Spin Bike Vs Stationary Bike: What Are The Differences, And Which Gives The Better Workout?

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There are two primary types of exercise bikes: traditional upright stationary bikes, and spin bikes – which are more broadly termed indoor cycles. 

Although both types of exercise bikes will provide many of the same fitness benefits, there are also differences between a spin bike vs stationary bike that means they each have their own pros and cons.

Knowing the differences between a stationary bike vs spin bike can help you make an informed decision about which one you should use for your workout or which one you might want to purchase for your home gym. We’ll be covering:

  • Spin Bike Vs Stationary Bike: What Makes Them Similar?
  • What Are the Differences Between Spin Bikes and Stationary Bikes?
  • Is It Better to Get a Spin Bike Or a Stationary Bike?

Ready for the lowdown on the spin bike vs stationary bike debate?

Let’s jump in!

Spin Bike Vs Stationary Bike: Title Image

Spin Bike Vs Stationary Bike: What Makes Them Similar?

Before we use a fine-tooth comb to tease out the differences between spin bikes and stationary bikes, it’s helpful to look at how these two pieces of exercise equipment are the same.

Of course, both types of exercise bikes are fashioned to replicate the cycling motion you would perform outdoors, but the design of each exercise bike is different.

A stationary bike is the traditional upright exercise bike like the type you’ve likely seen at a gym for many years. There’s usually a large console that displays workout stats and may have pre-loaded workout programs. 

You can adjust the resistance of a stationary bike by selecting the level, which provides a certain amount of magnetic resistance. You can also pedal faster or slower to adjust the intensity of the workout. 

It’s important to note that there are also recumbent stationary bikes, which have the seat reclined backward so that you’re pedaling your legs forward in front of the body rather than down below.

Spin bikes are technically called indoor cycles. Spinning is a registered trademark and the Spin Bike is a branded product; however, in much the same way that Kleenex has become synonymous with facial tissues in general, people often use the term “spin bike” to refer to any indoor cycle.

These bikes may not have a console, but they have an exposed flywheel, and the flywheel is usually a lot heavier than the flywheel on a stationary exercise bike. 

A light and airy studio filled with spin bikes.

What Are the Differences Between Spin Bikes and Stationary Bikes?

Spin Bike vs Stationary Bike: Difficulty Of the Workout

When comparing a spin bike vs stationary bike, people are usually most interested in learning which type of exercise bike provides a better workout.

Of course, the intensity of your workout will depend on the effort you are exerting, but provided you are trying to push your body equally hard on the spin bike or an exercise bike, you will typically be able to get a more intense workout on the spin bike.

Spin bikes require greater muscle activation, including some upper-body and core, whereas the workout on a stationary bike really just isolates your legs.

This difference primarily comes into play when you stand up on a spin bike for climbs and aggressive intervals. You cannot stand up on the pedals of a stationary exercise bike.

Indoor cycles also have a heavier flywheel than stationary bikes, so it can take more muscular force to pedal. 

Furthermore, although you can certainly pedal at a low intensity on a spin bike, these indoor cycles are primarily designed for high-intensity workouts. These consist of intervals of vigorous cycling at both a very high cadence and/or heavy resistance, interspersed with periods of easier pedaling.

These workouts are often geared towards improving fitness and burning calories.

On the other hand, the majority of workouts on a stationary exercise bike tend to be more along the lines of moderate-intensity, steady-state aerobic exercise geared towards improving markets of health.

Close-up of a stationary recumbent bike.

Spin Bike vs Stationary Bike: Resistance

The resistance on an indoor cycle or stationary bike can be provided through one of several different mechanisms. There are pros and cons to each type of resistance on an exercise bike.

Indoor cycles with friction resistance ultimately have the highest maximal ceiling of resistance because you can technically adjust the felt pad until it is completely against the flywheel in a full stop. 

They also have an infinite number of levels of resistance because the adjustability is continuous rather than discrete. 

With that said, the felt pads could wear down over time so the durability is poorer, and it’s not possible to dial into a specific “level.”

This means that you can’t quantify your effort, compare one workout to the next in terms of the difficulty, or easily follow instructor-led workouts like Peloton classes.

Magnetic resistance is more precise, smoother, and quieter, but you’re limited to the levels offered on the bike. 

It might be that the easiest level is still too difficult, the hardest level not challenging enough, or the gradations between levels is too severe to dial into the exact effort level you’d like.

