Last Updated on December 10, 2022 by Patrick
Exercise bikes are super popular and you’ve probably seen a whole bunch of them at your local gym, but if you’ve ever taken the time to look at the various models available, you may be wondering about the different styles and configurations.
Two common types of stationary bike are the upright exercise bike and the spin bike. If you’re wondering which is the best option for your workouts, or for your home gym, then read on!
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Upright Exercise Bike vs Spin Bike
Spin bikes are the more bicycle-like option of the two. They are designed and built to look and operate very similarly to an actual road bike. They generally have the same style of handlebars and seat as a standard road bike and are meant to be ridden in the same sort of horizontal, leaned over, position you would take on an actual, non-stationary bike, though you can also stand up on the pedals and ride it that way.
Spin bikes are great precisely because they are so closely modeled on real bikes that you might ride on the road. The pedals are connected to a flywheel which provides resistance and keeps them spinning even when you stop actively pedaling. This is a big point of difference between spin bikes and upright exercise bikes, as generally the pedals on an upright exercise bike will stop spinning when you stop pedaling.
As you might guess, spin bikes were designed for cyclists who want to train indoors. Many professional cyclists use them to train when outdoor biking isn’t possible. This should give you a big clue as to their effectiveness.
If this is what the pros use to train, then you know it has to be effective!
Because they are made to mimic real road bikes, spin bikes often don’t include a console or screen. This may come as a surprise to some people who are more familiar with upright exercise bikes, as it is much more common for that style of stationary bike to come equipped with a screen which provides ride statistics. This isn’t a hard and fast rule though, many modern spin bikes do have screens, or even built in phone/tablet mounts.
Spin Bike Benefits
More Intense, Realistic Workouts
Spin bikes come equipped with a heavy flywheel which provides resistance for your workout. As stated above, the pedal and the flywheel are connected to one another which keeps the pedals spinning even when you’re not actively pedaling.
What does this mean for you?
It means that you’ll need to put in a lot more effort to control the pedals. Unlike an upright exercise bike which allows you just stop pedaling, your legs will always stay in motion for as long as the flywheel is spinning. If you want to stop, you’ll need to either remove your feet from the pedals or actively work against the momentum of the flywheel to slow down and stop.
Spin cycles also allow you to stand on the pedals just like you would with a real bike, allowing you to work even harder, and hit muscles that you wouldn’t be able to just by sitting down.
Overall, if you’re looking for an intense workout, the spin cycle is arguably the superior option. Its design is also much more similar to that of a real bicycle, which makes it a much more effective option for those of you trying to actually get better at riding an actual road bike.
Very Similar to Actual Road Bikes, Great Training For Cyclists
You want to become a better cyclist? You need the right tool for the job, and the spin cycle is that tool.
When you’re riding a spin cycle, you feel like you’re riding an actual road bike.
The seating position and the handlebars are nearly identical to an actual road bike and the resistance that the flywheel provides is generally adjustable with a small knob in the same location as the gear selector on the handlebars, which allows you to simulate riding up and down hills just like a real ride in the great outdoors.
It’s super easy these days to find apps or even just youtube videos which will guide you through some excellent workouts on a spin cycle. This is where those phone/tablet mounts come in handy. This is not to say, of course, that you can’t just set up in front of your TV at home and catch up on your favorite show while you get in shape!
Can Be Ridden In a Standing Position
The fact that you can ride a spin bike in a standing position allows for a lot of flexibility and variation in your workouts.
Anyone that’s ever ridden real bike knows that standing up on the pedals is a much different experience than pedaling in the sitting position. Having the option to do either means that you can target different muscle groups in your workouts.
It also makes it possible to really crank up the resistance since you’ll be able to put significantly more force into your pedaling while standing up.
This is also another factor that makes the spin cycle feel more like a real road bike. Standing on the pedals is pretty common when riding outdoors, especially when climbing steep hills or grades.
Tough and Sturdy for Realistic Cyclist Training
Spin bikes are built to simulate a real bike, which means it needs to be sturdy and stable. Users are expected to put a lot of effort and energy into their workout, pedal quickly and even stand up on the pedals.
Spin cycles are generally not compact or storable machines, they are built to take abuse and to keep you upright. For this reason, they are typically well built with tough materials and are meant to last.
Of course this means they have to be pretty heavy, but this is more of a pro than a con if you’re looking for a indoor bike that won’t let you down. (Or let you fall down)
This is also great for larger users who may put strain on a relatively flimsy foldable upright exercise bike.
Spin Cycle Downsides
Bulkier, Less Portable
When it comes to home gym gear, space is often an issue and spin bikes are not small machines. They take up a significant amount of your home gym space (or your living room) and they’re not usually designed to fold up or disassembled like an upright exercise bike might.
So what are your options for hiding your spin bike when company comes over? Many models come equipped with wheels so that you can tip it over and roll it around. They are still large machines, but at least you can move them around fairly easily.
At the end of the day, if space is an issue for you then make sure you take this factor into account.
Less Beginner Friendly
If you’re new to the world of indoor cycling, spin bikes definitely hold your hand a little less than the upright exercise bikes with pre-programmed workouts built in. If you get a model with a built in console or screen, you may be able to avoid this issue and a built in phone mount means you’ll have the entirety of the internet to help you out also, just be careful as many workouts you may find on youtube etc may not be well suited to a beginner or someone with a low level of fitness.
