Air bikes and bikeergs (or ‘bike ergs’) have seen a meteoric rise in popularity, largely thanks to their use in CrossFit training and competition. The Sport of Fitness has shown home and garage gym owners and fitness enthusiasts the seriously impressive fitness benefits that each of these unique machines can provide.
Both bikes involve lots of pedaling, both work using air resistance, and both will deliver a killer workout. But the training effects of these cardio-building beasts are very different, impacting the type of workout you can accomplish from each.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at these two powerhouse cardio machines, and help you decide which is best for you. Before starting it should be noted that in this article we are discussing bikeergs in general (there are a few different brands and knock-offs), not necessarily just the popular Concept2 BikeErg (even though it is the original and still best bikeerg).
Air Bikes vs BikeErgs: What Are They and How Do They Work?
The brutes of the stationary bike world, air bikes have developed a long-standing reputation for being ruthless, demanding, and grueling. By working both the arms and the legs simultaneously, they can leave you gasping for air in a short space of time. While you can use these versatile machines to plow through an arduous endurance session, they’re much better suited to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions or for warm-up and active recovery.
Bikeergs are a relatively new addition to the exercise bike market. Although they do operate on air resistance, bikeergs aren’t quite air bikes. Yet despite being an upright stationary bike with static handlebars, they aren’t quite a spin bike either (and they’re completely different to your nanna’s old exercise bike in the living room). They exist somewhere in between and ultimately have the versatility of all of their alternatives: Like air bikes, they’re great for HIIT, warm-up, and/or active recovery. But, like a spin bike or real road bike, you can also go for long rides on a bikeerg without being any less comfortable.
Standing tall and made primarily of metal, air bikes are noticeable in a crowd of exercise bikes. The moving handlebars and giant fan at the front give them a formidable look, which is matched by the workout they deliver.
In contrast, bikeergs look much more like a typical exercise bike (one made in the image of a racing bike) and can be somewhat unassuming. Compared to an air bike they have far less of an intimidation factor. Don’t be fooled though, they’re capable of delivering a vicious workout.
As the name suggests, an air bike uses air resistance to create the work you do. The pedals and handlebars turn the fan blades, which displace air, which then creates friction and resistance (Newton’s third law, anyone?).
Unlike regular exercise bikes, which use magnetic or direct contact resistance acting on a metal flywheel, air resistance is a constant force—there’s little or no inertia involved. This means that the amount of resistance you get from an air bike is constant relative to the speed of the fan blades. And the speed of the fan blades is a direct function of the amount of work you put in. So, the more effort you put into the pedaling and push/pull of the handlebars, the more resistance you will feel.
Most bikeergs also use air resistance but do so in combination with a damper mechanism. This helps to closely mimic the experience of riding a road. The air resistance mechanism mimics what happens when you’re riding outdoors, where air resistance is acting on your body and the bike, while the damper mechanism (which alters the amount of air that gets to the fan blades) mimics a road bike’s gearing.
As such, you have more control over the intensity of your workouts on a bikeerg because you can alter the resistance for any given cycling cadence. This isn’t the case on (most) air bikes as your cadence and the level of resistance are inextricably linked.
BikeErg vs Assault Bike: What Effect Do They Have On You?
Both air bikes and bikeergs are technically cardio machines, and like all good cardio machines are more than capable of delivering burnt calories and broken spirits in abundance. However, the training effects and muscles worked do differ.
With no upper body resistance, a bikeerg only works your lower body. In contrast, the moving handlebars allow an air bike to work the major muscles in both your upper and lower body. In this regard, an air bike is more comparable to a rower or an elliptical.
However, as we look at in the next section, the way our body distributes blood means that the muscles used on a bikeerg almost certainly work harder than they do on an air bike.
A bikeerg will work your:
An air bike will work your:
A bikeerg will provide the ultimate lower body test. With no moving handlebars to test your upper body, all of the power you generate comes from your leg muscles. Because of this, you’ll likely feel a little less out of breath on a bikeerg compared to an air bike, though you’ll feel significantly more fatigue in your legs.
An air bike on the other hand will work both your legs and upper body muscles, in almost equal proportions. This means that while there’s less focus on the legs, overall you’re using more muscle tissue than on a bikeerg, and thus you’ll ‘burn out’ quicker even when working at a seemingly identical intensity.
To understand why this is, we need to consider a property of our physiology called blood shunting, which comes into effect when doing physical activity: When exercising, our blood is directed to provide more oxygen to the muscles that most need it.
On a bikeerg, it’s mostly the leg muscles that are working and so the heart and lungs have the “easy” task of prioritizing blood flow, and delivering oxygen and nutrients to those leg muscles. The cardiorespiratory system doesn’t have to work as hard relative to the leg muscles (which must work very hard).
On an air bike, however, both the major muscle groups in the legs and upper body are in heavy use. This means the cardiorespiratory system must much harder in comparison to transport the same amount of blood to the large number of active muscles. Therefore, the legs get less attention than on a bikeerg, but your heart and lungs are working overtime to try and transport the oxygen and nutrients to the stressed muscles.
In simple terms, the training effect that this has is that an air bike will train your heart and lungs (i.e., your overall cardiorespiratory system) somewhat more than it will develop your musculature endurance, while a bikeerg will increase the endurance of your leg muscles somewhat more than it will train your cardiorespiratory endurance.
