Spin Bike vs. Stationary Exercise Bike: Which One to Choose?

With the recent surge in popularity of spinning classes at gyms around the world, a debate has emerged over which static bike is best: the spin bike or the upright exercise bike.

While the exercise bike has traditionally dominated gyms, the spin bike is here to stay, and both offer an excellent workout.

If you’re looking to invest in one or the other, but aren’t sure which will best fit into your current workout regime, stick around for our comprehensive head-to-head comparison of the two.

An overview

Before diving into the most important factors to consider when choosing between a spin bike and an exercise book, we’re going to take a look at each individually.

Exercise Bike (aka stationary bike or upright bike)

Exercise bikes, or stationary bikes as they are otherwise known, are commonplace in most gyms. You’ll find them in the cardio area, usually next to the treadmills, ellipticals, and rowing machines.

As for ease of use, exercise bikes are one of the most comfortable cardio machines to use in any gym.

They tend to be the preferred choice of equipment for those looking for a tailored workout. Much like treadmills and rowing machines, most exercise bikes will have a touchscreen that allows you to program in your own workout. You can adjust the resistance to make it more or less difficult, and you can also set yourself goals and milestones for a little extra motivation.

The ability to program your own workout is a feature considered to be indispensable on a lot of cardio-based machines. Tapping into people’s desire to set goals and track metrics, it can increase the user’s enthusiasm towards the act of cycling or running. This makes it accessible for beginners looking to start small, or experienced gym-goers looking for an intense workout.

Exercise bike
An exercise bike is a simple yet functional cardio machine suitable for beginners.

As for ease of use, exercise bikes are one of the most comfortable cardio machines to use in any gym. You often see people slouching back in the chair of either the recumbent or upright variations and pedaling at a leisurely pace. While this isn’t an ideal way to workout for fitness gains, it is certainly an option with this type of bike.

In the case of both the recumbent and upright bike, you won’t be able to stand up to pedal. So if that is something you like to do on an outdoor bike, you might prefer a spin bike.

In a nutshell, exercise bikes are favored by people looking to build their cardio endurance, without needing the realism of riding an outdoor bike. They are useful for developing leg strength, casual use, or even rehabilitation from an injury.

Pros:

  • Feature a wide variety of fitness programs and adjustable settings
  • Provide feedback through various metrics such as active heart rate
  • Affordable option
  • Great for rehabilitating a leg injury
  • Comfortable to use with generous back support (recumbent bikes)
  • Builds cardio endurance

Cons:

  • Not as realistic as spin bikes
  • Doesn’t allow user to stand to increase the intensity of a workout

Best suited for:

  • Building cardio with no prior cycling experience
  • Creating varied and challenging workouts
  • Rehabilitating injuries
  • Saving some money
Exercise bike console
Almost all exercise bike come with some form of console with pre-programmed workouts and tracking functionality.

Spin bike (aka spinning bike or indoor spinner)

Spin bikes are usually reserved to spin classes in gyms but more recently have become a very popular home gym addition. In the gym, you’ll usually see them in a separate room with upwards of 10 spin bikes, which are used exclusively for group spin classes.

The spin bike is accessible to beginners, but arguably better for those who have prior experience cycling, or are looking for a more serious workout. This is due to the need for correct posture and pedal technique, which is not required for a stationary bike.

A big selling point of the spin bike in recent times has been the community aspect of it. Companies like Peloton provide online group classes which you can join if you have a spin bike in your home. This is great if you thrive on community support, especially if you are used to doing spin classes at the gym with other people. It’s a way of bringing some of the social elements and accountability of working out at the gym into the comfort of your home.

Spin bike
A spin bike does a better job of simulating outdoor cycling than an exercise bike.

Aside from spin classes, the spin bike has plenty of uses. People who prefer to simulate the experience of riding an outdoor bike will always choose a spin bike over an exercise bike. The posture, and ability to stand up on a spin bike give it the edge over stationary bikes when it comes to realism.

The spin bike also features a flywheel that provides various levels of resistance, which can accurately replicate the rough terrain you might traverse while out on your bike. This resistance can be magnetic or friction-based, which gives you flexibility when it comes to the type of workout you’re looking for.

Peloton spin bike screen
Many of the high end spin bike such as Peloton have large LCD screens which add the the “community” and interactive feature of the bike.

As a result of being a more realistic indoor bike, those wanting a more intense cardio workout also tend to favor the spin bike. Even if you’re not a cyclist looking to train indoors, you will be able to appreciate the added challenge of riding on a spin bike over the exercise bike.

It will force you to engage more major muscle groups, and help you develop proper pedaling technique. Some also feature LCD displays which can be very handy for rating your performance, if you’re the kind of person who likes to track workouts.

