Spin Bikes vs. Upright Bikes

So called Spin Bikes, or ‘spinning bikes’ are considered by many to give the most demanding exercise bike workout of all. Hence the popularity of ‘spinning classes’ as an activity at the gym.

If you’re really serious about getting fit, or losing weight using an exercise bike, it sounds like buying a spin bike is the way to go.

But is it true or is it all just spin? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the dodgy pun!)

What’s the difference between a spin bike and an upright exercise bike?

Spinning bikes are, of course, upright bikes, but in this discussion, ‘normal’ upright exercise bikes generally have a flywheel of a few Kg which helps give a reasonable degree of smoothness to the action but when you stop pedalling if will quickly slow down and the pedals will  ‘freewheel’ – that is, flywheel keeps turning but the the pedals remain stationary, similar to the way you ‘coast’ when going downhill on a normal bike.

The difference is that cycling downhill, where gravity is providing the kinetic energy, it’s possible for the wheels to turn faster than you are pedalling, so it’s safer to be able to ‘freewheel’. On an exercise bike, because you are providing all of the input, the wheel can only go as fast as you are pedalling.

If you’re not too fit to begin with, the ability to stop if it all gets too much might be a good safety valve, but if you’re going for the most effective workout, freewheeling isn’t really what you want.

Spin bikes, by comparison, have a much heavier flywheel and the inertia keeps it spinning, but the pedals are fixed to the wheel so they carry on moving as long as the wheel keeps turning. In practice, you just just keep peddling throughout the workout, so it’s a bit more work. The heavier flywheel can also be a little kinder to the joints as the effort is more a case of keeping going rather than continuously

Difference in Riding Position

With an upright exercise bike, the riding position is usually just that – upright – and the seat is usually quite wide for comfort but the amount of adjustability is not that great.

Spin bikes resemble road racing bikes rather more.
The handlebars are inclined more horizontally, the riding position is designed to allow the rider to lean forward and the amount of adjustment is somewhat greater, so it emulates a road bike more. Of course, the user can still sit more upright when they wish to.

Because off this, although some would say that the seat may be less comfortable per se, keen outdoor cyclists often consider the overall riding experience of spin bikes more comfortable than that of standard indoor bikes.

girl riding spin bike

The stronger frame and pedals of spin bikes also allow the rider to stand on the pedals to push hard when the resistance is higher, or when sprinting, as with a road bike.

Spin Bikes Resistance method

Whether the method of resistance used on either upright stationary bike or spin bike is mechanical or magnetic, it’s usually operated on a standard exercise bike by rotating a knob, or electronically via up and down arrows.

On a spin bike it’s manually operated and has a wider range of resistance than the other type. It is therefore able to simulate better the feeling of cycling uphill.

One exception to this is the air resistance bikes in which the resistance is directly related to the speed at which you’re pedalling.

Effectiveness of training on a spin bike

The combination of riding position, wide-ranging and easily changeable resistance, and a more engaging experience has a tendency to make spinning workouts more intensive.

In fact, another benefit of spin bikes is that they are arguably more suited to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts, which are increasingly gaining popularity, along with scientific credibility, as highly efficient workouts both for overall fitness and for weight loss purposes.

Spin Bikes Build Quality and Price

Spin bikes are, on the whole, a bit more expensive than normal upright exercise bikes but the build quality is often considered to be better, with less to go wrong as it is more mechanically operated, although some maintenance is still required.

Although they do come with a console displaying the usual array of information, they don’t tend to come with fancy extras.

However, if the idea is to approximate the challenge of a hard cycle ride, give your heart, lungs and muscles a good workout, or lose a few pounds all from the comfort of your own room, then buying and using a spin bike is probably as good as you can get.

Which brings up the next question:
What’s the best Spinning Bike? Click here to look at the main contenders.