Diamondback bike assembly. A solid ride for a budget price

How to Fix Squeaky Disc Brakes

Disc brakes have changed the way we ride mountain bikes with incredible stopping power in all weather conditions and precise modulation that makes decreasing speed down the mountain a little easier. And now disc brakes are offered on a variety of bikes, from gravel grinders to road race machines, bringing all those awesome disc brake benefits. But even the best set of brakes can suffer from annoying squeaks if you don’t maintain your bike properly.

Sqeeeeaaakkk. While there could be tons of reasons your disc brakes are making loud, obnoxious noises, here are the most common culprits and how to fix it. But first, familiarize yourself with the parts of a disc brake:

Brake Rub

If you have a squeak, squeal or pinging noise that occurs while you are riding at regular intervals, it is usually a caliper alignment issue or a bent rotor that is causing your brake pads to rub as you ride. Check to make sure this is the problem by lifting your wheel off the ground and giving it a spin. If the wheel does not spin freely and comes to a stop, you have a brake rub issue!

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First, check to make sure your wheel is properly seeded in the dropouts of the fork or chainstay. This could be a problem if you are running a wheel with quick release (QR) skewer that doesn’t thread into the frame. An improperly installed axle would cause both the wheel and rotor to appear to be out of alignment.

Next, check the alignment of the caliper. Loosen the caliper bolts and wiggle the caliper loose, then hold down the brake lever. Holding down the brake lever will center the caliper over the rotor with the help of the brake pads. With the brake lever pulled, tighten the caliper bolts equally and evenly. Spin the wheel. If rubbing persists, repeat this step. It may take a couple of tries before the caliper is aligned correctly.

If that pesky brake rub is persisting, it usually means your brake rotor is bent. This is a common problem and can usually be easily fixed. Look down through the caliper and spin the wheel, you should be able to see when the brake pad comes in contact with the rotor (where the rotor is bent). It may be easier to see if you hold a white piece of paper under the caliper. Use a Park Tool Rotor Truing Fork to bend the rotor back into place. This takes time, patience, and a light hand!

Contamination

If you have a loud, consistent squealing noise whenever the brake is applied, then the problem is likely contamination. Brake pads are porous, so like a sponge, they will soak up grease and oils easily and cause the brake pad to squeal and not work effectively. Things like chain lube, bike polish, degreaser, brake fluid can find their way to your brake rotor and contaminate the pads. Even touching your rotor or pads with your hands can possibly cause contamination!

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Choosing your ride

If your goal is to replicate a boutique-studio–style cycling class at home, choose a stationary bike that streams your preferred app.

If you want to track time, distance, speed, cadence (rpm), or heart rate, select a bike with a console that displays those metrics.

A large screen contributes to an immersive experience. But maybe you’d rather use your own tablet or TV.

You can spend 5000,000 or more on a stationary bike. If you don’t care as much about features like connectivity and detailed performance metrics, you could spend 500 for a quality ride.

The research

Anyone looking to improve or maintain their cardiovascular fitness could find value in an at-home exercise bike. The US Department of Health and Human Services encourages adults (PDF) to perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. With the help of an exercise bike, you can get there, conveniently, without needing to leave home. Riding one could be your primary mode of aerobic exercise, a scalable cross-training option, or a form of low-impact rehabilitation of an injury. (Be sure to check with your health-care provider before starting a rehabilitation program.)

As we tested exercise bikes, we arrived at a key conclusion: When it comes to deciding which bike will best fit you and your lifestyle, know yourself. Here are a few questions to ponder:

  • Will cycling at home please you, or is a studio environment ultimately more satisfying?
  • If you’re taking a hiatus from a gym or studio setting to work out at home, how long do you envision your break to last?
  • Are you willing to invest in cycling shoes, or do you prefer having the option to pedal in sneakers?
  • Do you appreciate a large, built-in screen, or will your own tablet or TV suffice?
  • When it comes to classes, do you prefer high production value or a more relaxed, local-gym feel?
  • Do you want the ability to weave in other types of workouts along with cycling?
  • How many members of your household will ride along with you?
  • How often will you really ride your bike?

Farewell and Thank You, Diamondback Bicycles

Although the pandemic launched home workouts (and indoor-cycling classes in particular) to stratospheric popularity, these days exercise behavior is changing once again. The unprecedented demand for at-home bikes has dwindled. Yet an increasing number of indoor-cycling bikes aim to deliver a connected-fitness experience to rival (or replicate) that of Peloton, the biggest name in the game.

