Indoor Cycle vs Recumbent Bike: Which Should I Choose?

Exercising at home has become the new norm. Exercise bikes are a great addition to your home gym as they help you improve your fitness and lose weight. There are many different types of bikes including indoor cycles and recumbent bikes. In this article, we’re going to talk you through their difference and help you find the most suitable bike for you.

Important Information

Spin®, Spinner®, Spinning®, Spin Fitness® are trademarks of Mad Dogg Athletics. Even if we use the phrase “spin bikes” sometimes to refer to the Indoor Cycle type of bikes, we must inform you that they are not in reality. When we are referring to Spin Bikes, we mean the official Spinner Bikes of Mad Dogg Athletics. However, keep in mind that in this article, where we talk about resistance, the Spin Bikes and Indoor Cycles share similar characteristics.

Indoor Cycle / Spin® Bike 

indoor cycle woman

What Is It?

Indoor cycles are best known as Spin® bikes. Spin® style classes are a common sight in gyms across the world. But, indoor cycles aren’t limited to this popular exercise activity. Indoor cycles are also popular amongst road cyclists looking for an indoor alternative. Indoor cycles act and feel like a real road bike. The set-up and pedaling motion are almost identical. Thus a great alternative to riding outdoors. 

Indoor cycles have a heavy flywheel instead of wheels. The flywheel and pedals are connected via a chain to mimic a real bike. Resistance can be applied against the flywheel by adjusting a crank or knob. Most indoor cycles generate resistance via magnets, friction, or a combination of both. Increasing the resistance the pads or magnets move closer to the flywheel. The closer to the flywheel, the harder it is to pedal. 

Following the increased popularity of exercising at home, many companies have created apps and programs to bring Spin® style classes to your home. There are many reasons why we love this feature. Firstly, it saves you time driving to and from the gym. Secondly, it helps guide you through a class. Thirdly, it’s great for pushing you when you feel like giving up. 

Indoor Cycles: Pros & Cons

  • Feels like a road bike
  • Smooth pedaling experience 
  • Many positions on handlebars 
  • Suitable for standing while cycling 
  • Adjust handlebars and seat to suit your body
  • Simple to use
  • Frame is typically high-quality 
  • Suitable for HIIT and endurance exercise
  • Flywheel continues to turn even when you’re not pedaling 
  • Some indoor cycles have apps and programs to guide you through sessions
  • Associated with a higher cost 
  • Proper set-up is difficult 
  • Most models don’t show calories burned, heart rate, distance, and speed
  • Aids weight loss

Recumbent Bike 

recumbent bike

What Is It?

The most noticeable feature of a recumbent bike is its seat positioning. You’ll notice the recumbent bike contains a backrest and the seat is very low. This is to support a comfortable position. You can simply sit back and relax while exercising. It’s a win-win. Recumbent bikes increase lumbar support, thus benefiting people with back pain. Another neat feature of recumbent bikes is their wide seat. 

Recumbent bikes contain a light flywheel connected to the pedals via a chain or belt. Resistance can be created using electromagnets, magnets, or fans. Resistance can usually be adjusted by the simple press of a button. Most recumbent bikes use technology to display resistance, calories burned, heart rate, distance, and speed. Many will also have preset programs that guide you through a workout. This feature is extremely useful when you’re aiming to hit a specific goal during a workout. Some recumbent bikes also have built-in resistance bands to turn your cycle into a full-body workout. 

Recumbent Bikes: Pros & Cons

  • Low-impact
  • Laid Back position
  • Hands-free
  • Lumbar support
  • Suitable for elderly people and those with lower back pain
  • Foldable recumbent bikes available 
  • Cheaper-option
  • Displays resistance, calories burned, heart rate, distance, and speed
  • Upper body resistance bands optional on some recumbent bikes 
  • Aids weight loss
  • Not optimal for performance
  • Limited adjustments
  • Doesn’t feel like a real bike

Differences

Difference Between Indoor Cycle and Recumbent Bike

Seat Position

The biggest difference between an indoor cycle and a recumbent bike is the seat position. On an indoor cycle, the seat is above the handlebars. Therefore, your torso will be in a leaning position when cycling. The pedals are underneath the seat, thus you can drive through the pedals with optimal power. This is the exact position you’ll be on a road bike too. 

A recumbent bike supports a completely different position. The seat contains a backrest and the pedals are in front of you. This position is a lower impact and creates more lumbar support. However, it’s not a prime position for performance. Pedaling with your legs in front of you doesn’t create as much power as when your legs are pushing down. 

If performance is your goal, an indoor cycle is more appropriate. If you’re looking for a comfortable way to add exercise to your day, recumbent bikes are more suited.

Resistance

Both the indoor cycle and recumbent bike use a flywheel. But, indoor cycles use a heavy flywheel, whereas recumbent bikes use a light flywheel. Heavy flywheels make you feel like you’re riding a road bike. When you stop pedaling they will continue to rotate based on power output. However, light flywheels create an abnormal feeling. Generally speaking, the lighter the flywheel the easier it is to move. Therefore, lighter flywheels are more suitable for beginners, older people, and those with exercise limitations. 

Technology

Bikes have evolved a lot over the years. One thing that has prompted the evolution is continuous advancements in technology. Many indoor cycle brands have created apps and programs that bring Spin® style classes to your home. This is a great feature that brings a community-style environment to your living room. Yet, many indoor cycles lack real-time analysis of data such as resistance, calories burned, heart rate, distance, and speed. Most recumbent bikes do support this feature. Real-time data analysis is a great way to track your workouts and progress over time. 

Price

Price varies between low- and high-end models for both the indoor cycle and recumbent bike. However, on the whole, indoor cycles are more expensive than recumbent bikes.

Related
Best Budget Recumbent Bikes

Seat

Another key difference between an indoor cycle and a recumbent bike is the seat size. The seat on an indoor cycle is firm and narrow. It is designed to support optimal performance while limiting chafing. Conversely, recumbent bikes have a wide, comfortable seat. They are much more comfortable but aren’t optimal for performance. If comfort trump’s performance, then recumbent bikes are more suitable and vice versa. 

Recumbent Bike vs Indoor Cycle Calories: Which Is the Better for Weight Loss? 

Both the indoor cycle and recumbent bike can support your weight loss journey. Weight loss occurs when your body expends more than it consumes. Increasing your activity will contribute to weight loss when you burn more than you eat. Both bikes allow you to increase your heart rate and work your muscles, thus leading to increased calorie burn. But, calorie burn also depends on intensity.

Since indoor cycles have a heavier flywheel, it is easier to burn more calories on an indoor cycle than on a recumbent bike in the same space of time. So, overall both will help you burn more calories. But, if I had to choose one it would be the indoor cycle due to its efficiency.

Verdict: Which is the best for me? 

The best bike for you depends on what you want from the bike. Indoor cycles are perfect indoor alternatives to a road bike.

  • If your aim is to improve your road bike performance, or you want to perform Spin® style classes, indoor cycles are your best choice.
  • But, if your main goal is to improve your general health and fitness while relaxing at home, recumbent bikes are more suitable.

In short, if performance is your goal, an indoor cycle is more appropriate. If you’re looking for a comfortable way to add exercise to your day, recumbent bikes are more suited.

Michaela Summers

Michaela Summers is a health and fitness content creator. She holds a Master of Research in Health and Wellbeing and a BSc in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of Exeter.She is on a mission to help people live a more fulfilling, impactful life through fitness and lifestyle. When she's not writing, she can be found in the gym, playing tennis, or exploring the great outdoors.