There’s also the fact that spin bikes are usually fixed gear, which means that the pedals spin with the flywheel whether the user is pedaling or not. This means that your legs will continue to move whether you’re actively pedaling or not. You have to keep pedaling or actively work to stop.
Usually Have Less Digital Features
This won’t really effect someone who’s a regular cyclist looking to just bring their usual workout inside, but for a beginner, this is definitely a disadvantage. Part of what makes those upright bikes in the gym so great is that you just can sit down, start pedaling, select your workout from the screen and follow the instructions.
Most spin bikes don’t provide the same level of guidance, as they’re more designed as indoor road-bike replacements and the design is more focused on getting you that realistic road bike feel than it is guiding you through specific RPM ranges.
Upright Exercise Bikes
You can find upright exercise bikes in pretty much every gym in the world, and in many home gyms as well. They are extremely popular because they are:
- Relatively inexpensive
- Easy to use
- Great for beginners
Compared to a spin bike, upright exercise bikes let you ride in a much more upright, seated position rather than leaning over like you would on a standard road bike. This can be more comfortable for many people and put less stress on your back and spine.
This is great for someone looking for a simple cardio machine to burn calories and increase endurance, and may not necessarily be looking for the true to life road bike simulation that a spin bike might provide.
If you’re not training for an upcoming race and just want to get some cardio in, an upright exercise bike is a great option. The seat and handlebar position allow you to sit comfortably upright while you pedal, and the pedals are not fixed like a spin bike which means that when you stop pedaling, they stop moving, allowing to to “coast” like you might on a freewheel geared bike.
Upright exercise bikes are also generally more compact than than spin bikes and easier to hide when company comes over. Many of them are even designed to be folded up and stowed in a closet or under a bed! This is great for home gyms where space is always at a premium.
Upright Exercise Bike Benefits
Of course there’s a range of prices for different models of both spin bikes and upright exercise bikes but generally speaking upright exercise bikes are going to be more affordable than equivalent spin bikes.
Especially on the budget end of things, you’ll find more options in upright bikes compared to spin bikes. Spin bikes are usually built with sturdier materials by necessity of their design and the way they’re meant to be used. This means that basic models of spin bikes are usually a bit more expensive than upright exercise bikes.
Upright exercises bikes are super simple to use and most of them have pre-programmed workouts to get you started if you’re just starting out.
Usually, you just have to jump on and start pedaling and that’s it! Controls to adjust resistance, seat height and handlebars are usually very simple and many modern models come equipped with touch screens to set up and control the workout program.
On top of all of that, the lower resistance levels of upright exercise bikes also make working out really painless for fitness beginners.
Great for Working Out Your Back and Core
The upright riding position of an upright exercise bike can help you activate different muscles compared the hunched over riding position of a spin bike. Riding in an upright position can help you feel the burn in your back and core.
Space Efficient and Compact
Whereas spin bikes are large and heavy by design, many upright exercise bikes are made to be folded and stored out of sight. Not only that, they’re usually lighter which makes them much easier to pick up and move around if you need to rearrange your workout space.
Comfortable Riding Position
If you’re just trying to get some cardio in, not training for your next triathlon, there’s no reason to make yourself unnecessarily uncomfortable on your indoor bike.
If burning calories is your goal and that’s the extent of it, then the nicer riding position of an upright exercise bike is a big plus. Cardio takes time and if you’re comfortable while doing it, you’ll be much more likely to stick to it and come back the next day.
More Digital Features and Pre-Programmed Workouts
I mentioned before that upright exercise bikes usually come with a screen and some workouts to get your started. This is a really great benefit of this type of indoor bike.
Spin bikes are usually more barebones when it comes to this sort of thing as they’re more intended just to emulate a real road bike.
Something that’s really helpful for a lot of people is that many upright exercise bikes allow you to track your progress over time. It can be really motivating to see your progress over a period weeks or months.
Upright Exercise Bike Drawbacks
Can Strain Your Back and Neck
The upright position of an exercise bike may not be comfortable for everyone, particularly those with lower back problems. Prolonged use of an upright exercise bike can also lead to aches and pains in the back, neck, or forearms. To avoid this, it is recommended to try the bike before purchasing to ensure that it is properly aligned for your body type.
Less Optimal for Very High Intensity Workouts
Compared to recumbent or spin bikes, upright exercise bikes tend to be lighter and less stable. The way force is applied on an upright bike can cause it to sway from side to side, especially during intense workouts.
Additionally, the design of an upright exercise bike does not allow for standing or hunched pedaling, which can limit the amount of force that can be comfortably exerted over an extended period of time. For these reasons, an upright exercise bike may not be the best choice for advanced users who are looking for a heavy-duty workout. A spin bike, on the other hand, is more stable and well-suited for intense workouts.
Final Words – Upright Exercise Bike vs Spin Bike
In the end, the choice between an upright exercise bike and a spin bike comes down to your personal needs and preferences. If you are looking for a small and portable bike that is suitable for home use, an upright bike may be a good option.
On the other hand, if you want a bike that is well-suited for tough, advanced, or realistic workouts, or if you are a high-level athlete looking for a bike that can handle heavy and intense use, a spin bike may be a better choice. Ultimately, the best option will depend on your individual fitness goals and needs.
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Hey I’m Patrick!
I built my first home gym in 2012, when I decided I was tired of waiting in line for the squat rack and I started GGC in 2020 to help people find the info they need to improve their fitness and their lives.
I’m passionate about fitness, especially when it comes to working out at home. I’ve learned a lot over the years about what to do and what not to do, and my mission is to share that knowledge with the world!