Magnetic resistance is one of the ways that exercise bikes can be used to change how hard it is to pedal against. By changing the amount of resistance you can have different intensity of workouts like doing hill work outside.
Recumbent exercise bikes typically use magnetic resistance to do this rather than friction or air resistance.
There are 2 types of this – magnetic and electrical (electro) magnetic resistance.
How They Work
Both work the same way apart from the control system. To control the amount of resistance you are pushing there is a set of magnets that are positioned close to flywheel that is covered.
When you are pedaling they turn the flywheel which is connected to the pedals/crank with a belt. This is normally enclosed so you don’t see this.
To increase the resistance you are pushing against the magnets are moved closer to provide more resistance (eddy current) causing more “push against” the wheel and further away to reduce the resistance.
It provides a silent resistance and doesn’t require any regular maintenance. Normally there is no requirement for anything to be done for the life of the bike.
The Control Of Them or Changing The Resistance
The manual magnetic resistance is controlled by a tension knob that is normally on the front support below the console. It is turned by hand – clockwise to increase the resistance and counter clockwise to decrease it. The levels of resistance are marked on the knob itself to help you set it to the level you want.
The electrical (electro) magnetic resistance is controlled through the console. The console displays the level of resistance you are at.
You have a couple of ways to change the resistance though the console. You can change the resistance level by using the up/down buttons which changes it by one level at a time. Or you can change it using a quick jump button where you jump to the level marked where you can make small or big changes (up or down) in the amount of resistance you are pushing against.
To make those jumps you have to turn the knob quickly with the manual resistance which amy mean you need to slow down or stop pedaling to do this as you concentrate on the tension knob.
The electro-magnetic resistance can also make the changes automatically as it works through a pre-set program that is not possible with tension knob.
With manual adjustment resistance you don’t get the option of pre-set programs. You just get on the bike and pedal and change the resistance as you go to get the intensity you want to work at.
The electro-magnetic resistance gives you a lot more options. As well as adjusting resistance as you go you can select a pre-set program that adjusts the resistance as you work through the program so it is like a hill climb workout. They normally have a number of different workouts you can choose from including heart rate zone workouts – the resistance changes depending on your heart rate to keep it in the zone you select. You can choose a workout that suits your ability.
See the Schwinn 270 Recumbent Bike for an example of a bike with this type of console and workouts.
It is possible for the manual controlled resistance to get very tough but that doesn’t seem to be how it works in practice on recumbent exercise bikes and this may be more down to the cost of the bikes it is used on. They go from easy to moderately hard. (See Keiser M3i – a spin bike style bike for an example)
The electro-magnet bikes go from very easy all the way up to very hard that can challenge even the most able people.
These are on the more expensive recumbent exercise bikes.
The manual controlled bikes normally cost less than the electro-magnet resistance. They can be bought for less than $300. A good example is the Exerpeutic 900XL which is a basic recumbent bike that is suitable for beginners and those who want moderate levels of exercise.
The electro-magenetic recumbent bikes can cost from $300 upwards. They have the resistance but offer more extras like more comfortable seats , electronic shelf, water bottle holders, fitness accounts and more.
The biggest pitfall of the electro-magnetic bike is that they plug into the power supply. If there is an outage then the bike can’t be used – there is no resistance or way to change it.
The bikes that are controlled using the tension knob aren’t dependent on the house supply. You can use them during an outage as resistance is adjusted manually. The basic console that comes with them are battery powered.
If the batteries are drained you don’t get a read out of your workout as you go but it doesn’t affect the use of the bike otherwise.
The Final Wrap Up
If you are looking for moderate workouts and not interested in lots of different programs to keep you motivated then a manual resistance bike is a good option. They also are more affordable and there is less that can go wrong too.
The electro-magnetic bikes offer more variety which can help to keep you interested and provide guidance to get the most out of your workout time. They can be used by beginners as well as more advanced users. They do cost more but this does tend to cover more extras for a more comfortable and convenient workout. It may mean you can workout longer because of this and more often too.