Stationary bikes can make you feel like you’re going nowhere fast, but NordicTrack’s Commercial S22i Studio Cycle might just trick you into thinking you’re actually traversing mountains in Colorado, passing waterfalls in Hawaii, or riding next to 19th century ruins in Turkey. Featuring a vast selection of trainer-led outdoor workouts filmed all over the world; a unique ability to automatically adjust your incline, decline, and resistance as you ride; and a built-in fan that emulates the breeze on your face, this $1,999 piece of smart gym equipment is one of the most feature-rich stationary bikes on the market, and the next best thing to road cycling or mountain biking.
The bike’s iFit platform offers plenty of variety for everyone, including beginner-friendly programs, live studio classes with competitive leaderboards, and floor-based workouts to supplement your cycling sessions. And its 22-inch tilting and rotating HD touch screen offers the perfect viewing angle for workouts off the bike. Some minor technical issues hold it back from earning our Editors’ Choice award over the Peloton Bike+, but it’s still an excellent smart stationary bike that mimics the experience of outdoor cycling better than any of its competitors.
The Only Bike That Automatically Inclines
Priced at $1,999, the S22i is NordicTrack’s top-of-the-line exercise bike. It features a 22-inch HD touch screen that tilts up and down, and rotates 360 degrees for a good viewing angle when taking classes on and off the bike.
Like NordicTrack’s other connected workout machines, the S22i comes with a one-year iFit family plan. The family plan lets you add up to four secondary users to your account (for a total of five), so each person’s workout history and stats are kept separate. iFit usually costs $396 a year or $39 a month for the family plan, or $180 a year for an individual plan.
You can use the S22i in manual mode without a subscription, but iFit is really what makes it special. It gives you access to a library of over 17,000 workouts filmed in 40 countries spanning all seven continents, and an interactive personal training feature that lets coaches control the incline, decline, and resistance of your bike in real time (though you can always manually override their changes, if you prefer).
The workout library includes a number of series that progress in difficulty to help you increase your fitness level. With iFit, you can also create custom Google Maps-based workouts, and track your stats over time.
Like other NordicTrack machines, the S22i comes with a 10-year frame warranty, a two-year parts warranty, and a one-year labor warranty. NordicTrack charges an extra $199 for delivery, bringing the total price of the S22i to $2,198. If that’s too much to pay upfront, you can finance it via a TD Fit Loan for $57 per month for 39 months.
NordicTrack also sells a $1,599 Commercial S15i Studio Cycle, which mainly differs from the S22i in respect to screen size and resistance. The S15i gives you access to the same iFit software you get on the premium model, but comes with a smaller, 14-inch touch screen that also tilts and rotates. Both models can go up to a 20% incline grade and decline up to 10% to simulate outdoor terrain, but the S22i offers 24 digital resistance levels while the S15i tops out at 22.
The ability to incline and decline sets these machines apart from the competition. With the introduction of the S22i, NordicTrack became the first company to offer incline and decline—a feature typically reserved for treadmills—on a stationary bike. Since then, NordicTrack’s sister brand ProForm has made a couple of bikes with this feature, including the $2,999 TDF Pro 5.0 and its predecessor, but they appear to be out of stock at the time of this writing.
A NordicTrack spokeswoman told me that the concept for this bike came from a group of company engineers who also happen to be die-hard road cyclists. They developed it as a way to train indoors during the cold months for LoToJa, a famous and grueling amateur cycling race that starts in NordicTrack’s hometown of Logan, Utah and runs for more than 200 miles through high mountain passes to Jackson, Wyoming. The S22i’s incline and decline technology helps mimic the feel of riding up and down real-world hills and mountains better than traditional stationary bike resistance systems alone. As the incline increases, you can actually feel yourself starting to lean back and lose power in your legs.
