Spin Bike Resistance & How to Pick The Best One

Spin bikes have brought many people joy ever since they have been widely adopted by cycling clubs, gyms, and (most importantly) homes. They allow for the types of unique exercise that one can get outside on regular bicycles without having to leave their home. Many bikes, especially the smart indoor bikes come with spectacular features like the ability to connect to TVs and smartphones through Bluetooth technology or extra water bottle holders for those who are looking to go on exceptionally long rides. However, the top feature that many people consider as the one that makes or breaks one of these spin bikes is their resistance.

Spin bike resistance types come in a variety of different forms and have a host of different features depending on what form it is. Today we’re going to look at some of these different spin bike resistance system and try to explain some of the key features that come with them. Some of these types of indoor bike resistance systems are more common than others, especially in the higher-tier spin bikes that you can find on the market. There are two main categories of resistance: magnetic and friction based resistance. Those then split into sub-groups with different type of magnetic resistance (like manually adjustable magnetic versus electromagnetic) and different types of friction resistance (leather versus wool). With all of that out the way, let’s hop right into our exploration of magnetic resistance vs friction resistance.

4 Different Spin Bike Resistance Systems:

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1. Manually Adjustable Magnetic

magnetic resistance

Up first on our list of exploration of these spin bike resistance types is the manually adjustable magnetic resistance system. Quite the name, but it is also quite the system. It is probably the most widely used type of indoor cycle resistance system in use today. An extremely large amount of indoor cycling bikes use this sort of resistance, from some of the lower/mid tier bikes to the absolute top ones.

But just how does this system of resistance work? Basically, the resistance system looks to use the flywheel that comes with the bike and a series of magnets (thus, the name) in order to generate the correct resistance levels. The bike flywheel acts as a magnetic conductor, interfering with the magnetic field between (usually) two magnets. The result of this interference and interaction is the generation of resistance. The magnets do not touch the flywheel.

There is a reason that this format of resistance has become so popular. It comes with a variety of benefits. One of the most notable is just how quiet the magnets and their interaction with the flywheel makes any sort of workout. Of course, this does also depend on the design and general build of the bike, but the vast majority of the magnetic resistance systems are quieter than just about anything else you can find on the market. These bikes also have the advantage of working with a smaller flywheel than those of friction systems. An example of this would be the Keiser bikes, who have an 8 lb flywheel and have excellent momentum. Compared to the friction systems that we’ll discuss further down, you would need a really heavy flywheel in order to create a smooth pedal stroke.

Another benefit is exclusive to the bikes that have manually operated systems. Especially compared to bikes with friction resistance systems, the ability to mark and change to different resistance levels during the workout is significantly easier on bikes with magnetic resistance systems, Just a flick of the knob that comes with these types of spin bikes and you can suddenly be pushing against a much higher level of resistance or slow down to take a nice little break.

Finally, the magnetic resistance system takes almost no maintenance whatsoever to maintain. Because there is no actual contact being made between the magnets, there is no actual wear. The only thing that might need to be occasionally checked on is if the spin bike starts to make different noises or you notice a different feel to the workout. Even then, it should only take a tightening of wires or screws.

Of course, the system isn’t perfect. The main issue with the magnetic resistance is that the bikes they come with can start to turn real expensive real quick. Those with other types of resistance systems are more likely to be cheaper. Additionally, the rider doesn’t have 100% control over the amount of maximum and minimum resistance because magnetic resistance spin bikes come with the preset lowest and highest resistance (you can’t tighten/loosen the resistance knob beyond a certain point. For instance, you will often read Maxkare bike reviews saying “even at the lowest resistance, it’s still difficult to pedal” or they say “even at the highest resistance, it’s still not difficult enough”.

Pros:

  • Magnetic resistance makes even the most intense workouts quiet and requires little to no maintenance.
  • Specifically, those systems that are manually adjustable also get the bonus of being extremely easy to adjust in terms of their different resistance levels.
  • There is no need for a power-outlet plugin to change the bike’s resistance (it’s not electromagnetic). So, no need to run an ugly cable across your room.

Cons:

  • The first biggest downside of magnetic resistance is that you don’t have 100% control over the maximum and minimum resistance.
  • The second biggest downside of this system is how much the bikes that come with these magnets can cost. It puts a damper on an otherwise fantastic system.
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2. Electromagnetic Resistance System

electromagnetic resistance

Up next is the second type of magnetic resistance; electromagnetic resistance. There aren’t a whole lot of fundamental differences between these two different types of magnetic resistance systems, although what differences there are pique some interests. Electromagnetic resistance is the same sort of system with magnets, yet now there is an added electric charge. That makes the magnets more or less attractive, thus increasing or decreasing the resistance of the workout. This is normally done from the console that comes with the sort of bikes that implement this resistance system.

