Exercise Bike Vs Treadmill: Which Offers The Better Cardio Workout?

Professional spin class instructor and personal trainer Robbie Ferri walks you through the pros and cons of treadmills and exercise bikes

Photo of author
Written by
reviewed by Rory McAllister
Last Updated:

The benefits of the exercise bike vs treadmill is one of the most common questions I get as a personal trainer.

Both exercise machines are staples of the gym and offer distinct advantages, and it all depends on your preferences and fitness objectives. Whether you prefer the pedaling rhythm or the classic treadmill jog, each has its pros and cons.

Both offer a great cardiovascular experience and will help you boost your fitness level, but they are very different from one another. Regardless of your fitness goals, knowing what to expect before investing in a machine for your home gym is vital.

Exercise Bike Vs Treadmill: Title Graphic on red background

Understanding Exercise Bikes

In recent years, exercise bikes (also known as stationary bikes or spin bikes) have become very popular. You will find many different types on the market, such as spinning, upright, recumbent, air, and even elliptical bikes.

Essentially, no matter what type of bike you have, they all do one thing, and that’s to let you cycle in a stationary position indoors. In modern times, you would be surprised at their prices being as low as $100 up to $3000.

Bikes from brands such as the Peloton and NordicTrack are among the most popular and offer an amazing ride and access to an online community full of instructors through applications such as iFit and the Peloton application.

Understanding Treadmills

Treadmill on a wooden floor in a home gym.

Treadmills have been around for over 200 years. Yes, this statistic might sound crazy, but it’s real. They come in many forms, such as motorized, manual, curved, and even folding versions.

They are all designed to allow you to walk and run while in a stationary position. Running on a treadmill is incredibly popular because it’s such a natural movement for the body, and it’s easy to build your fitness quickly.

Treadmills in the past decade have gone to a new level, and just like exercise bikes, you can get a completely interactive experience from companies such as Proform, Peloton, and NordicTrack. 

What Is A Cardiovascular Workout?

A cardiovascular workout is commonly known as aerobic exercise. It’s exercise that improves the circulatory system, delivering blood around the body with nutrients and removing lactic acid. Cardio has many benefits, such as:

  • Better Lung Volume
  • Improved Stamina
  • More Efficient Heart
  • Stress Reduction
  • Improved Mood
  • Weight Loss
  • Better Sleep
  • Improved Blood Circulation

These are a few benefits you can achieve from spending a little bit of time each week on a machine such as a treadmill or exercise bike. You could even watch a film while doing it if you wanted. There are also plenty of applications to keep you entertained.

My Peloton Bike in my garage, ready for a demo of how to move a Peloton Bike.
© Thomas Watson/BikeTips

Exercise Bike Vs Treadmill: 11 Key Points of Difference

When it comes to fighting it out between exercise bikes and treadmills, the best way to do this is to break it down. Here’s what I feel you need to know regarding real-world differences as someone who uses both regularly, and has worked extensively as a spin class instructor.

1. Muscles Used

When running, you use a lot of muscles. The legs are firing on all cylinders, the core keeps you stable, and you’re swinging the upper torso around left to right to ensure you propel yourself forward at full speed. It’s not far from a full-body workout.

When cycling, you heavily use lower body and leg muscle groups such as the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, as well as your core, but your upper body is sedentary unless in a standing climb.

You still get a great workout and use many muscles, but running can be a better all-rounder. 

2. Weight Bearing

The next factor to mention is weight bearing.

Running on a treadmill does mean you bear the weight on the bones and joints. This can be a negative as high impact takes longer to recover and carries a greater risk of injury in the long term, but it is also a benefit in how it helps strengthen bones.

An exercise bike bears very little weight, and cycling has a very low impact on the body. It’s an advantage in some way because it’s a quick recovery and reduces the likelihood of joint pain, but it isn’t going to strengthen the bones as much as a weight-bearing exercise.

Excercise bikes are great for rehabilitation purposes, and recumbent bikes can be more accessible for riders with limited mobility or who are recovering from certain injuries.

3. Calorie Burn

Treadmill workouts burn a lot of calories. You can see anywhere from roughly 300 to 900 calories in an hour, which is an incredible amount and a great way to get yourself into a deficit if you are trying to lose body weight or burn belly fat.

