Knowing the difference between an air bike vs spin bike can help you decide which style of bike is right for you and make it easier to shop if you notice an excellent exercise bike on sale. Cycling is a low-impact way to increase your stamina, strength and aerobic capacity, but not everyone wants to take to the road to boost their fitness. Plus, with 22 percent of US gyms permanently closing as a result of the pandemic, according to the National Health & Fitness Alliance, many Americans are now opting for indoor cycling as a matter of convenience.
There are a few different types of exercise bikes, but most of them come down to two styles: an air bike vs a spin bike. Whichever one you choose, there are a wealth of benefits to be gained from cycling, with recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finding regular cycling over a five-year period is associated with a 35 percent reduced risk of death from any cause.
Cycling at home needn’t feel like second best to riding in the great outdoors. According to a survey by the Personal Trainer Development Centre, around 82 per cent of US personal trainers are planning to continue offering Zoom sessions post-pandemic, so you’ll still be able to get personalized advice and training plans suited to your needs. Or, if you prefer the adrenalin rush that comes from racing, at-home training games such as Zwift allow you to compete with other cyclists around the globe in virtual races based on real-life circuits and World Championship routes, as well as novel imaginary locations. Here we look at the pros and cons of the air bike vs spin bike to help you find out which would suit you best.
The benefits and drawbacks
Spin bikes are designed to replicate outdoor cycling and have seen a massive increase in popularity recently, with brands such as Peloton streaming live classes that allow you to compete with others in real time. The riding position differs from air bikes in that a relatively high saddle, along with drop handlebars, make it easy to adopt a forward riding position so you can apply maximum force through the pedals or ride out of the saddle for an even tougher workout. This bike set-up also allows for a level of flexibility that can help you progress your fitness journey.
“Spinning bikes tend to have more options to change the saddle and handlebar height and position, which helps you perfect your form and technique,” Alana Murrin, head of ride at Psycle, told Live Science. Resistance is provided by friction or magnetic breaks on the front wheel and allows you to increase the difficulty according to your goals or as your stamina improves. “You can easily change the resistance level by twisting a knob or moving a lever at the front of the bike, so you have total control and are able to fine-tune the level of intensity during your ride,” said Murrin.
With air bikes, a lower saddle leads to a more upright cycling position, allowing you to engage your arms more as you work out, but the main difference between air bikes and spin bikes relates to their resistance. Rather than using a braking system as spin bikes do, air bikes have a fan in place of the front wheel, which alters its airflow in relation to how much effort you’re expending. “The harder you pedal and the more effort you put into pushing and pulling the handles, the harder the motion becomes,” said Murrin. “This presents a very challenging workout, but makes it harder to quickly vary the speed and intensity.”
- Related: Are exercise bikes good for weight loss?
The difference when working out
When it comes to strength gains, along with using free weights, machines or your own body weight, both indoor cycling bikes will build muscle, albeit in different ways. “Spin bikes help improve muscular strength and endurance as you can easily target specific muscles through changing the resistance, speed and style of movement,” explained Murrin. The design of the bike is also significant. As with road and racing bikes, spin bikes have a narrower saddle, which enables you to extend your leg fully, working your glutes (butt muscles) and hamstrings more effectively. Additionally, because it’s easy to switch between different levels of resistance, you can more easily change the pace, rhythm and intensity of your workouts to ensure you meet your fitness goals. “You are also able to play around with varied choreography, which makes for an incredibly fun and uplifting experience,” she added.
Changing the degree of resistance on an air bike is slower, so workouts are likely to be less varied. This does mean, however, that they are well suited to the short bursts of power needed for high-intensity interval training (HIIT), said Murrin, whereas spin sessions tend to be more of a combination of steady-state cardio mixed with intervals. Plus, they offer the additional challenge of working your arms. “Air bikes can be a good way to add more upper-body resistance training,” she added, “as you are not only pushing against the pedals but also the handles of the bike.”
Which bike is suited to who?
Both air and spin bikes are ideal for anyone wanting a low-impact form of exercise or for cross-training on rest days (it’s important to give your body time to recover after tough workout sessions). They’re also useful if you’ve sustained any injuries from over-exercising. “Both bikes can be valuable after injury and to assist with rehabilitation, but it’s important that you don’t attempt this style of training until you’ve had the all-clear from a medical professional, and it’s vital to talk to your instructor or trainer before your session, too, as modifications or alternative exercises might need to be applied,” warned Murrin.
In the final analysis, choosing which bike to train on comes down to your aims and personal preference. If you enjoy the seated position of road bikes and favor longer rides, you may be happier on a spin bike, while if it’s HIIT sessions or a full-body workout you’re looking for, an air bike should tick all the boxes.
If you’d like to learn about other ways to get fit at home, check out our home workout ideas.
Eve Boggenpoel is a UK-based freelance journalist writing about health, fitness and wellbeing for publications including Natural Health, Women’s Fitness, and Health & Wellbeing. A yoga teacher, counselor, and holistic health practitioner, she has written seven books on yoga and one on mindfulness. When not working, she’s happiest spending time in nature, walking, running, wild swimming or doing tai-chi on the beach.
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