Most everyone has ridden a real bike at some point in their lives, but what about a stationary exercise bike? Have you ever wondered if they are able to provide the same level of workout that a real bike can offer? The short answer is yes and no.
Real bikes and stationary bikes both have their obvious uses, and some disadvantages to each as well. This article will outline the pros and cons of each, and seek to provide at least a semblance of an answer as to which one is better (hint: it’s not so black and white.)
Before getting to all of that however, let’s first go over what a stationary bike actually is in the first place.
Stationary bikes are a gym and fitness staple. Although there are now many different types that are available that offer more of a full body workout, we’ll focus on the traditional bikes that are built to recreate a standard biking experience.
Stationary bikes have a saddle and handlebars that are positioned to offer the same feel of a regular bike, along with pedals.
Instead of traveling while you pedal, a stationary bike remains in place, spinning a flywheel that often has varying degrees of resistance.
This is what provides the exercise aspect.
These exercise bikes are fairly simple, and don’t require a lot of room to set up. They can be used in bedrooms, garages, and pretty much wherever else you’d like to get in a good cardio workout in the comfort of your own home.
Real bikes and stationary bikes have lots of similarities, mainly revolving around the fact that they are both bikes, and operate in the same fashion.
Pedaling is essential to both, and your body’s positioning on both bikes will be largely the same. You can adjust the saddle height and handlebars on both as well. Both almost always have varying degrees of resistance.
On a real bike, this is done by using gears and encountering inclines (or wind.) A stationary bike has different difficulty settings that affect the overall intensity of the “ride.”
The differences between the two are rather obvious. Real bikes require steering, and being aware of your surroundings. You also have to deal with the weather, road obstacles, and all the other things you encounter in the outdoors, whether it’s off the road or on.
Regular bikes also require extra attention to the many components they utilize, whether it’s tires, brakes, gears, etc.
Stationary bikes are very simple in that they only offer one thing. You can sit there and pedal, and that’s about it. Some may have computers, and offer virtual training programs, but that’s not all unlike a bike computer.
Stationary bikes offer some distinct advantages over real bikes, mostly revolving around the convenience aspect. However, they are not capable of providing the intensity level of a real bike, nor the outdoor scenery.
If you want a way to get good cardio exercise at any time of day, a stationary bike will certainly satisfy your needs, along with a few other convenient positives.
Stationary bikes are a very controlled form of exercise, so you know that you can get the same exercise every time you get on one. There are no inclines to navigate, no hills to coast down, and no periodic winds to fight through.
If you use the same resistance/difficulty setting for the same period of time for every workout, you can provide yourself with a very consistent workout each time, which allows you to track your progress as you get more fit.
If you are trying to monitor your fitness progress as close as possible, a stationary bike is a great way to do just that.
Since stationary bikes are used inside, you don't have to worry about dealing with rain, snow, wind, hot weather, and whatever else nature can throw at you when you’re riding outside.
This isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of nice days to ride a bike outside during any given year, but sometimes you just don’t want to go out for a ride and get muddy, or risk heat stroke.
If you’re trying to keep a consistent exercise schedule, relying on the weather outside can throw you off. Even if you prefer riding a real bike, having a stationary bike on hand can give you an alternative when nature isn’t cooperating.
When using a stationary bike indoors, you have the ability to create a controlled environment that involves everything from the climate, to your choice of entertainment.
This means you can make the room cooler if you aren't’ trying to get drenched in sweat, or go the opposite route, and turn the heat up for an extra-intense workout.
If you’re someone who prefers to zone out during exercise, you can turn on a television, watch a movie, the news, a game, or pretty much whatever else you’d like. You can also listen to music with headphones, without worrying about needing to be aware of your surroundings like you would if you were on a real bike outside.
Real bikes have a lot of moving parts and components that require consistent maintenance if you want to keep everything running in top form. This includes having to troubleshoot issues such as flat tires, worn brake pads, bent rims, and more.
Stationary Bike Disadvantages
Stationary bikes have a few drawbacks that are of note, most of which are based off the fact that they are, well, stationery.
Doesn’t Work as Many Muscles
Stationary bikes don’t require the various movements you need when riding a real bike. You sit in the same position, and use the same muscles every single time you hop on. This results in using mainly the hamstrings, and that’s pretty much it.
