Indoor fitness bikes and exercise bikes aren’t the same, but they are part of the stationary bike family. Both resemble the type of outdoor bicycle you may have ridden as a child. Both have pedals, wheels, handlebars and a saddle but unlike those childhood bikes, they're fixed in place no matter how hard you pedal.
Indoor fitness bikes resemble road bikes more closely than exercise bikes.
You’ve probably seen indoor fitness bikes used in gym classes. Led by an instructor, they’re an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise and a great way to participate in group exercise and often accompany a banging soundtrack.
Indoor fitness bikes are also starting to appear in homes now, too. Thanks to online streaming, subscribers can access classes and virtual training environments online.
Traditional exercise bikes are also popular both in gyms and in the home, but there are some key differences between the two.
Indoor fitness bikes vs exercise bikes: what’s the difference?
The handlebars of an indoor fitness bike should be roughly level with your hipbone.Your elbows should be slightly bent, and the spine neutral with a micro bend in the knee when the leg is fully extended. Posture is important on a fitness bike in order to prevent injury and lower back pain.
These types of bike are better suited for shorter and more intense workout sessions. Like the classes we mentioned at the beginning of this article.
Exercise bikes have higher handlebars, and you’ll be sitting more upright on the saddle.
Fitness bikes have reinforced pedals, too. During classes, instructors will tell riders to stand up for a deeper workout and to recreate hill climbs. This isn't a core workout, but these standing intervals do require some degree of core strength and engagement of the abs. You may also notice toe cages on these bikes or at least a strap across the pedal. This keeps the foot secure when the rider is standing or when they're pedaling intensively.
There's a heavier flywheel, too. Heavier flywheels need more momentum to get things started and to keep moving, much like an outdoor bike. This gives a more realistic and smoother ride especially when resistance is controlled by turning the red knob on the frame or by letting an app or instructor control it digitally.
Indoor fitness bikes are often more expensive than regular stationary bikes, but that reflects a wider range of benefits included greater control over resistance. The community experience (even during an online class) can drive people to ride harder and to commit to regular attendence. These bikes are often (but not always) more durable than other static bikes, because they're designed to be ridden more aggressively.
Fitness bikes can now also display advanced cycling data including functional threshold power and cadence in addition to tracking heart rate, distance and calorie burn. The technology is also embedded into LCD touchscreens, speaker systems, leaderboards, and videocalling.
What is better a indoor fitness bike or exercise bike? Advantages and disadvantages
Fitness cycles: pros and cons
These work well for shorter and more intensive workouts. They're a great example of cardiovascular exercise especially for road cyclists looking to take training indoors during the winter.
- Surprisingly, indoor cycling is relatively low-impact and easier on the joints than other forms of exercise. Whilst those first few classes can be a killer, overall it's suitable for beginners and for those returning to exercise following a long absence.
- Their heavier flywheels make for a smoother and more realistic ride.
- They're ideal in a class environment where riders can compete against themselves and the other people they're riding with. Online classes have also realised this showing a live leaderboard that updates in realtime. Riding harder means a greater calorie burn and a better workout.
- Classes also offer a community feeling that will resonate with some riders better than exercising alone.
- The standing intervals can help build core stability.
- Indoor cycling bikes are more expensive than regular exercise bikes. For some riders, the cost is worth it but for others it can cause buyers regret.
- It can be tough on the lower back especially if you haven’t set your bike up correctly or if your posture isn’t correct.
- They're often uncomfortable for beginners.
- Classes can be full-on for beginners and it can be easy to overdo it during those first few classes. Static bikes on a gym floor allow individual riders to set their own pace.
Exercise bike: pros and cons
- They’re generally cheaper, and if you’re just looking for a basic bike set-up are more widely available to buy.
- You can buy folding exercise bikes which take up less space in the home.
- Depending on the bike you have, it can be easier to monitor your data: heart rate and calorie burn, etc.
- They’re a low-intensity exercise, low impact and beginner-friendly.
- The saddle is more comfortable.
- Posture isn't always as important and there’s less pressure on the upper back.
- Exercise bikes can be monotonous if you’re exercising alone
- You won't be able to fully enjoy the class experience
- They’re a less realistic cycling experience
- They’re not always as easy to adjust
- You won't achieve the same intensity in class on a static bike.
- You can’t stand up on an exercise bike
- Cheaper models may not be as well made or as comfortable.
Turbo-trainers and fitness bikes
Road cyclists might consider using a turbo trainer.
Halfords describes it as ‘providing a platform that allows the back wheels to be turned without the bike going anywhere’. You’re turning your road bike into a static bike whilst retaining the ability to control resistance.
Turbo trainers, paired with systems like Zwift, offer an immersive ride where you can compete against others.
The advantage of a turbo trainer is that you can use the bike you already own. But what if you want to use an indoor bike to ride and compete in simulated environments rather than just cycling in instructor-led classes?
You can use the RE:GEN with Zwift and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Are indoor fitness bikes worth it?
Yes and no.
There’s no clear right or wrong answer because choosing between them and exercise bikes (or any other type of gym equipment) depends on your circumstances, fitness goals and budget.
If you’re looking for a way to ride during the winter, to have a convenient at-home exercise practice, to train for endurance at higher intensities or to compete against others in either online sessions or in-person, then an indoor fitness bike is probably going to be the best for you.
Why are they so expensive?
Some are expensive but others are less so. The price depends on several factors including the build quality, the bike’s tech and features and brand reputation, amongst other things. Some bikes allow you to generate your own electricity.
Can you do a class on a normal exercise bike?
Taking a class on a normal exercise bike won't give you quite the same workout. Remember, you won't be able to stand up on the pedals.
There are enough shared features between the two however, that should mean you can still get a good workout in. You could always turn the music up, set the resistance to high, and pedal as hard and as fast as you can to recreate the experience. It won’t be the same but it’ll still be a good workout.
Should I get an indoor bike or exercise bike?
It depends on what type of workout you want and what your budget is. It may also depend on the space you have in your house or apartment and whether or not you want access to live classes. For general cardio, an exercise bike will be good enough. For a more intense and powerful (but still relatively low-impact) exercise, try an indoor fitness bike. Of course, you don’t have to invest in an at-home bike. Your local gym may have classes where you just pay a fee for each class. It will also give you the chance to try different bikes out before commiting to purchasing one.