How to Decide Between Upright Exercise Bike vs Spinning Bike

For people just starting out in the gym, or potentially for those who are looking to put together their own home gym, the decision as to which kind of bike machine to use/purchase can be a tricky one. There are a number of different makes, models and styles of exercise bikes available and it can be tricky to work out which one is right for you.

Worry not though! During my time in fitness, I have used (what feels like) every conceivable type of exercise machine out there, so you don’t have to! In this article, I’m going to be comparing the benefits and drawbacks of using an upright exercise bike, versus a spinning exercise bike. Although all stationary bikes provide excellent workouts to improve your heart and shape your body, not all are created equal.

Spin Bike vs Upright BikeSpin BikesUpright Bikes
CaloriesMore ✅Less ❌
ComfortLess ❌More ✅
EntertainingMore ✅Less ❌
DifficultyMore ❌Less ✅
Weight and SpaceMore ❌Less ✅
Improves Outdoor CyclingMore ✅Less ❌
Age RestrictionMore ❌Less ✅
PriceMore ❌Less ✅
Good for HIITMore ✅Less ❌

Position

The first thing that you’re going to notice when comparing the difference between an upright bike and a spin bike is the body position that you as the rider get into. By their nature, spin bikes look and feel more like real outdoor bikes, which means that their seat is often positioned higher than the handles. As a consequence, you’re going to be training your lower back and shoulders better during a spin bike class, than you would on an upright bike. You also have what I like to call a more dynamic posture, which allows you to pedal faster and hopefully, burn more calories!

You can also stand up on a spin bike more easily than you can on an upright bike, which allows for a greater degree of movement and more aggressive pedalling. In comparison, upright bikes keep you in a more vertical position. You don’t have to bend to get positioned on top of them and one thing I like is being able to rest my arms comfortably on the handlebars. You will also notice how much wider (and usually comfier!) the seats are, when compared with spin bikes.

The comfort and body position of an upright bike are excellent mobility-challenged or pregnant people and those who simply don’t want intense workouts. Conversely, you won’t get as much speed and intensity on an upright bike as you would on a spin bike.

Resistance

The type and feel of the resistance of spin and upright bikes is another thing I tell people that they need to consider. 9 times out of 10, spin bikes will have variable resistance. As mentioned before, magnetic resistance spin bikes tend to feel a lot more like genuine road bikes, which means that you can feel resistance adapt throughout your workout. Their flywheels (the heavy wheel at the front) use friction, or sometimes magnetic resistance. You can push hard against the flywheel on a spin bike, which is great for developing leg strength and burning those calories! However, this can be an issue if you are a beginner, have mobility issues or joint pain.

Upright bikes generally use magnetic (or sometimes electromagnetic) resistance. It is also possible to purchase bikes with air resistance settings which you can read more in air resistance bike vs spin bike comparison. In my experience, these systems are smoother than flywheel resistance and allow the user to pedal more lightly. These kinds of systems are great if your goal is to pedal fast without much resistance or pressure on your knees. For some people, especially those going through recovery of some kind, this kind of low intensity is vital. It can help you improve your flexibility, joint health and cardiovascular system in general.

Technology

There are significant technological differences between an upright exercise bikes and a spin bike. You can find fantastic high-tech or low tech models in both categories, depending entirely on your specific needs. As a general rule of thumb, the kind of tech you will have will be different to that of an upright bike.

Spin bikes generally have smaller screens, providing less information to the rider. This can be supplemented with apps, whereby you connect your spin bike (if it has the functionality), via bluetooth to your phone. This can greatly expand the level of performance information and also allow you to undertake virtual spin classes or even races! After all, these machines became famous as part of spin classes, so the home models aim to replicate the same group vibe.

If you sometimes look for a little entertainment whilst you’re working out, you might want to consider getting a bike with a big, colour TV screen. You can find some models which can stream platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which will make the minutes on the machine fly by!

Upright bikes are best for tracking. Although spin bikes have a slew of monitoring options, too, the best upright bikes are specifically made with this accurate tracking in mind. I’ve found that regardless of brand, upright exercise bikes often have the functionality to;

  • Help you exercise as hard or as mellow as you want, according to your heart rate
  • Track your progress so that you can lose weight efficiently

In conclusion – which type should you go for?!

Here’s a quick summary of things you should consider if you’re unsure of whether to use/purchase a spin bike or an upright exercise bike.

  • Spin bikes are best for blasting through your fat stores and shaping your lower body. You can notice that from their elevated seats and high resistances. So, if you want to tone your butt through vigorous cycling, choose a spin bike with a heavier flywheel. (You can even find models with 48-pound flywheels!)
  • Conversely, upright bikes are more comfortable for mobility-challenged people; they’re more stable and pose less resistance. That means these bikes are best for non-athletes and generally people who don’t want to buff up or cut through their fat deposits drastically.
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