Spin Bikes vs. Upright Exercise Bikes | What Stationary Bike To Get?

Spin Bike vs Upright Bike

People often ask what kind of exercise bike they should buy. I often hear the simple question, should I get a spin bike or an upright exercise bike? And what exactly are the differences between them?

I’ll answer these questions, comparing between spin bikes and upright bikes and how they stand against other stationary bikes.

You can get more fit and lose weight using both bikes, and all from the comfort of your home, saving you a lot of time.

The hassle of getting dressed and doing all the preps before going to the gym can you make you more likely to procrastinate the workout. Having an exercise bike at home that is ready to be used instantly can make you much more likely to work out.

If you are looking to buy the best exercise bike at your budget level, it’s essential that you first know what kind of bike you prefer.

Do you want to buy an upright exercise bike or do you prefer a recumbent exercise bike? Or you may opt for a spin bike. 

But there are some key differences you should know about.

If you are slightly confused between the various types of exercise bikes, don’t worry. In less than 5 minutes you’ll know which bike is best for you.

In the case of spin bikes, they are often referred to as cycling bike or indoor cycles.

I want to focus here not only on
how upright bikes compare to spin bikes but also how they compare to recumbent stationary bikes. You may be curious as to which bike burns more calories, so I promise to answer that too.

The 3 main types of exercise bikes: 
upright bikesrecumbent exercise bikes and spin bikes.. That said, you may hear people refer to any of them simply as stationary bikes.

Upright Bikes vs. Spin Bikes (Indoor Cycles)

Let me start by saying this, if you exercise persistently, you can get an excellent cardiovascular workout and lose weight using either bike. However, while upright bikes and spin bikes (also called indoor cycles), do share some common features, there are a few differences too.

CYCLING POSITION

SPIN BIKES
Spin bikes are designed to simulate riding on a real sports road bike (think Tour de France).

You have to lean forward while you cycle because the handlebars are positioned slightly lower than the seat.

You can also stand on the pedals when you are riding for a more intense workout.

Spin Bike Position
Spinning Bike

UPRIGHT BIKES
On an upright bike, on the other hand, the handlebars are positioned much higher. You only need to lean forward ever so slightly.

The upright bike also does not allow you to stand while riding.

To promote sitting, the seat of the upright bicycle is usually wider and have better padding. 

Upright Bike

RESISTANCE

Spin bikes operate like road bikes. However, they use flywheels instead of actual wheels. Due to the heavy flywheels, the pedaling feels like pedaling a traditional bicycle.

Spin Bike Flywheel
The Spin Bikes Flywheel

Upright bikes have either an electromagnetic or a magnetic resistance system, though some use fan air resistance. The flywheels are lighter, and these bikes allow you to adjust to several resistance settings.

TECHNOLOGY

Upright bikes usually have more technology options. Some have consoles that allow you to track your workouts. For example, you can track your distance, heart rate, and the number of calories you burn with each session.

Spin bikes (indoor cycles), on the other hand, puts more emphasis on simplicity. While there are spin bikes with computer consoles, these spin cycles are more for those who want a ride that feels like a road bike.

BOTTOM LINE

It doesn’t matter if you choose to go for a spin bike (indoor cycle) or an upright exercise bike, you can get a great workout on either of them. 

Spin bikes, however, do tend to feel less comfortable for many people, especially beginners.

Some people consider spin bikes to be more of “hardcore” version of the exercise bike, though that is obviously an oversimplification, and I believe you can get an equally good workout on both.

If you are unsure which upright exercise bike to get, check our upright bike reviews.

Upright Exercise Bikes vs. Other Stationary Bikes

The three most common types of stationary bikes, many times simply referred to as exercise bikes are the upright bike, the recumbent bike and the spin bike (indoor cycling).

All three stationary bike types have their benefits and unique advantages over others.

If you are wondering what’s the best exercise bike between these three, the simple answer is: it depends.

Your primary goal is important, but it’s not enough, it also depends on how much effort you are willing to put into the workouts. Are you looking for easier workouts or go all-in? Looking for a comfortable longer workout? Or want to get it over with quickly?

Let’s make a side-by-side comparison between these bike types so you’ll know which one to get, an upright bike, recumbent or a spin bike.

Upright Stationary BikeUPRIGHT BIKES

An upright bike looks like a cramped road bike. The distance between the seat and the handlebars is very short and usually the pedals are positioned right above the flywheel.

Some models have moving handles, similar to the ones on elliptical trainers. Moving handles give your upper body a better workout that simply just gripping static handles.

Generally, upright bikes are the most compact of all exercise bikes, however some models, especially ones that use fan based resistance are bulkier.

