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Before You Buy a Bike continued...

First, decide what you will use the bike for -- as your main exercise source, one of several aerobic activities, or just a rainy-day alternative. Then, determine how much room you have to spare and what your budget allows.

Next, do some research. Ask friends or trainers at your gym for their recommendations. You may also want to check out Consumer Reports or other impartial reviews. Check with local equipment retailers -- from department stores to fitness suppliers -- about the kind of bike you should get, based on your needs. (Keep in mind that electronic bikes with program modes offer more workout variety but usually take up more space, require more maintenance, and cost considerably more than their manual counterparts.)

Here are some questions to consider:

How much should you spend? A stationary bike can cost from a hundred dollars to a couple of thousand, depending on its features. Experts suggest buying something within your price range that offers the stability, convenience, and control you desire. But don't overspend -- particularly if you're not sure you'll stick with a cycling program.

Eskola recommends buying from a local fitness equipment dealer, who can offer a warranty, service contract, and more assistance in operating the bike than a chain department or discount store. She also says, "You get what you pay for," so choose a bike made by a reputable company. Spending $700 to $800, she says, will give you a great bike that will last.

"I definitely suggest you get one that has some options," Eskola says. "As you get better, you're going to want to upgrade."

However, Magee is perfectly happy with a manual stationary bike she bought for $300. At the time, she thought that was a lot, but she has since decided it was worth it.

Should you get a used bike? If you belong to a gym, ask staffers to notify you when the gym upgrades its bikes. Many health clubs will sell their used stationary bikes to members at minimal cost. Even a bike that the club used for indoor cycling classes might work for you: They are stable and small, and because they operate with belts or chains, they simulate the feeling of an outdoor bike.

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