Recumbent Bike vs Upright Bike – Which is Better and Why?

Are you debating between a recumbent bike or an upright bike? Are you unsure which is better for you and your life?

I’ve been there – which is why I’ve got everything you need to know on how to pick between these two.

In this article, I’ll define the difference between the recumbent bike vs upright bike, the pros and cons of both, and which one is better for different situations.

Let’s take a look!

What is a Recumbent Exercise Bike?

girl pedaling on a recumbent bike at the gym

A recumbent bike is a stationary bike with a seat and backrest. The position of the seat and backrest allow you to pedal with your legs in front of you.

In other words, the recumbent exercise bike positions the rider in a reclined position. It’s very ergonomically designed, making it one of the most comfortable stationary bike options.

And get this:

The recumbent bike – although the non-stationary kind – has the world speed record for a bike. Pretty cool, right?

What is an Upright Exercise Bike?

man cycling at gym using exercise bike

When it comes to an upright exercise bike vs a recumbent exercise bike, the key difference is the backrest and pedal position.

An upright bike is exactly what the name claims – you sit upright.

It frequently has a slightly smaller seat than a recumbent bike. And the pedals are positioned right underneath the body, keeping that upright posture.

All in all, the upright stationary bike more closely resembles the traditional bike you likely rode around on as a kid.

What are the Pros and Cons of the Recumbent and the Upright Exercise Bike?

Alright – let’s get down to it.

It’s the big question: the recumbent bike or upright exercise bike?

Let’s bring it to a head, and dive into the key differences. What is each bike good for? What are some downsides to each? And which is best for you?

The Pros of the Recumbent Exercise Bike

close up of young man training on the recumbent bike

1. It’s Good for Individuals with Back Issues

Recumbent exercise bikes are naturally nicer to the lower back and lumbar spine. This is due to the reclined position of the bike and the supportive backrest.

2. Recumbent Bikes are Easy on the Joints

Again, due to the position of the pedals and seat, this bike offers a very low impact ride. It’s easy on the joints, taking unnecessary pressure off the knees, hips, and spine.

Why does this matter?

Less pressure on the joints means it’s a great choice for individuals experiencing a recent injury or individuals with arthritis or other chronic pain conditions.

It helps them move and gain strength, while protecting them from further pain or injury.

3. The Seat Tends to be Larger

Recumbent bikes often come with a fairly spacious spot for your backside. This amps up the comfort level and makes for an easy and more relaxing ride.

Many other bike designs, like the upright bike, have much smaller seats, which may leave the rider feeling less than comfy.

But that’s not all…

With a more comfortable ride, you may want to go that extra mile and won’t be longing to dismount it as soon as possible.

4. You’re Less Likely to get an Injury

With less pressure on the joints and the fact that you can’t stand up on the recumbent bike, you’re at a lower risk of injury.

Generally, this means that recumbent bikes are often the safer option.

5. It Provides a Hands-free Ride

That is if you’re on a stationary recumbent bike. If you’re on a road recumbent bike, keep your eyes on the road.

If you’re using a stationary recumbent bike, on the other hand, your hands are free to flip through TV channels or hold a book while you get your aerobic activity done.

But there’s more…

The best stationary recumbent bikes come with media shelves, where you can place your tablet or book on as you ride.

6. It’s Great for Overweight or Obese Individuals

With safety top-of-mind, this bike is great for those with excess weight and who potentially want to lose it.

The recumbent bike offers an excellent way for these individuals to begin a regular exercise routine, without risking injury or pain.

The Cons of the Recumbent Exercise Bike

1. It may Cost More than Other Bikes

When it comes to an upright exercise bike or the recumbent variety, recumbent bikes tend to be more sturdy and heavier, as well as have additional comfort features.

This means that they often cost more.

2. They take up More Space

The recumbent bike is a fairly sizable piece of exercise equipment. As such, you’ll want to make sure you have the space to keep it.

However, if you intend on using it at the gym, this con may not even matter!

3. It may be Boring for Some Individuals

The recumbent bike is made for safety and comfort.

For individuals that prefer a more intense workout, it may leave something to be desired.

Thus, it may prove unmotivating and boring for some.

