Thanks to advancements in technology and invention, indoor exercise equipment has become a fitness staple. Indoor stationary exercise bikes are one of the most used and favored indoor exercise equipment. They’ve gained a laudable reputation for fast and efficient calorie burn, muscle strengthening, and cardiovascular health improvement. These bikes are exceptional in every ramification. The two main types of indoor cycling bikes are Spin bikes and air resistance bikes.
Despite the mass popularity of these two incredible indoor bikes, most fitness enthusiasts can hardly spot the differences or the similarities between the two. In addition to knowing which one best suits our preferences and needs, I also think we owe these bikes the courtesy of differentiation. This is why I have taken time out to spell out these differences in clear, concise terms and descriptions. So this isn’t your typical case of spin bike vs. air resistance bike. This is enlightenment at its best! Read along and be learned!
What is the Difference Between Spin bikes and Air Bikes?
While the two indoor exercise bikes are somewhat similar in structure and function, they do have several features that set them apart. So what is the difference between spin bikes and air bikes? For one, air bikes embody more ruggedness and intensity than spin bikes. Air bikes are synonymous with torture machines as they work your muscles to the extreme. They are great for a couple of minutes HIIT (high-intensity interval training) but not as pleasant as spin bikes for everyday 50-minute rides. In fact, you might be recommended by your physician to use a spin bike, but not an air bike. Air resistance stationary bikes are what you would want to add to your daily weight training but I wouldn’t recommend using them to do your daily exercise. On the other hand, you can use spinning bikes for everyday cardio exercise without putting too much pressure on your heart and overall health.
Though air bikes were introduced long before spin bikes came into existence, they are not as popular as spin bikes, a gym favorite ─ I’d say spinning and indoor cycling classes take significant credit for their popularity. Read on as I constructively compare the two bikes in terms of structure and function.
The most noticeable difference between spin bikes and air bikes is their exterior design. While a spin bike integrates a flywheel at the front, air bikes sport a large fan blade at the wheels. The blades serve to distribute air for infinite and progressive resistance effectively. In essence, the harder you push against its pedals, the higher the resistance it provides. And from experience, I can confidently say that air bikes make one of the best total body workouts there is.
The flywheels on spin bikes are smaller than the fan wheels on air resistance bikes; they are typically weighted with weights ranging from 15kg to 20kg. Unlike the blades of an air bike which have a lighter composition, the flywheel of a spin bike is heavy which translates to a mobility burden — because of their weight, moving a spin bike can be a chore. It is said that the higher the weight of a flywheel, the greater the resistance emitted. The flywheel also provides unbelievably smooth and consistent resistance.
When it comes to frame build, both bikes are super well-built, that is, if you are buying from reputable brands like Schwinn and Assault. However, air bikes like the assault Elite bike are more solid and sturdy compared to spin bikes. Both bikes’ frames are typically made of welded steel, which guarantees durability. The use of heavy-duty steel/aluminum to construct these exercise bikes makes them super-heavy. Thankfully, most are equipped with transportation wheels to ease relocation and mobility. For spin bikes, the more expensive it is, the better the frame quality and durability.
another notable difference between spin bikes and air bikes is handlebar construction. Air bike handles are generally constructed to align with riders’ arms and shoulders. As a result, the handles are farther from the seat. They move along with the pushing and pulling motion of your hands and the pedaling of your legs. As such, they effectively engage the legs, hands, and core. In most cases, the handles on air bikes offer upward adjustments only (up and down).
Spin bike handlebars, on the other hand, are reminiscent of the handles on a road bike. However, the handles are closer to the seat, so you can lean forward and grip them comfortably. Some higher-end spin bikes also integrate positional adjustments along with heart rate sensors to facilitate effective upper body workout. While most can be adjusted vertically (up and down), some also offer both vertical and horizontal adjustments (up/down and forward/backward) — this serves to promote a custom fit and better upper body engagement.
the seat on both bikes are somewhat similar. However, air bikes have broader seats. In contrast, spin bike seats are narrower as they take their cue from racing and road bikes. They provide firm support for the butt and back and effectively work the glutes and hamstring.
While both bikes offer seat adjustments upward to complement user height, spin bikes also provide horizontal saddle adjustments. Some spin bikes even offer vertical and horizontal seat adjustability. This helps to promote an ergonomically correct posture and enhances comfort.
The pedals on spin bikes are generally more sophisticated and versatile than those on-air bikes. Air bike pedals are the standard flat pedals often seen on regular and MTB bikes, with a few having straps. I believe the exclusion of straps on air bike pedals is for a good reason. Air bikes are adapted for high-intensity exercises, and straps will get in the way.
Spin bike pedals are a depiction of versatility and functionality. Different spin bike pedals are available for your choosing, including toe cage pedals, flat pedals, and clipless/hybrid pedals. They each have a unique function and benefit(s), but if I recommend the best type of spin bike pedals, it will be the clipless pedals the SPD clipless pedals in particular. SPD pedals provide good foot stability and positioning, thereby minimizing the risk of exercise-induced injury. Compared to traditional toe cages they generate better pedaling power which maximizes performance output.
Air bikes emit strong, dynamic progressive air resistance that comes from the fan blades. The blades generate resistance that becomes stronger with the rotation of the wheel. That said, resistance is dependent on user effort; the faster you pedal and rotate the wheel, the stronger the opposition and vice-versa. The resistance is usually manually controlled via a knob — which might be inconvenient for certain exercise conditions.
