Ellipticals and bikes are 2 of the most popular cardio machine choices for home gyms. And it’s pretty easy to see why- both types of machines can provide great workouts, can be affordable, and take it relatively easy on your joints.
But when it comes down to it, which is really better?
This is going to be a hard question to answer because let’s face it- it’s really a question of personal preference.
But don’t worry, that isn’t going to stop me from trying to answer it anyway.
And in order to do this as objectively as possible, I think it’s a good idea to set a few ground rules before we get started.
I think it makes the most sense to compare ellipticals and bikes in a few key categories to see how they stand up against each other.
These categories will include: price, calories burned, size, ease of use, and fun factors.
After comparing ellipticals and exercise bikes head to head in each of these categories, I’ll declare a winner.
Alrighty, let’s get started.
Ellipticals vs Bikes
Ok, so I’m not gonna lie- I was inspired to write this article after watching Godzilla vs Kong, which I thought was a pretty solid movie by the way.
Little boring at the beginning with all the humans doing their thing, but the action is legit once it gets going (especially at the end, but don’t worry, no spoilers here).
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to write a battle inspired post, so here ya go. I hope you enjoy.
I think it’s a good idea to start this debate with a discussion on price. After all, price is one of the most important aspects most of us have to consider when buying any fitness machine.
Both ellipticals and bikes come in all price ranges, but generally speaking, bikes are a little more affordable.
Both exercise bikes and ellipticals come in various shapes and sizes- especially bikes.
I’m being very general for the sake of this article, but there are a lot more styles of bike than there are elliptical, and I’m basically throwing all of ’em in one generalized category.
There are spin bikes, recumbents, uprights, air bikes…
Ok, back to price though.
Most of the best home ellipticals cost somewhere between $1000 – $2000. Not to say you can’t also find ellipticals that cost under $200, but buyer beware.
Many of the best exercise bikes cost somewhere between $1000 – $2000 as well. Upright and air bikes tend to be a little cheaper, falling toward the lower end of that scale, while spin cycles are usually more expensive.
Recumbents tend to fall right in the middle.
Even though the highest end of each machine cost about the same, I’d say there are a lot more quality affordable bikes than there are ellipticals.
To put that another way- I’d feel better purchasing a $500 bike than I would a $500 elliptical.
So, even though it’s a close call in the price category, I’m gonna have to go with exercise bike as the winner here.
A lot of us home gymers are dealing with limited workout space, so machine size is an important thing for most of us to consider.
We have to make sure whatever fitness machines we get actually fit in our home.
When you compared the footprint of ellipticals and bikes, generally speaking, bikes are more compact.
Your average home elliptical is going to take up a footprint of roughly 6 – 7′ long x 2 – 3′ wide (although there are smaller, more compact models available).
The largest type of home exercise bike is the recumbent bike, and your average recumbent bike only takes up a footprint of roughly 2.5′ x 5′.
And then there’s spin cycles, which only take up 2′ x 3′ worth of floor space.
So, generally speaking, ellipticals are quite a bit larger than exercise bikes. Not to mention the considerations you’ll have to make if you have really low ceilings.
So, when it comes to size, exercise bikes win with their more compact frames.
Ok, this category is going to be a little harder because the different types of exercise bikes will vary in the amount of calories you can burn.
Speaking generally, most people will burn a lot more calories on an air bike or a spin cycle because these bikes are designed for more intense, HIIT style workouts.
Also consider that the more you weigh, the more calories you’ll burn on either machine. And of course your speed, time, and intensity level will all factor into how many calories you burn.
According to Harvard, your average 155 lb person will burn somewhere between 252 – 278 calories in 30 minutes on a stationary exercise bike.
According to that same study, that same 155 lb person would burn about 324 calories on an elliptical.
Like all calorie estimations, you have to take these numbers with a grain of salt because there are just so many different factors that go into this calculation.
