After an ACL tear, a year and a half ago, all forms of cardio was restricted for me. For almost 12-months, I had to make do with just weights. That too, seated exercises only. Naturally, I ballooned from a trim 180-lb, to 220-lb very soon.
Then, the lockdown happened and it was practically no cardio for another 6-months as well. That’s when I decided to check out recumbent bikes. In case you are wondering, recumbent bikes are a very gentle form of cardio. Gentle on your primary weight bearing joints that is. It can also improve your range of motion.
They would allow me to exercise while being low impact, this is a contrast to the incline treadmill that I used before I had my injury. I thought about getting an elliptical like the Schwinn 470 or the Sole E25 but I decided to buy a stationary bike over an elliptical since I thought it was the optimal thing to buy given my injury.
After a quick consultation with my doc, I was searching for the best bikes for home use. After spending six weeks eating, sleeping and living recumbent bikes, I was finally able to narrow down my search to just two bikes.
The Nordictrack VR21 & The Schwinn 270.
Before we dive in, I want you to take a look at the customer reviews for each bike.
Here are the reviews for the Nordictrack.
And here are the reviews for the Schwinn 270.
Yeah notice something? Yes the rating itself is better on the Schwinn 270, but that's not the only thing. I want you to notice just how many more reviews it also has than the Nordictrack. A freakin ton.
Both these bikes are crammed to the brim with features, are reasonably compact (fit into my tiny apartment) & not grossly overpriced like some fancy models that I saw.
To be honest, I was completely unsure of which one of the two to pick. But I had to come to a decision fast and after a lot of deliberation, I went ahead with the Schwinn 270. I’ll explain my reasons.
Quick Overview of Each Recumbent Bike
My checklist while researching recumbent bikes was pretty elaborate mind you. But both these bikes ticked 90% of the list, which is no mean feat.
Nordictrack VR21 – The Nordictrack VR21 is the newer model in Nordictrack’s range of recumbent bikes. It also happens to be the lowest priced option in that range. But don’t let that make you underestimate its capabilities. This is a terrific, feature-rich machine. It features a 23-pound flywheel, a very comfortable back support & 32 built-in workouts.
Schwinn 270 – The Schwinn 270 on the other hand is at the top-end of Schwinn’s range of recumbent bikes. It features a 17-pound magnetic resistance system, great ergonomics & 29-built in workouts.
As you’d have noticed, there’s very little difference in specifications. That’s what made the decision tricky.
Now let’s take a closer look at each bike.
The Nordictrack Commercial VR21 is the most affordable recumbent bike in Nordictrack’s range. The other options are the VR25 & the R35, both of which are priced well above $1000. Those are the bells & whistles models as I call them. Features that look great on paper, but will be rarely used.
The VR21 on the other hand provides great bang for the buck. It has a reasonably heavy drive, it’s entertainment-friendly considering that you can use your tablet and run iFit with it, and has 25-resistance settings. That more than suffices for apartment or a small backyard gym use.
Specs and features
- Size - 54.6” H & 24.2” W x 61.1” L
- Resistance – 25 Resistance Levels
- Backrest – Lumbar Support & a comfortable mesh seat
- Console – 5” Backlit Display
- Built in Programs – 32
- Flywheel - 23 lb.
- Weight – 350 lb.
As you can see, the VR21 is just about 5 feet long and about 4 ½’ tall. It weighs a sizeable 110 lb. when fully assembled. But comes with removable casters that you can attach if you want to move this around the house. The heavy frame means that it does not creak or groan (if you've ever had to put up with a clunking noise on an elliptical, bike or treadmill then you know what I'm talking about), even when a 220 lb. userlike me sits on it. It’s as steady as a rock.
That said, here’s a look at the features of the bike that I liked the most.
The Comfort –Every recumbent bike brand out there wants you to believe that they have designed the most comfortable frame in the world. But I have sat on some poorly designed ones. Some have freakishly-long crank handles, while the rest have their seats farther back than what’s comfortable.
While the Nordictrack VR21 is not one of those fancy foldable exercise bikes with a comfortable backrest, it is by far one of the most perfect ones that I have used. The mesh seat is adjustable. You can move it back and forth until you find the sweet spot. The mesh pattern ensures that you don’t scorch your butt on a hot and sweaty day. The backrest is almost like a high-back office chair.
Tablet Holder – I am not a person who watches Netflix while exercising. Nor do I subscribe to one of the interactive programs. But if you prefer either of these, then you’ll be glad to know that the Nordictrack VR21 features a tablet holder that can be used to park your mobile or tab.
32 Workout Apps–I quite liked the 32 inbuilt workout programs in the VR21. If you are too lazy to create a custom workout, or want to take the guesswork out of your exercises, just select one of these based on your fitness goal. For instance, select calorie burn for an HIIT program, or Endurance for an LISS one.
25 Resistance settings –The VR21 features 25 resistance settings that are digitally controlled. Be warned that even the first resistance setting is pretty difficult. As you crank these up, you are in for a vigorous workout session.
