Magnetic Vs Friction Resistance For Spin Bikes

magnetic vs friction resistance for spin bikes - a woman on indoor cycleResistance such an important part of getting a good workout.

The more resistance there is the more intense it is and it can help in building strength too.

In spin bikes the resistance is turned up to give the same feel as riding up a hill.

And it can be turned down for the feeling of traveling down a hill.

Also it;s great to incorporate high intensity interval training into your workout.

Also it can help you train for hill climbs indoors out of the rain and snow or when its too hot.

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Click here for best magnetic resistance spin bikes

There are 2 ways of applying resistance to the flywheel of the bike to give this effect. In this post I’ll look at how they compare side by side and look at which is better in each of the categories. But first off I’ll explain how they work. There is a summary at the bottom or you can checkout my buying guide for a quicker explanation of the differences.

Friction uses felt wool pads that rest on the flywheel. You tighten a knob that is connected to the pad and that pushes the pad on to the flywheel harder thereby creating more resistance.

There are 2 common methods that are used to apply this resistance. One is a single pad that sits on the top of the flywheel and this is pushed down on the flywheel as the knob is tightened. The other is a calliper style arrangement, much the same as you often see on outdoor bikes for their brake system , there are 2 pads sit on either side of the flywheel and as the tension knob is tightened the pads squeeze the flywheel harder making it tougher to pedal.

Magnetic resistance works in the same way that an eddy current brake works. {See the Keiser M3i spin bike as an example). As the flywheel (which acts as a conductor) turns it passes through the field of two magnets this causes the resistance on the flywheel. To vary the resistance the magnets are moved closer to the flywheel and to reduce the resistance the magnets are moved away from the flywheel, The magnets do not come into contact with flywheel. The resistance level can be controlled by a tension knob or by buttons on a console.

Cost

Bikes that use friction resistance tend to cost less than those that use magnetic resistance by a few hundred dollars with all other features being equal. Magnetic resistance is more costly to manufacture and there are perceived benefits from it as well thus resulting in a more expensive price. I explore the benefits in the rest of the post.

Noise

Friction resistance makes a quiet shooshing type sound as the flywheel passes through the pads. It is like a loud whisper when properly lubricated. When not properly lubricated it can develop into a loud squeaking sound.
Magnetic resistance is silent. There are no pieces touching each other so there is nothing to rub together to make a noise. So a big plus here .

Maintenance

With friction the pads are going to wear out over time from use. They normally need replacing every 6 to 12 months. As they wear down they will give off some small amounts of wool dust.

To keep them from resisting too hard against the flywheel they also need to be lubricated with a silicon based oil as required. The bike and floor may need to be cleaned up due to the dust and lubricant dropping or a rubber mat can be used to protect the floor.

The pads and the pressure they apply may need to be re-aligned from time to time as they can get out of alignment from use, in particular the calliper style pads as they are more likely to move around in just the same way as bike brakes do. It is important to have them in alignment so that uniform level of resistance is applied to get a constant cycling motion and prevents a bumpy ride..

There is no dust from magnetic resistance. Nor is any lubricant required. There is very minimal maintenance required at all. There may be some maintenance after a few years to tighten up screws or wires etc.

Harder to Resist

The resistance with friction pads is described as incremental and continuous in product descriptions. It can go from none to impossible to pedal against by turning the tension knob. As you turn the knob more resistance is applied to the flywheel. There can be issues with some bikes if this has not been properly set up in the manufacture where it goes from easy to impossible in just a small partial turn of the knob. This is a quality control issue rather than a problem with this type of resistance.

If you need to stop the wheel quickly you either push down on the tension knob or a lever and the pads act as a brake on the flywheel.

Magnetic resistance in theory can be set to be hard enough to stop the wheel from turning or hard enough that no one can turn the flywheel over. In practice this is not the case with people being able to turn the wheel at the hardest levels of resistance such as with the Diamondback 510Ic where the top level of resistance is not hard enough for the most experienced cyclists and spinners. However most people will find that it is more than enough for their workouts. To stop the wheel quickly bike with magnetic use friction pads where you then push down on a lever to stop it.

Marked Levels

With friction resistance there are not usually any levels of resistance marked. The right amount of resistance is determined by you estimating how far you need to turn the tension knob to get the resistance required for the part of the workout you are in. You also need to estimate where to turn the knob to help you return to an amount of resistance you’ve used previously. There are no markings to help in this respect. The resistance stays constant irrespective of the RPM or cadence you are cycling at.