In terms of design, the S22i is fairly compact, measuring 55.0 by 21.9 by 56.9 inches (LWH), and its maximum recommended rider weight is 350 pounds. It features a steel frame with an adjustable padded seat and non-slip handlebar, two water bottle holders, adjustable leveling feet, front wheels for easy transportation, two 2-inch digitally amplified speakers, an auxiliary music port so you can play your own music through the console sound system while you exercise, and Bluetooth support for wireless headphones and heart rate monitors.
The S22i features a few other unique perks, including a workout fan and a handlebar tray where you can place your phone. The fan has several speed settings and an Auto mode that automatically adjusts the airflow based on how fast you’re pedaling. The bike comes with a set of three-pound dumbbells, which you can neatly store on either side of the handlebar tray.
There’s a brake knob on the frame, and incline, decline, and resistance controls on the handlebars. Most other smart stationary bikes feature a resistance knob you turn to make it easier or harder to pedal, but the S22i doesn’t. You manually control your resistance with plus and minus buttons on the right handlebar (incline and decline controls are on the left), or digital buttons on the screen. Since I’m used to the common knob system on competing machines, I find the S22i’s resistance control buttons a bit cumbersome, but the good news is that you may never have to use them, since the cycle automatically adjusts your resistance, incline, and decline during both on-demand and live classes to match the terrain and/or the trainer’s suggestions. Thanks to this feature, all you really need to focus on during workouts is your cadence (revolutions per minute, or how fast you’re spinning your feet). The Auto Follow feature on the Peloton Bike+ works similarly, but it’s limited to on-demand classes, and can only control your resistance since the bike doesn’t incline and decline.
Unlike Peloton’s stationary bikes, the S22i doesn’t require special cycling shoes, and its stock pedals don’t support them. The pedals that come with the S22i feature adjustable toe cages that allow for secure footing while wearing regular workout sneakers.
This style of pedal has its pros and cons. On the positive side, the pedals are less intimidating for newbies, don’t require you to purchase expensive clip-in shoes, and allow anyone with a pair of workout sneakers to use the bike. But clip-in cycling shoes help you ride faster, making it easier to pull, not just push, on the pedals. If you buy the S22i, I recommend eventually swapping out the stock pedals with a pair you can clip into for added riding efficiency (it’s compatible with all standard road bike pedals and seats).
One quick note on cycling seats: They are all relatively uncomfortable, especially for beginners. Padded cycling shorts and bike seat covers, which are widely available in bike stores and online from around $20, can help. One reader I was corresponding with who owns the S22i said they find the seat so uncomfortable they can only ride for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, and plan to swap it out for a different one. To me, the S22i’s seat is no worse than other stationary bikes I’ve tried, but I’m used to indoor cycling at this point.
Grab a Wrench, Screwdriver, and Mallet
NordicTrack suspended its white glove assembly service due to COVID-19, so the company is only offering curbside and threshold deliveries as of this writing. This means it will either leave the bike at your front door, or inside the lobby if you live in an apartment complex or condo, and you’ll have to assemble it yourself. Fortunately, the company made an exception for me (the perks of being a product reviewer) and sent a team to put together my test unit.
While I can’t speak to the assembly process, I can offer a few notes. For starters, the S22i ships partially assembled, protected by styrofoam, in a 202-pound box. Assembly requires two people, so you’ll need to recruit a family member or friend to help (preferably someone handy and strong). In the user manual, NordicTrack says you only need an adjustable wrench, a Phillips screwdriver, and a rubber mallet to put it together, and advises against using power tools to avoid damaging the parts. The assembly instructions don’t look too complicated, but I suggest checking them out before purchasing the machine to see what you’re in for.
The two people who assembled it for me got it up and running in about 30 minutes. All I had to do was connect it to my Wi-Fi, sign into my existing iFit account, and I was good to go. If you own other NordicTrack equipment and already have an iFit account, you can use the same credentials to sign in on the S22i. If not, you’ll need to create a new account. In the box with the S22i is an iFit gift card; just enter the activation code on the card when creating your iFit account to redeem your free membership. When doing so, you have to enter your credit card number for renewal purposes. When your free one-year trial is up, NordicTrack will automatically renew your subscription unless you cancel before then.
