Buying a stationary exercise bike can be a bit confusing. There are many different types. But what’s the difference and what’s best for you? Here’s what you need to know.
There are two different ways we can divide up the different stationary bikes; Resistance and design. Both of those things can be divided up in three different categories. While some resistance types are more common in certain design forms but all combinations are possible.
- Resistance type
- Sitting cross trainer
Find out what the differences are and what is right for your situation below.
Exercise bike resistance type
The first way stationary exercise bikes differ is by their resistance type. What does resistance type mean?
It’s how the exercise bike regulated the resistance you feel in the pedals. The higher the resistance, the more energy it costs to move the pedals. How an exercise bike modulates its resistance makes a difference in feel and cost. Different types of resistance feel different and there is a different cost associated with each type.
The different resistance types are;
Let’s take a closer look at those different types.
The most basic resistance type is the brake on a flywheel. It’s a very common system that is commonly found on the lower end models.
It works pretty much the same as the brakes on a bicycle. (unless you’ve got a fancy bicycle with disc brakes) Little pads rub on the flywheel which slows it down. To keep up the speed, you’ll have to push the pedals harder.
Instead of a brake lever like on a bicycle, you’ll have a rotary knob that adjusts the resistance.
This type of resistance is often seen on spin bikes. So the simplicity doesn’t means you can’t get a tough workout done.
The resistance might not feel as smooth as the other types especially if you’re pedaling slower. The weight and size of the flywheel also has an impact on the smoothness.
Also, like brake pads on a bicycle or car, they wear out and have to be replaced at certain times. This isn’t very often but something to keep in mind. This also means that a certain resistance setting doesn’t always feel the same. The more the brake pad wears, the more you’ll have to adjust the knob to get the same level of actual resistance.
A magnetic resistance exercise is pretty similar to the simple brake setup, except the brake is magnetic. Instead of brake pads an electromagnet slows down the flywheel. This resistance is adjustable with the push of a button. The more current is sent through the magnet, the stronger the resistance.
The benefits of this type of resistance are;
- Smooth feeling
- Easily adjustable
- Always consistent
- Looks nicer
- Allows for different packaging
- Allows for information console
Magnetic resistance stationary bikes are often found in commercial gyms. Because the type of resistance also allows for manufacturers to easily add an information console that shows; speed, calories, time, etc.
They often look a bit more ‘dressed’ since there are plastics around the flywheel which makes it look a bit more substantial.
The last resistance type isn’t very common but you can find them in higher end gyms sometimes.
Instead of a flywheel, you’re driving a really big fan when you’re pedaling. This type of resistance is quiet and very smooth. Many models have a kind of clutch in between the pedals and fan so the fan keeps spinning if you stop pedaling for a moment. This makes it feel much more like riding a bike outside than the other resistance types.
With air resistance, the faster you pedal, the more resistance you’ll feel. Some models also have a way to change the ratio of how fast the fan spins for every revolution of the pedals. Obviously, the more the fan spins for every revolution, the higher the starting resistance is.
As an added benefit, you create some airflow by pedaling that cools you down while working out.
Exercise bike design
Besides resistance, we can divide up the stationary exercise bikes by design. Of course every different model bike looks different but there are a few main types that are significantly different.
Design in this case means the layout of the bike. The layout has some effect on look but mainly on purpose, feel and different benefits.
There are three different main layouts;
- Cross trainer bike
The most common stationary exercise bike is the upright bike. It’s like a road bike but for inside. The seating position is ‘sporty’ and the seat is small. Upright bikes aren’t made for comfort but they sure give you a good workout.
An upright bike has a high seat and low handlebars/grips. That means you’re pretty bent over if you grab the handlebars. Although, you don’t really have to hold the grips at all times and you can straighten your back.
Upright bikes are best for really high intensity exercise. The seating position means your lower back might be stressed quite a bit when you’re working hard. People with lower back problems might be better off with a recumbent bike.
Benefits of upright bikes:
- Great for high intensity exercise
- Suitable for HIIT workouts
- Small footprint
- Develops lower body
At first sight, a recumbent bike might just look like an upright bike with a backrest. The differences go a bit further than that though. There are some pretty significant differences between an upright bike and a recumbent bike.
A recumbent bike has a much more relaxed seating position. Where you’re pretty bent over on an upright bike, you’re leaning back on a recumbent bike. In addition the pedals are further forward which means your legs aren’t as bent either.
On a recumbent bike it’s not necessary to hold any bars or levers, which means you’ll have your hands free most of the time. That makes a recumbent bike perfect for steady state, low intensity cardio. You can do many other things while on a recumbent bike.
Another benefit is that a recumbent bike is very easy on your back. Because you’re not bent over, you have a backrest and your legs aren’t as bent. Because the back and joints are in a much more neutral position, you’re stressing them less and they’ll feel better.
Benefits of recumbent bikes;
- Wide, comfortable seat
- Comfortable seating position
- Great for people with back issues
- Develops lower body
Cross trainer with seat
Is it a bike? Is it a cross trainer? Who knows… There are many crossovers between different fitness machines.
An elliptical trainer or cross trainer is used standing up while moving legs and arms. On an exercise bike, you sit down and just move your legs. There are a few machines that actually mash up both those machines and combine them. What you’re left with is a machine you sit down on and move your legs like on a bike but also move your arms like on an elliptical trainer.
These machines aren’t very common but they are a good workout. It turns a lower body and cardio exercise into a whole body and cardio machine. If you’re looking for a machine that is like a one stop shop for your whole workout but you don’t like elliptical trainers, this is a good option.
Which type of stationary exercise bike is the most realistic? If you’re training to ride a bike outside, an upright bike with air resistance is the most realistic option. It comes closest to riding a bike on the road. Upright bikes with different resistance types are a good second choice.
Which type of stationary exercise bike builds your butt? An upright bike will be slightly better in building the glute muscles than other types. Because the seating position puts a bit more stretch on the glutes you can produce more power over a greater range of motion. That means more muscle growth.
Favorite Cardio Machine Accessories
Check out these accessories that improve a home cardio workout:
- Equipment mat: All cardio equipment should be put on an equipment mat. The Rubber-Cal mat (Amazon) is an affordable yet very high quality choice.
- Interval timer: To time your intervals and workouts, there is no better choice than the GymNext Flex. It’s super easy to use and set up with a phone app.
- Tablet holder: Cardio can be boring. With this tablet holder (Amazon) you can follow along with on-demand workouts or just watch a movie on any cardio machine.
- Heart rate monitor: Monitoring your heart rate is very important while doing cardio. The Polar H10 (Amazon) connects to almost anything you can imagine and is very accurate.
To find which cardio machines I recommend for home gyms, click here.