You also need to estimate the amount of resistance you require for your workout with magnetic resistance too. But the big difference is that there are levels of resistance are often shown on a console so you know the level you are at and therefore you can come back to it easily at a later time. The resistance level does change as you pedal faster as the resistance is greater speed as this is how Eddy Currents work – the faster the metal object going through the magnetic field the greater the resistance which you could argue is similar to what you get as you ride faster on an outdoor bike you get more air reststance.

Summary

So how do they measure up. Magnetic resistance has a lot of advantages over friction – its quiet, no dust, minimal maintenance, no replacement of pads and you get levels of resistance you can use for setting resistance.
Friction wins on the cost as it is much cheaper, it gives a constant resistance and it has harder resistance when compared to the way magnetic resistance is used in spin bikes.

If cost is a consideration I’d go with friction resistance as you can get a better bike overall than you would with magnetic resistance for the money and if you want to be sure of getting really tough amounts of resistance. Otherwise magnetic resistance is the best bet.

45 comments for “Magnetic Vs Friction Resistance For Spin Bikes

  1. Gopal Swarup
    June 22, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Excellent analysis of the differences between the two. The real trouble with friction resistance is that there is always a trial and error in adjusting to the same level of resistance. There is no measure at all except your own feel.

    • Paul
      June 22, 2016 at 2:28 pm

      Thank you. Good point on the lack of objective guidance on friction resistance.

    • Mark
      November 1, 2016 at 9:19 pm

      Friction versus magnetic. The way I see it is that it’s a no brainer. The bikes that offer magnetic resistance with bears from 1-24 is far superior to stupid manual resistance. To qualify my statement I often hear spin instructors saying heavy legs for hill climbs and light legs for sprinting. Personally I cannot stand manual friction bikes as I need to know that my resistance is being measured properly.

  2. July 23, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    I note the weight of the flywheel for the Keiser M3 Plus is given as only 8lbs. From reading other guides, flywheel weights varied quite considerably, from about 12 or 14lbs to well over 20lbs, (albeit these related to brake pad rather than magnetic resistance bikes), and the suggestion was that the heavier the flywheel, the more balanced and smoother the ride. Yet reviews on the Keiser M3 Plus are very positive in this respect, despite its comparatively very low flywheel weight of only 8lbs. My question therefore is: should the ‘8’ not in fact be reading ’18 lbs’, or, do magnetic resistance bikes not need high flywheel weights as do brake pad resistance bikes, to give smoother rides?

    • Paul
      May 30, 2017 at 6:44 pm

      The weight of 8 lbs is correct. Magnetic resistance does work in a way that you get a smoother ride than you would with a resistance pad but you do need to concentrate more on your pedaling to get a smooth motion with the light flywheel.

  3. Rachel
    September 10, 2016 at 2:13 am

    You say: “There can be issues with some bikes if this has not been properly set up in the manufacture where it goes from easy to impossible in just a small partial turn of the knob. This is a quality control issue rather than a problem with this type of resistance.”

    Is there anything I can do if the bike I purchased has this issue? Thanks.

    • Paul
      March 27, 2017 at 5:19 pm

      It’s best to talk to the manufacturer and they should be able to help you get a better result with the resistance.

    • Michelle
      April 23, 2020 at 4:04 pm

      Thanks for all of this helpful info and your responsiveness!

      I’m a 35 year old female, muscular build, and I’d say probably intermediate skill level.

      I’ve been enjoying the Peloton experience (at up to a resistance of 70) at my work gym, but looking to get something more on a budget for home. Planned use would be for 30-45 min sessions 3 times weekly with HIIT.

      I wonder if you can comment or have any preference on the models I have been considering:
      – Yosuda L-001a (belt driven)
      – MaxKare magnetic spin – black
      – Sunny SF-b1423 (belt driven, though I have some concerns with durability/multiple reviews of pedals losing their threads/breaking off, rendering the crank useless)

      Or any other recommended bike at or under $400 budget?

      Thank you!

      • Paul
        April 23, 2020 at 7:01 pm

        Of the three models all which you are looking they are all look fine. I’d go for the Sunny SF-B1423 despite a few reviews with the problems with pedals losing their threads which I think some could be due to assembling issues (putting them on the wrong sideo or not tightening the left pedal in reverse). The console doesn’t include RPM (nor does Yosuda’s). Compared to the Yosuda it is a heavier bike with a heavier flywheel which should give a smoother and more natural pedaling stroke helping to prevent an up/down motion. As a general rule I like Sunny indoor cycles.

