It’s easy to get spin bikes and air bikes confused. From the outside looking in, they are both stationary bikes that you pedal for a cardio workout.
While it’s true you sit on both and pedal both, but a spin bike and an air bike are used for different workouts. The terms spin bike and air bike are often used interchangeably, but you’ll see below that this is a misunderstanding of the two bikes.
A spin bike is primarily used for intense, high-calorie burning workouts. A lot of people like to do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with them. While a spin bike is more for a steady cardio workout. Spin bikes can be used for HIIT workouts too, but not as well.
Spin Bikes vs Air Bikes
Before I jump into the differences, I want to set the stage here a bit. The spin bikes and air bikes that I’ll be discussing are bikes that you’ll commonly find in a gym, or on the market at a mid-level price. A lot of the features I’m discussing below are from bikes made in the last decade and they aren’t super high-end and they’re not the cheapest bikes either.
Calories Burned Comparison
I like to change up my cardio routine. Changing it up can help prevent your muscles from plateauing and it can help your body burn more calories and decrease your body fat. I took some pictures of my results on a spin bike and an air bike and I was surprised at the results!
The first picture is just a steady 20 minute spin with low-moderate resistance and intensity. My goal was to go at an even pace on both bikes so that I could try to do a straight across comparison.
On the spin bike, I burned 123 calories in just over 20 minutes (20:06). On the air bike, in the picture below you’ll see that I burned 129 calories in just over 10 minutes (10:23). So yes, I burned just as many calories in half the time on the air bike.
To some extent, this surprised me. I knew that the air bike would burn more calories since it engages more muscles and requires more effort. But I didn’t expect to burn the same number of calories in half the time. Though I tried to exert the same amount of energy on both bikes, it was nearly impossible to do. The air bike is much more of a full-body workout so I could feel the level of exertion is higher than the spin bike.
The bottom line is, if your goal is to burn calories, the air bike will force you to exert more. It simply requires more muscles and energy to perform the workout.
With a spin bike, it’s common for the rider to adjust the resistance by either twisting a knob to increase or decrease the amount of resistance. The resistance on spin bikes is produced by either magnetic or friction. Felt pads applied to the flywheel produce resistance and/or magnets produce the resistance. Both resistance methods are very effective at helping you to burn calories.
Depending on the type of spin bike, the resistance can be increased or decreased on a computer control panel too. And the type of resistance on spin bikes can vary with computer programs. The spin bikes with preprogrammed resistance could be a steady climb up a hill, or it could be a series of hills and slopes. There is a wide variety of programs to get your heart pounding.
Some people don’t like the preprogrammed versions and prefer to go at their own preferred resistance levels, while others, like myself, enjoy doing some of the preprogrammed hills. To each their own.
Spin bikes also have a weighted flywheel. This can range from just a few pounds to 40+ pounds. There are pros and cons to using either a lighter flywheel weight or a heavier one.
Air bikes generally have a large wheel on the front consisting of several fan blades. The resistance on an air bike is the fan blades pushing against the air. Again, depending on the type of bike there might also be resistance knobs that you can manually adjust. If they don’t have manual resistance knobs, the harder you pedal the more wind resistance you’ll encounter, therefore the harder you’ll work.
I’ve used plenty of air bikes and spin bikes, and to me, without a doubt, the air bike is louder than a spin bike. I can’t say that I’ve put a decibel meter next to me when using either type of bike, but the air bikes seem louder. I know that the manufacturers try to market their air bikes as quiet bikes, but in my experience, it’s just not the case.
If you’re pedaling slow or doing a low-intensity workout, it can be quiet. But if you’re using the air bike for its intended purpose, it’s going to put out some noise, just like a box fan.
The felt pads or magnetic resistance commonly used on spin bikes is much quieter.
Air bikes typically also have moving handlebars. These handlebars move front and back to provide an upper body workout as well. The moving bars also help to increase the intensity providing more of a full-body workout.
Keep in mind the moving handlebars are there to be pushed and pulled on. They do move back and forth as you pedal the bike, but you shouldn’t just be placing your hands on the bars just to rest yourself. The moving handlebars also provide some resistance to work the upper body and core. The harder you push and pull, the more calories you burn.
Spin bikes have stationary handlebars that move slightly to accommodate the size of the rider, but then are locked into place. A good spin bike will have handlebars that move forward and back along with up and down.
These small adjustments are to help the rider feel more comfortable during their workout. The spin bike is designed to mimic the feel of using a real road bike.
The seats on air bikes and spin bikes tend to be pretty comfortable. There really aren’t any manufacturers that put out bad seats or uncomfortable seats. They know riders are going to be spending a lot of time in the saddle and the seat better be comfortable, or a customer might choose another bike. That being said, the angle of the seat for spin bikes and air bikes can be different to varying degrees.
