The different types of exercise bike are the perfect way to work your lower body and cardiovascular system. The Sports and Fitness Industry Association (opens in new tab) claims that the cycling market increased its sales by 31% to $1.3 billion in the first quarter of 2019. However, if you're looking for ways to keep exercising in winter, or you're not overly keen on riding on busy roads, then you may be wondering what are the different types of exercise bike.
The act of cycling is something most of us know how to do, and we deem it a simple activity, but how can something so simple have spawned so many diverse and seemingly complex exercise bikes? Cycling may unify them, but they all serve a slightly different purpose.
Here, we’ll examine recumbent bikes vs upright bikes – plus the dual-action exercise bike too. If you're thinking about investing in one of the best exercise bikes but you’re unsure which one's right for you, then this guide will help you decide.
Different types of exercise bike: Upright Exercise Bikes
The upright exercise bike is the bike you will be most familiar with as it mimics the road bike you see on a daily basis. As it's stationary, the main difference between the upright exercise bike and the road bike is that it provides tailored resistance to alter the pedal pressure, and therefore provides you with the means for a good workout.
The first rudimentary exercise bikes, known as Swiftwalkers, were designed in Europe during the 19th century. They had wooden frames and, although incredibly simplified, the aesthetic isn’t drastically different to that of the road bicycle today.
Bicycle specialist and mechanic Dominic Reynoldson (opens in new tab) told Live Science that "the upright exercise bike will always be the most popular due to its similarity to the mobile bike, aiding those who are training for an actual road ride, but not wanting to be outside in the colder months.
"The upright exercise bike makes sure the muscles that are used on a mobile bike are being strengthened, and gym goers naturally gravitate towards the upright bike because it’s what they feel most comfortable with due to previous experience."
As most people know how to work a basic upright exercise bike, it remains the go-to option and is ideal for most of the general population and cyclists in training. Considering that many people use exercise bikes as a way to exercise without hurting knees, it's important to note that "common pains and injuries that come with cycling on an upright exercise bike mean it isn’t the best option for those with joint and back pain," explained Reynoldson.
Different types of exercise bike: Recumbent exercise bikes
The recumbent is the fastest bicycle in the world due to its aerodynamic design, however the stationary exercise version looks slightly different. The most noticeable thing about the recumbent exercise bike is that it comes with a backrest. The seat is wider and positioned closer to the ground, meaning that the rider’s body weight is distributed over a larger surface. This makes the recumbent exercise bike much more comfortable to use, as it provides extra support.
The potential injuries that come along with the upright exercise bike are not as likely with the recumbent due to its ergonomic design. As Reynoldson explained: "On upright bikes, your weight is centered around the bike seat, which can lead to saddle sores. Also, constant downward pressure on your tailbones can cause further discomfort." Therefore this bike is a great option for those with back or joint issues such as arthritis.
However, as some recumbent exercise bikes do not come with handlebars, your upper body is neglected while you pedal. This can be a bonus if you like to read and cycle at the same time, but a negative if you're hoping to engage more muscles and have a full-body workout.
They still have the power to burn calories and increase your heart rate though. For anyone questioning, "Are recumbent exercise bikes effective?", we recommend reading our feature on the topic to quell your concerns.
Different types of exercise bike: Dual-action stationary exercise bikes
If you want to engage as many muscles as possible when cycling, this might be the exercise bike for you. What separates the dual-action stationary bike from the rest is that your arms on the handlebars operate in tandem with the pedals, providing a full-body workout. This bike is an excellent option for those for whom weight loss and toning up is a priority as it engages so many muscles, the key ones being the biceps, triceps, abs, quads and hamstrings.
On some dual-action models, you have the option to lock the handlebars in place so you can use the bike similarly to an upright exercise bike. Other models also have a fan built into the front wheel to cool you down as you go as it can be hot work!
Reynoldson believes that "dual-action exercise bikes are a great way of extending your workout to the arms as well as the lower-body muscles. With most dual-action bikes giving the user the choice to push and pull the handles, this can also help build up muscle strength if you’re recovering from a leg injury as it takes a lot of the strain off the legs."
Which exercise bike is right for you?
The upright exercise bike provides a great lower-body low impact workout that's slightly more concentrated than the one provided by the recumbent. Therefore, if you suffer with back or joint issues such as arthritis, or respiratory issues such as asthma, Reynoldson thinks the recumbent will most likely be the better option for you.
Meanwhile, he believes that the upright exercise bike could be a better fit if you are looking for a more intense workout. It should be said that the comfort provided by the recumbent can encourage you to exercise for longer, which is also something to consider.
Reynoldson recommends the dual-action stationary bike for those looking to lose weight and tone up as it works on the arms as well as the legs, providing a great cardiovascular and aerobic workout. As it doesn’t come with a bucket seat like the recumbent, it doesn’t provide back support, meaning that it isn’t as comfortable to operate. However, in comparison to both the recumbent and the standard upright exercise bike, it works more muscles to aid a full-body workout.
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