The spin bike is accessible to beginners, but arguably better for those who have prior experience cycling, or are looking for a more serious workout. This is due to the need for correct posture and pedal technique, which is not required for a stationary bike. Having said that, if you select a spin bike with a lighter flywheel, you can have a more beginner-friendly workout.

Pros:

  • Burn more calories
  • More realistic experience closely resembling outdoor cycling
  • Stand for more intensity during a workout
  • Good option for cyclists who want to train indoors
  • Great for developing pedaling technique
  • Activates more major muscle groups

Cons:

  • No training programs
  • Not all models allow you to track metrics

Best suited for:

  • Intense, realistic cycling workouts
  • Indoor competitive training for cyclists and athletes
  • Activating major muscle groups for better muscle development.
  • Losing weight

Exercise bike vs spin bike: head-to-head comparison

To get a better understanding of which bike is best suited to your preferences, we’re going to put the two head-to-head in a variety of important factors. This should help you make a more informed decision if you decide to invest in an indoor bike.

1. Price

First let’s consider the pricing of the two types of bike, as this might be a dealbreaker, especially if you’re on a budget.

While both types of bike have budget-friendly and premium models, you’ll find that exercise bikes have a much wider range to choose from. If you are on a tight budget, you’ll definitely be able to find a good exercise bike to use at home, but you might struggle to find a decent spin bike. However, that being said, there are spin bikes available for less than $500 which can rival more expensive models.

If you have your heart set on a spin bike, it’s probably not a great idea to invest in an exercise bike just because it’s a bit more affordable. This is especially true if you’re an avid cyclist or love intense workouts.

2. Resistance

Magnetic resistance is a lot of people’s preferred choice, simply because they aren’t as susceptible to breaking down

Resistance is an interesting topic to look at when comparing exercise bikes and spin bikes. Both use different systems to provide adjustable resistance levels to the user.

The exercise bike will usually rely on either direct-contact resistance or fan-based resistance, while spin bikes can have friction-based or magnetic resistance.

Both types of bike rely on a flywheel, which is a large wheel connected to the pedals at the front of the bike. In general, the heavier the flywheel, the more energy it’ll require on your part to get momentum going. This means that beginners would probably prefer a lighter flywheel. Between 40-45 lbs is a recommended weight for the average indoor bike user, to provide sufficient resistance without sacrificing stability.

An exercise bike or spin bike with direct-contact resistance relies on friction to generate resistance for the user. This type of resistance can provide a satisfying amount of challenge to a workout, but is also very susceptible to wear and tear over time. You will likely need to replace the brake pads or flywheel in time, and the bike will make noise as you pedal.

Fan-based resistance on an exercise bike replaces the flywheel with a big fan. This fan is hooked up to the pedals using pulleys, and the user will have to pedal against the air resistance generated by the fan. The harder you pedal, the harder the workout will get for your legs. You will also get a nice breeze as a result of operating the fan, which can help when things heat up.

Magnetic resistance is a lot of people’s preferred choice, simply because they aren’t as susceptible to breaking down, and they are very silent even when you are pedaling hard. This type of resistance is also quite smooth, so if you’re looking for a very comfortable ride that won’t jerk you around, magnetic resistance is your best bet.

Interested in learning about magnetic resistance and how it works on an indoor bike? This video covers the topic nicely.

3. Workout Intensity

As we’ve mentioned several times already, the spin bike offers a more intense workout to the user. However, there are a few different ways to track whether the workout is effective, including how many calories you can burn and muscle development.

Generally, you’ll find that with a spin bike you’re better able to activate more muscle groups in the legs. Due to the fact that you’re able to stand while you pedal, you can bring more muscles into the process. This of course encourages greater muscle development than the sedentary cycling that you have to do on an exercise bike. It also promotes better weight loss and more calories burned.

However, an important fact to consider in this debate is motivation. While you may be able to burn more calories or build more muscle on a spin bike, it depends on your ability to stay uncomfortable for a while. With the exercise bike, you’ll be able to maintain a more comfortable seated position for the duration of the workout, which could allow you to last longer in your workouts.

Stationary cycling is great for cardio endurance, spinning is best for muscle engagement over long periods of time, and outdoor cycling is best for sustained motivation and best muscle development.

Exercise bikes also come equipped with many programs, and allow you to track your performance as you pedal. This is huge for sticking with a workout. If you program in a 5-mile bike ride at a certain intensity, you will be invested in finishing it as you see your progress and calories burned on the screen in front of you. Some spin bikes offer metric-tracking, but they don’t have the programs that exercise bikes do, so make it harder to set goals for your workout.