On a spin bike, the seat will sit pretty flat. A good spin bike will have both horizontal and vertical adjustments, but rarely do I see angle adjustments on spin bikes. They also tend to be a bit narrower, just like an actual road bike seat.
Air bikes on the other hand tend to be angled downward. It’s not a big angle but it’s enough to make you engage your arms on the moving handlebars. If you think about it, if the seat was too flat or even angled up a bit, you wouldn’t use your arms much. But with the seat angled down just a bit, you use your arms to help stabilize yourself on the bike seat.
Generally, the cost of air bikes will be less. This will depend on the bells and whistles, but for the most part, the spin bikes can really get spendy (think NordicTrack bikes or Peleton bikes). The air bikes are made of simple parts, whereas the spin bikes can contain Bluetooth capabilities, computer programming, live interaction (for those really top-shelf bikes), and have spendier raw materials.
This isn’t to say that all air bikes are cheaper than spin bikes. There are some high-end air bikes that can get above a cheaper model spin bike.
Like a lot of products, if you bike the cheapest air bike or spin bike, you’ll probably get a bike made with thinner cheaper material. On the flip side if you choose a reputable brand you’ll get a bike with a longer warranty and better materials. I’ve always looked at workout equipment as an investment. If you plan on sticking with it, you’ll be better off spending a bit more to get a bike that will last.
If you stick with a mid-level air bike or spin bike they’ll almost all be made with durable metal and steel.
The footprint of an air bike will most likely be larger than a spin bike. They’re almost all taller than spin bikes, and they are usually just a bit wider. The spin bikes I’ve been on are pretty narrow (like real road bikes) and since the seat is usually about as tall as the handlebars, they don’t take up much vertical space. If you have limited space the footprint of each is something to consider.
They both tend to have wheels to help move them around, but it’s nice to just sit them in one place versus having to wheel them back and forth from storage. So be sure to measure your available space and comparing it to the dimensions of the bike before purchasing.
Similarities of Air Bikes and Spin Bikes
Both options are great cardio workouts. Unless your spin bike or air bike was made more than a decade ago, there should be some similar information readings. A majority of both air bikes and spin bikes will tell your RPMs, heart rate, time, distance, and calories burned (see below for a standard digital readout). If you have newer versions of either, you’ll most likely get a bunch more information. The bells and whistles will vary.
Both are great low-impact workouts. This means the wear and tear on your joints are minimal compared to other cardio workouts, like sprinting or jogging. Other low-impact workouts include swimming, walking, or yoga. There’s continuous movement without the jarring of bodyweight or weighted resistance.
If you have any joint issues, rehabbing from an injury, are a beginner, or just looking for a low-intensity workout, spin bikes, and air bikes are perfect.
Which Is Better Air Bike or Spin Bike?
Each will have its pros and cons but I feel confident in saying the air bike provides a better workout. The two bikes are for different people. The spin bike is geared more towards an actual bike rider that is looking to get some indoor riding.
While the air bike is really designed to make you sweat and get a workout in. Obviously, they both can provide a good workout, but the moving handlebars on the air bike are capable of providing a full-body workout.
Whenever I use an air bike, the heart gets going a lot quicker, my muscles feel more fatigued afterward and I almost always burn more calories, compared to a spin bike. It makes sense that when you engage more muscles the body has to work harder, hence the better workout.
Should I Get an Air Bike or A Spin Bike?
This will come down to your goals. If you’re looking to burn calories in a short amount of time and get a workout in, I would say an air bike is your best bet. If you’re interested in getting a steady ride in, or maybe even train for a bike race, a spin bike will be better suited for you.
Both are low-impact workouts and can provide a great cardio workout, but they are different bikes targeted at different people.
The other caveat I would be remiss to mention is the height of the person. Spin bikes tend to have more adjustments, which can ensure shorter riders can fit on the bike. Air bikes don’t usually have the same vertical and horizontal adjustments you can do on a spin bike. The seat is usually pretty maneuverable on both bikes, but the handlebars are usually fixed.
Meaning if you’re on the shorter side (below 5’5″) the handlebars might move out past your comfort zone. This doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be able to use an air bike, but you might not be as comfortable having to sit so far forward on the seat. Most manufacturers will give recommendations on how tall or short a rider must be to comfortably use their bike. Check out my post on best spin bikes for shorter riders.
Wrapping up Air Bike vs Spin Bike
Air bikes and spin bikes are great for burning calories, losing weight, and getting a great cardio workout. Ever since the mid-1990s and the advent of spin classes at the local gym air bikes and spin bikes have become some of the most used home workout pieces of equipment around. And for good reason. Cycling helps strengthen muscles, can reduce the risk of several ailments, and improves blood circulation. Air bikes and spin bikes can improve you mentally and physically and are definitely worth a try.
You might be interested in my Livestrong S Series Spin Bike Review.