A big draw with these bikes is the ability to ride along with an app, to approximate an in-person indoor-cycling class. But four of our five picks also allow you to ride unconnected, for basic cardio. We tested several bikes with no connectivity that provide a simpler way to ride. And we tested several bikes that eschew built-in tablets and onboard content for Bluetooth connectivity and responsive functionality, allowing riders to use their favorite indoor-cycling apps, including Zwift (iOS, Android), an interactive app that focuses on road-style cycling, and Studio Sweat (iOS, Android), which offers more traditional indoor-cycling classes. The Peloton app can also work with these bikes, but without the live leaderboard and full real-time stats that many Peloton fans love.

We’re kicking off this guide with a FOCUS on indoor-cycling bikes. Mad Dogg Athletics trademarked the word “Spin” (along with “Spinning” and “Spinner”) in the early 1990s; the company is protective of its usage. We use the generic term “indoor cycling” frequently throughout this guide, even though many people who are into this type of workout use “Spin” or “Spinning” to describe it and call the equipment “Spin bikes.” (As part of our research, we interviewed John Baudhuin, CEO of Spinning and one of the initial creators of Spinning as it’s known today.)

Versatile and reliable: Schwinn IC4, Bowflex C6

How we picked and tested

Over the past three years, we’ve tested 19 indoor-cycling bikes. They have ranged from barebones models to those promising a connected-fitness experience—whether that meant onboard, branded classes and workouts and a built-in tablet, or the ability to stream indoor-cycling apps via Bluetooth and your own device.

I tested four connected indoor-cycling bikes in my New York City apartment in 2020 and 2021 (my husband took a few rides, too). And Wirecutter has twice now had more than half a dozen bikes simultaneously parked in the office, most recently in the summer of 2022. Along the way, 15 volunteer testers—from indoor-cycling beginners to aficionados who brought their own shoes—have taken some of the bikes for a spin.

In general, I rode each bike at least three times with a streamed class, and I assessed the fit, feel, and function of each machine, noting how all of that affected the overall experience.

During our selection process and testing, we focused on the following criteria:

Overall build

We took note of whether we felt any unsteadiness when seated or when we stood out of the saddle. We most often encountered wobbles in the handlebars, sometimes even after tightening them thoroughly. A bike should sit flush with the floor; most of the bike models we tested had leveling feet, which helped to provide an even base. We also used a bike mat under each one.

Drive type: Indoor-cycling bikes typically come with either a belt drive or a chain drive. We focused on models with belt drives; none of the bikes we tested had a chain, which tends to stretch a bit over time and can require some time to wear in. Chains are also louder. Belt-driven systems are quieter and typically don’t require adjustments or a wear-in period.

Pedals: Indoor-cycling bikes typically come with one of three pedal types: toe cages, which do not require cycling shoes; clip-in pedals, which do require cycling shoes (we encountered SPD clip-in pedals universally, except for on the Peloton Bike, which has Delta clip-ins); or dual-sided, which have clip-ins on one side and toe cages on the other. For the clip-ins, we noted how easy it was to clip in and out, and whether we felt secure when clipped in. (You can swap out pedals, but for simplicity’s sake, we worked with what we had.)

Fit and adjustability

We noted the breadth of adjustability for each bike, including the seat-post height and whether the seat and handlebars moved fore and aft. We noted the recommended height range and the maximum ride weight for each bike (though admittedly we were not able to test with as wide a range of testers as we would have liked). We also assessed the ease of adjustability and noted whether a seat post, for instance, had easily identifiable markings to record our sizing.

Handlebars: We took into account the orientation of the handlebars, as well as their shape, configuration, and diameter. We also paid attention to how the handlebar surface felt (textured? smooth? tacky?) and whether any add-ons distracted us from our ride.

Seat comfort: We paid attention to seat style, which, depending on your history with a bike seat, can make or break a ride. We encountered both slim, racing-style seats and wider, more padded ones. If we didn’t notice the seat during a ride, we considered it a win. We also took into account the ease of adjustment. Depending on your seat, you might need to use a tool to tighten it, tip it, or straighten it to your liking. Seats can be swapped out. You can also purchase cushioned bike-seat covers to dial in comfort.

