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It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the variety of cardio machines in gyms these days. Treadmills, rowers, stair climbers, ellipticals, vertical climbers, skiing machines, indoor bikes—the list goes on, and includes countless subtypes. But one of those machines—or more specifically, two of its popular subtypes—has become the source of heated debate amongst hardcore gym-goers: air bikes and spin bikes.
You’re likely familiar with spin bikes, thanks in no small part to the market-dominating influence of brands like Peloton and SoulCycle. Designed to replicate the experience of outdoor cycling indoors, a spin bike typically requires you to clip into pedals and lean into static handlebars. But instead of resistance coming from gears and terrain, the ride is controlled manually by a knob that operates either standard friction brakes or (in the case of Peloton and other high-tech bikes) magnetic brakes. If you’ve ever taken a spin class or own a Peloton, Myx, or other indoor bike with a touchscreen and dedicated streaming service, this is the kind of bike you’ve used.
Air bikes are a different beast. Resistance is created not by a braking system but rather by a giant fan that takes the place of a front wheel. The harder you pedal and the more effort you put into pushing and pulling the handles—another difference between these and spin bikes—the greater the air resistance becomes. That resistance builds quickly. Indeed, some people to refer to air bikes as “misery machines.”
So, to get back to the debate, which one is better? The answer depends entirely on how you plan to integrate an indoor bike into your workout. Both spin bikes and air bikes have their ideal purpose, and both can find a place in your training program.
Your move: If you plan to do aerobic-based HIIT—or want to add an upper-body element to your cardio workout—the air bike is your jam. The implement is designed for total-body, high intensity interval training—not steady-state cycling or cardio workouts that combine steady-state and intervals, such as a “HIIT and hills” session.
If those steady state workouts are your goal, hop on a spin bike and get ready to pedal. But no matter which one you choose, you can count on a heart-pounding sweat session that can increase you VO2max and cardiovascular endurance—and burn tons of calories. Need any of these bikes for your home setup? Check out our best picks for home riding.
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