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Traditional exercise bike vs spin bike can be a tough riddle to tackle when deciding on the best indoor bike to get. Should you go for classic and relatively easy-going exercise bikes or the relatively newer and aggressive ‘Spin’ bike? There are plenty of similarities in both, and yet there are some major differences that are better considered earlier in the deciding process.
Let’s look at the differences between the bikes from the two categories, and then let’s find what best suits your specific needs.
Origins of Exercise Bikes and Spin Bikes
Exercise bikes have been around for a long time even if they haven’t been that popular during the whole of that duration. It’s supposed ancestor “the Gymnasticon” first emerged as a “stationary bike” around 1796, designed as a device for physical therapy from the newly derived science of orthopedics.
Exercise bikes were (and usually still are) supposed to be for a low-impact workout which means that the workout isn’t meant to be strenuous or sporadic like weight-lifting or enthusiastic cycling. Modern exercise bikes offer a great variety of tasks that can be accomplished on them like weight loss, endurance building, injury recovery, etc.
The first ‘modern’ exercise bike seems to be the 1968 ‘Life Cycle’ exercise bike. It’s claimed to be the first electronic piece of exercise equipment, offered upright posture for the rider and a simple panel of different meters to measure the extent of physical exertion. Up-to-date exercise bikes have a whole spectrum of varying resistances, built-in programs, workout routines, goal-tracking, and hence a list of features that help you keep fit in the long term. Exercise bikes aren’t strenuous unless you want them to be and are meant to last.
Spinning bikes don’t have such a straight forward story. The idea came from a professional endurance cyclist, Johnny Goldberg, after he got into an accident while biking during the night to train for an upcoming event. This was back in 1991. The earlier prototypes of the spin bike were made for the purpose of providing a completely indoor cycling experience. If you’re asking yourself why they didn’t just use the already existing multitude of exercise bikes to train indoors that existed at the time, it’s because the experience on an exercise bike can vary considerably from actual cycling because of a number of reasons, especially the posture of the rider. And since the developer of the spin bike was a professional cyclist himself, he would have wanted to imitate or recreate the race biking experience to the best of his ability. He and his business partner launched the indoor cycling program through their own business, Madd Dogg Athletics, Inc. As soon as it had enough momentum, they partnered with the renowned manufacturers “Schwinn”, to produce the original “Spinning” bikes. Madd Dogg Athletics trademarked the terms ‘Spin’, ‘Spinners’ and ‘Spinning’ for these indoor cycling products and have been fighting for product title rights from then on but the term ‘spinning’ became a generic term used for indoor cycling equipment across the map.
Soon enough, exclusive Spin class studios were popping up for interactive group ‘spinning’ sessions which included a professional trainer and the trainees. Due to the unique, invigorating, and intense environment that these classes offered, ‘Spinning’ rose to brilliant fame and gained a cult-like following across the map.
To take the aspect of interaction further, big players like Peleton came into play and took the gym’s physical spin class to the screen. With a tremendous number of exclusive trainers, up to 14 live sessions per day, and thousands of different workout routines, virtual interactive studio sessions have come to dominate the indoor biking exercise program.
Mechanics of Exercise Bikes vs Spin Bikes
This aspect might be a boring one to consider but it’s where all the difference comes from. The relevant difference is regarding the drivetrain. The drive-train is the set of mechanical parts that convert the vertical motion of the pedals into rotational momentum. It consists of different parts in the classic exercise bikes and different parts in the spinning bike. In the exercise bike, there’s just the flywheel and the pedals while in the spinning bike there’s a second circular gear-like structure besides the flywheel. This second gear-like structure is similar to the chain-ring in bicycles and of course, there’s the chain or the belt which connects this second part to the main part which is the flywheel.
The flywheel is the main body of the stationary bike’s ( the family of exercise bikes that both exercise and spinning bikes belong to) ‘engine’ and stores the rotational energy that you put into the bike’s system by pedaling. It varies in weight from about 30-55 lbs. In normal bikes, it’s the crankset that does the job of converting the energy from your pedals into rotational energy.
