Exercise Bike Resistance Levels: In-Depth Guide

To crank up or not to crank up the resistance level on your exercise bike? This guide discusses cadence, effort scale, bike position, and more, and will help you discover what resistance level is right for your cycle bike workout.

6 min read


Exercise Bike Resistance Levels: In-Depth Guide

Imagine this – you're minutes into your indoor cycling workout, and the instructor calls out that you’re about to power up your first hill of the day! They’ve been building you up to this moment, and you feel like you’re ready to take on the world. It’s time to crank up the resistance level on your exercise bike.

You reach down for the resistance knob and pause. How much resistance should you add? How much resistance is everyone else adding?

While your instructor probably gave you some indication of where you should be, you may find yourself glancing from side to side, wishing you had a bit more guidance to be confident you’re in the right spot.

Well, consider me your guide! I’m here to give you all the details about your indoor cycling resistance level. My goal is that every time you step on a bike, you feel comfortable not only adjusting your cycling resistance but confident you’re adjusting it to the right level for you.


Why is Resistance Level During a Cycling Workout Important?

Understanding how to adjust your resistance, and what an appropriate level of resistance feels like to you during each part of your ride, is one of the most important factors of a successful ride.

Without enough resistance, you may not be putting in the effort to see changes and get the most out of your ride. Plus, maintaining a base level of resistance is important to keep you stable on the saddle and riding safely. You should always be in control of your bike.

With too much resistance, you may overwork your muscles, and not be able to maintain proper positioning which can open your risk for injury during your ride.

So, where’s the sweet spot? When equipped with the right knowledge, you can select the right resistance for you. This is precisely why I’m writing this article. If you still have questions, keep reading my friend.


How to Adjust Resistance Level on a Cycle Bike

Most exercise bikes available on the market - including most Sunny cycle bikes - offer a micro-adjustable resistance knob. With a knob like this, you’re able to twist to the right to increase your resistance, and to the left to decrease your resistance. Simple as that!

The great thing about a micro-adjustable resistance knob is you’re able to make slight changes to your resistance during a ride and select the resistance that’s just right for you. This means you get to be in full control of your ride.

You may hear an instructor call out to increase your resistance by 1 turn, ½ turn, ¼ of a turn. This is just a way to describe how much they want you to be increasing your resistance - by a little or a lot. 1 turn means 1 complete 360-degree rotation of the knob, whereas a ½ turn would just be 180-degree rotation and so on.

You may also hear instructors calling out resistance by how it feels. For example: ‘Your legs should feel heavy like you’re pedaling through the sand.’ ‘This should feel like a 7 to 8 on a scale of 1-10, not your hardest, but we’re getting there.’ These kinds of instructions feel more specific to me because you can feel your body and compare.

Does your workout feel as hard or as easy as the instructor is suggesting? If not, simply adjust. Your resistance is never set in stone. If you don’t get it right the first time, it’s okay to adjust that resistance again and again until it feels just right.


How to Know What Resistance Level to Use During Your Ride

Now we’re getting to the good stuff - what resistance level is right for you? Below, I’ve included three simple steps you can use during your ride to properly determine resistance.


Step 1: Use Your Effort to Gauge Cycling Resistance Level

Regardless of what kind of resistance or monitor your bike comes equipped with, you’ll always be able to adjust your resistance level based on your effort. Effort is something I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with.

There’s huge value in listening to your body, knowing how you’re feeling, and knowing what you need. As you listen to your body over time and spend more time on your bike, you’ll start to pick up on that resistance ‘sweet spot’.

Before you know it, it will be like second nature! Rather than feeling like you need a fitness instructor to tell you exactly where your resistance needs to be, you’ll know where you need it.

To use your effort to gauge your resistance during your ride, think of your effort on a scale of 1-10. 1 being your easiest, and 10 being your hardest. When you consider classic bike positions, there’s typically an effort goal to match, which I’ve listed below.

Effort on a Flat Road

For example, most rides start on a flat road. This is likely where you’ll start and end your ride, but also where you’ll fall back in between intervals and intense pushes. Even at our lowest, we still want to have some resistance on our bikes. A flat road should be around a 5 on your effort scale of 1-10.

Effort on a Jog

A jog is typically out of the saddle, with your hands in second or on the main handlebar of your bike. You’re standing, with a light grip on the handlebar and your speed should feel like a jog. Here, you’ll want a little more resistance on the bike than on a flat road because your body weight is helping you push into the pedals. A jog should be around a 6-7 on your effort scale of 1-10.

Effort on a Hill

For a hill or a climb, you may be out of the saddle, with your hands in the third, or an extended upper grip on your handlebars. In this position, you’ll be able to rely more on your core as a stable base, which will help your legs push against heavier resistance. It is also possible to do a hill while seated, which will feel extremely hard since you won’t have your body weight to help you push. A hill should be around a 7-9 on your effort scale.

Check out the chart below for a cheat sheet of your effort for each position.

Bike Position

Effort on a Scale of 1-10

Flat Road






Heavy Hill



Step 2: Using Cadence to Assess Cycling Resistance Level

Cadence is how fast you are pedaling, which is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). You may hear cadence and RPM referenced interchangeably. A good instructor will call out a cadence goal for each position and interval you hit throughout your ride, that way you know exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Your cadence is a great way to assess where your resistance should be. For example, if an instructor says they want you between 70-80RPM during a hill interval, and your effort should feel like a 7 out of 10, you have two great indicators to help you narrow in on where your resistance should be for you to fall into that range.

Check your monitor to see your cadence, is it easy or hard to hit your cadence goal with the resistance on your bike? Now consider your effort, is it where it should be? If your answer is yes, great, your resistance is exactly where it should be. If your answer is no, this is the perfect time to adjust your resistance up or down to fine tune your ride to hit your effort and cadence goals.


Step 3: Remember, it’s Your Ride

As a fitness instructor myself, I know I say this way too many times. Every single workout, in fact. But I’d rather sound like a broken record than have one person in my class who forgets that they’re the one running the show.

If you’re riding with an instructor, of course, that instructor has a goal that they want you to achieve during each ride. While that instructor can provide a framework for the workout - it’s up to you to step up to that challenge and to set a boundary if that challenge is not right for you today.

Push when you can, but don’t let yourself feel guilty if you need to taper off or decrease that resistance. Be proud of what you can do and what you can accomplish each day. It’s your ride!

This workout is for you and no one else. You know your body, you know your fitness level, you know what you need today. That’s why you get to decide when it’s time to increase or decrease your resistance.

Always remember you’re in control. So, take control of your resistance, and make this your best ride yet!



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1 comment

Andrea Michele

I’m training for the 5 Burroughs Ride in NYC in May. I’m excited about the ride. The information you shared has helped me tremendously as I ride on a stationary bike through the winter in preparation for riding a few weeks in the spring before my ride in May. Thank you so much! This was extremely helpful! Concise, yet comprehensive!