Spin Bike Resistance Guide | Friction vs Magnetic

When shopping for a top-notch indoor cycling bike, there are several important factors to consider. One such factor is the resistance system. Indoor bikes are typically equipped with either magnetic, air, or friction resistance. Read to the end to learn the features and characteristics of each resistance system so you can determine the one that best serves your fitness requirements.

1. Contact Resistance

exercise bike friction resistance system

There are two main types of contact resistance; felt and leather pad resistance. This type of resistance thrives on friction; it uses a pad made out of felt or leather to deliver maximum pressure to a bike’s flywheel. Contact resistance is ( generally) manually -operated via a tension knob. You can control the difficulty level by twisting the knob. The resistance generated from the pad is stronger than usual, so you may want to explore lower resistance levels before moving on to higher ones.

Because contact resistance involves contact between the pad and flywheel, there’s a high chance of wear and tear. The pad may subsequently weaken as it makes more contact with the flywheel. However, leather pads possess more quality and durability than felt pads. As such, they are less predisposed to the effects of wear and tear.

Felt pads, on the contrary, are susceptible to wear and tear and may need replacement when this occurs. Otherwise, the resistance will lose its touch. Nonetheless, you can extend the life span of a felt pad with regular lubrication.

2. Air Resistance


Indoor cycling bikes such as Concept2 BikeErg that use air resistance lack a heavy steel flywheel that you normally see on traditional spin bikes. Unlike magnetic and contact resistance, where tension is generated by delivering pressure to the flywheel, air resistance-based bikes generate resistance via fan blades. Resistance is produced as the blades rotate against air.

Air resistance is also progressive (dynamic) — this means the amount of resistance generated depends on user effort. The faster the user pedals, the stronger the resistance generated. Air resistance is the top choice for intense workouts such as HIIT, Tabata, sprints, and interval training.

Air exercise bikes (not spin bikes) typically come with fully-integrated handlebars that offer both upper and lower body workouts. On the downside, they produce more noise than magnetic and contact resistance bikes. However, the noise volume isn’t unbearable; it’s nearly the same noise as a standard household fan.

3. Magnetic Resistance

exercise bike magnetic resistance system

Most cycling enthusiasts favor magnetic resistance over air and contact/friction resistance. This is no surprise given its whisper-quiet and seamless configuration. Whereas contact resistance maintains contact with the flywheel, magnetic resistance employs magnets that maintain a distance from the flywheel. With magnetic resistance, the resulting magnetic force delivers varying pressure levels to the flywheel as the magnets get closer to or further from the flywheel.

And while contact resistance typically adopts a manual control, magnetic resistance offers both manual and automatic tension control. Depending on the brand, you can control resistance levels via a tension knob or through a digital monitor. Admittedly, digital or automatic control is more convenient than manual control. It can be a tad exasperating to turn the knob in a middle of an intense and enjoyable workout.

Like Air resistance, magnetic resistance is incredibly strong but can be adjusted according to your fitness level. Because the magnets don’t make any contact with the flywheel, there is little exercise bike maintenance and operation is near-silent, making it the best choice for users who have living companions or who are noise intolerant. Owing to their top-tier qualities, magnetic resistance bikes are a crowd favorite!

Editor’s Favourite Spin Bike Resistance System

I have been using spin bike for the last tens years, for the first couple of years I used a friction bike but since 2016 I have been riding magnetic resistance spin bikes and I think they are best between the two options (friction and magnetic).

I find magnetic resistance indoor bikes, especially those bikes with belt driven system rather (seen in the image above) smoother but even more importantly quieter and with way less maintenance. A couple of years earlier, magnetic indoor bikes with more expensive but thankfully now they are available for the same price of friction bikes. And I don’t think it will be long before manufacturers stop making friction/contact resistance exercise bikes.

So there you have it! We’ve given you a low-down of resistance systems associated with indoor bikes. All you have to do is choose the one that meets or closely satisfies your fitness needs!

Robbie Ferri
Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri from “Riding with Robbie” has been cycling for almost ten years. In that time, he has broken World Records, Bikepacked all over the World, and also raced ultra distance at a top-level. Robbie picked up a bike and started cycling when he was about 25 years old and said it was the best thing he ever did. The experiences and the fun he’s had have given him a huge passion for helping inspire others to ride further, farther, and get fitter.