What is the practical difference between a spinning and 'regular' stationary exercise bike?
January 21, 2008 11:21 PM   Subscribe

If you take away the typical circumstances of a spinning/indoor cycling class (energetic music/instructor) what is the actual practical difference between a spinning and a regular stationary bike?

I am going to have to replace my current exercise bike with a new one in the very near future and I am trying to decide whether to purchase a spinning bike or a regular one. I have been to two spinning classes in the past few weeks and liked the bikes and the classes but can't really figure out why the same thing couldn't be done on a (good) regular exercise bike. Basically I'm finding it hard to find solid, non-commercial information on how to choose the right exercise bike, spinning or otherwise. I know there are (important) differences in what type of system the bikes use for resistance but the terms (drummagnet, electromagnet, motorised magnetic etc.). are vague, overlap and are never properly explained. Unlike say MP3 players which are reviewed and discussed on many a site it seems like home fitness equipment is something people do not like to talk about.
posted by dinkyday to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
spin bikes have a heavy, weighted flywheel that is directly mechanically linked to the pedals. this makes them like fixed-gear bikes, in that if you stop pushing on the pedals, they will tend to keep spinning due to the inertia of the flywheel. this is as opposed to regular bikes or regular exercise bikes, which have some kind of freewheel system that allows the wheel to spin freely if you stop pedaling.

there's a good deal of debate out there on fixies vs. freewheels which would apply similarly to spin bikes vs. regular exercise bikes. the biomechanics is different, it's better exercise, it's worse exercise, it's hard on your knees, it's good for your form - it depends who you ask, and these things are subjective, really. certainly the inertia will lead to a higher pedaling cadence, which is part of the spinning experience.

also, the shape of the bike is different - a spin bike is generally designed much more like a real road bike, and your posture on the bike will reflect that. most exercise bikes are more upright, have wider seats, and generally are more "comfortable", at least to people who aren't used to riding a road bike. to me, they are less comfortable. again, subjective, but different posture will focus on different muscle groups.

beyond that, i dont see much of a distinction in terms of the exercise you're getting. there are questions of reliability and maintenance - most exercise bikes have lots of bells and whistles, whereas a spin bike is very simple and entirely mechanical. this makes it easier to fix, but less fancy, and again your personal taste should be what decides it for you. as far as the resistance mechanism is concerned, i don't imagine you would notice much difference, and is probably just a question of mean-hours-til-failure.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 2:21 AM on January 22, 2008

I've done a very limited amount of spinning, but my impression is that there is a difference in the ease of changing the resistance. Your garden variety stationary bike has some kind of knob to change the resistance which takes quite a few turns to get all the way from one end to the other. A spinning bike has a nice lever with the full range of resistance immediately available.
posted by ericales at 4:16 AM on January 22, 2008

In theory, you will be able to perform the same exercises on a standard exercise bike that you can perform on a Spinning bike. The Spinning bike has the following advantages:

(1) The fixed wheel helps improve your pedalling technique and cardivascular fitness.

(2) More adjustment options for reach, handlebar height, seat height.

(3) They are generally better put together.

They do however need looking after like occasional lubrication and a good wipe down so sweat won't corrode the metal.

The other option is to buy a home trainer (sometimes called a Turbo Trainer) if you already own a cycle.
posted by DZ-015 at 4:31 AM on January 22, 2008

I think a Spinning bike is easier to configure to adjust to your body mechanics.

I'd get a Spinning bike. (I have been doing Spinning for 4 years now. No way in heck could I ever go back to a regular exercise bike. )
posted by konolia at 6:35 AM on January 22, 2008

The only reliable difference I see between spin bikes and conventional stationary bikes is the position, which more closely resembles a roadie's position. The gym I go to has spin bikes and conventional stationaries (and recumbent stationaries); the conventional ones have a blinkenlights control panel whereas the spin bikes have a simply tension belt and adjustment knob

There are consumer-grade conventional stationary bikes that can be set up to have almost exactly the same position as a spin bike. And for that matter, you can get an old beater bike and stationary stand (which is what I've done in the past).
posted by adamrice at 6:50 AM on January 22, 2008

I would recommend you get a good bike properly fitted to your body that you can ride where ever you wish and then when you want to spin, hook it up to a Kurt Kinetic Road Machine (or higher model). I have one and they're awesome.

You get the comfort of your own bike (the one you're already used to riding) on a machine that works identically to a spinner bike. That is, as you change gears you affect resistance.
posted by dobbs at 7:08 AM on January 22, 2008

well, as someone who has taught Spinning and Kaiser indoor cycling for about 7 years now and has been a roadie for 12 or so years, i agree mainly with what has been said already. the weighted flywheel will keep the pedals turning, the adjustability is greater, the position and seat are much more "road bike," and it is (generally) simpler. one of the other big advantages that they stress in the training is that the resistance and feel is much more like a road bike. i would definitely agree with that. for home, i have a performance bike fluid trainer which i very much like. i am slightly concerned about the possible effect on my road bike from using it in there but i used my last bike in it several times a week for many seasons and never had any issues at all so i think they are overblown.
if i got a great deal on a Spin bike and had the room for it, i would definitely get one though. there is no way i can get the resistance levels on my actual bike that one can get out of the Spin bike. plus it is just easier to turn the dial up a little rather than gearing down.
posted by annoyance at 7:36 AM on January 22, 2008

Shorter AskMe:

Fitnesswise, no biggie.
posted by waxbanks at 8:13 AM on January 22, 2008

For me, there actually is a difference fitnesswise. (for various reasons, probably alignment of the components being the main one)

On a spinning bike (but NOT on a stationary bike)- I can:
+ "climb" by standing out of the saddle & putting hips back as if on a real road bike= different muscle groups than just sitting
+ "isolate" muscle groups by standing and peddling slowly, keeping body (besides legs) as still as possible
+ "sprint" - i just can't sprint in a real way on a stationary bike...not being able to lean over & having that giant seat in the way of my legs
+ have a correct fit that is more like a real road bike, resulting in me being able to push myself longer/more without discomfort

its kind of like a beach cruiser vs. a road bike...yes, you could spin your wheels and its working your legs somewhat, but you wouldn't want to go more than a couple of miles really.
posted by hazel at 11:05 AM on January 22, 2008

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