Ride experience

Much of how smoothly an indoor-cycling bike rides has to do with its flywheel—the main wheel that powers the bike. Flywheel positioning can be either in the front of the bike or in the back of the bike (we’ve ridden on both styles). All of our picks have front-positioned flywheels. We took into account the weight of the flywheel, knowing that a heavier wheel theoretically results in a better ride. The flywheels of our picks all fall between 30 pounds and 45 pounds (plenty of weight to generate a robust amount of centrifugal force). We also felt for a smooth pedal stroke.

Resistance: Indoor-cycling bikes typically come with either magnetic resistance (which uses a magnetic current to manipulate the level of resistance on the flywheel) or friction resistance (which uses a pad, usually made of leather or a felt-like material, to physically apply pressure to the flywheel). All of the bikes we tested but one had magnetic resistance. From a ride standpoint, we assessed the definitiveness of the resistance changes and whether those changes felt satisfying, muddy, or somewhere in between. We also wanted an appropriate range of resistances, allowing for everything from a light spin to a heavy mash.

How to adjust a bike for the proper fit

Riding an indoor-cycling bike is not the same as pedaling a bike outside. “The biggest single problem affecting cyclists is not knowing how to actually sit on a bike,” said Jay Dicharry, noted physical therapist and professor at Oregon State University. “Most people sit on a bike saddle like they sit on a bar stool.”

Don’t. Sitting improperly on your bike not only puts your spine in an overly stressed position but also underworks your hips and overworks your knees. Sit on your bike in a hip hinge, which pushes the hips back and loads them properly during pedaling—resulting in a more efficient and powerful pedal stroke. (This video illustrates the hip hinge as it pertains to a mountain bike; the same rules apply to other cycling scenarios.)

Finding your proper fit takes a few steps but is ultimately worth the effort. “A proper bike fit can make the difference between hating the experience and becoming a huge fan,” said Jennifer Sage, founder of the Indoor Cycling Association. Here’s how to find general starting points for your seat height and setback (how close your seat is to the handlebars). You can refine these numbers as you spend more time on your bike. Jen Luebke, a professional cyclist and mountain-bike coach, recommends writing down your measurements so that you always have them at the ready.

To find your seat height (based on the amount of bend in your knee when your foot is at the farthest point away from your hip):

  • Adjust your bike seat to the middle position. Stand next to your bike and raise the seat until it’s level with the top of your hip bone.
  • Sit on the seat with your sit bones on the widest part of the saddle and your feet in the pedals. Rotate the pedal crank until the crank arm is in line with the seat tube.
  • On the side that your leg is extended, take your foot out of the pedal and rest the heel of your foot in the middle of the pedal. Relax your foot. Your leg should be straight and your hips should be level. If this isn’t the case, raise the seat a bit.
  • Once your leg is straight and your hips are level, bring the ball of your foot to the middle of the pedal. In this position, your knee should be at a roughly 25-degree to 35-degree angle. Pedal a few strokes. If your hips rock from side to side, drop the seat a bit more until your hips are level. This is how high your seat should be.

To find your seat setback (based largely on total leg length and the ratio of upper-leg length to lower-leg length):

  • With your feet in the pedals, rotate the pedal crank until it is horizontal and level with the floor.
  • Use a plumb bob to determine your setback; we used a nut on a length of string. Press the top of the string to the bump located directly below your kneecap and above your shin (it’s called the tibial tubercle), and let gravity pull the plumb bob straight down. The weight should fall roughly over the middle of the pedal. If it falls in front of the pedal midline, move your seat back. If it falls too far back, move your seat forward.
  • Adjust your seat until you reach the correct position.

Handlebar height and depth are more dependent on comfort and less about measurements.

You don’t need cycling shoes to ride many indoor-cycling bikes; four of our picks have toe cages that allow you to pedal in sneakers. But cycling-specific shoes, which are rigid and low on cushioning, can improve the efficiency and efficacy of your pedal stroke. If your bike has toe cages and you prefer them, consider wearing stiff-soled athletic shoes versus your bounciest trainer, since a stiffer sole will offer more support while you’re in the pedals.

Finally, to make sure you keep your indoor-cycling routine well rounded, consider weaving in other types of exercise, such as strength training or yoga. “Cycling is a great way to train your engine,” said Dicharry. “But to train your chassis? Not so much.”