In classic exercise bikes (including upright and recumbent exercise bikes), the flywheel is directly attached to the pedals and usually has one of the three sorts of resistance mechanisms acting on it. The type of resistance being applied can vary from a friction pad to magnetic force to electromagnetic force. Advanced or modern spin bikes either use the electromagnetic or the magnetic mechanism as they are supposed to be much more silent than the traditional brake pad mechanism.
In spinning bikes, there’s a separate ring apart from the flywheel that forms the rotating system. This system resembles the one that you may see in an ordinary bicycle and is one of the reasons that the spinning bike experience more closely resembles the real bicycling experience. The weight of the flywheel determines how much resistance you’ll generally be facing apart from the other resistance mechanism that you choose to apply (friction, magnetic, or EM).
Range: Classic exercise bikes are more versatile and low-impact when you talk about the range of exercises they can be used to perform. They can be used with low resistances to build endurance or at higher resistances for a more demanding workout. The reclining posture of the recumbent exercise bike also supports anybody with injuries or back problems. Some of the modern exercise bikes offer up to 20 different training programs, heart rate monitors, calorie consumption measurement, and the added features of simulating biking through any specific area with Google Street View or even virtual worlds via apps like Zwift or to train with professional help through platforms like Peleton.
Spinning bikes generally lean more towards the intensive side of workout routines. They take more of a chunk out of the calories as they require a leaning posture which engages the upper body as well as the lower body. Some training sessions even involve ‘jumping’ or kind of standing on your pedals to exert more force per each pedal, pedaling through simulated inclines via increased resistance and changing the angle of the bike’s posture, etc. Not to mention, the whole fandom of the spin bike is based around intense interactive workout sessions led by professional motivators/ trainers. It’s simply designed to be more of a track biking or terrain biking experience than a stroll through the park.
There are numerous training programs, both for classic exercise bikes as well as spinning bikes but spinning bikes are built for workouts that are physically more inclusive and more intensive than classic exercise bikes so their training programs are correspondingly intensive.
Aggression in Workout
Exercise bikes can be used for exercises across the spectrum from endurance and injury recovery to strength training. They don’t have to be set at a specific point and be too aggressive or too easy. They’re versatile and they are supposed to come to a stop immediately after you stop pedaling so as to not push you to go farther than you should or farther than you originally planned (as opposed to the spin bike pedaling design which is supposed to keep on rotating because of the rotational momentum). Modern bikes also come with odometers( meters that measure how much distance has been traveled) or ergometers (meters that measure how much of a particular exercise has been done) and the central controlling system also has a setting for varying the resistance on the flywheel.
Spinning bikes, depending on the level of resistance that is selected, speed up as you start pushing, and their pedals continue to rotate due to inertia even after you stop pedaling. This may give the rider the urge to push farther and farther as in a real bicycle. If you’re indoors and going it alone rather than being in a spin class, you may be able to tone it down a bit but with the kind of training sessions that spinning bike platforms offer, the mind naturally has the urge to push harder. All this makes the spinning bike more of a designed ‘pusher’ than the classic exercise bikes. It’s why specially designated areas with intense trainers have spinning bikes rather than classic exercise bikes with more rigorous training programs.
It may be unusual for spinning bikes to be recommended for injury recovery over exercise bikes. In fact, the purpose of the supposedly first stationary bike (the Gymnasticon) was to provide physical therapy to orthopedically unwell patients. Exercise bikes set a limit to resistance and it’s easier to see that you may be pushing too hard on an exercise bike. This stops the person from aggravating the injury from a potential adrenaline rush. And it’s important to remember that adrenaline rushes or other relevant hormonal effects are much more probable in spin classes where the whole atmosphere is designed for you to push. It’s difficult to ‘give up’ when there are a bunch of people pushing on, left and right, and the trainer is all fired up (as he’s supposed to be). The other factor that hinders or makes the spinning bike more problematic to be recommended as a recovery device is the posture. The lean-on posture isn’t as suitable for whole-body relaxation as opposed to what your posture would be on the classic exercise bikes especially the recumbent exercise bikes.
Spinning bikes are supposed to be the intermediate choice for enthusiastic cyclists for indoor training. The professional norm now being training bikes i.e. setting up race bikes with rolling pads. They offer the same posture as the actual bike and have the same kind of inertial mechanics as the real bike does.
