, and you need that long recovery time to restore any sense of humanity you may have had. The screen will graph your output (and compare it to your output on the second sprint, when you hit it) and let you see how far you’ve dropped between runs. Although the on-screen display’s promise that you won’t sweat is mostly true, it’s not entirely fair for sweaty, sweaty boys like me.

Wrap-up

Images of the CAROL HIIT bike
Daniel Cooper

In the period in which I was using Carol, I think my fitness did improve, as did my mood when I was trying to complete one of these more or less every single day. (The bike repeatedly advises you, as does its representatives, to only do a single sprint session in a 24 hour period and only three times a week to avoid injury.) You certainly start the day feeling more energized, and I can’t complain that this has eaten a big chunk of my day when it hasn’t.

But I’m finding myself hamstrung by the price, especially given the fact that it’s designed to do one job, one fitness program, to the exclusion of most others. Do I want to spend $2,399 plus an additional $12 a month on an appliance I’d use for 30 or 40 minutes a week? Yes, that’s less than you can spend on a Wattbike Atom or Peloton Bike+, but it’s still a lot. In that philistinic sense of knowing the cost of something but not its value, the numbers make my eyes water.

It’s a bike that does one thing, really, and it does it well, but I feel in my gut that I’d have an easier time singing this thing’s praises if its price was just below the $2,000 mark. It’s a weird psychological barrier for sure, and maybe you’re scoffing at my imaginary parsimony. But as much as this thing is designed for a mainstream audience, right now, it’s priced at the level where only enthusiasts can buy it.