Yes, you’ll still get a good cardio workout, but you won’t get the benefits of using more of your lower body and bak like you would on a real bike outside. There are a few tweaks you can make on a stationary bike to target some different muscles, but it’s still not as effective.
Sitting on a stationary bike is not near as exciting and fulfilling as riding on a real bike and being able to cruise around the neighborhood, city, or wherever else you want to go.
A stationary bike largely remains in the same place, so you get the same visuals every day. Yes, you can watch some television shows, or listen to your favorite podcast, but nothing is a viable substitute for actually getting outside and taking in the sights and sounds.
The boredom factor of a stationary bike can also cause you to not be as fired up or motivated to get on the bike from time to time.
Whether you are purchasing a stationary bike for your home, or joining a gym to get access to one, it’s really just an added expense if you already have a bike at home.
Real bikes usually give you a better workout, provide transportation, and are just more exciting and fun in general.
Perhaps the most appreciated advantage an actual bike gives you is the ability to get outside, something that is very undervalued in today’s society.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of bike you own, or what style of riding you do the most. Mountain bikes let you interact with nature up close, and access many areas that you can’t get to when driving a car.
Road bikes provide a way to travel long distances at one time, whether you’re cruising a scenic highway with a group of friends, or making your way around the city.
Either way, bikes give you extra motivation to spend time outdoors, which is good for your mind and body.
Bikes have a variety of uses. You can use them as a means of exercise, tackling a large amount of miles every week as part of your exercise regimen. Others may simply use them as an excuse to go outside and ride around the neighborhood when the weather is nice, be it with friends or family.
Some of the more advanced riders enjoy touring with their bikes, going on multi-state treks that see them cover hundreds of miles in just a few weeks, experiencing scenic views that you can’t appreciate when inside of a vehicle.
Commuting via bicycle is popular as well, and not just relegated to large urban areas. Plenty of riders commute to and from work at least a few days as week on their bike when the weather is cooperating -- or not.
Bikes offer numerous opportunities to ride with your friends and family. This can include shorter family rides around a park, long rides with your Saturday road bike group, or hitting the local singletrack mountain bike trails with your riding partner.
Regardless of what or where or who, you have something fun to do that can easily become a favorite hobby, and keep you fit at the same time.
As we mentioned earlier, stationary bikes mainly work the hamstrings, and that’s basically it. Riding an actual bike presents you with numerous scenarios where you’ll need to use other muscle groups to keep your ride moving along nicely.
As opposed to the hamstrings with a stationary bike, a real bike uses your glutes, quadriceps, shins and calves much more, as long as you aren’t coasting all the time. If you ride on mountain bike trails, you’ll likely have to use your arms much more as well.
Real bikes are more complicated, and subject to what’s going on outside, so they do present a few disadvantages at times.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t ever need to worry about it being too hot, too cold, too wet, or too windy outside. Unfortunately, that’s not how nature works, so you have to deal with it as it comes. Riding outside presents certain challenges depending on the weather.
Rain is an obvious issue that can definitely hamper your ride. Some advanced riders can fare well in rainy conditions, and have the gear to deal with it, but that's a minority.
If you live in a colder climate, there will be some days where you really don’t want to get out and endure below-freezing temperatures. The same can be sai for those that live in hot climates, or have very hot summers. Wind can be a big hindrance to a ride as well.
No matter where you live, the weather has to be at least somewhat cooperative for you to get out for a ride.
If you ride even semi-frequently, you know how important bicycle maintenance can be, and that doesn’t just include a tune-up every so often. Flat tires, loose cables, bent wheels, and dry chains are all issues you’ll have to keep in check in between rides.
Bike maintenance isn’t always that complicated, but it can be time-consuming, and doesn't require shelling out some extra money every now and then.
While stationary bikes and real bikes do have some attributes that are debatable in terms of preference, there’s simply no beating a real bike overall. Riding a real bike gives you experiences you can't get when riding at a standstill indoors, and you are also getting a superior workout for the most part.
This isn’t to say that stationary bikes are worthless -- quite the contrary, actually. A good stationary bike is a great compliment to a real bike whenever you need to get some extra workouts in, or just want a way to have an efficient cardio exercise for times when you can’t get outside for a ride.
We definitely see legitimate value in owning both a real and stationary bike, especially when it comes to exercise. However, owning a quality bike should be your first priority.
If you’re wondering where to start, take a look at any of our many buying guides for some expert analysis on bikes in a variety of genres.
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