Take advice from Consumer Reports with a grain of salt
I experienced this first hand a few days ago, when the freewheel clutch broke on my NordicTrack SL 728 exercise bike, a Consumer Reports Best Buy in February 2006.
I tend to depend on Consumer Reports reviews when I am buying something that I don't have much experience with, as was the case with this exercise bike. My wife and I ended up buying the NordicTrack bike at Sears last year primarily based on the thumbs up from Consumer Reports. I didn't have a problem with it until recently though, since a couple of injuries (and general laziness) limited my use of it until last month.
Once I started using it regularly (3x per week), my bike broke down in 4 weeks. This breakdown surprised me since I am not terribly fit and am far below the 250 pound weight limit specified in the users manual. I started doing some online research and quickly found that I am not the only person to have this problem with a NordicTrack excercise bike. This excerpt from an epinions.com review explains the problem in great detail:
The problem is that the freewheel clutch bearing is extremely weak and cannot sustain the torque of pedalling the machine and the inherent transient loads that it is subjected to as you turn the pedals (as each leg "strokes", load is applied to the freewheel device and then released, with the maximum at approximately half your leg's extension.) It WILL fail, and when it does, your machine is dead.
Mine survived originally for a week of daily aerobic workouts, about an hour's worth a day. Then with a loud "CRACK!" the freewheel bearing failed and the pedals turned with more "crack" noises - but no drive to the flywheel. This happened originally in one of the pre-set programs at resistance setting "9" - pretty heavy work (maximum is "10").
I called ICON, and they sent out a new crank assembly. Disassembling the bike's covers and parts to get to the bad assembly required a pair of snap-ring pliers and a gear puller for the crank arms - which I had, but many home users will not. Replacement was a 15 minute job with the proper tools; without them you'll be going back to Sears to buy them, or waiting for their "home service."
Unfortunately, the replacement crank assembly lasted TWO DAYS, and failed in EXACTLY the same manner as the original, in EXACTLY the same place on the SAME program!
Since my bike is out of the 1 year warranty period, I have decided against spending money to repair a problem that is likely to occur again and have chalked it up as a lesson learned. I have been able to jury-rig the problem so the bike is somewhat usable at low speeds, which I believe will at least allow me to get some aerobic exercise until it is warm enough for me to ride a real bike outside.
This $400 lesson taught me that I shouldn't weigh the opinions of Consumer Reports as heavily as I do, and hopefully I will remember that the next time we are planning on making a large purchase. :)
Update: Take advice from Consumer Reports with a grain of salt