Diamondback Bike Repackaging

Care and maintenance

Maintaining your exercise bike should be fairly simple. Sweat, which is highly corrosive, is no friend to any exercise bike and will rust it over time. Wiping down your bike regularly can help keep it rust-free longer. David Steinberg, founder of Smooth Running Service Company, told us he doesn’t see a lot of indoor-cycling bikes for repair services. (Treadmills, he pointed out, are much more common patients.)

If you want a fully connected experience for a lower up-front price than that of a Peloton Bike: The Echelon Connect Sport Indoor Cycling Bike—which relies on a Bluetooth connection, your own device, and a subscription to the Echelon Fit app (35 a month)—might be a good choice. The Echelon app pairs directly to the bike via Bluetooth so you can see real-time cadence, resistance, and other metrics on your own device. Our testers appreciated the solid construction, smooth ride, and comfort of this bike, which is sold only through Walmart. The handlebars are compact and well designed, with convenient thumbprint-like divots at the top of each handle. Seat and handlebar adjustments are easy and well marked. A customer service representative told us the bike fits people from 4-foot-11 to 6-foot-4; its maximum weight capacity is 300 pounds. The bike uses magnetic resistance, and in our tests it provided a smooth ride. It has only toe-cage pedals. During our tests, the Echelon Fit app connected quickly to the bike. The app offers a boatload of different rides, but we found it to be less well organized than Peloton’s (its home screen felt cluttered), and its content wasn’t quite as polished. That said, we enjoyed our workouts and encountered some strong, informative instructors. We did notice that the bike’s resistance lagged at times, though it somewhat surprisingly delivered a better overall experience than its more expensive sibling, the Echelon Connect Bike EX-5S. The Echelon Connect Sport’s warranty could be better, as it covers only 12 months for parts and labor.

If you want a bike that doesn’t require a subscription to an app but still gives you some workout guidance: The Diamondback 1260sc may suit your needs. Compatible with a host of cycling and activity-tracking apps and devices, it is fully functional without any monthly subscription. Its 5-inch, backlit LCD screen shows output (watts), time, distance, calories, cadence (in revolutions per minute), load, and heart rate (when linked to a compatible monitor). Though it has no built-in programs, you can pedal manually or enter a wattage goal and have the bike cue you to play with resistance or cadence to hit your goal. A lever instead of a knob adjusts the 16 levels of resistance, which get heavy. Using the lever precisely takes some practice, though we eventually got a feel for its sensitivity. The 1260sc can accommodate SPD cleats or sneakers in toe cages. The bike powers itself as you pedal, so there is no need for an outlet. It also offers ANT and Bluetooth connectivity with a bunch of cycling apps and the likes of Garmin. We used the Zwift (iOS, Android) and Peloton apps with the 1260sc to good effect. The bike fits people from 5-foot-2 to 6-foot-5; its maximum weight capacity is 300 pounds. Its near-silent flywheel is located at the back of the bike, a design intended to keep the flywheel out of sweat’s path and in presumably better shape over time. Diamondback’s warranty is five years for the frame and brakes, three years for the parts and electronics, and one year for labor.

The first test unit we received arrived with a malfunctioning sensor that rendered our wattage useless, even after we made numerous attempts to recalibrate the system. The company sent us a second bike, which operated glitch-free, and it assured us the issue was rare and most likely brought on by rough shipping. (We had a similar experience with a different Diamondback model.)

The competition

The Bowflex VeloCore is a sturdy, well-made bike that features a range of workout and class options via a one-year membership to Jrny (iOS, Android), Bowflex’s and Schwinn’s workout-streaming app. Available with two screen sizes, 16-inch (450,800) and 22-inch (5000,200), the bike offers a feature not found on any others we’ve tested: the ability to lean from side to side, as you would on a regular bicycle. The lean mode has the potential to spice up rides, but we didn’t use it as often as we thought we might. Learning how to do it properly takes some practice (the bike offers instructional videos), and the motion ultimately feels less natural than easing into a turn on a real bike. The VeloCore’s seat and handlebars adjust fully. Dual-sided pedals allow you to either clip in with cycling shoes (SPD cleats) or use toe cages with your sneakers. The magnetic resistance spans 100 levels; we typically had no trouble dialing in the magnetic resistance precisely. However, the screen shook when we pedaled at higher cadences (particularly while we stood). Although we enjoyed our time on this model, the workout content wasn’t quite as strong as that of other platforms we tried. The Jrny app (20 a month after the first free-with-purchase year) features on-demand, instructor-led video workouts, both on and off the bike; they are fine and informative, but they lack the energy and wide range of intensity levels offered by other platforms, like Peloton. This bike can connect to other apps, such as Peloton and Zwift, via your own separate device, but we weren’t able to sync the VeloCore’s cadence monitor to the Peloton app. If you’d rather pedal to your favorite show, the VeloCore allows for streaming services including Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, or Disney (with subscriptions).

