What Is an Air Bike?
Looking to pedal your way to fitness? An air bike (or fan bike) is a type of stationary exercise bike that uses a fan to create resistance and integrates both upper and lower body movement.
Or, to some users: it’s an absolute beast. A popular machine used by the CrossFit crowd, air bikes are frequently part of a fierce high-intensity interval training (HIIT) program.1
How does an air bike work? Extremely well, for starters. Beyond that, air bikes have seats and foot pedals, but instead of traditional handlebars, there are elliptical poles with hand grips. The rider pedals by foot while pushing and pulling with their hands to operate an exercise bike with fan wheel. The faster you go, the higher the resistance from the fan, the harder your workout overall.2 Sound appealing? Let’s dive into the details.
What's the Point of an Air Bike?
The great-great-grandpa of indoor exercise bikes is Francis Lowndes’s 1796 “Gymnasticon,” invented well before Pierre Lallemont patented the first bicycle with pedals in 1866.3 People have been looking to some version of indoor cycling as a source of exercise to improve health longer than considering it as a method of transportation.
So, what are the benefits of air bike exercise and what muscles do air bike work? The first air bike was launched in 1978 as a next step in the evolution of stationary bikes, designed for aerobic cardio workouts that integrate air resistance and use both upper and lower body muscles.4
An air bike is uniquely suitable for:
- Interval training – With this method, the user exercises at different levels for brief periods, as short as 10 seconds before switching intensity.
- Full-body cardio – An air bike increases oxygen absorption and heart rate while staying connected to the user’s effort and strength, making for an intrinsically customized aerobic experience.
- Physical therapy – What happens if you ask a group of people, what is an air bike? Many will tell you it’s an excellent path to rehabilitation. Air fitness bikes improve muscle strength and endurance in both upper and lower body muscle groups. However, you can also isolate either to focus just on the reinforced pedals or use the stationary footrests to prop up your legs while working only the handles. The air bike reacts entirely to your movement rather than demanding too much too soon.5
- Weight loss – With full-body movement, air bikes offer a faster route to burning calories and fat—up to 1.5 faster than a stationary bike, according to Shape magazine—than traditional stationary fitness bikes.6
Air Bike and Spin Bike: What’s the Difference?
You can find both air and spin bikes at gyms or fitness studios, or in a home gym. They’re both touted for their ability to provide a serious workout, more so than traditional stationary exercise bikes, and both can be used in either seated or standing positions.
So how do air bikes work differently than spin bikes? There are some key comparison points, including:
- Resistance method – Air bikes rely on a built-in fan that’s powered by the user’s force and adds or subtracts resistance in relation to that force. Spin bikes typically have a heavier flywheel and more wind resistance than traditional exercise bikes, but resistance beyond the momentum provided by pedaling has to be programmed rather than adapting naturally mid-exercise.
- Handle placement – A unique feature of air bikes is the elliptical-style handles that move forward and backward as the user pushes and pulls them. Spin bikes have stationary handles in a forward position slightly lower than the seat height.7
- Seated position – On an air bike, the user is in an upright position with some forward and backward movement that comes from operating the handles. Spin bike users crouch low over the bike in a forward-leaning, racing position.
- Body involvement – Both upper and lower body movements are part of using an air bike with moving handles and pedals. On a spin bike, similar to an outdoor bicycle, foot pedals are the sole mechanism involved, concentrating effort on the lower body.
- Intended use – Air bikes were first developed solely in response to a need for overall fitness, as a whole-body experience that was a step up from traditional stationary bikes. The spin bike was created for serious bicycle racers to provide an indoor training option that simulated variable outdoor terrain.8
Air Bike or Spin Bike: Which Is Better?
Well, are you headed for the Tour de France with maximum intensity training on the docket, or are you taking baby steps toward a fitter, happier you? Ultimately, you want to choose the indoor cycling bike that will move you closer to your goals. So which indoor cycling bike is better for you?
Choose an air bike if you want:
- To work your arms, legs, and core during one convenient workout
- The flexibility to work only legs or arms rather than both
- An infinite amount of resistance in response to your movement
- To finish your workout quickly without sacrificing intensity
- Access to more demanding full-body workouts
Go with a spin bike for:
- Focusing on working only your legs and core
- A more realistic indoor cycling experience
- Bicycle racing training
- A smoother, seated workout
Unless you’re a professional cyclist looking for indoor or winter training that simulates bike racing as closely as possible, a quality air bike is a choice that will work more of your body and take you from beginner to winner.
Is an Air Bike Good for Beginners?
With a nickname like “Satan’s tricycle,” it sounds like beginners should keep their distance, right?9 But that gross mischaracterization shouldn’t discourage you. Just because air bikes can be used for high-intensity training by fitness aficionados doesn’t mean that’s the only gear available.
Air bikes are just as great for newbies, too.