The Pros of the Upright Exercise Bike

woman foot close up - using indoor exercise bike

1. The Upright Bike takes up Less Space

When comparing the recumbent bike versus the upright exercise bike, the upright bike wins on space. It’s less hefty and can easily fit into a corner or a small apartment.

And that’s not all…

Some of the best upright exercise bikes are even collapsible. This means they fold away and can be placed in storage or off to the side when not in use.

2. It Offers a Versatile Workout

With the upright bike, you can stand up or sit down – or do a variation of both throughout your ride. This makes your workout a little more interesting.

3. The Upright Bike Offers a Potentially More Intense Workout

With the variation between standing and sitting and the position of the pedals, this bike is much more suitable for individuals looking for a bit more of an intense exercise session.

4. It’s More Similar to an Outdoor Bike

Want to take your outdoor ride inside?

The upright bike offers an easy way to do that. It’s very similar to a road bike, since you’re in a very similar position.

What does this mean?

It means you’ll work the same muscles that you would by taking your bike to an open stretch of the road. In turn, this allows you to train indoors when perhaps the weather isn’t entirely cooperating.

Further, some of the best spinning bikes also offer this option and allow you to take your cycling workout indoors. This benefit isn’t just limited to the upright bike!

5. You Also Get a Core Workout

Without a backrest, your body has to support your torso for you. In this sense, you’ll also get an abdominal workout in the process.

And that’s not all…

You also work your upper body more due to the position of your hands and arms. You may feel more of a burn in your biceps, triceps, and shoulders.

The Cons of the Upright Exercise Bike

1. Some Individuals may Find the Upright Bike Awkward

The seats provide little comfort, with many individuals complaining of them being small and hard.

2. It may Cause Back or Neck Strain

With a lack of a backrest, the upright bike puts you more at risk of developing back or neck pain. This is due to the hunched over stance required while using this bike.

And I can’t emphasize this enough:

An upright bike isn’t suitable for those experiencing back pain or any other recent injury. It could potentially aggravate it. Thus, it’s probably better to go with the recumbent bike.

3. Upright Bikes Tend to be Less Stable

They seem flimsy, especially in comparison to the recumbent bike.

This further means that they are generally unsafe for overweight individuals and some seniors.

exercise spinning bike cardio workout at fitness gym

The Key Differences

Ultimately, the recumbent bike is the safe option. It’s good for individuals bouncing back after an injury or for those that have chronic pain. This often makes it a great option for seniors.

However…

It does take up quite a bit more space. It further may cost more and may also quickly become mundane.

On the other hand, the upright bike is great if you want a more intense and versatile workout, as well as if you don’t suffer back issues.

It also takes up less space than the recumbent bike. And you can even get fold-away models.

Which is Better and Why?

As to which version is better, it all comes down to your situation and preference.

It also may be important to note here that recumbent bikes and upright bikes aren’t your only options. There are also a ton of great air bikes. There’s also other cardio options, such as elliptical machines and more!

But let’s get back to the recumbent bike vs the upright bike…

Interestingly, both may give way to the same calorie burn. Thus, for weight loss, it may depend on which one you’re most comfortable with, as well as your unique health and fitness situation.

If you think you’ll put more effort in with a reclined bike, then that might be best for you.

If you have chronic aches and pains or a medical condition, the recumbent bike may also prove to be a safer bet. It has a lower risk of injury and takes a ton of pressure off of your joints, including the knees, hips, and back.

Yet…

If you want a ride that will mimic your outdoor bike, the upright bike is going to provide that. This also gives way to an additional benefit where you get a core workout in at the same time.

It also feels like a much more natural movement for most when compared to the recumbent bike.

The bottom line?

Choose the option you feel most comfortable with and that best suits your lifestyle and goals.

Summary

The debate regarding the recumbent bike vs upright bike comes down to your needs, goals, and preferences. Determine what your’s are and then make an informed decision from there.

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Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden worked as a Rehab Exercise Expert at a physiotherapist clinic in Ottawa, Canada for 4 years. She has an Honours Bachelor Degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She uses her extensive knowledge in this area to educate others through well-researched, scientific, and informative articles.