Possible shortcoming:

Just like with riding a traditional road bike, some people may find the seat uncomfortable, though most people do say you get used to it, and besides the seats can often be upgraded to more comfortable gel seats.

 

SPIN BIKES (CYCLING BIKE)

A cycling bike is like a more hardcore upright bike, they harder to pedal and give a more intense workout. The design sits like a traditional road bike. However, the two differ because this bike uses a weighted flywheel that connects to the pedals via a transmission system. It is a little more challenging to ride because of the flywheel and the direct-contact brakes. The handlebars usually lie flat as they do on a traditional racing bike.

Possible shortcomings:

  • Seats lack padding, spin bikes are known for having the least comfortable seats of all stationary bikes.
  • Changing the resistance is manual, you have to use a knob to change the resistance level.

RECUMBENT STATIONARY BIKES

Recumbent Stationary Bike

The recumbent bike is the king of comfort. Recumbent bikes give a more relaxed biking experience compared to other types of exercise bikes. These bikes generally include a padded backrest and a larger seat. The pedals are out in front of you, allowing you to sit in a semi-reclined position when you ride. Unlike with an upright or cycling bike, you cannot stand up to ride a recumbent bike.

We also did a full comparison between recumbent bikes and upright bikes which you can find here

Recumbent bikes are a popular choice for home workout and have the advantage of leaving your arms and hands free,  so you are free to use your phone or tablet without worrying of losing balance. Using your hands to check your FB feed or Instagram on an upright bike might prove more difficult as you may lose balance. You are meant to hold the handlebar during an upright bikes and spin bike workout, at least most of the time.

So recumbent bike definitely have their use for home cardio. If you think you might benefit from a recumbent bike, check which recumbent bikes are recommended for home.

Possible shortcomings:

  • Recumbent bikes are usually more expensive than upright bikes.
  • Less intense workout compared to a cycling or upright bike.

FEATURE COMPARISON

HANDLEBARS

The handlebars on an upright bike allow you to slightly hunch over to grab them, similar to how you would ride a traditional bicycle. With a spin bike, you will hunch over further to grab them. A recumbent bike may have handlebars next to the seat that you can grab onto.

If you want an exercise option that works your entire body, the upright exercise is the best choice. This is because the handlebars engage your upper body muscles more than a recumbent or cycling bike. You can also find some upright bikes that have moving handlebars.

PEDALS

The pedals on a recumbent bike are out in front of you when you are riding, so you cannot stand on the pedals. With an upright or cycling bike, the pedals are below you like they are on a traditional bike. This allows you to change position and to pedal while sitting or standing.

With all three bike types, you can find pedals that have cages to keep your feet in place when you are riding. The pedals on a cycling or upright bike may have small spike-like projections to prevent your feet from slipping when you stand to ride or change your position.

SEAT

The seat on an upright bike is like the seat of a traditional bike. It has some padding but is relatively narrow. The seat on a spin bike is more cramped and has limited padding since this bike is often used by those who alternate sitting with standing during the ride. Recumbent bike seats have backrests, tend to be wider and have extra cushioning.

If you do not often sit when you ride, an upright or cycling bike seat will work fine. However, if you want more comfort, the seated position of a recumbent bike is the best option.

RESISTANCE

The resistance on an upright or recumbent bike is usually controlled digitally. You set the resistance level using buttons on the panel, though cheap upright bikes have to be set manually. With a spin bike, there is a manual knob you use to control the resistance.

If you want the most variety and convenience, an upright bike is the best choice. You can adjust the resistance as you ride. You can also choose to stand or sit to best tackle the resistance levels as you see fit.

STABILITY

Upright and cycling bikes have similar levels of stability. There is the risk that these bikes can tip over if you lean too far to one side, though the risk of falling is higher when you are standing to ride. It still unlikely that you’d fall off the bike unless you the bike you’re using is really flimsy. Still, recumbent bike offers the most stability since your body weight is more evenly distributed due to how you are sitting. The wider seat also increases the bike’s stability.

If stability is essential, a recumbent bike is best. However, if you have a decent balance, a spin bike or an upright bike should be pretty safe.

COMFORT

A recumbent bike is built for comfort since you are sitting in a semi-reclined position on a larger and more padded seat. Upright and cycling bikes are more focused on the workout than they are on comfort. Because of this, you will engage more muscles to position your body, which may cause discomfort if you have pre-existing back issues. The seats are also not as sizable or comfortable compared to a recumbent bike.

If you want a bike purely for a workout, a cycling or upright bike work the best. However, if you need comfort due to health issues or simply personal preference, a recumbent bike is best.

WEIGHT LOSS

Cycling and upright bikes provide similar weight loss benefits. When you compare an upright to a recumbent bike, the greater weight loss benefits come from the upright bike, but the difference isn’t that major.