The fan-based resistance you get from an air bike is responsive. So if you’re a Popeye full of spinach, you’re jumping in at full speed and receiving an equally massive level of resistance. But if you’re a gangly Olive Oyl just trying to keep up, you’ll receive resistance that matches.
The air bikes’ limitless range of resistance is exactly in sync with the rider’s strength and effort, which offers a much gentler start for beginners.
If you’re just starting out with a fitness program, air bikes offer:
- A low-impact workout that is easy on your joints
- Calorie burning
- Balanced muscle toning for both upper and lower body
- A cardio workout
Air bikes also offer an alternative to the traditional treadmill, which many beginners find boring—and that’s not a good start to a consistent fitness plan. Staying engaged and working with a cardio machine that responds to your individual strength and movement makes an air bike a great choice to start moving.
Tips for Air Bike Beginners
New activities have learning curves, and air bikes are no different. If you’re just starting out, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- It’s not just like riding a bike – The push-pull of the handles, in addition to pedaling, changes how your body balances and may take a little time to adjust to. Although it has a seat, pedals, and the word “bike” in the title, you won’t be able to rely on the muscle memory you use to ride a regular bicycle. It’s okay if it feels awkward at first; give yourself some time to adjust to the movement.
- Read the instructions – How hard could it be, right? But again, this isn’t the same as either a regular bicycle or a stationary bike. Pay particular attention to the instructions on hand placement and intended movement. If you’re at a gym, ask the attendants for help. If you’re adding to a home studio, watch the manufacturer’s videos.
- Start gently and ramp up slowly – Don’t shoot for Rambo-level intensity training out of the gate. Even if you’re a workout regular, simply adding this cardio machine to your repertoire can give your body a chance to experience how an air bike works for different muscle groups before gradually increasing your training intensity.
- Posture – Keep your core muscles tight, your shoulders down, and avoid leaning too far forward or back to protect your oxygen intake and ease of breathing.10
How Long Should You Use an Air Bike for?
There’s no cookie-cutter answer to how long to keep it moving while on your air bike. The length of a session depends on:
- Physical challenges – If you’re new to exercise or have health concerns or conditions, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor before starting a fitness program. This is a must if you have a history of heart issues.
- Fitness level – Fitness isn’t a quick race you can knock out in a week or a month; it’s a lifelong marathon. Use gradual change to increase the intensity and length of workouts, listen to your body, and learn the difference between what you can push through versus when your body is trying to help you avoid an injury.
- Fitness goals – The length and intensity of your air bike ride will depend on whether you’re looking to introduce gentle exercise, lose weight, increase endurance, or build muscle. Whether you connect with a personal trainer or dive into internet research, start by identifying what will best help you move toward your goals.
That being said, air bikes aren’t typically meant to be used for long periods. You’ll rarely find a suggested workout longer than 20 to 30 minutes on an air bike.
Ready to Ride? Tru Grit Can Help
By the early 2000s, at-home exercise machines often used flimsy plastic components, making it more difficult to safely achieve intense movement. By the 2010s, CrossFit enthusiasts had figured out how useful a sturdy air bike could be in HIIT.11
Today, whether you’re a beginner or a hardcore fitness enthusiast, a well-made air bike is a great way to get you where you want to be. That’s where Tru Grit comes in.
At Tru Grit, we make quality products, inspired by those who refuse to quit. Our Grit Bike is a self-powered air bike with belt-driven fan resistance. Crafted from industrial-grade steel with a MIG-welded chassis, the Grit Bike is strong, durable, and quiet—the qualities of a professional air bike available in your home.
T3 Smarter Living. What the hell is an air bike and how can it make me seriously fit? https://www.t3.com/us/features/what-is-an-air-bike
Daily Burn. This Air Bike HIIT Workout Will Leave You Breathless. https://dailyburn.com/life/fitness/air-bike-hiit-workout/
Pedallers. Stationary Bikes Vs. Spin Bikes: How Do They Differ? https://pedallers.com/stationary-bikes-vs-spin-bikes/
Cathe. Exercise Bikes vs. Spin and Indoor Cycle Bikes: Choosing the Right One for Your Home Gym. https://cathe.com/exercise-bikes-vs-spin-bikes-choosing-the-right-one-for-your-home-gym/
Bodybuilding.com. The Misery Machine: 4 Brutal Fan Bike Workouts. https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/the-misery-machine-4-brutal-fan-bike-workouts.html
Women Who Inspire. 10 health benefits of air bike exercise: What does air cycling do? https://whenwomeninspire.com/2020/01/08/air-bike-exercise-health/
JRank Reference. Stationary Bicycle. https://reference.jrank.org/fitness/Stationary_Bicycle.html
Physical Culture Study. The History of the Assault Bike. https://physicalculturestudy.com/2020/04/08/the-history-of-the-assault-bike/
Weston Fit. Air Bikes Vs Stationary Bikes – A Quick Comparison. https://westonfit.com/air-bike-vs-stationary-bikes/