One of the biggest differences about this type of resistance is the ability of the user to change the settings. As noted above, compared to the manual resistance settings, the electromagnetic resistance systems are usually sorted from a type of console or virtual change. This is compared to the manual knob that comes with many types of spin bikes. Instead of being limited by how fast you can turn that knob, you can basically change the level of resistance almost instantly.

Another of the biggest benefits that comes with the electromagnetic resistance system is the variety of exercises that it can be used for. Many of the indoor cycling bikes (not all bikes) that come with this sort of system have a series of pre-programmed workouts and exercises. This can mean that beginners or those who simply don’t prefer coming up with their own workouts have a much easier time making full use of these systems. Bikes with these resistance systems allow for the automatic drive change (gear change for uphill and downhill that you might pick to ride on cycling apps.

All of this comes in addition to the inherent benefits that the magnetic system of resistance gives. The limited noise and low maintenance both continue to be present here. These systems are also highly resistant to any sort of sweat that might fly off during the workout.

Once again, the biggest issue with these types of magnetic resistance bikes is just how much they cost and the lack of 100% control over the maximum and minimum resistance. While an absolute ton of spin bikes use manually adjustable magnetic resistance systems, those that use the electromagnetic resistance systems tend to be on the much more expensive side.

Pros:

  • Only an electromagnetic resistance system can be smart and automatically change resistance based on the terrain that you pick (uphill/downhill) from indoor cycling apps such as Zwift.
  • The electromagnetic resistance system comes with all of the fundamental benefits that a manually adjustable system does in addition to the ability to change resistance levels much more smoothly.
  • Not to mention that a great deal of the spin bikes that utilise these sorts of resistance systems tend to be advanced and have workout programs already installed.

Cons:

  • Once again, these spin bikes tend to be quite costly. The technology that goes into making them really does raise the price. So while you are getting a quality system of resistance, you usually have got to pay a pretty good price for it.
  • In order to use a spin bike with Electromagnetic resistance and actually be able to change the resistance, you need to plug the bike to electricity (they don’t work with AA/AAA batteries).
  • You will need to run an ugly cable across your room to plug in the bike.
  • Due to the additional electronic parts, you need to be extra careful and keep the bike as dry as possible.
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3. Leather Friction Resistance

leather resistance

Now we are moving into the realm of friction. Friction resistance uses pads that rest on the flywheel in order to generate resistance. Normally they are wool, but we are looking at those that use leather. In order to increase the resistance, you would twist a knob that is connected to the pad, which then pushes harder onto the flywheel. Bang, you’ve got more resistance on the ride.

There are two common methods that are used in order to apply the resistance. One is a single pad that sits on top of the flywheel, which is pushed down on the flywheel. This is the same process that we described above. However, there is a second method that can be used. There can be 2 pads that sit on either side of the flywheel. As the tension increases, the pads squeeze the flywheel harder in order to make it harder to pedal.

One of the biggest advantages to these friction resistance systems is their cost. Because so many spin bikes have moved on to implementing magnetic resistance systems, that means that those that have remained with the friction ones have really gone down in terms of cost. Even with all the other features being equal, a bike with a friction resistance system will usually cost a few hundred dollars less than the magnetic one. For those who aren’t looking to drop an absolute fortune on these sorts of indoor cycling bikes, this can be a huge bonus.

Another large advantage that these systems have is their ability to have full control over the resistance. Magnetic bikes have a large range of resistance settings, but because of the nature of using magnets, you can never get to 100% resistance or 0% resistance. Otherwise the magnets would be touching, which simply wouldn’t work. The friction systems do not have this issue. You have full control over the resistance settings here, which can be ideal for some.

There are a few downsides that come with these types of bikes, however. They make more noise than the magnetic resistance bikes due to the pads on them having physical interaction with the flywheel. The maintenance is also going to be a lot higher on these bikes, as the pads are going to need replacing every 6 to 12 months, depending on how frequently you use it. It is also more susceptible to damage from dust, sweat and other household materials.

Pros:

  • If you are truly worried about cost, then friction resistance settings are where you should be looking.
  • The fact that it also gives more control over the ride is a definite bonus for those who really want to command their workouts.