One touch controls – Everything is easily tweakable with the touch of a button. Be it toggling through the built-in programs or increasing or reducing the resistance. There’s an emergency stop button as well, in case you feel gassed out midway through a workout.
What Is Great About This Bike?
The Nordictrack VR21 has pretty much all the features that one looks for from a recumbent bike for home use. It’s comfortable, sturdy & has enough built-in workout programs to keep even a seasoned athlete invested.
The resistance settings will make you sweat. All in all, it’s a pretty good option even for commercial settings.
The Schwinn 270 is hands down, the best recumbent bike from Schwinn’s range. The seating is ergonomic, the crank handles are perfectly positioned and I personally feel that the design puts less strain on my knees as compared to some of the other bikes I have tried.
If you compare the overall build quality and that feature list, it’s comparable to bikes that are priced south of $1000. It features a 17 lb. magnetic resistance system, and a compact console with 29 built in workout programs.
Specs and Features
- Size - 64" L x 27" W x 50" H
- Resistance – 25 Resistance Levels
- Backrest – Mesh Ventilated backrest with Lumbar Support
- Console – 5” Backlit Display
- Built in Programs – 29
- Flywheel - 17 lb.
- Max Weight – 300 lb.
The Schwinn 270 is more or less the same size as the Commercial VR21. It has a max weight rating of 300 lb. which is perfect for my family. I am the biggest person who’s going to be using it. It has a perimeter weighted flywheel which makes the operation extremely quiet.
My partner’s on her business meetings on Zoom while I am exercising in the other room. She’s never heard a sound. The walk through frame is made of heavy duty steel and the bike does not creak like some flimsier ones do.
Comfort – The Schwinn 270 is definitely more comfortable than any other recumbent bike that I’ve tried. The padded seat is a welcome addition and the tall backrest gives enough support for long workouts. More importantly, my back and butt are not sore post the workout.
The pedals are extra wide. So are the handles. I am 6’2 and this was perfect for someone as tall as me, right out of the box. My partner is shorter. But she can easily adjust the seat and get started with her workouts in no time.
Entertainment –As I mentioned earlier, I am not a huge fan of docking my tablet on the bike. Neither’s my partner. That said, the Schwinn 270 does have a tablet holder that allows you to dock your iPad and connect it to Ride Social. This is the iFit equivalent that Schwinn offers. There are tons of programs to select from.
29 workout programs – The Schwinn 270 features 29 built in workout programs. 12 of these are profile defined, 9 are for HIIT, 4 custom user defined ones, 2 fitness tests to measure your fitness level & 1 quick start program. That’s ample variety to keep you engrossed for years. One of my constant worries before I bought a recumbent bike was that I would outgrow it and get bored of the workouts. But jeez, was I mistaken.
25 Resistance levels – Just like the Nordictrack VR21, the Schwinn 270 also features 25 resistance levels. Only this one is powered by an eddy current resistance system as opposed to a digital one. I found this easier to get started with. The first three levels were very easy. But as I increased, it got progressively difficult. It’s been 5-months since I bought this. I am yet to progress beyond Level 11.
Quick Access Buttons – There are a bunch of quick access buttons for the most frequently used settings. For instance, I can quickly select a resistance level, or hop into a program without having to fiddle with the buttons.
What I Like About This Bike?
The Schwinn 270 is a very reasonably priced bike, with features that are on-par with commercial grade units. The construction is sold, it’s got a great ergonomic profile, the seat is padded, the backrest is amazing.
There are enough workout programs bundled in it. But for those who seek more options, there’s the Ride Social Program that you can subscribe to.
Nordictrack Vr21 Vs Schwinn 270: Which One Wins?
The decision was tough as nails. But in my opinion, the Scwhinn 270 takes home the prize.
It is slightly bigger than the Nordictrack VR21. Normally, a couple of inches to the length or height of an exercise bike may not matter. But at 6’2 and 220 lb., trust me when I tell you this, it matters a lot.
When I adjust the seat on the VR21, it either makes me flex my knee to an extent that it becomes uncomfortable, 45-minutes into my workouts. If I try to adjust the seat, I risk knocking my knees into the frame.
But the Schwinn 270 is perfectly designed out of the box. I can assemble everything, hop on it and start my workouts without any elbow grease. Also, I like the Eddy Current Resistance system more than the Digital one. It’s less likely to fail on you.
Which Bike Is Built Better?
It’s even Steven here. Both bikes are built like tanks. The frame is all-metal. The connectors and components are top notch. Even the plastic components are practically blemish free after 5-months of use (for my bike).
The only possible gripe that someone might have with the VR21 is the lack of padding on the seat. But that’s subjective. My partner didn’t have a complaint with it.
Which One Is More Comfortable?
Schwinn 270 all the way. Right from the frame to the handle and seat positioning, everything about this bike is more comfortable.
