If you’re trying to stay fit, doing cardiovascular exercise is a way of life.
One great way to burn calories and work up a sweat is indoors, whether you’re at the gym or at home.
There are lots of different types of cardio equipment to choose from, and each one has pros and cons.
For many people, an exercise bike is their top choice as it offers a lot of benefits without many drawbacks. Before you make your choice, it’s important to take a look at the exercise bike vs. other cardio equipment to understand how they work.
Here we’ll give you the rundown of what you need to know about indoor exercise bikes and compare them to other popular cardio equipment like the treadmill, elliptical, and rowing machine.
What Is An Exercise Bike?
Indoor exercise bikes are essentially what they sound like.
They’re a piece of equipment you use for cardiovascular training that has a seat, handlebars, and pedals that allow you to mimic the movements of riding outdoors without having to go anywhere.
Some models offer interactive modes that include programs for hills, weight loss training, intervals, and other standard cardio formats. Others use resistance from wind, magnets, or fluid that changes with the intensity of your pedal stroke to give you a more consistent ride.
Types Of Indoor Exercise Bikes
While exercises bikes are pretty straightforward as a concept, there are several different models to choose from. Here are some details about the most popular types, and some of the perks of each.
Upright Stationary Exercise Bikes
Designed to mimic a traditional bicycle set up, upright exercise bikes stand up tall and have bicycle-style seats and pedals. Your body will feel very similar types of effort to riding a bike outdoors and will use many of the same muscles when riding an upright model.
These are a good choice for someone who already enjoys riding outdoors, and who doesn’t have stability issues with their lower back as you’ll need to engage your core while riding. If you lean forward and grip the handlebars, which often have heart rate sensors installed, you’ll get a bit of an upper body burn as well.
Depending on the brand, some upright bikes will have additional features like distance tracking, resistance adjustments and may also include pre-programmed workouts like intervals or hill sessions. Some will even give you metrics like heart rate and calories burned during your workout.
People like upright bikes because they take up less space than recumbent bikes, and some models fold up or are on wheels making it easy to store them in a closet.
From a price perspective, they tend to be affordable and are one of the most popular models purchased by indoor biking enthusiasts.
Recumbent Stationary Exercise Bikes
One of the reasons indoor bikes are so popular is because they offer a no-impact exercise option that’s perfect for everyone, even those working through an injury or rehabilitation program.
Recumbent exercise bikes are perfect if you need additional back support while exercising. They have a chair-like design that features a larger and wider seat and a full backrest that allows the rider to partially recline while riding. The bike pedals are positioned in front of the seat rather than below it, which makes this model easier to mount and dismount, while also being more comfortable and allowing for more efficient blood flow for the rider.
While you’ll still get a good cardiovascular workout on a recumbent exercise bike, you’ll be working slightly different muscles than you would on an upright model. The design will take the pressure off of your core muscles, and focus more on your lower body as you pedal.
If you’re someone who likes to read a book or magazine while riding, this is one of the more comfortable options.
Recumbent exercise bikes come with options ranging from entry-level features like speed and resistance control all the way up to visually appealing LCD screens that display a variety of workout metrics like heart rate, calories burned, and distance traveled. As with most exercise equipment, the more bells and whistles the model has, the more expensive it will be.
Dual-Action Stationary Exercise Bikes
Dual-action exercise bikes have had a resurgence in popularity in recent years thanks in part to the exercise methodology Crossfit. These are the exercise bikes that work both your upper and lower body with handlebars that move back and forth in synch with the speed of your pedaling.
Dual-action exercise bikes usually use built-in fans to create resistance and cool the rider. While this results in a workout where you completely control the intensity, it can also be a bit noisy. Other types of dual-action bikes use different resistance mechanisms that don’t produce quite so much sound.
Generally, dual-action bikes have an upright set up, so they require core strength and support as well as upper body involvement when you ride.
Indoor Cycles Or “Spinning” Bikes
Indoor cycles, also known as Spinning bikes are upright exercise bikes that are used in group cycling classes.
While they have a similar configuration to upright models, these exercise bikes mimic outdoor riding even more closely than their computerized counterparts.
The mechanical components are very similar to outdoor cycles, and include narrower seats, adjustable handlebars, and might incorporate cycling technology like chain-driven pedaling systems. Most indoor cycles are very basic and don’t have many computerized components. Instead, they rely on a manual resistance lever or nob that the rider will need to adjust to change the workout.
These exercise bikes are an attractive option for serious outdoor riders who want to closely mimic the experience when they ride indoors.
Interactive Exercise Bikes
Interactive exercise bikes come in both upright and recumbent models and combine advanced technological features with the basics of an indoor ride. They can include upgrades like built-in televisions, music technology, and advanced computers that allow you to ride on an interactive course with visuals that mimic the settings of your ride.