When you ride an upright bike, you are using more of your body during your workout. Your energy expenditure increases because more of your upper body and lower body muscles are used. It’s not just a matter of how many muscles are used, but also how intensely they are involved during the exercise.

Your lower body also gets a more intense workout since you can switch from sitting to pedaling while standing.

The more intense your workout, the more calories you burn due to you using more energy during the ride.

If weight loss is your primary goal, an upright or cycling bike will be better than a recumbent bike.

MUSCLES USED

You will engage more muscles with an upright or cycling bike than you will with a recumbent bike. When you ride a recumbent bike, you are mostly working your legs and glutes.

With an upright bike, you will target all major muscle groups to some degree. Your lower body muscles get the best workout, followed by your core muscles. When you ride standing, you use your arms to support your body, which in turn engages more muscles, even though the range of motion of your arms is limited. If you are using an upright bike that have moving handlebars, it makes the workout more challenging, and your arms get a workout too.

When you ride a cycling bike, you also target all major muscle groups. However, since there are no spin bikes with movable handlebars, your arms are only used minimally to support your body when you are standing.

If you are looking to target more muscles, an upright bike with moving arms is the best option for you. The upright bike works more upper body muscles than other stationary bikes.

Spinning vs Stationary Bike - Which Burn More Calories?

Even if you already know the differences between a recumbent exercise bike, an upright bike, and a spinning bike, I still want to mention some differences briefly. Why? Because they may make a difference in the number of calories you burn during your cycling workout.

Recumbent exercise bikes have large seats with a backrest. They appeal to many people primarily due to their comfort. I guess the spacious seat and backrest resonates more with people, and the resemblance to a regular chair helps.

Recumbent exercises bikes don’t necessarily burn fewer calories than their upright exercise bikes or spin bikes counterparts.

You can burn almost as many calories on a recumbent bike as you can using an upright bike or a spin bike. However, because recumbent stationary bikes put you in a more comfortable seated position, people are more tempted to exercise less intensely on them, such as pedaling lightly with minimum resistance.

Of course, that’s not to say you can’t pedal intensely with an increased resistance setting, by all means, you can. It is just that more times than not, that is not the case. Maybe it’s a subconscious thing, people might see it less as an intense exercise tool.

Upright exercise bikes on the other hand, don’t have a large seat with a backrest. Instead, they have a small seat, also referred to as a saddle. The seat may feel less comfortable for a beginner, but as you progress, you get used to it and the discomfort mostly goes away.

An upright bike projects an image more like “this is a serious exercise machine”. Upright bikes also more closely resemble real road bikes and outdoor bikes. In fact, there are even stands, like the Indoor Bike Trainer which let you turn your regular bicycle into a stationary bike.

Both recumbent exercise bikes and upright bikes have their pros and cons. If you are trying to decide between the two, I wrote how recumbent bikes compare with upright bikes, breaking down all differences. 

Do Spik Bikes Burn More Calories?

Indoor cycles or spinning bikes as they more commonly referred to have weighted wheels connected with a belt to the pedal transmission system. They primarily use friction and magnetic resistance system for varying intensity.

Spin bikes became exceptionally popular due to the rise of spinning classes and cycling studios, but as the fitness industry keeps inventing new workout classes, trendy names keep popping up all the time. Yet spin classes are not just a passing trend, they have proven the time of time and are here to stay. But if you can just put your earphones on with some good music, you can have your own spinning “class” at home.

In terms of weight loss, you can lose weight from all 3 exercise bikes: spin, upright and recumbent.

However, assuming you use the same resistance level (which you set knowing a knob or a button on the console), an upright bike and especially spinning bike and may burn slightly more calories compared to a recumbent bike workout.

The heavy weight of the flywheel of a spin bike and the ability to vary your positions during the workout, such as alternating periods of stand cycling with seated, will burn more calories.

The fact that your back is not flushed against a backrest, as it does with a recumbent bike, causes you to use more of your core muscles to stabilize your torso. This means you’ll recruit more stabilizing muscles on an upright and a spin bike and that translates to higher calorie burn.

With the recumbent bikes, it’s almost all just your leg muscles working because your upper back is stationary.

Choose The Bike You're More Likely To Use

One small thing I would mention is that you will lose weight from the exercise bike that you will actually use.

There’s a good reason I am saying that. You shouldn’t buy a spinning bike or an upright bike just because it burns 10% more calories than a recumbent bike does.

You need to want to use it.

Exercise Bike Motivation

If you find an upright bike uncomfortable for exercise and you won’t actually use it, then why bother in the first place? Maybe you’d be better of buying a recumbent stationary bike, one that will burn slightly fewer calories but one that you’d be more likely want to use.

Bottom line the bike that burns more calories is the one you’ll use.

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