Spin Bike vs Elliptical – A Side By Side Comparison

spin bike vs elliptical top and bottom splitMaking time for exercise is important these days for health especially as lifestyles today promote a sedentary approach to it at work, leisure time and driving a car.

Time is in short supply. So when working out you want it to be something you like (or more than tolerate) and that does the best for you within in the time.

Spin bikes and elliptical trainers are two good choices for improving cardio health and burning calories. But is one better than the other? Here I make a comparison in a number of important areas to help you decide which is the one for you.

Burning Calories

Both these machines have the potential to burn loads of calories but the amount burned is related to the level of intensity you work at. This can make it difficult to work out which one is going to give you the most for your time.

You can get an intense workout with both machines. However, most people seem to associate an elliptical trainer with lower intensity exercise at a low resistance and low cadence. You do need to concentrate on maintaining at least a moderate cadence and turn up the resistance or incline to get better results.

A spin bike is seen as piece of equipment for intense exercise and they are built that way with their minimal design. The workouts are at various intensities to get the most out of your time with seated climbs, sprints and hard hill climbs.

You do need to work more vigorously on a spin bike than on elliptical machine due to weight bearing nature of the elliptical and it working more muscles (upper and lower body) to get the same calorie burn.
In the end the machine that is going to burn the most calories is the one that you are going to use the most at the highest intensity.

For both machines you do need to change your workouts around on a particular machine type because as your body gets used to specific form of exercise it becomes more efficient and uses less calories to do the same work.


The machines tend to be in a similar price range of $300 to $2000 depending on the model. Elliptical machines do normally include a more comprehensive console and accessories included within the price – with things like places to rest your tablet or plug in your MP3 player.

Spin bikes are basic and may come with a basic console and water bottle holder. The elliptical machine’s console can have pre-set workout programs that you follow along to, to keep you motivated and on track with your workout.

The spin bike leaves you to come up with your own or to follow along to a DVD or video that you play on your TV. They are designed to be used for intense workouts rather than moderate exercise even though they can be used for them.

Muscles Worked

As you are sitting when you ride a spin bike it can be good if you have balance issues while your work your legs.
If balance is not an issue you can stand on a spin bike pedals to incorporate hill work when the resistance levels are turned up.

The spin bike engages your quadriceps, hamstrings, core, glutes and calf muscles. For strengthening legs you need to increase the resistance levels to have more to push against.

The elliptical is better at working the quadriceps, gluteus maximus (glutes) and vastus lateralis (external hip muscles). With the elliptical machines that have arm motion you work the shoulder, chest, biceps and triceps.

The elliptical machine provides the ability to exercise the arms, core and legs at the same time giving a more overall workout for your muscles, whereas a spin bike is more concentrated on the legs and core.


The spin bike is designed to give you a similar experience to riding bike. It is a simple piece of equipment that is straightforward to use. It only takes a few moments to set up and get going with a workout making it great for beginners.

You can adjust the bike to fit a large variety of heights for the maximum benefits from a workout with adjustable seat and handlebars. The resistance is altered by a simple turn of a knob at the front of the bike.
This simplicity does mean you miss out on full featured consoles and other accessories like somewhere to put your ipod or tablet.

The elliptical machine was designed to provide a low impact version of walking and running with the addition of using your arms where they have moveable arms. You can vary the incline and resistance to provide harder workouts and vary speed from slow to as fast as you can go giving a full body workout. It can be a great way to get a cardio workout and by increasing resistance levels it can help in providing strength to in addition to being weight bearing.

An elliptical movement motion can seem awkward and takes a little getting used to. Some people just don’t get used to it at all. Some people also find that their feet can feel numb after use.
The consoles that come with the mid-price machines include pre-set workouts that you can follow along to and graphic consoles for helping you to stay on track.

Overall an elliptical is a more complicated machine to use than a spin bike and takes some time to get comfortable with it.

Space And Storage

Both types of machines usually come with transport wheels that you tip them on to for moving them to and from storage. The elliptical machines typically weigh more than a spin bike, although there are some lightweight machines available, but the transport wheels do take most of the weight.

Both machines need around about the same amount of space for storage however this does vary by model but most require less than a 5 ft by 2 ft area.


As an elliptical machine can workout both the lower and upper body at the same time, so you get a better cardio workout at the same level of intensity as on a spin bike.

Spin bike workouts are designed to give you are workout at different levels of intensities, moderate on the flat, high intensity on the flat and tough hill climbs.

With an elliptical machine with moveable arms you can adjust the resistance of incline to give you 3 different type of workouts – at low settings it is like cross country skiing, at medium you train similar muscles as you do on an exercise bike and at high it is similar to a stair climber.

You may find doing HIIT on an elliptical is actually tougher than a spin bike as you are exercising more of your body but it is harder to switch between different levels of resistance as it is slower and more involved than just turning a knob as you do on a spin bike

Both machines provide a low impact workout. However, if you have lower body injuries the spin bike provides a lower impact experience and can help you while you recover when they have the perimeter weighted flywheel. The elliptical will help you burn more calories at the same levels of intensity.

The big advantage of the spin bike is that it is simple to use and can be set up quickly. The elliptical machine takes time to get used to and understand the different settings for your workout.
The best machine will be the one you use the most and at the highest intensity if your goal is improved cardio and/or weight loss.

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