        I’ve not looked at the MaxKare bike in detail but it seems to be a good choice with a basic console that measures RPM and it has magnetic resistance. Although there are some mixed reviews on the strength of the resistance at the top end which you may run into issue of it feeling too light from your comment.

        However, for the price range and to use with Peloton Digital App my choice is the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-B1002 Belt Drive with 49 lbs flywheel. It provides a smooth and consistent ride and you can set the resistance as hard as you want – it uses friction resistance rather than magnetic. It doesn’t come with a computer but you can add a Wahoo cadence sensor to see RPM on the Peloton App.

        • Michelle
          April 24, 2020 at 8:01 pm

          Thanks, Paul! I really appreciate your time and insight.

          • Paul
            April 24, 2020 at 10:09 pm

            You’re welcome. I’m glad I could help.

  4. Jean
    October 13, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Looking at a schwin 230

    • Paul
      March 24, 2017 at 7:44 am

      The Schwinn 230 is a good bike but it isn’t a spin bike or indoor cycle and you can get some great cardio workouts from it. It does depend on your fitness goals.

  5. Michael
    November 16, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    What do you think about the Vo3 spin bike?

    • Paul
      June 16, 2019 at 11:37 am

      On my quick look at this it looks like it could be a good indoor cycle/spin bike, but I’ve struggled to find too much about it. I hope you found a good one. Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you.

  6. Ivan Mcdonald
    August 27, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    Can you give me your opinion on a York Magforce Magnetic Reistance bike.Apparently it ways 80lbs.Looks to be over 15 years old asking $200.00.Thanks

    • Paul
      December 4, 2019 at 6:13 pm

      Sorry I don’t know a lot about this bike. I can’t see one online to have a look at.

  7. Roy
    September 10, 2019 at 10:07 am

    Wear on a felt friction pad, operating on top of the flywheel, is not an issue if the pad is properly bedded in. Once the pad is compressed then the trick is to oil it with 3 in 1 or similar, let that soak in so there is no mess and continue to use. Over time, as the matted-down pad continues to compress with resistance, and with occasional application of oil there is no wear to speak of. I have been using the original pad supplied with my Sole SB 700 for over ten years and may never have to replace it with one of the spares I bought.

    • Paul
      December 12, 2019 at 9:48 pm

      Thanks – great to hear you’re getting good use out your pads and bike. And for the tip on keeping it lubricated too a silicon lubricant works well. Do you release the pad off when not using the bike?

  8. Elmer
    September 28, 2019 at 4:08 am

    I like riding hills while “standing up” on the pedals. And would like to use a stationary bike the same way at least some of the time. Would flywheel weight make a difference on riding a stationary bike with “uphill resistance” while “standing up”?

    • Paul
      December 2, 2019 at 8:01 pm

      It can still help with pulling the pedals round when you are at the top/bottom (vertical pedals) of the stroke with the momentum (inertia) built up from pushing pulling pedals from horizontal- there is less slowing down of the stroke. It can help with a more 360 degree stroke rather than an up down motion (like a stepper) which adds impact.

  9. Pam
    October 16, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    I recently bought a IC4 by Schwinn. It’s a magnetic resistance and I had a felt resistance bike before. I’m having a very hard time getting my speed and resistance levels up where I was with the old bike. In order to get to a cadence of 80 I can barely be at a 15 resistance level. Would the difference be that drastic? My old bike was 10 years old, but I had only had it for 6 months.

    • Paul
      December 1, 2019 at 7:51 pm

      I don’t think you should be experiencing resistance that is as tough as you are describing – it should go from nothing to progressively harder. It sounds like it could be an issue with the manufacture. I’d contact Schwinn direct ask for their help.

  10. Anne
    December 29, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    Thank you for the comparison.
    I was wondering if it’s hard to replace the pads on the friction bike yourself or do you need to take them to a technician?
    I was not able to find anything online.

    • Paul
      December 29, 2019 at 8:59 pm

      You can replace the pads yourself. A call or email to the supplier should give you guidance you need.

  11. Dirk Netzer
    February 7, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    I started using a Darwin Evo 40 at home. Trouble is, the levels of resistance allow no training with moderate intensity for me, just light and hard according to my heart rate and perceived exertion. I consider modifying the adjustment lever but am afraid I`d ruin it. Wrong bike for me, I`m afraid. Any recommendations?

    • Paul
      February 7, 2020 at 5:47 pm

      I’ve not investigated the Darwin Evo 40 thoroughly but it looks to me that you should be able to set it at the level. Does it not increase incrementally? Have you checked with the manufacturer it may be able to be re-calibrated. The Schwinn IC4 is highly regarded – I think this is the same as the Schwinn IC8 in Europe but I think it may be double the price.

