The attraction of the bare-bones stationary bikes used in spinning classes has always been that they feel like real bikes, with the same saddles, pedal spacing and body positioning found on race bikes. The newest spinners have the same feel -- but with one big change: They're far from bare bones. Some have program-laden touch-screen monitors; some rock and bob and require balance; others provide sophisticated, downloadable electronic feedback. With enough bells and whistles to please hard-core cyclists and average exercisers alike, these super spin bikes might just make you forget about class.
A ROCKING RIDE
Likes: Fun, exhilarating, challenging. It rocks, turns and tilts, requiring you to constantly use your whole body to balance, working your core and upper body and, in theory, burning more calories. I found myself actively paying attention; you can't space out, as you might on a normal spin bike. Whereas some new spin bikes have swiveling handlebars, here the entire bike moves.
Dislikes: No cyclometer, so no performance feedback.
Price: $1,995. (800) 976-6280; www.realryder.com.
StarTrac eSpinner: Spin bike with a built-in 15-inch touch-screen TV monitor, a variety of self-paced and instructor-led programs, and an iPod port.
Likes: Great variety. Workout options include video classes led by a real trainer and adjusted to your own time and resistance needs, plus more conventional interval, strength, endurance and "race day" workouts against simple course profiles. A handy "in-the-zone" display tracks your heart rate and cadence in horizontal bars that change color from green to red when you go too fast or slow, leaving the correct workout zone. You can do any workout while riding to music or videos from your iPod or while watching TV, and switch back and forth. While watching Condoleezza Rice being interviewed on "The View," I pushed my heart rate to 154 beats per minute. Includes a fan, Shimano SPD-compatible clipless pedals, Polar chest strap and a USB port for computer downloads.
Dislikes: Although you can change the graphics, you can't change programs in the middle of a workout, so you have to sit through another five-minute warm-up. Also, for this price, I'd have liked to have seen fancier programs that would let me "race" against a virtual-reality competitor.
Price: $4,695.(800) 228-6635; www.startrac.com.
LOTS OF FEEDBACK
CycleOps Pro 300PT: Spinner with enhanced cyclometer feedback functions, including a precision watt meter.
Likes: Solid feel and good feedback. Monitor displays speed, cadence, watts and heart rate and can store 150 hours of data that are downloadable to your PC via a USB port. This sophisticated watt meter is particularly valuable for serious athletes because it shows exactly how much energy you're putting out. (Lance Armstrong can pump out almost 500 watts.) A hand brake (rare on spin bikes) allows for safe, quick dismounts. The resistance control dial, on the right handlebar's end, is convenient for those who don't want to take their hands off the bar. DVD training program is included.
Dislikes: LCD display screen is small (1 1/4 by 2 inches), with numbers less than 1/2 inch tall. Resistance dial has no numbers on it, so you don't know your level.
Price: $1,999. (800) 783-7257; www.cycleops.com.
Keiser M3: Beautiful, minimalist magnetic-resistance trainer with basic feedback information.
Likes: Sleek, simple, smooth, quiet, effective. Monitor displays rpm, watts, calories, heart rate and time and has a trip odometer and a "gear" indicator that shows your resistance level from 1 to 24. Lightest of the group at 85 pounds but felt very solid when I hammered out of the saddle on hard efforts. Resistance is adjusted by a simple lever on the stem.
Price: $1,395. (800) 888-7009; www.keiser.com.
Irvine-based endurance cyclist Wallack is the co-author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100."