Are Under-the-Desk Bicycles the Next Standing Desk?

I tried out DeskCycle's compact exercise bike at work—here's what happened.

By Allison Jones September 14, 2015

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Ignore the wires under my desk...

Image: Allison Jones

Take a stroll around the Portland Monthly office and you'll find a veritable crash course in the various methods of setting up a standing desk, from improvised stacks of magazines and cardboard boxes to chic reclaimed wood models. While standing desks are an awesome option for some, the truth is they're not ideal for everyone. When I tried a standing desk last year, I was forced to admit that my body just didn't dig the idea, no matter how much I wanted to avoid the perils of sitting in a chair all day. In order to break up the monotony of my seated work life, I scoped out fitness apps, tried wearables, took hourly walking breaks, and even instituted an occasional plank-on-the-hour office challenge (much to the chagrin of the office interns who were usually the only people I could guilt into doing core work with me)—but I still felt pretty bummed about being excluded from the cool kids standing desk club. Enter the DeskCycle. For $159 on Amazon, you can get a 10-inch floor model with 8 levels of smooth, magnetic resistance that works with your own computer chair, dining room chair, or armchair—plus, according to DeskCycle:

  • Sitting on an exercise ball while working raises your energy expenditure by 6% over sitting at your chair.
  • Standing at your desk raises your energy expenditure by 30%.
  • Pedaling at only 1 revolution per second at resistance level 3, raises your energy expenditure by 100%.

Obviously, I had to give this a try.

Day one, morning: The big box arrived. Assembly was super easy, with directions written in clear words, not IKEA-style hieroglyphs. The thing came together in about 10 minutes, with battery and all tools included. First spin resulted in my knees banging against the bottom of the desk, so I tried lowing my desk chair only to find it was already bottomed out. Next step? Figuring out how to raise the desk itself, which luckily is possible at my office—but required a call to our cherished IT director, bothering the building’s maintenance man, and enlisting the help of two of my coworkers (thanks guys!). Once the desk was raised a few inches, the fun began. The unit came with a little monitor that can be attached to the cycle itself or perched on a stand on the desk. I love stats and data, so the digital readout was set up to blink companionably by my desktop. I set the resistance to 3 and went back to work, pedaling away. I loved that it seems so solid on the ground—no wobbling back and forth or side to side (although my chair seemed to move around a bit more than I'd like).

20 minutes later: Level 3 was not sustainable for a full day of leisurely pedaling, so I cranked it down to 2. My coworkers periodically peeked in to see the goofy new contraption, and to give it a spin themselves. I share an office with Assistant Editor Ramona DeNies, and she confirmed that the unit is indeed very quiet—just a whisper belied the fact that I'm spinning at all, kind of like a white noise machine. Score! Suddenly it started feeling very warm in my office, however...

Later that afternoon: To keep my chair from sliding backward, I figured out how to use the velcro strap that came with the cycle. Success. No more wiggling back and forth, although I'm sure the constant fidgeting only added to the health benefits. By the end of day one, I've pedaled over 40 miles! And I'm sweaty. Not, like, drenched-from-the-gym sweaty, but certainly tank-top-weather glistening, which both makes me happy I'm actually getting a workout and terrified that I'm going to be known as Sweaty Jones around the office. 

Day two: I realized I can pedal in both directions, and reversed my pedal stroke for a while. Renewed excitement ensued!

Day three: Had to stop myself from tapping stats into DeskCycle's Calorie Counter every hour, and I certainly found my momentum slowing, especially while working on new articles that required more focus. Even though my pace slowed, it was still movement, and I logged in over 30 miles for the day—and I was (slightly) less sweaty.

Day five: I abandoned pedaling all day, but committed to getting in at least two hours of action with the cycle every day (spread out throughout the workday to break up periods of sitting), and was able to up the resistance for those bursts. By the end of the day, I was much less tired and had plenty of energy left for the gym.

The end of week one: I certainly felt the effects of the extra activity through the week—and my scale agreed.

The bottom line: I can't wait to keep it up, even just for a few hours a day. If you can handle your officemates teasing you a bit, or, even better, if you work from home, this seems like an awesome option for folks who are computer-bound for a living but hate the sedentary demands of the creative class. Viva la DeskCycle! Now excuse me, I need to go towel off a bit, I'm getting sweat on my keys. (Kidding.) (Kind of.)

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