Which is better: spinning, stationary cycling, or road cycling?

It’s interesting to think that spinning or riding a stationary bike indoors can be a better experience than cycling outdoors, but in some cases it’s true.

While there’s no alternative for riding with the wind behind you and beautiful scenery to look at as you cycle, both spinning and stationary cycling can offer a very rewarding workout if that’s what you’re interested in. Stationary cycling can provide a tough cardio workout that you can program beforehand with your desired intensity, while spinning can activate most of the major muscle groups in the legs for a strength-building workout.

As a result, you could argue that both forms of indoor cycling are preferable if you’re looking for a pure workout.

It’s rare for most people to approach their maximum heart rate while cycling outdoors, but with spinning and stationary cycling, it’s easier to pedal hard consistently. Keeping the heart rate up, you can really target your cardio endurance and reap the rewards.

You’ll also have the convenience of being in one place the whole time, this means no need to stop due to obstacles in your way, or worrying about food or drink running out. You can stay on the spin bike or stationary bike for the duration you determine, and pedal as hard as you can.

However, one of the issues with the idea that you’ll always get a better workout while indoor cycling is motivation. It’s hard to argue that you will always be driven to work harder when you’re on a static bike going nowhere. Compared to outdoor cycling which will allow you to explore new environments and navigate different types of terrain, indoor cycling can seem devoid of excitement.

There’s also no substitute for cycling on an outdoor bike when it comes to muscle engagement. The extra physical exertion that it requires to stabilize and control the frame makes all the difference. In this regard, spinning certainly works the major leg muscles, and is helped by the flywheel which lets you increase resistance. But stationary cycling falls short, as your posture in an upright or recumbent bike is not as conducive to muscle development. But with either form of indoor cycling, you won’t get quite the same muscle development benefits as you would from outdoor cycling.

There’s no definitive way to answer the question of which is better of the 3 types of cycling.

Stationary cycling is great for cardio endurance, spinning is best for muscle engagement over long periods of time, and outdoor cycling is best for sustained motivation and best muscle development.

Which is more difficult: spin bikes or exercise bikes?

Spin bikes are more difficult to use, since they require the user to ride with correct posture and pedal technique.

Exercise bikes are much more comfortable, and as a result are accessible to everyone, including beginners. Spin bikes require a little bit more of a learning curve to get adjusted to, which makes them slightly more difficult.

If you’re interested in spinning and want to know more about the correct posture, this video is super helpful.

Which burns more fat?

You’ll probably be able to burn more fat on a spin bike.

This is largely due to the fact that you’ll have greater muscle activation during your workout. Especially if you stand while you cycle, you will use muscles that are left untrained on the exercise bike.

It also requires more exertion to keep the flywheel turning on a spin bike, so you’ll have to put more into it.

If you are more motivated by the idea of sitting comfortably and cycling over a longer period of time though, you could feasibly burn more fat on an exercise bike.

If you cause yourself to burn out quickly on a spin bike, then you’re better off with using an exercise bike for weight loss.

Which is more beginner-friendly?

While in theory, both styles of indoor bike are suitable for beginners, the reality is that exercise bikes are more accessible and therefore easily used by all.

What makes them more beginner-friendly is the fact that no prior knowledge of cycling is required to work out on them. Simply mount the bike – either in the upright or reclined position – and start pedaling with your feet. That’s all there is to it. Plus you have the programs which can give you motivation when first starting out, as well as plenty of great workout ideas.

Spin bikes on the other hand are more geared towards experienced cyclists who know the correct posture and are familiar with sustaining a high tempo while pedaling. The lack of programs is something that might deter the beginner since the workouts have to be pre-planned.

Final Verdict

If you’re interested in some fun cardio training with a variety of programs, that’s comfortable for everyone, then you should strongly consider investing in an exercise bike.

If you’re looking to build stronger legs, lose weight, or train cycling indoors then you’re better off looking at spin bikes.

Of course, there is an overlap between the two types of indoor bike, and with either you can have an effective workout.

You may be interested in

Why You Can Trust Us

All our articles are the result of many hours of research, comparisons, study, and writing. If you'd like to know more about our research and writing process you can do so here.

Our team consists of professional writers and researchers as well as medical experts that help to review and approve every article on PainlessMovement.com. To learn more about our team, please see the About page.

Samuel Dixon
Samuel Dixon

Sam is a freelance writer based in Spain, creating content and working on his blog in his spare time. He loves finding researching fitness-related products that introduce new ways of working out, currently practicing yoga and calisthenics as a way of staying healthy, but always experimenting with different forms of training.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.