Once again, comfort is subjective. But if you look around for unbiased reviews, you’ll find a lot of tall users complaining about the positioning and how it causes knee problems after a while.
Which Is The Best Fit for Small Places?
There’s little to choose between the two. Here’s a look at the dimensions for each bike.
Schwinn 270 - 50" H x 27" W x 64" L
Nordictrack VR21 - 54.6” H & 24.2” W x 61.1” L
Both the bikes are about 5 feet long. The Schwinn is about 4” longer. The width is less than 27” and the height is 50” for the Schwinn and 55” for the VR21.
These bikes will fit easily into small apartment rooms. If you have a low-ceiling basement, the Scwhinn makes it easy to sit comfortably without worrying about your head hitting the ceiling.
That's what I like about exercise bikes in general when comparted to. for example, treadmills. Like imagine the space I would need for a Sole F63 or a Bowflex BXT6; don't it get wrong I like treadmills, as I mentioned I have an incline one but I always had problems with storing them and to be honest I have questioned the results I may get from treadmills compared to ellipticals or stationary bikes.
Which Is Best for Seniors?
Seniors generally look at three aspects while selecting recumbent bikes.
- Ergonomics – The Schwinn 270 is clearly the winner here. It has a walk-through frame that makes it easier to sit on and get down from. It’s easy to adjust and the backrest allows you to rest your spine even for longish workouts. There’s ample padding in the handlebar and the seat. Last but not the least, it has extra wide paddles.
- Ease of Use – It’s even-steven here. Both the bikes are very easy to use and set up. The Schwinn with its custom profiles and Bluetooth data sharing offers more features. But the basic features are accessible within a few clicks. Assembly, is very simple for both bikes too. One advantage that seniors might find with the Schwinn is that the double-backlit LCD offers great visibility. Even if you find it difficult to see tiny numbers, the contrasting colors will make it easier to keep tabs.
- How gentle is it – Recumbent Bikes ought to be gentle on the joints. More so when seniors are using it. That’s one of my gripes with the VR21. Even at the first resistance setting, it is very difficult. In comparison, the first three resistance levels on the 270 are a cakewalk. I think seniors will find this better suited.
Which One Has More Features?
It’s a tossup between the two.
The specifications are almost identical. But if you’re willing to look beyond the ‘marketing’, you’ll realize that you only need a bunch of the so-called features that are often harped.
Third-party workout apps – The VR21 is compatible with iFit, while the Schwinn 270 is compatible with RideSocial. This is more of a personal preference. Both platforms offer similar features with handpicked trails around the world that you can ride on with trainers.
Resistance – Both offer 25 levels of resistance. The resistance levels on the Schwinn 270 are more progressive than the VR21, which is quite difficult to start off with.
Miscellaneous – Both offer docking stations for personal devices, grip sensors, chest straps for heart rate monitoring, have cooling fans, built-in speakers, MP3 player ports & one touch buttons. The Schwinn 270 offers Bluetooth connectivity and allows you export your statistics to a computer or a cell phone. Also, the LCD display allows you to track 13-statistics at one time.
The VR21 offers 32-preprogrammed workouts. You can choose one based on your fitness goal. It’s well suited for someone who prefers a hands-off approach to fitness. Just hop on, press a few buttons and get going. The caveat is that there’s a very distinct possibility that you’ll outgrow those programs.
The Schwinn 270 on the other hand offers a bunch of preprogrammed workouts. But it also allows you to design and customize four workouts yourself. So, even if you do not feel challenged by the premade workouts, you can always design a brute of a cardio workout and store it for future use.
Which Bike Is Easier to Set Up?
I haven’t personally assembled the VR21. But I spoke to seven people who own it. They said that the assembly is fairly straight forward. But it’s a two-person job. The manual isn’t great either, which doesn’t help.
In comparison, I was able to set up the Schwinn 270 in less than an hour. I did it alone. Easy-Peasy!
How Do They Compare Price-Wise?
The Schwinn 270 is currently listed at $649. That’s unbelievable value considering the features and the overall quality of the bike.
In comparison, the Nordictrac VR21 is listed at $999, which is clearly higher than what I can afford.
Which Bike Has a Better Warranty?
Nordictrac offers a 10 Year warranty on the Frame, 2-years on the Parts & 1-year on Labor. It also comes with a 30-day money back guarantee. So, in case you are not happy with your purchase, you can return it and claim a refund.
Schwinn offers a 10 years warranty on the frame. 2 years on the parts, 1 year on electronics and 90 days on labor. It does not come with a money back guarantee. But that’s not really a deal breaker.
Nordictrack VR21 Vs Schwinn 270: My Recommendation
That’s it folks. I believe that explains why I picked the Schwinn 270 over the Nordictrack VR 21. I found the Schwinn to be better value for money. It has almost identical features with a better workout bundle. The ergonomics are superior. So are the customization options, you just can't ask for more from such an affordable cardio equipment.
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