4 Types of Resistance in Exercise Bikes Explained – Which is Better?

When you consider buying a good stationary exercise bike, there are many types of resistance mechanism in these bikes like - magnetic, friction, air, and strap-based. You may be overwhelmed by these options.

The resistance in the bikes is needed for an exercise bike to simulate the real bike riding experience. The resistance in the bike offers a tension to your pedaling.

This is needed to give a good workout for your leg and calf muscles. The users of the bike can easily adjust the tension knob to adjust the level of intensity of the workout.

For people who want more challenging workouts, simulating a hill climb, they may have to set the tension knob to a high level.

Undoubtedly, the resistance mechanism in the bike is one of the most important aspects that you need to look while buying exercise bikes. Because this is the factor that decides how the user-experience will be while using the bike.

Here are the things I'm going to cover in this post.

Before diving into the types of resistance in exercise bikes, it's essential for you to know some basics about the flywheel in the exercise bikes.

A word about flywheel

All the upright and especially the popular spin bikes come with a fairly large flywheel that is present in front of the exercise bike. This flywheel is responsible for giving you the real bike riding experience.

The best spin bikes like the most loved Sunny Health & Fitness Bike, comes with a heavy flywheel of 50lbs giving the greatest bike riding experience and also burns calories faster.

Whereas, upright bikes and other foldable bikes, come with a small internal flywheel that's hidden inside the frame.

To give you workouts of varied intensity, there should be a mechanism to offer resistance to the rotation of the flywheel. With the increased resistance to the flywheel, more workout will be there for your leg muscles.

Types of resistance in exercise bikes

As I've said earlier, there are mainly four kinds of resistance. They are mechanical, magnetic, fan-based, and also belt based. Let us look into each of them in precise detail.

Mechanical resistance

This is the type of resistance you usually come across in case of cheap upright bikes and also spin bikes.

In these bikes, the resistance system is similar to that of bike's brake mechanism. There'll be rubber pads present on the either side of the flywheel that rubs against the flywheel making it hard to pedal.

When you tighten the tension knob, it increases the pressure between the rubber pads and the flywheel. As you may expect, the rubber pads need to be replaced once in 6 months in case if you do an hour of workout every day.

Mechanical resistance 

 This resistance mechanism also makes a hissing noise while riding, due to the rubbing of the pads against the flywheel. These are not the quietest bikes out there. When the bike starts making considerably louder noise, lubrication of the flywheel is necessary.

The bikes that come with mechanical/friction resistance are not maintenance free.

Magnetic resistance

Magnetic resistance is a non-intrusive way to provide resistance to your workout.

In some of the bikes there is a tension knob, and in some other electromagnetic exercise bikes, there'll be an option to change the resistance level digitally on the display.

Two magnetic bars are placed on the either side of the flywheel that repel each other.

Magnetic resistance

In the case of electromagnetic bikes, a dedicated motor is there to vary the amount of current passed to the magnets for varying the repelling action of the magnets for resistance. In this case, the magnets will not move closer to the flywheel to offer more resistance.

In the case of magnetic bikes with a tension knob, Whenever you tighten the tension knob, the distance between the magnetic bars decreases. Thus offering more resistance to the rotation of the flywheel which is between those repelling magnets. 

Most of the magnetic exercise bikes come with eight levels of varied intensity of workouts. The fine incremental increase in resistance is uncommon to see in magnetic bikes due to the technology put in place.

As you may expect, in the case of magnetic resistance, the bike is maintenance free as there's no wear and tear. There's no need of periodic lubrication as the magnetic bars won't touch the flywheel but rather offer the resistance by their repelling action.

The magnetic bikes are super-silent. They won't disturb others no matter at what time you are doing the workout.

Most of the good recumbent bikes and also some of the high-end spin bikes come with magnetic resistance.

Keiser M3i Indoor Cycle is our magnetic spin bike of choice. If you are looking for magnetic recumbent bikes, go for Schwinn 270 Recumbent Bike.

Fan-based resistance

In this case, there will be a huge fan in the front of the bike. This fan rotates, as you pedal your bike via the belt and pulley mechanism. As you pedal faster, the fan starts rotating fast, and the air around it offers more resistance to the fan blades.

Thus, for increasing the workout intensity, you need to pedal faster.

Added to this, the fan blades are directioned in such a way that they also offer cool breeze to you when doing the workout. This is great.

These bikes make a fan rotating sound that's pleasant to hear. These bikes need no maintenance at all like that of magnetic bikes.

People find it quite hard to get used to this sort of bikes.

LifeCORE Fitness Assault Air Bike Trainer is the best fan bike of our choice.

Strap-based resistance

This type of resistance mechanism is most used in old exercise bikes. The newer bike models come with either mechanical, magnetic or fan-based resistance mechanisms.

In this case, a belt will be attached to the pedaling wheel and the flywheel. When you increase the resistance by adjusting the tension knob, the force at which the brake system holds the belt from moving increases.

This mechanism is somewhat similar to the mechanical resistance, the mechanism that I described earlier. In this case, the brake system causes resistance to the belt movement as opposed to the resistance to the flywheel rotation itself.

This is not effective. Because the belt itself witnesses wear and tear. You need to also replace the whole belt periodically as maintenance. This is ineffective in the case of exercise bikes.

I would not recommend the strap-based mechanism at all.

Our verdict

I suggest going for magnetic exercise bikes if you want a bike that is advanced, silent, and maintenance free. In the case of magnetic resistance, you need not worry about the friction of the rubber pads and also the friction marks on the flywheel.

As I've said earlier, most of the entry level spin bikes come with mechanical resistance. If you want a good spin bike with magnetic resistance, go for bikes of upper-range like the most popular Keiser M3i Indoor Cycle. The bikes like this are everlasting and durable.

If you want a good spin bike under $300, you may go for Sunny Health & Fitness Pro Indoor Cycling Bike, although this has mechanical resistance, the bike is considerably silent and requires less maintenance that other mechanical resistance bikes.

The fan bikes are not suitable for all as you may take some time to get adjusted to them.

I hope you loved this guide on different types of resistance in exercise bikes.

1 Comment
  1. Hello, thanks for the write up. Quick question: a couple times you mention people may or may not “get used to” a fan bike. What’s the experience? Slower starts, noise, equal resistance to one’s pedaling? Please describe- thanks!

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