As exercise bikes were designed more for comfortable indoor lower body exercise rather than a simulated race-biking experience, the posture is either upright (on upright exercise bikes) or reclining (on recumbent exercise bikes). This makes it easier for the rider to exercise just their lower body.
A spinning bike usually has a lean-on posture for the rider and puts the body through relatively more stress compared to an upright or a reclining posture.
To sum it up:
|Exercise bikes||Spinning bikes|
|Origin||Late 18th century. For medical purposes.
Modern concept commercially came through around 1968.
|Late 20th century. Professional training purposes.|
|Mechanics (of drivetrain)||Flywheel+ pedals. Stops when you stop.||Identical to bicycle drive-train with the exception of the flywheel.|
|Versatility||Wide range of exercise intensities. Recumbent and upright variants also available.||Meant for the indoor cycling experience. These days mainly focused on live training sessions.|
|Intensity||Variable levels of intensity. Generally easy-going and recreational.||Relatively intense depending on training session’s nature. Variable resistance available in most bikes|
|Posture||Upright or recumbent.||Lean-on, similar to racing bicycles.|
Targeted muscle groups
Although both the exercise bike and the spinning bike are generally used to exercise the same portion of the body i.e. the lower body, there is a difference between the groups of muscles that these bikes draw the focus on during the workout.
The upright exercise bike is supposed to focus on the quadriceps more than the hamstrings. The quadriceps are the group of muscles running between the front side of the pelvis and the kneecap which goes to say that they form most of the front thigh.
The spinning bike involves more parts of the body than the general exercise bike. The lean-on posture involves the back into the mix of muscles. It also engages the arms since they have to take the weight of you leaning in the handlebars. In the lower body, the spin bike is supposed to focus more on the hamstrings, the muscles that run between the hip and the back of the knee which makes them the most part of the back of the thigh.
Recommended classic exercise or upright exercise bike:
Schwinn 170 upright bike
This economical commercial-tier bike comes packed with options to vary your workout intensity from easy to hard. It has a spectrum of almost 30 built-in programs which divide into 12 profiles, 9 heart control, 4 custom, and 2 fitness programs.
It is a sturdy and compact looking exercise bike that is 41″ long and 21″ wide so it doesn’t have much of a footprint. It comes with forearm rests, a back and forth adjustable seat that’s ergonomically designed, and one very inclusive or complicated-looking user control panel with attached speakers designed for high-quality sound. The panel isn’t just complicated-looking because of the buttons, it also has a ton of functionality included. It allows you to monitor 13 different types of feedback like heart rate and calorie consumption, etc. You can also ‘goal track’ the time that you’ve exercised, the equivalent distance you’ve traveled, and the number of calories you’ve burned in the process.
The resistance is electromagnetic so you’re going to have to plug it in in order for it to work. But that makes the resistance seamless and quiet when compared to the physical leather or rubber pad type of resistance against the flywheel. There are 10 different buttons on the edges of the panel for varying resistances via quick switch buttons. You can also plug in a USB cable to charge your device, to transfer data to the company’s ‘Schwinn Connect’ website or for MyFitnessPal compatibility.
Recommended indoor cycling or ‘spinning’ bike:
DIAMONDBACK Fitness 510 iC
The fitness 510ic has a lot of credit behind it with 5 consecutive nominations for a ‘best buy’ product by a leading consumer magazine. The manufacturer probably achieved this by setting such an economical price for the bike while adding a bunch of ergonomic features like built-in programs, magnetic resistance levels, adjustable seats, etc. to the bike.
The bike comes with 12 workout programs to choose from and an additional four exclusively for cardio. The unusual thing with the resistance on this bike is that the computer fluctuates the resistance levels itself to ensure a smooth transition and takes the guesswork out of the workout for you, giving you more space to focus on the pedaling itself.
The LCD panel is an easy to read display which displays the heart rate, the duration of exercise, the power in wattage, speed, and calories. The computerized resistance level dials up in a curve that should ensure a smooth transition from one setting to the next.
The flywheel is a ‘heavy-duty’ 32 lb. one while the handlebars and the seat are fully customizable for user convenience. This means that the handlebars and the seat can be moved both rotationally as well as back or forth.
All in all, it’s a good indoor cycling bike with a good balance of price and ergonomic features.