For optimal stability, I recommend placing the S22i on hard flooring, or at least a piece of plywood if you must put it in a carpeted room. I have it in a room with medium-pile wall-to-wall carpeting, and the bike rocks from side to side when I go fast—not so much that I’m worried about it falling over, but not 100% steady. I’ve tried to adjust the leveling feet several times to make it steadier on my carpet, but I can’t seem to get it perfect. This is a bit frustrating, because I also have the SoulCycle Variis set up in the same room, and it’s completely steady.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Go
I’ve reviewed several other NordicTrack connected fitness machines, including the RW900 rower and the Commercial 2950 treadmill, so I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the iFit platform, and I’m a big fan. It offers so much variety, from live and on-demand studio classes to scenic outdoor rides, and there’s much more than just cycling.
Let’s start with the interface. At the bottom of the S22i’s main iFit screen, there are tabs for Home, Calendar, Create, Browse, and On-Air.
In Home, it shows your Weekly Stats on the left side of the screen, including your average power output (measured in watts), calories burned, distance traveled, estimated elevation gain, and total workout time. It offers a recommended series you might like (or the next workout in a series if you’ve already started one) and a selection of other workouts to browse based on your goals, machine, and workout history. Here you can also access your list of favorites (workouts you’ve marked with the heart icon).
In Calendar, it shows a list of all the iFit workouts you’ve streamed on the S22i and any other iFit-powered machines you own, organized by date. It shows your calories burned, distance traveled, elevation gain, and workout duration for each entry. You can click on any one to repeat the workout.
In Create, you can make and save custom Google Maps Street View-based workouts. You search for anywhere in the world you want to explore, tap the map to drop pins on your starting and stopping points, then press Save New Workout. You then give your workout a title and you can start it right away, schedule it for later, or press the heart icon so it’s added to your favorites.
In Browse, you can scroll through workouts and other content organized by series, trainer, and category (active recovery, beginner, cross-training, international, mountain, road, strength, and studio). There’s also a My List section showing all the content you’ve marked with a heart icon and any custom Map-based workouts you created. If you’re lacking motivation, there’s even a selection of health-focused TED talks on the platform.
A search icon lets you look for something specific or filter workouts by type, continent, duration (less than 20 minutes to more than 50 minutes), environment (beach, city, desert, forest, landmarks, mountains, savannahs, studio, and waterfront), intensity (levels 1 through 7), language, other equipment required (barbell, barre, blocks, dumbbells, kettlebell, mat, medicine ball, or resistance bands), target area of the body, and trainer. You can also filter it to show just the workouts you’ve completed, or to exclude ones you’ve already done.
The On-Air tab is where you find live iFit workouts. From Monday through Friday, there are currently about 10 live classes on the schedule each day, which is pretty good. They air every hour from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. then from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. At present, there are only three live classes on Saturday, and none on Sunday. Peloton currently offers up to 14 daily live classes, so iFit isn’t too far behind.
In the iFit On-Air section, there’s also a schedule of classes that you can stream on demand with a live leaderboard. This feature is very cool; you basically start an on-demand class at the same time as other people, and compete against just them on the leaderboard.
When you click on an iFit workout, a preview screen pops up showing a description of the class, a bio of the iFit trainer leading the workout, a list of any other equipment you’ll need such as dumbbells or a mat, a user rating out of five stars, and comments people have left about it. For cycling workouts, it also shows the ride distance, duration, elevation gain, and intensity level, as well as your estimated calorie burn and estimated effort score. The estimated effort score gives you an idea of how hard it will be compared with your usual workouts; the higher the number, the harder the workout will be. All of this information lets you know what you’re in for to help you decide if you want to do that workout.