For our latest round of testing, in 2022, we set out to test the Diamondback 510ic. The first 510ic we received from Diamondback Fitness arrived with a broken motor. The company sent a second bike, which we also struggled with (a malfunctioning revolutions-per-minute sensor, for which we received a replacement). We’ll update this guide once we’ve been able to fully experience the 510ic.

The Echelon Connect Bike EX-5 operates through your own tablet (set in a tablet holder), which connects the bike to the 39-per-month Echelon Fit app (iOS, Android) over Wi-Fi or via Bluetooth. It has dual-sided pedals, and the display is very similar to the Peloton Bike’s, including a leaderboard. But in our tests, the resistance knob seemed unpredictable compared with that of the Peloton Bike, since we were often unsure whether the number we saw on the display matched the resistance we felt as we pedaled. On top of that, if the bike isn’t connected to the app and engaged in a class, the resistance isn’t adjustable, and you lose a lot of riding potential. The number of daily live classes is on a par with Peloton’s (and the on-demand library features more than 3,000 on-demand workouts both on and off the bike). But Echelon’s overall app organization isn’t as clean as Peloton’s, and—though the instructors are enthusiastic and some are very solid—the rides, workouts, and trainers can be hit or miss.

An upgraded version of the Echelon Connect Bike EX-5, the Echelon Connect Bike EX-5s has a built-in screen that broadcasts Echelon’s branded rides and workouts. In our tests, the bike rode smoothly, but the resistance was inconsistent: We often felt like we were turning the resistance knob wildly and not entirely sure if the bike was responding. The handlebars wiggled. One tester remarked that because the pedals on the bike were so far forward, he felt like he was on top of the handlebars and screen when in the second and third positions. Echelon’s home screen is busy and crowded. The bike’s water-bottle holders could be nicer. All in all, we expected more.

The Keiser M3i is a beautifully designed bike with V-shaped handlebars, artful lines, and the ability to connect to a variety of cycling and workout apps. In our tests, the bike connected easily to its Keiser M Series app (iOS, Android), which keeps track of your rides and syncs to other apps like Strava. The bike’s 24 resistance levels adjust smoothly with a lever, and it accommodates one of the widest height ranges (4 feet 10 inches to 7 feet tall) and maximum weight capacities (350 pounds) we’ve seen. We enjoyed our time on the M3i, including our classes on the Peloton app. But the M3i may ultimately best serve a serious road cyclist with ambitious training goals.

The Myx II Plus is an upgraded version of the now-discontinued Myx Plus, which we originally tested in 2020 and liked. A subscription to Beachbody On Demand Interactive, or BODi (39 per month), gives you access to live and on-demand group classes. When we first tried the Myx Plus, it offered its own Myx-branded workouts and coaches. We haven’t tried it with BODi rides and workouts. A complete home-gym kit, the Myx II Plus features a Star Trac bike with a sensor that measures cadence, distance, and speed, as well as a 21.5-inch tablet (slimmer than its predecessor) with an upgraded sound system and a front-facing, 8-megapixel camera. Its equipment extras include a 6-by-4-foot exercise mat (a generous size, though it could overwhelm a small space); a 47.5-by-24-inch bike mat; a resistance Band, three sets of dumbbells, and a kettlebell (all by SPRI); and a Gaiam 23.5-inch foam roller. (The Myx II, which doesn’t come with the exercise equipment, is also available.) We enjoyed using the equipment and liked the convenience of having it. A Polar OH1 heart-rate monitor is also included, and you are encouraged to wear it (paired to the app) for every workout. It is a good way to scale a workout based on your personal effort and current fitness, but if you’re not already familiar with your heart rate during exercise and rest—or how you feel at specific effort levels—acclimating can take time. And if your heart-rate monitor isn’t charged or disappears, you’ve lost a large part of the Myx workout ethos.

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