Cycling on an exercise bike will burn anywhere from roughly 200 to 800 calories per hour, which isn’t as much as running but still an incredible amount from a low-impact exercise.

They both can be very efficient for calorie burning, but running is a quicker burn, in my opinion.

4. Comfort

Regarding comfort, it comes down to personal preference, but most people find cycling a lot more comfortable than running. Running takes someone who is quite fit and used to running to be on a treadmill for an hour.

With cycling, if set up correctly, you can ride for hours at a time without too much discomfort. You will often see cyclists in winter spending a long time on exercise bikes to get some base miles in.

5. Simulation

Simulation is a strange concept, but I feel it’s very important from a training standpoint.

When using a treadmill, you can simulate what it’s like to run outside. You can conquer climbs, feel the body’s rhythm and motion, and build the movement required to improve. 

When it comes to an exercise bike compared to riding outdoors, it’s very different. There’s no lean side to side, you don’t feel the inclines and declines, and it is a different experience, although very similar. 

6. Intensity

Another big factor is intensity. Running is a very high-intensity workout. The heart rate is typically quite high unless you are in a slow jog or are incredibly fit. It can be challenging to lower the intensity at times. 

When it comes to the exercise bike, it can be really easy to adjust the intensity. You have a resistance dial, which can simulate a brisk ride on flat terrain or take it up to the intensity of climbing a mountain. This makes it easier to manage HIIT workouts, for example.

For intense workouts with high variability on a treadmill vs exercise bike, the versatility of the bike is better.

7. Interactivity

My Zwift setup at home using a turbo trainer, a method of using your regular bike as an indoor exercise bike.
My Zwift setup at home using a turbo trainer, a method of using your regular bike as an indoor exercise bike.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Fitness routines can get boring on any cardio machine. In modern times, you have many options to make it more interactive. Some bikes will connect to applications such as Zwift, Peloton, and Rouvy that offer everything from group spin classes to virtual racing.

There’s less choice when it comes to running, but you can use devices such as a run pod to go into an online Zwift world or onto different applications that will offer an experience. It’s not quite as interactive as being on a bike, though.

8. Convenience 

Convenience is also another factor to consider. Running, you can just throw your trainers and some basic clothes on and get started on the treadmill. You also have all the gear to go outside if you want to.

For exercise bikes, you could invest in padded shorts and proper indoor cycling shoes, which can be more inconvenient to get on and get ready. Also, exercise bikes make it harder to take the sport outside unless you have a bike ready.

9. Noise

For me personally, noise is a big factor when it comes to training on home fitness equipment. I love to be up early in the morning, and it’s not rare for me to train late at night. I had great neighbors in my old house who didn’t mind, but I got lucky there. 

If you live in an apartment or in a house next to your neighbors, treadmills can be quite noisy, and the repetitive thumping is a bit too much for some. Exercise bikes are incredibly quiet, especially versions with magnetic resistance.

The bike is the way to go if you need to be quiet.

10. Space

If you don’t have a huge amount of spare space, this could influence the decision between a treadmill or an exercise bike. Treadmills are not small, and if you go for a very robust version, then they can be very big and often cannot fold.

Although not small, exercise bikes are easier to store than a treadmill. They are simple to move, have a smaller footprint, and you can adjust parts such as the seatpost and handlebars to make them take up less space.

11. Cost

There’s not much difference in the price range when it comes to cost of exercise bike vs treadmill. You’re looking at between $100 to $3000 for either a budget or high-end machine when it comes to these pieces of equipment.

In my personal experience, a $100 to $500 exercise bike isn’t great, but not too bad. A $100 to $500 treadmill doesn’t really give the best experience. Past $1000, they both are pretty good, but budget options on treadmills are not always amazing.

Running on a treadmill in red shoes.

Treadmill Vs Exercise Bike: Which Offers The Better Cardio Workout?

Using an exercise bike or treadmill is a great way to get in your cardio fix. Personal preference is the biggest factor. If you love running and have the space for a treadmill, why not?

If you love cycling and want a bike for training indoors so you can ride all year round, then the exercise bike is the best option. The best way to go when it comes to exercise equipment is what you feel you will have the most fun with. 

Whatever your pick, it’s important if you can invest a good amount into what you’re getting. Going with a good brand goes a long way when it comes to cardio equipment, and you get what you pay for.

Photo of author
Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.