These models may have interactive fitness programs that not only enhance your workout but might also help distract you by making the experience more enjoyable as you're burning calories and losing weight.
As they are fully loaded with features, these interactive exercise bikes tend to be the most expensive of the bunch. But for many riders, the investment in a bike that is actually fun to ride is worth it.
Health Benefits Of Exercise Bikes
Engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise has a whole host of health benefits, and there are a few that are specific to riding a bike. Here’s what you can look forward to if you use your exercise bike regularly.
Now that we’ve covered the basics on what you need to know about exercise bikes let’s compare them and their benefits to other common types of cardiovascular equipment.
Exercise Bike Vs. Treadmill
Exercise bikes mimic the joy of riding outdoors, and treadmills allow us to recreate walking or running in place. Usually, they operate by moving a belt over rollers giving you an impact-friendly surface on which to walk, jog, or run.
There are a few advantages to using a treadmill.
First, because you are entirely in charge of your body’s mechanics while you’re on the machine, your motions are natural and move through your typical range. You don’t need to worry about adjusting things like seat or handlebar height to get it to feel just right.
Also, treadmills offer a lot of workout versatility. Not only can you use the speed settings to walk, jog, or run, but most also have incline settings that allow you to mimic going up hills. Some people use them to do more advanced strength moves, like walking lunges or bounding jumps.
However, there are some areas where exercise bikes outshine the treadmill as an exercise option.
Because treadmills use a motor rather than the power of your own body to operate, they will keep going unless you tell them to stop. This can be problematic for people with balance issues or who are easily distracted.
There are close to 20,000 visits to the emergency room annually because of treadmill-related injuries.
Additionally, if you are someone who has joint issues, injuries, arthritis, or other ailments that make walking or running painful, the treadmill may not be for you. While they will deliver a good cardiovascular workout, treadmills are best for people who are healthy, coordinated and don’t have any existing injuries or balance issues.
Exercise bikes are an attractive option that don’t pose any of the risks or hazards to users.
Finally, treadmills generally take up significantly more space that exercise bikes. If you’re looking for a piece of equipment to have at home, many bikes can be folded and stored away while treadmills don’t always offer this option.
Exercise Bike Vs. Elliptical
The Elliptical machine is one answer for someone looking for a treadmill-like workout without the risk of impact to the joints.
Many studies show that the cardiovascular and calorie-burning benefits between ellipticals and treadmills are similar, but here we’ll discuss how they compare to the exercise bike.
The most significant difference between an exercise bike and an elliptical is the body parts involved in the exercise. Bikes are working the lower-body, while ellipticals take a full-body approach with the addition of the moving arms. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, elliptical trainers are a good choice for runners looking for a low-impact cross-training option.
While the elliptical uses more muscles in the body, the calories burned during the workout are nearly identical, if not a little lower than what most people burn on an exercise bike. Also, those with back issues and people who are very tall sometimes find the elliptical uncomfortable due to the need for core stabilization and the shortened stride length.
Another consideration when looking at the elliptical vs. an indoor exercise bike is the amount of space required. An elliptical is a large piece of equipment that requires a significant footprint to operate. You’ll need to make sure you have both enough floor space and ceiling height to use it safely if you’re considering adding it to a home gym.
Exercise Bike Vs. Rowing Machine
The exercise bike and rowing machine have a few things in common. Most importantly, they both provide non-weight bearing, low or no-impact cardiovascular workouts. But, they also have a few notable differences.
The rowing machine, while it primarily uses the lower body to drive the movement, is a full body workout that requires engagement through the lower back and core, as well as the upper body. Despite the additional muscle involvement, both activities burn a similar number of calories if you do them at the same intensity.
While indoor exercise bikes are very user-friendly, rowing machines are a bit more complicated. The piece of equipment itself is extremely straightforward, and users won’t need to make any large adjustments to get started. That said, the form is fundamental when you’re using a rower.
Industry leader NSCA says in their “Essentials of Personal Training” that is crucial to have proper form throughout the movement with the head, back, arms, neck, legs, and core to get the best workout and avoid injury. While rowing is a safe, non-impact activity, anyone with back issues will want to check with their doctor before getting started.
Another important consideration when using a rowing machine is that you won’t be able to use your hands for anything else during the exercise. If you’re someone who likes to read, change up your music, or even wipe off your sweat, you won’t have that option on a rower like you would on a bike.
There are lots of ways to work up a sweat and get a great cardiovascular burn. Whether you choose an exercise bike, treadmill, elliptical, or rowing machine, you’re guaranteed to burn calories and see health benefits.
However, if you’re looking for a non-impact option that is suitable for everyone from a high-level athlete to someone recovering from injury, an exercise bike is one of the best choices.