By now, you should know the difference between an indoor cycling, an upright and a recumbent exercise bike. So, naturally, you started considering which one to buy, and maybe even decided on one model in particular. But, wait, there is more! Before you go and throw something heavy in my direction, I have to share one last piece of advice regarding exercise bikes. Apart from the seating position, and various bells and whistles, exercise bikes also differ from one another in the way they provide resistance.
Before you think all that stuff tucked away underneath the casing doesn’t matter much (you pedal pretty much the same way right?), Im going to take this opportunity to provide you with some more knowledge on the subject. When you understand the differences, you should be completely ready to make the right choice as far as exercise bikes are concerned.
So, let’s get to the point. In order to simulate the sensation of riding an actual road bike, there are several different ways exercise bikes provide resistance while you pedal. The majority of the market is populated by bicycles that employ direct-contact and magnetic braking systems, because they offer resistance that can be fully adjusted. Apart from those two types, there are exercise bicycles that feature a fan that converts air resistance into resistance you feel while you are pedalling away on a bike. Let’s get deeper into the matter and see whats what.
At the heart of most home exercise bikes is the flywheel. The flywheel, in its essence, is a mechanical device used to store rotational energy. Simply put, it’s a weighted metal disk which is usually located at the front of the bike, instead of the wheel. You can’t see it working (as it’s covered by the casing), the flywheel is connected to the pedals via chain or belt, much like an actual road bike. Basically, when you pedal, the momentum is stored by the flywheel, and released until it’s used up.
Now, in order to provide enough resistance for an intensive workout, the flywheel is usually very heavy (say 40-50 pounds), making the first several rotations extremely hard. This approach is limited though, for several reasons.
First of all, you are limited by the weight of the wheel. Theoretically the wheel needs to be heavier, but this means it has to be bigger as well, so somewhere down the line the bikes would end up looking like penny farthings (in case you are not familiar with the term, they’re one of those Victorian bicycles which have a ridiculously huge front wheel, and a tiny back wheel).In order to overcome this problem, exercise bikes that use direct-contact or magnetic braking system have been developed. Resistance on these is created by applying the brake to the flywheel.
Let’s take a closer look at each one of them.
Stationary bicycles which implement direct contact braking use the principle of friction in order to provide resistance. The brake is directly applied to the flywheel to reduce the rotational speed you provide by pedalling. This type of exercise bike is very accurate and lets you choose one of several different resistance levels, not unlike gears on a real-life bicycle, which makes for a custom-fit workout. The friction is provided via brake pads which come into contact with the flywheel, and they are usually made out of felt, but a number of other materials can be found in its place as well.
Also, instead of brake pads, friction bands can be fitted to the edge of the flywheel. For all its advantages, exercise bike with direct-contact friction tend to experience a lot of mechanical abuse, which causes them to wear out over time. At some point, you’re going to have to think about replacing the pads, or even the flywheel itself. And because the braking is purely mechanical, direct-contact exercise bikes tend to make noise, unlike bikes with magnetic braking (to which I will get to right about now).
Direct-contact bikes used to be the sovereign leaders on the market, but with the emergence of magnetic bikes, they lost their position. Magnetic bikes have a major advantage because their parts do not wear and tear, as there is no direct friction or even contact. They use electromagnetic induction in order to provide the resistance.
Think Japanese bullet trains which hover a millimeter above the tracks. Pretty much the same thing here. Stationary bikes with magnetic braking have a very smooth, continuous resistance, which can be adjusted at the touch of button, and, as I mentioned a bit earlier, they are extremely quiet. In fact, they are quieter than both direct-contact and fan exercise bicycles.
This type of exercise bike is not built around a flywheel. Instead, it uses a huge resistance fan.
The fan itself is connected to the pedals via belt and pulley system. It’s actually very simple: as you pedal, the fan start to turn, and as your speed increases, so does the air resistance on the blades of the fan. If you want more resistance, you have to pedal faster. It might seem a bit pedestrian at first, but it’s actually very effective once you learn how to use it. Another plus is that you get to feel the breeze from the fan, which will cool you down during those intensive workout sessions.
Each one of these types has its own pros and cons. Direct-contact bikes are sturdy and simple in their construction, and while there is not much that can go wrong there you still need to replace a few parts here and there after a while. Magnetic bikes are quiet and smooth, and allow you to fine-tune the resistance any way you choose. Fan bikes offer a completely different take on the subject, yet they have some cool unique features. Whichever you choose, you can’t go wrong.