  12. Jonathan
    February 8, 2020 at 4:31 am

    I recently lubed felt pads up with silicone spray on my Scwinn IC. Now, the resistance is totally messed up. I have to turn the knob a million times to get any resistance and it still doesn’t feel right. Before the lube the resistance was nice and easily adjustable; it just squeaked a bit. Have you ever seen this before?

    • Paul
      February 8, 2020 at 10:20 am

      I’ve not. Did you remove the pad to apply the silicon spray or apply it to the wheel and pad in situ? If it is excess spray it may just need time to come right. Sorry, i’ve not given a defiinite response.

  13. Joseph
    February 10, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    I’m a beginner on a rather low budget ($250) and have been confused with the range of choice at this price point: basically I can get either a light flywheel (9lbs) with magnetic resistance or heavy flywheel (30lbs+) with friction resistance.

    I plan on using it on regular basis with minimum three 40min sessions/week, which one do you think I should go for?

    Thanks

    • Paul
      February 10, 2020 at 6:23 pm

      I think you are looking at 2 different types of exercise bikes – indoor cycling bikes and upright bikes (there is a third a recumbent exercise bike where you are in a sitting down position with you legs out in front of you rather than beneath).

      An upright bikes tend to have magnetic resistance and light flywheels. You can get a good workout with a smooth cycling feel – are good for beginners and those wanting a moderate level of exercise. They also have belt drives. They are quiet.

      Indoor Cycling bikes (a well known brand is spin bikes) are designed to feel like outdoor bikes the reason for the heavier flywheels to get the same momentum feel through the pedals. The friction resistance provides the tension on the wheel so you can go from easy (on the flat) to very hard (up a steep hill). They can be used by beginners as well as more experienced and be as intense as you want. You can also get out of the seat and stand on the pedals

      If you want a cycling experience and/or want a spinning / Peloton type workout then an indoor cycle is the better choice. If you are more interested in workouts for fitness then an upright bike is good option. You can read more about the exercise bike options here to find the style for you.

      If you want to know more please let me know in a comment. I hope this has helped.

      Hope this brief explanation helps. The links take you to more information on each type of bike and you get more

  14. Tom
    February 15, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    I’ve gone through 3 Schwinn 270 recumbent bikes. They only last about 3 months at the most, and then the resistance levels go bonkers. The motor that adjusts the magnet craps out. In the past I had a Schwinn upright bike with manual pad resistance bike that lasted years. I’m on the bike 1-2 hours a day. Are there any reliable bikes that don’t cost 2k+?

    • Paul
      February 15, 2020 at 4:38 pm

      That is not good at all. What have Schwinn got to say for themselves? I can see that this has been an issue for a few others with their bike, but it seems you have been very unlucky to say the least to get 3. The only other similar recumbent exercise bikes I’ve researched properly are Nautilus R616 and R614 models and these are from the people that make the Schwinn 270. They are reliable from my investigation. But I think you may not be keen because of the connection.

      The only bike that I can see that is similar and in the same price range with electro-magnetic resistance but doesn’t have bluetooth connectivity to work with Apps is the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RB4850 Magnetic Recumbent Exercise Bike. Sunny tend to make good machines and there is limited reviews received to date for this model.

      There are more expensive options such as the Sole R92.

  15. Steve
    March 5, 2020 at 1:35 am

    Hi Paul. Thanks for all the great insight, and the various bike reviews!

    My wife and I are beginners and decided to buy an exercise bike to get into better shape this year, and your website is providing some great advice. We haven’t really rode too much in the past and are mostly focused on cardio.

    We tried a Schwinn 170 in a local store and seemed we liked the magnetic resistance vs friction better. Based on your responses, sounds like magnetic would be the way for us to go? Until be become elite athletes at least 🙂 I also saw the Nautilus U616 online, which looks to be more or less a copy of the Schwinn 170.

    Any thoughts on choosing between these two bikes? I see some folks had problems with these bikes, but hope they are in the minority.

    • Paul
      March 5, 2020 at 6:57 am

      Thank you – it’s great to hear the website and reviews have been useful to you.

      Magnetic resistance is quieter and less maintenance. It is a good choice for starting out and with the Schwinn 170 you should have bike that will provide the workouts you want until you are an elite athlete! You can go from beginner to challenging workouts as you progress if you want. It isn’t an indoor cycle/spin bike so you can’t stand on the pedals as you would if following a spinning or Peloton (you may have seen the adverts) workout.

