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Russell Holly is a Managing Editor on the Commerce team at CNET. He works with all of CNET to assemble top recommendations as well as helping everyone find the best way to buy anything at the best price. When not writing for CNET you can find him riding a bike, running around in Jedi robes, or contributing to WOSU public radio’s Tech Tuesday segment.
Expertise 7 years experience as a smartphone reviewer and analyst, 5 years experience as a competitive cyclist Credentials Author of Taking your Android Tablets to the Max
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Sq. Feet of Lab Space Pros
Solid desk-friendly riding position
Body inclusive design
Charging tech while riding is cool
LifeSpan app could be much better
Included seat isn’t super comfortable
There are a couple of different ways you can build a rig for cycling while working at a desk, and none of them are great for even most of a full day of work. I’ve tried them all, out of a desire to be a little more active instead of sitting or standing at my desk, but a few days of use typically ends in a return to my comfortable chair.
LifeSpan has a unique take on the concept in a new office bike, which it calls Ampera. It’s a fully independent system that doesn’t require anything but your phone to make a great workout. And after 25 consecutive days with just over 100 hours riding, I can confidently say this bike is unlike any other I’ve used.
The first thing you’ll need to know is how tall this under-desk bike is. It’s nearly 33 inches in its shortest configuration, so you’ll almost certainly need a standing desk to use this. As a 6-foot tall man, I needed to elevate that seat to 38 inches to achieve a healthy riding position, which makes my seated position quite high. Height on under-desk bikes tends to mean instability or wobbling in my experience, but the Ampera offers neither. The adjustable feet twist to offer a snug position with the floor, and the wide seatpost means you’re going to feel plenty stable. That seatpost also supports riders up to 330 pounds, which means a variety of body types are supported by this bike.
Very little about the Ampera will feel traditional to an avid cyclist. The riding position is seriously high, and there’s nothing but the desk in front of you. The included pedals are one-sided and don’t include options for clipping in or strapping down. The seat design focuses on supporting you as you sit for a full day instead of offering an ideal riding position. This is not an indoor bike you can push up to a desk and start riding as if you’re on a real bike with full workout gear. It’s very much designed to be used in an office, which means it supports normal shoes and is supposed to be comfortable for extended periods of time. While I applaud LifeSpan for including a seat like this, it’s still not ideal for a full day of work. I consistently dismount around the 4-hour mark and either stand for the rest of the day or alternate standing and getting back on the bike.
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There’s a USB-C cable coming out of the bottom of Ampera, but it’s not so you can deliver power to the bike. Instead, the cable allows you to charge whatever you plug in to it while you ride. The amount of power you can send to a laptop or phone or even my earbuds case depends on how fast you are pedaling and at what resistance level. I can fully charge my laptop over the course of three hours and never need to keep my actual charger nearby, which is fantastic. Down by your feet you will also find a wireless charging platter for you to rest your phone, but I find myself rarely using it because I have to get off the bike to reach down for the phone.
You won’t find a display on Ampera with cycling stats, it all lives in the relatively simple LifeSpan app. A quick Bluetooth pairing will give you access to all the usual suspects like RPM, duration and power output but you also have the ability to adjust your resistance level and the color of the LED strip around the crank arm. If you keep the app open on your phone you can see all of this information update in real time which is great for data nerds, but the lack of a dedicated power source for Ampera means you need to move quickly to save the workout on your phone when you’re going to stop riding.
Once the inside motor stops, the connection to your phone and all of the associated data is not recorded unless you hit the button to end the workout beforehand. Saved workouts can be exported to Apple Health to tie in to your other workouts, but I found myself preferring to just use my Apple Watch to record the workout and only use the app when I wanted to adjust resistance levels.
Ultimately, the point of an under-desk bike is to keep you active while you’re performing otherwise sedentary tasks and I think Ampera nails it. I find myself naturally slowing down when I’m on a Zoom so I’m not constantly wiggling back and forth during a meeting, but immediately picking the pace back up when the call ends. I can type and multitask with this set up and not feel like I’m any less productive, with the option to quickly wheel the bike under my desk to stand when I need or want to.
My one warning to anyone thinking about using this in an office with other people is to make sure you have a change of clothes around. If you’re not careful with your pacing and resistance you can get sweaty fast and nobody wants that in an office. But if you’re trying to move a bit more while you’re at work, and you’re already a fan of your standing desk, there’s a ton to like about this bike.