But it makes sense that an elliptical would burn a few more calories because you’re standing up on an elliptical. Simply weight bearing (and using your arms) is going to increase how many muscles are working and how many calories you’ll be burning.
I also want to point out that the bike calorie expenditure listed above doesn’t take into account higher intensity spin workouts or air bike workouts (both of which can be brutal and burn a lot more calories than that listed above).
But, generally speaking, ellipticals tend to burn more calories than exercise bikes, so ellipticals take this category.
Ease of Use
In this category, I want to compare these 2 fitness machines on how accessible they are.
Both exercise bikes and ellipticals are considered lower impact forms of exercise, especially when compared to treadmills, making them both good options for folks dealing with arthritis or achy joints.
With ellipticals, your feet never lose contact with the pedals, so there aren’t many compact forces going through your joints.
And since you get to control how much resistance you’re working against, you can make your workout as light or as intense as you like.
But, with an elliptical you’re still standing, so you’re still having to weight bear through your legs.
Depending on the severity of your arthritis, this alone might be enough to make this activity uncomfortable.
Exercise bikes (all of them) are also low impact because your feet never leave the pedals. But unlike ellipticals, you get to sit down, meaning you aren’t weight bearing.
This results in even less stress being put through the joints of your lower extremities.
And in the case of recumbent bikes, you’re positioned in a more horizontal sitting position with a large backrest, which reduces any stress or strain even more.
Speaking of recumbents, they’re the lowest impact form of cardio exercise you can do at home (well, recumbent trainers are probably a little lower impact due to the straight pedal motion).
So, even though both of these machines are low impact, I’m going to have to say exercise bikes take the category.
The last thing I want to look at with ellipticals and bikes is something I’ll refer to as the “fun factor”. You know, how fun is it to use each one of these machines.
I think this correlates pretty closely with the entertainment and console features each might come with.
Having entertainment apps or instructor-led workouts can definitely add to the overall fun factor of using each. I know this is a pretty subjective category, but what the hell.
I feel like we’re seeing a lot of exercise bikes (mostly spin bikes) coming out with HD touchscreens and instructor-led workouts.
Peloton was the first as far as I know, but plenty have followed in their footsteps (NordicTrack, Echelon, Bowflex, etc).
And now, some exercise bikes are taking it a step farther and installing entertainment apps like Netflix and YouTube on their consoles (like the Stryde Bike).
I don’t feel like we’re seeing the same movement happening with ellipticals.
I know NordicTrack and ProForm have ellipticals with HD consoles and streaming through their iFit service, but I can’t think of any other brands off the top of my head.
There certainly aren’t as many smart streaming ellipticals as there are bikes.
Otherwise, most of the 3rd party fitness apps can be accessed via ellipticals or exercise bikes.
So in terms of fun features, I’d have to go with exercise bikes as the winner, because there are so many more streaming and connected options to choose from.
And The Winner Is…
Ok, when I tally up the score, it looks like exercise bikes win with a score of 4-1.
Wow, I thought it would be a little closer than that, but that’s kind of an ass-kicking.
Jokes aside, if I had to choose which machine was better for most home gyms out there, I’d have to go with exercise bikes.
As we discussed in the different categories above, exercise bikes are generally cheaper and smaller, which is paramount for a lot of home gyms out there that are dealing with limited workout space.
Exercise bikes are also very low impact, allowing virtually anyone the ability to exercise fairly comfortably (recumbents).
Ellipticals, being a standing, weight bearing form of exercise, will generally burn more calories than a bike and they’re also a low impact exercise.
But considering that they’re larger, more expensive (generally), and come with less console features, they didn’t stand a chance to exercise bikes.
In all seriousness, ellipticals make great options for home gyms too.
If you’re stuck between an elliptical and a bike, think about what your goals are and what your workout space looks like. Also consider the discussion above regarding the differences between these machines.
I hope you enjoyed our friendly competition here. Like always, if you have any questions or comments, please leave ’em below and I’ll get right back to ya.