Bike Trainer vs Exercise Bike – How do they compare?

Technology and innovation have provided rides with two great cycle training options to pick from. Given the choice between a bike trainer and an exercise bike, which is the better alternative?

We spent Christmas holidays with a friend of mine last year and it was in this cold winter season that we got to experience the joy of indoor cycling.

Lucky for us, Chrissie’s parents had spent part of their retirement benefits on a fully stocked home gym and we made every possible use of it.

By the end of the Christmas week, we were no longer newbies to any of the equipment. I particularly loved the cycling options and this review is packed with information I acquired during my time there.

What are the differences between Bike Trainer and Exercise Bike?

Bike Trainer
Exercise Bike
wind, liquid or electromagnetic
electromagnetic, wind or direct contact
Upright over handlebars
Upright or recumbent

Bike Trainer vs Exercise Bike: How they compare 

Resistance Type

Bike trainers can have wind, liquid, or electromagnetic sources of resistance which doesn’t differ much from the exercise bike that has electromagnetic, wind, or direct contact types of resistance.

By using a bike trainer’s liquid or wind-type resistance, the rider will benefit from a more realistic riding experience. The drawback to this is the leaking that may possibly occur.

Some electromagnetic trainers provide some real experiences as well. They would be a great addition to the liquid or wind kind.

In the exercise bike option, the electromagnetic type of resistance is expensive. However, it provides a real riding experience and it does not require regular maintenance.

However, the most common type of resistance you will come across in exercise bikes is the direct contact type of resistance which is less expensive.

However, it will break often because of the mechanical rubbing needed to create the source and it also doesn’t feel so outdoorsy.

Ease of Use

Bike trainers take time to set up and get it going while the exercise bike is better because it is ready to go after the first installation

Bike trainers are problematic. This is true especially if you need to remove the bike to do some outdoor cycling. It is also true if you live with other individuals who would want to have a go at it but need to use their bike for the right fit.

In terms of posture, the bike trainer keeps you in a body forward over the position of the handlebars. This is great for road racing but it will give you more aches and pains when indoor cycling.

Exercise bikes are ready to go after setup and no matter how many people want to use them, adjustments to fit different proportions are easily and effectively done.

The posture on the exercise bike is more upright or reclined and this gives more variety in terms of riding comfort and minimizes the joint or muscle pain that may come from indoor cycling.

Training Software

With bike trainers, you would need to get a third-party application to add some spice to your indoor cycling. That’s less than what most exercise bikes provide: they have both the preset programs plus an option to integrate with third-party cycling apps.

There are now programs that you can integrate that help you import cycling workouts that take your training to the next level. This is made possible by screencasting to a big screen like television for easier visibility.

In the past, exercise bikes came programmed with preset interfaces with preloaded workouts that keep the user engaged. Now, most exercise bikes have both preset programs plus an option to integrate with third-party cycling apps.

Some are so cool that they allow the rider to adjust the bike to a riding position that simulates the outdoors allowing for downhill and uphill riding too.

There is a host of these third-party apps that can be configured to your bike in a way that gives them complete control over the bike. This is effective in managing the various modes of resistance settings if and when available.

Bike Trainer vs Exercise Bike: A Comparison Overview

Bike Trainer Review 

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This setup refers to a motor that is attached to your bike either on the front or rear tire allowing you to use your outdoor bike to exercise indoors.

There is a separate type of bike trainer known as the direct drive that takes the place of your bike entirely.

By use of a flywheel or through the bike’s cassette, the trainer provides the resistance that is meant to simulate the outdoor riding experience.

While they don’t feature a console in the setup, there are a variety of trainers that are smart enough to allow for a connection to your Tv, tablet, or third-party app loaded with preprogrammed workouts for varied terrains.

They are mostly used by ardent or competitive cyclists who like to pedal all year round regardless of the weather especially because they can ride on their favorite regular bike and in the same posture.


  • Maintains actual bike riding posture
  • Takes up less space
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Mimics outdoor riding if using third-party software


  • Needs a separate bike to work
  • Must be setup every time
  • Different users need different bikes
  • Can get noisy

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Exercise Bike Review 

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This is a stationary bike that doesn’t feature any road-worthy tires. It comes with a saddle, pedals, and handlebars that are based on an immobile structure that stays in place while you cycle.

They offer different adjustments in the seat and sometimes handlebars to help accommodate users of different proportions in weight and height.

The riding position can be either upright or recumbent depending on the bike and their resistance is sourced from the air, straps, mechanical or direct contact.

Most of these bikes come with a digital console with preprogrammed workouts and depending on the app or mode selected, could also give you access to live on-demand virtual classes.

A plus on these bikes is their ability to monitor and track your performance metrics like heart rate, speed, duration, and calories burned.

They are recommended for everyone who is into health and fitness for cardiovascular training, body toning, weight loss, and muscle strengthening.


  • Only one installation needed
  • Adjustable to fit multiple riders
  • Doesn’t require a bike
  • Quieter indoor cycling option
  • More programs available


  • Needs a dedicated space
  • Heavy and cumbersome

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Verdict: So, which is better – Bike Trainer or Exercise Bike?

Ultimately, the exercise bike stands out to me as being the better option compared to the bike trainer. This is because of the one-time setup, the fact that it is a one-in-all alternative, and the multiple options in the workout available.


I suffer from chronic back pain but I love to cycle. Which indoor bike is best for me?

The exercise bike is ideal for anyone suffering from chronic aches and pains because there are varied postures possible with different bikes and adjustment settings.

I’m training for a cycling marathon over the winter. What indoor bike should I go for?

The bike trainer would serve you best because it will train your body on the same riding posture you will be riding on and you will have the advantage to use your preferred bike while cycling indoors.