The downside of direct contact resistance on stationary bikes is similar to friction resistance in that it can wear out. Plus, stationary bikes have numbered levels that you’re locked into choosing, so you can’t fine-tune the appropriate resistance.

A row of silver spin bikes lined up next to each other at a gym.

Spin Bikes vs. Stationary Bikes: Muscles Worked

When comparing the muscles worked on a stationary bike vs spin bike, there are very few differences.

Both types of exercise bike mainly work the quads, hamstrings, and calves, with the glutes to a lesser extent. 

If you end up doing some standing on the pedals of an indoor cycle, you can also activate your shoulders, core, and back to some degree.

Close-up of a spin bike with blurred legs pedaling.

Spin Bike vs Stationary Bike: Calories Burned

No matter which type of exercise bike you use, the number of calories you burn during a cycling workout will depend on the intensity and duration of the workout.

Typically, someone will burn more calories on a spin bike vs stationary bike workout because the style of workout done on a spin bike tends to be more along the lines of HIIT than a steady-state aerobic workout.

Additionally, the flywheel on a spin bike is a bit heavier and if you are doing any kind of standing up and down on the pedals, you’ll activate additional muscles in the upper body and core, boosting the energy expenditure of the exercise.

This is not to say that you can’t pedal with very light resistance on an indoor cycle, or burn a few calories while you crank away on a stationary exercise bike and burn significantly more.

A woman presses the screen of her stationary bike's console.

Spin Bikes vs Stationary Bikes: Console

Stationary bikes pretty much always have an embedded console that keeps track of metrics like workout time, calories burned, distance, heart rate, cadence, etc. There may be pre-programmed workout programs to follow as well.

Many spin bikes do not come with a console or have a barebones LCD screen at best.

However, there are an increasing number of popular indoor cycles with smart technology and integrated consoles, like the MYX II Plus, Peloton, Echelon bikes, and Schwinn IC4.

These smart indoor cycles offer all the benefits of a stationary bike console with additional perks like video streaming.

A row of black spin bikes at a gym.

Spin Bikes vs Stationary Bikes: Adjustability

Indoor cycles tend to be a little bit more adjustable than stationary exercise bikes.

Typically, you can adjust the seat and handlebar height, along with the resistance on either type of exercise bike.

Spin bikes usually permit additional adjustability, including fore/aft adjustments of the seat and handlebars, so if you are very petite or very tall, you might find that a spin bike better accommodates your body.

Four cyclists ride stationary bikes in a gym.

Spin Bikes vs. Stationary Bikes: Similarity to Outdoor Cycling

Depending on your goals as a cyclist, you might want your exercise bike workouts to resemble outdoor cycling as closely as possible. 

For instance, if you are a competitive road cyclist or triathlete using an exercise bike during the winter when you can’t train outdoors, you’ll want to go with the type of exercise bike that best matches the geometry and positioning of the bike you compete on.

Compared to stationary bikes, indoor cycles more closely mimic the riding position of an outdoor bike, such that you’re leaning forward more, while stationary bikes have you sitting very upright in a less aggressive riding position.

Moreover, the pedal stroke on a spin bike tends to feel more realistic, particularly if you choose a bike with a chain-drive mechanism (though these are rare).

A woman rides her spin bike in a sunlit apartment.

Spin Bike vs Stationary Bike: The Cost

It’s not easy to definitively determine the price difference between stationary bikes vs spin bikes because there is a wide range of prices for each, depending on the quality of construction, type of resistance, technology, and bells and whistles you select. 

With that said, basic stationary bikes for home use tend to be cheaper than spin bikes, particularly if you are looking at smart indoor cycles with integrated tablets and Bluetooth connectivity.

Three cyclists ride spin bikes at the gym.

Is It Better to Get a Spin Bike Or a Stationary Bike?

Ultimately, you can be well served using either a stationary bike or an indoor cycle, and can probably get a good cardio workout on either type of exercise bike. 

With that said, if your primary goal is to boost your fitness and you are looking for a more intense workout, it’s probably better to use a spin bike.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more beginner-friendly, basic piece of exercise equipment for aerobic exercise, a stationary bike can save you a little bit of money and may be easier to use.

Found this Stationary bike vs spin bike guide helpful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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With over a decade of experience as a certified personal trainer, two Masters degrees (Exercise Science and Prosthetics and Orthotics), and as a UESCA-certified endurance nutrition and triathlon coach, Amber is as well-qualified as they come when it comes to handling sports science topics for BikeTips. Amber's experience as a triathlon coach demonstrates her broad and deep knowledge of performance cycling.

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