When you start a workout on the S22i, whether it’s a studio class, outdoor, or map-based session, you always start off with a three-minute warm-up. During the warm-up, there’s a countdown timer on the screen, and you can view your stats up top, including your cadence (RPM), incline, resistance, time elapsed, and watts. On the left side of the screen, there are digital incline control buttons (-10 to 20). A button on the bottom of the screen lets you connect Bluetooth headphones. On the right side, there are digital resistance control buttons (1 to 24). You can end the warm-up early and go right into the workout, if you like.
When the actual workout begins, you’ll see the same stats mentioned above at the top of the screen, along with the digital incline and resistance controls on the left and right sides, respectively.
You can swipe on the right side of the screen to swap out the digital resistance control buttons for a leaderboard that lets you view rankings for average RPM, distance, effort score, elevation gain, estimated calories burned, and watt hours. Normally, when you take an on-demand iFit class, there are already thousands of people on the leaderboard, but there are a bunch of nice filtering options. You can, for instance, filter the leaderboard to show just other users in your age range, or just those who are doing the workout at the same time as you.
Studio workouts emulate the experience of being in a boutique workout class. Before a live class begins, you can scan a QR code to text the trainer a question.
During outdoor workouts, trainers often point out the sights along the way, so you’re exercising and getting a tour. This helps pass the time and makes the workout fun: It’s like watching a nature or travel show while you’re exercising. During custom and map-based workouts, you see a Google Maps view of the surroundings, and the image refreshes every few seconds.
iFit workouts sometimes include exercises off the treadmill. You might want to consider purchasing a heavier set of dumbbells, a kettlebell, resistance bands, and a workout mat, if you don’t already have them, so you can participate in the strength training classes.
You can tap the screen at any time to access volume controls, enter full-screen mode, or pause the workout. In full-screen mode, you don’t see any metrics or the leaderboard. When you finish an iFit workout, there’s always a cool-down. You can cool down for as long as you like, then end it to save and view your stats, including where you landed on the leaderboard.
The one area where I feel iFit has room for improvement is in music selection. All of the classes I’ve taken have been set to what I can only describe as elevator tunes, which is a huge bummer during studio classes. I’ve taken several of the live studio classes with iFit trainer Ashley Paulson, and she is incredibly motivating and knowledgeable (she even gave me a shoutout one time, which was exciting), but I feel like the lame music really hampers the experience. It’s a good thing you can adjust the trainer and music volume separately, because I typically mute the latter and play my own tunes on a separate speaker.
In contrast, music is an integral part of the experience on Peloton and SoulCycle Variis bikes. Classes on both platforms feature excellent music across a range of genres. You can filter classes by music genre, and the instructors sequence their classes to go with the music. When the chorus comes on, for instance, the instructor might tell you to pick up the pace to match the beat.
Variis classes typically incorporate choreography, and at the end of a class, a Beat Match metric on the screen shows how in sync you were with the rhythm. And on Peloton, you can connect your Apple Music or Spotify account to save songs you hear during workouts.
Experiencing the Adrenaline Rush
In the month that I’ve been testing the S22i, I’ve virtually cycled roads and trails all over the world, including Hawaii, New Zealand, Norway, and Turkey.
I have some experience mountain biking in real life, so I know how hard and dangerous the sport is. One time in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest, the trail was so steep I had to get off the bike and walk it up the mountain before getting back on and wiping out on the descent. And don’t even get me started about the terror of mountain biking Florida’s Alafia River State Park, where the threat of veering off the narrow trail into a swamp and becoming alligator food is very real. But as brutal as it is, mountain biking is also one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done.
The S22i emulates that experience, letting you virtually explore beautiful trails around the world, without the danger. The S22i’s ability to automatically incline as soon as the trainer starts climbing makes it feel like you’re actually there. The fan is a small detail that adds a lot to the experience, mimicking the feel of the wind on your face.
