To get straight into the big difference between these bikes before talking about the advanteges/disadvantages of each and how that determines who the bikes is for.
A recumbent exercise bike differs mainly from an upright bike in how you are positioned as you exercise.
With a recumbent you positioned along the floor with your legs in front of you with the upright bike you are in a more how you would ride a bike.
Both of these exercise bike types can be a good way to get cardio exercise that is low impact. They can both be quiet so you can exercise when you want at home. It is possible to find bikes that can fit just about any budget too.
However, when you are looking at which one is the right for you it is important to look at how these bikes work and the advantages and disadvantages of each so you can determine which is right for you.
Both type of bikes do provide a low impact cardio workout. The riding position of the recumbent bike with your legs out in front you has generally less impact on the joints , so are easier on them because of that.
You sit back on the recumbent with your back supported as you do on a chair, whereas with the upright bike you sit unsupported like you might on a stool at a bar meaning you need to support yourself more – just as you do on a road bike.
The recumbent position can provide much needed support for those with back problems allowing them to still get a good cardio workout. It also can help you if you have balance problems with a wider seat as well as the bckrest and handlebars either side of the seat offering more support too.
Some people do find that the recumbent position makes it harder to move their legs fast enough to get their heart rate up like they can on an upright bike because of the angle. It can take a little getting used to if you are used to an outdoor bike.
The upright bike position is much more similar to an outdoor bike and if you are looking to use as winter training or when you can’t get outside you are better looking at one of these especially are spin bike.
The recumbent bike with a more of a sit down position and the support for the back doesn’t engage your upper body as much.
You work your arms, abdomen, chest and back more when sitting on an upright bike as you need to balance yourself.
With a recumbent these are supported by the backrest and your arms can rest freely at your side.
An upright bike you are slightly bending forward and having to hold yourself upright which does add more stress on your upper body.
With some upright bikes, in particular spin bikes, you can stand on the pedals to do hill climb and sprint workouts that add more variety to the workout that you won’t get with a recumbent. It is much easier to work yourself harder too which can result in more calories being burned as well improving your cardio fitness.
It is commonly felt that you can burn more calories on an upright than you can on a recumbent bike. I guess this is because of difference of the position – the recumbent looks more relaxed and less active.
However, if you ride at the same intensity on both bikes in terms of resistance and speed over the same time period you may see a few more calories burned on an upright bike because you are using more upper body muscles than a recumbent. But it is minimal at best.
You can burn as many calories on a recumbent exercise bike but you may need to pedal slightly faster.
It all comes down to how intense your workout in terms of length, speed and resistance that determine how many calories you’ll burn. Although an upright bike does mean you exercise your upper body more.
With a recumbent you may be able to exercise longer due to the comfort and thereby burn calories because of that.
Getting On/Off The Bike
Generally a recumbent exercise bike is easier to get on and off. The seat is lower and there is no need to lift your leg over the frame – as they have a step through design.
With an upright bike you may need to lift your leg over the frame and depending on your height you may need to use the pedals or jump up slightly to get on the seat. Unlike the recumbent which is more like sitting on a chair.
An upright bike is usually much more compact than a recumbent exercise bike. You are sitting up more in the air whereas with a recumbent you are positioned along the floor more resulting in a lower and longer bike.
Upright bike have a standard or oversized bike seat. With this comes the usual comfort concerns – they can be very hard on the sit bones with many people wanting to cover them or change them to help make them more comfortable.
Some recumbent bikes have a bike seat but they do tend to be more padded. But overall they are much more comfortable which means you may find you workout longer than you would on an upright bike seat that causes you pain after a period of time.
Both bikes exercise your lower body such as your glutes, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors and calves.
The recumbent gives more of a workout of the glutes and hamstrings than the upright.
The biggest difference in the muscles worked is in the upper body where when using an upright bike it helps to strengthens and works the abdomen , back, shoulders and arms.
Upright bikes tend to be smaller and require less materials. For this reason they do tend to cost less than a recumbent bike.
You can watch TV and read a book on an upright bike it just isn’t as convenient as it is with a recumbent bike in your comfortable seat.
Your hands aren’t as free as you may need them more for support and balance which can make reading a book difficult
With a recumbent you’re not having to support yourself so you can hold a book or personal electronics. In some cases you can have an included personal electronics shelf to support them for you.
Your hands are freer so you can make changes such as changing the channel, change your music or turn the page much more easily.
All this convenience can take your mind off your exercising which can be good if you can keep up the intensity but you may find that you slow down because your mind is elsewhere.
You can get a good workout from both types of exercise bikes that can help you get in shape, burn calories, tone up and generally be more active.
If you like to be comfortable as you exercise and want to be able to use your personal electronics and/or read a book then the recumbent bike is probably going to a better option. This is the same if you have back or joint issues as the bike provides support and is gentler on the joints with them often being recommended for recovery from joint injury or surgery.
Also if you do have balance issues it will give you the support for the back as well arm rests too will help prevent you to lose your balance while on the bike.
An upright bike can be a better option if you don’t have much space in your home or you don’t want to spend too much to get a quality bike.
Although you can get good intense workouts with a recumbent it is easier to get these with an upright bike especially for spinning type workouts.
Or if you want to use the bike to train inside when you can’t get outside then again an upright bike is the better option due to the similar riding position.
The most important consideration, besides medical or health reasons, is which one you are most likely to use as it is the use of the bike that will determine your success in reaching your fitness goals whatever they maybe.