In contrast, spin bikes do not generate resistance from air. Instead, they produce resistance from friction and magnetic force. With magnetic resistance spin bikes, resistance occurs when the included magnets repel the flywheel and eliminate contact. Spin bikes that use friction force, on the other hand, utilize felt pads to produce friction that repels the wheel, which creates resistance. And unlike air bikes, some spin bikes adopt automatic resistance controls via the console, so you don’t have to stop your exercise mid-way to alternate resistance.
Air bikes like the Schwinn Airdynes and the Assault generate minimal noise volume when in use. However, they usually produce a howling sound that results from the blade slicing through the air when the wheels rotate. Spin bikes are also quite especially the magnetic resistance models. The magnetic resistance spin bikes are, in fact, quieter than air bikes. But this is not the case with friction-based spin bikes, which are a bit noisy due to contact between the pads and the flywheel.
Air bikes are a bulky lot; thus, they take up a considerable footprint. This isn’t surprising because they are specially designed for heavy-duty use full-body workout. On the other hand, they are a good fit for gyms and other sporting facilities. Hence, I won’t recommend an air bike for home use unless you really want to do “full body high-intensity-intervals”. If you want an indoor bike for home use, you should opt for lighter and space-considerate spin bikes like the Keiser M3i spin bike.
While air bikes are nothing close to cheap, spin bikes are even more expensive. Of course, there are cheaper models of both bikes, but they often represent poor value. Quality air bikes range around 500-1000 dollars, while upscale spin bikes such as Stages SC3 run into thousands of dollars. Case in point, the Airdyne Pro, which is considered the best air bike out there, costs around $1000, mid-range air bikes like the Assault Classic and Schwinn AD6 cost around 700 dollars, while an affordable yet quality air bike like this Marcy Air bike is priced at about $400.
Spin bikes are understandably more costly because they undeniably have better features and technology. Spin bikes like the Echelon smart connect bike series and the NordicTrack spin bikes start from $1000. There are also good-quality affordable indoor likes like the Joroto X2 indoor cycling bike.
In the case of air resistance bikes vs. spin bikes, technology is an important yardstick. Spin bikes are unarguably the most technically advanced. However, they feature modern console systems in different degrees of sophistication. While most consoles can measure workout metrics, some are upgraded with touchscreens, an extensive selection of workout programs, and fitness/entertainment apps.
They also integrate the latest technology, such as handlebar-integrated heart rate sensors. Although superior air bikes like the Octane ADX and Assault bikes also combine a console system, spin bikes are way ahead in terms of technology.
Workouts on spin and air resistance bikes are diverse, with both engaging a remarkable number of muscle groups. However, the air bike provides a better full-body ( upper and lower body) workout than the spin bike. This is because it engages the muscle groups concentrated in the arms, core, legs, calves, hamstrings, abs, quadriceps, and cardiac muscles.
Per contra, spin bikes engage the muscles of the legs and the core than the arms. But then, it provides more workout variety and styles than the air bike. Therefore, it is suitable for endurance workouts and can be used for high-intensity exercises as well. However, I highly recommend them for low-intensity training as they exert minimal pressure on the body’s sensitive joints.
Spin bike experts claim that one can burn about 500-600 calories in an hour when riding a spin bike. However, when using superior air bikes like the airdyne, it is touted that seasoned cyclists can burn about 70 calories in a minute in short intervals. Regardless of the claims, both bikes give rise to intense workout sessions that translate to excellent calorie burn.
Space concerns often precede the decision to buy an indoor exercise bike for home use. Nobody wants a bike that is space-consuming, so the demand for space-considerate bikes that conserve workout or storage space via a folding system or a minimal footprint is at an all-time high. What makes spin bikes better than air bikes is the rampant availability of foldable spin bikes that are space and storage-friendly. You will be hard-pressed to find an airbike that is foldable. The Exerpeutic magnetic folding spin bike is an absolute favorite of mine.
Transportation and Maintenance
Both types of bikes usually come with transport wheels that aid relocation and mobility. Maintenance-wise, magnetic-based spin bikes with belt-driven systems are generally easier to maintain than friction-based air bikes with chain transmission. This is because belt drives require minimal lubrication/greasing.
Final Verdict: Which is better?
There is no definite answer to this question because both types of bikes have their advantages and disadvantages. The verdict is purely subjective as it is dependent on individual choice. If you are looking for an intense, full-body workout, then an air bike is your best bet. But if you want a more casual, lower-body and quieter workout, say because you live in an apartment, spin bikes are cut out for you.
If you are a HIIT fanatic like me, I highly recommend air resistance bikes like the Schwinn airdyne AD7. Air bikes are great for weight loss, cardio exercises, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). But steer clear of air bikes if you have health conditions and stick to the friendlier spin bikes such as the Keiser M3i bike. Likewise, if technology is your thing and if you like the hype of spin classes, air bikes are a total no-no. And if you have noise-sensitive living companions, an air bike like the assault bikes will put you in your neighbors’ bad books; instead, go for a noise-free bike like the NordicTrack S22i Studio cycle. In a nutshell, choose the bike that works best for you! Capisce?