One of my favorite rides on the S22i is the scenic and challenging 404 Trail Climb in Crested Butte, Colorado, with iFit trainer Ryan Petry. As he explains, cyclists all over the world travel there to experience the thrill of riding this picturesque and punishing alpine trail. I’d love to be able to ride the 404 in real life someday, but for now, I feel satisfied training for it on the S22i.
The outdoor workouts are so much fun that they make me eager to get back on the bike day after day, so it’s a good thing there’s no shortage of them on the iFit platform. Beyond just guiding your cadence and encouraging you to push your hardest, the iFit trainers often tell stories about their own lives and fitness journeys. During outdoor sessions, they typically point out the sights and offer cultural information, so you’re actually getting a tour and a workout, which helps each session fly by.
I get an adrenaline rush when I watch the iFit trainers traverse dangerous mountain trails and roads, hoping they don’t wipe out. I’m pretty sure iFit wouldn’t post a video if a trainer did get injured, but it’s still very exciting to watch. I was on the edge of my bike seat when I watched Tommy Rivers Puzey descend Col de la Colombiere, a famous Tour de France pass with several blind turns, and felt like I was training right alongside him as he explained how to safely turn into corners. If you’re looking for a stationary bike that can help you train for a real-world cycling trip, there’s no better option than the S22i.
That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few slight mechanical issues I experienced with my test unit. During two separate workout sessions, the bike’s automatic adjustments didn’t work. This happened once during an on-demand workout, and another time during a live class. When it happened during the live class, the resistance buttons on the right side of the handlebars also failed to work, meaning I could only adjust my resistance with the on-screen controls. The good news is that I was able to fix these issues by simply restarting the bike (unplugging it then plugging it back in), and it has since worked flawlessly in several live and on-demand classes.
A NordicTrack spokesman tells me that restarting the machine is only a temporary fix for this issue. He instead recommended recalibrating the incline system, and regularly checking for and installing firmware updates. To calibrate the incline system, tap Maintenance > Calibrate Incline > Begin, and the frame will automatically rise to the maximum incline level, lower to the minimum incline level, and then return to the starting position. To check for firmware updates, tap Maintenance > Update. If an update is available, it will begin automatically. To avoid damaging the cycle, don’t turn off the power while the firmware is being updated.
In researching the malfunctions affecting my test unit, I discovered a Facebook group (with more than 1,300 members at the time of this writing) dedicated to problems with the S22i. Out of curiosity and for the sake of this review, I joined the group, and some of the complaints are minor (relating to seat adjustments, for instance), but a number of members complained about issues similar to the one I encountered, as well as other problems such as console clicking, knocking noises when pedaling, and metrics not showing up on screen.
The Next Best Thing to Road and Mountain Biking
Nobody wants to invest in a workout machine only to lose interest after the first month and watch it slowly morph into a costly clothing rack. That shouldn’t be an issue with the $1,999 NordicTrack Commercial S22i Studio Cycle. Its iFit platform offers thousands of interactive, trainer-led workouts to keep you coming back day after day, including scenic rides filmed all over the world and live studio classes with competitive leaderboards. Adding to its value, the platform offers a plethora of mat-based classes, including yoga and strength sessions, that will help you stay active when you need a break from cycling.
In the crowded smart stationary bike market, the S22i also stands out for its automatic trainer control feature, which one-ups the Auto Follow capabilities of the pricier Peloton Bike+ with the ability to automatically control not just your resistance, but also your incline and decline. Most other smart stationary bikes can’t even incline and decline, let alone do so automatically.
Though rare and easily fixed, some technical issues, along with lackluster music on the iFit platform, hold the S22i back from earning our Editors’ Choice award. Though on paper it offers fewer features for more money, the $2,495 Peloton Bike+ is still our top pick in the smart stationary bike market for its fantastic, music-focused classes and more dependable hardware. But if you prefer scenic outdoor workouts to studio classes, or you’re looking for a bike that can help you train for a real-world adventure, the S22i absolutely worth considering.