Cons:

  • These resistance systems do require more maintenance, which could be an issue for people. Its vulnerability to decay is probably the biggest issue with this sort of resistance setting.
  • It also makes more noise and can be somewhat harder to get used to for new users.
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4. Wool Friction Resistance

friction resistance

Finally, we have the wool friction resistance setting. There is very little difference between wool and leather friction systems. They generally share the same sorts of strengths and same sort of weaknesses compared to the magnetic resistance settings.

A note that should be made about these friction resistance settings is how there are usually no marked levels that come with them. Resistance levels are generally determined on how much you twist the knob and then how “right” the actual pedalling feels. This might be an issue for those who like to specifically keep track of their settings.

Once again, the cost is the primary advantage of this sort of resistance setting. It costs significantly less to manufacture and, by extension, to sell. If you want a cheaper bike, you will want a friction resistance bike.

Again, you get the same sort of ultimate control on the maximum and minimum resistance that is allowed on these friction exercise bikes. Because of the resistance type, it also has an extremely high ceiling for resistance, which is good for those who want a challenge.

It also shares the same weaknesses. The maintenance is the ultimate headache here. Again, regular replacing of the pads and damage caused by sweat and dust is a killer. The noise can also be irritating to those who are used to quiet machines. Friction resistance can also slip and become jerky on higher resistance levels.

Pros:

  • Once again, there is some quality level of control offered here.
  • However, the big selling point is the cost. It is a lot lower than other options.

Cons:

  • The maintenance is once again a downside, as well as the noises made.
  • You need to be extra careful and always make sure the wool-pad stays dry.
  • Basically, any downside that comes with a friction bike comes with all of them.

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How To Fix Spin Bike Resistance

Some people have issues with their spin bike’s resistance, regardless of whether it’s friction or magnetic. As a bonus, we’re here to help fix that as well. These are some of the ways to fix the resistance of your spin bike. For more complicated issues, you might want to have a local repair shop take a look.

Friction Resistance

For friction resistance machines, you’ll want to have a regular schedule of maintenance. Clean and lubricate the gears relatively frequently so that they avoid that wear and tear that typically comes with this type of resistance. Similarly, you’ll want to keep the belt as clean as possible to avoid any issues with adjustment thanks to dirt buildup. One of the things about friction resistance bikes that give them an edge in how fixable they are is that they are much simpler. Because they use pads to press on the wheel, it is often just a case of a part breaking or wearing down. Once that is replaced, the problem is usually resolved.

Magnetic Resistance

Then there are magnetic resistance bikes. Since these are by far the majority of modern spin bikes, they are what many people wonder about when it comes to keeping up the resistance to an ideal level. Of course, the level of maintenance still applies in regards to the bike. Make sure that there isn’t too much sweat falling on the flywheel or other areas that might affect the resistance. Note: If you hear noise when you add resistance, there is a big chance that something (usually tiny pieces of metal left in the drive) is attached to the magnets or the magnets need a bit of adjustment.

One of the major problems that many people seem to report is that even with the bike set to the minimum level of resistance, they still find it to be rather challenging. Almost as though the resistance didn’t actually change when they lowered it. At that point it seems like there isn’t anything else that can be done to actually lower the resistance. However, a strategy that often works with magnetic resistance bikes is looking under the rubber that covers the resistance rod. There, you want to look if there is any room to adjust the resistance rod or coupling nut. If there is no room for you to adjust the rod, then you might need to replace the attachment rod. A shorter rod will allow for less resistance. Admittedly, this second process is a bit more complicated.

Others who have issues with magnetic resistance bikes find that they have the opposite problem of the above. No matter what setting they are on or are attempting, they find that the bike doesn’t give enough of a challenge. Fortunately, the process of this adjustment is not any more complex than the above. First, check the rubber that covers the resistance rod and see if that can be adjusted. Once again, if that does not work, then you will need to replace the attachment rod. This time, instead of a shorter rod, you will want to use a longer rod to make up for the increased resistance.


Conclusion

I hope this article helped you understand the differences between friction and magnetic resistance systems. So, you can make an informed decision when looking for the best spin bikes on the market. As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please feel free to leave a comment below and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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I hope this article helped you understand the differences between friction and magnetic resistance systems. So, you can make an informed decision when looking for the best spin bikes on the market. As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please feel free to leave a comment below and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Manual Magnetic Resistance System
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Electromagnetic Resistance System
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Leather Friction Resistance System
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Leather Friction Resistance System
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