      As regards the Nautilus U616 comparison I think they are similar too. I did a comparison here (it is a little old and needs updating.) which gives details. Good luck, an exercise bike is a great way to keep fit.

      • Steve
        March 5, 2020 at 5:20 pm

        Paul…THANK YOU for the quick reply and insight. I appreciate you taking the time!

        • Paul
          March 6, 2020 at 7:25 am

          You’re most welcome.

  16. Riley
    March 18, 2020 at 12:45 am

    This is great Riley

    • Paul
      March 18, 2020 at 7:11 am

      Thanks. Good to hear.

  17. Joeri
    April 2, 2020 at 4:11 pm

    I’ve heard saying that magnetic resistance isn’t that great when it comes to “strong legs” (or need of high resistance when working out). That it could compromise workout performance for the”regulars”. I am a regular spinner and teach classes as well, and have a quite well-developed strength in my legs. As I need to buy a bike now for home workout I was considering the magnetic option purely for the reason of little maintenance. However this potential issue at the “max of the resistance”, kind of got me somewhat worried now. I like the little-maintenance aspect, however I do not want to compromise performance for that. It pzzles me as magnetic brakes can even stop a car from driving…obviously not the same magnets.

    So is that performance/strength related issue supposed to be a concern in your opinion for the ones in the spin bike-market? I am looking at various models of Schwinn (i.e. AC Performance vs IC Evolution though could be any model I can find nearby). Thanks in advance!

    • Paul
      April 3, 2020 at 7:42 am

      I think the problem with magnetic resistance strength on indoor cycles tends to be at the beginner range rather than the Schwinn AC Performance. I think the puzzle may be down to cost.

      The Schwinn AC Performance does get used by mountain bikers that seem more than happy with the resistance levels for their training. It is a pity at this time you can’t really try one out first in case.

  18. Lynn
    April 6, 2020 at 3:21 am

    Hi Paul… I’m a total beginner, in my 50’s, female, 160, 5’5″ I recently took a few Spin classes and struggled with standing, but otherwise I loved the seated intensity portion and kept up fine. I really want to invest in a bike and I’ve narrowed my selection down to 2 bikes both Sunny Health the SF-B1002 which is belt driven and uses a leather pad, rather than felt OR the SF-B1805 magnetic for about $200 more. I don’t see myself doing a full own sweat cycle type routine any time soon…with this is mind which would be better for me?

    • Paul
      April 6, 2020 at 7:46 am

      Hi, a good choice of bikes. Both would be good for a beginner. One of the main differences is how the resistance is delivered with Sunny SF-B1002 using the leather pad is going to be noisier with a whooshing sound and may squeak from time to time when it needs lubricant – it will also wear down and need replacing. With the Sunny SF-B1805 the magnetic resistance is silent and low maintenance so you can just get on with using the bike without any issues of maintenance.

      The SF-B1805 allows you to get a better fit by being able to fully adjust the handlebars and seat with 4 way adjustment for both. It also has a place for a media device to help with following along to online workouts or Apps but mounts can be added.

      If they were both the same price I’d definitely go with the Sunny SF-B1805 but with a price difference it depends on whther you think the hassle-free and quiet bike is worth it to you. I hope this helps.

  19. Des
    May 9, 2020 at 1:24 pm

    Hi Paul

    I just purchased the MYX Fitness bike which has limited reviews but from what I can find seem to be well received so far. It’s similar to the Peleton in looks and build with a 21 inch swivel screen so you can do other exercises than simply spinning. Ohh and the cost is about half of Peleton. I didn’t focus on the magnetic vs friction resistance but now that I checked it turns out it’s friction based. Any thoughts on this bike and the use of friction?

    • Paul
      May 9, 2020 at 5:52 pm

      StarTrac usually make very good indoor cycling bikes. I don’t know a lot about the MYX Fitness workout programs but they do look like they could be an econoical and good alternative to Peloton for home workouts.

      As to the resistance being friction (I couldn’t see the type of resistance when I checked) – you should get a smooth experience with the pedaling as you turn it up and down. Apart from the differences noted in my article – more maintenance and sound – from my quick check of MYX it will be that you won’t see a level of resistance as you do with Peloton where it displays between 1 and 100. However, the instrcutors will cater to that by describing the feel such as pedaling should feel like you are on a flat road and so on.

      I hope it all goes well for you and it looks like they have thought it through well to provide quality workouts and motivation.

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