Because air bikes recruit muscles in both your upper and lower body, they will tend to burn more calories at an equivalent intensity than a bikeerg, which works your leg muscles only. See the table below for a comparison of estimated calories burned during 15 minutes of exercise on each machine at different intensities and for a few different body weights:
|Calories burned in 15 minutes|
|130 lbs.||175 lbs.||220 lbs.|
|Air bike (moderate effort)||120||160||200|
|BikeErg (moderate effort)||105||140||175|
|Air bike (vigorous effort)||180||240||300|
|BikeErg (vigorous effort)||165||220||275|
|Metabolic equivalent (MET) values|
|Moderate effort||Vigorous effort|
*These estimates are based on values taken from the Compendium of Physical Activity for the BikeErg (using the metabolic equivalent (MET) values for stationary cycling (general) and 161-200 watts (vigorous effort)), and the author’s own experience using his air bike.
Air Bike or BikeErg: What Are They Best Used For?
As we looked at earlier, the training effects of each machine differ.
This has a significant impact when it comes to training goals and which machine we should use. If your goal is cardio endurance, then an air bike is perfect. If your goal is leg strength and endurance, a bikeerg will be a better option.
If you’re into CrossFit, you’ll use an air bike more than a bikeerg (though bikeergs are used in various WODs), and so it’s the more appropriate choice. Plus, an air bike has a greater ability to train your cardiorespiratory system, which will have more crossover into other crossfit movements and exercises. If, however, you’re more into cycling, want the feel of a real road bike, of want to do longer cardio sessions comfortably, a bikeerg is the better choice.
It’s important to note the muscles worked by each bike too. If you’re looking to tone upper body muscles then clearly a bikeerg is not suitable. An air bike though has oversized, moving handlebars that will tone and sculpt your upper body muscles as you work.
The leg-centric nature of a bikeerg though makes it fantastic for developing glutes and toning lower body muscles. It isolates your legs in a way an air bike cannot, replicating traditional cycling (particularly so if you use the cleats).
Application: CrossFit, Fitness, Cycling
An air bike is a key part of any CrossFit training program. If your goal is success at this then air bikes are a suitable and recommended addition to your home.
If you aim to replicate real-world cycling, be it mountain biking or road cycling, a bikeerg can mimic the feel of riding a traditional bike, even replicating uphill and downhill slopes. They can support both sprints and long endurance sessions.
Which bike you get is simply dependent on your training goals. Neither bike is better than the other, but if you’re still unsure which is for you, it may help to take a brief look at the best-in-class options.
Rogue Echo Bike vs Concept2 BikeErg
Rogue’s first foray into the air bike market has been wildly successful, with their Rogue Echo Bike earning rave reviews and excellent sales. Heavy-duty, durable, precision-made, and great value, the Echo Bike is the best air bike currently available.
Having conquered the indoor rower market, Concept2 decided it was time to create a new market and conquer that one too. Their BikeErg is the first and best model on the market. All other bikeergs are based on or shameless copies of the C2 BikeErg. Like all Concept2 equipment, it brings with it high quality, attention to detail, and first-rate performance.
If you’re the type that prefers a quick-glance summary, here you go:
|Rogue Echo Air Bike||Concept2 BikeErg|
|Cost (at time of writing)||$795||$990|
|Monitor||LCD console display||PM5|
|Footprint||58.75″L x 29.34″W||48″ L x 24″ W|
|Warranty||2yr frame||5yr frame, 2yr some parts|
|Where to buy?||Rogue Fitness||Rogue Fitness|
Let’s take a more detailed look at the Rogue Echo Bike vs C2 BikeErg.
At the time of writing, the Concept2 BikeErg will make a slightly larger dent in your wallet, costing approximately $990. The Echo Bike by contrast costs $795.
Both bikes ooze quality. The Echo Bike is a sizable, metal machine making it stable on even the hardest of sprints. Its belt-driven system is smooth and durable making this bike a joy to ride
The 27-inch diameter fan on the Rogue Echo has 10 steel blades, delivering unmatched resistance which creates a tougher workout to leave you both exhilarated and exhausted.
The Concept2’s aluminum frame is hard-wearing and keeps the bike suitably stable. It’s quiet, durable, and smooth thanks to its belt-drive, but it’s the clever damper that wins me over on this machine.
The damper changes the amount of air that gets into the fan housing, meaning you can alter the amount of resistance you experience at a given cadence and thus the intensity of your workouts. A high setting can replicate a road bike’s low gear or uphill cycling, while a low setting can simulate riding on high gear or downhill.
The only drawback of this mechanism is that it must be manually adjusted on the fan housing itself, rather than mechanically or electronically on the handlebars or performance monitor. Having to lean right over and reach down to the housing to adjust the damper doesn’t exactly make for smooth transitions. That said, it does add variety to training on the BikeErg beyond just cadence and is a big plus for the Concept2 vs assault bikes pretty much across the board.
How easy to use
Concept2 always produces high-quality performance monitors, and the PM5 installed on the BikeErg is no different. It makes choosing your workout easy, whether it’s a long endurance run or short interval sprints. It also measures your calories, cadence, pace, and watts so you can keep track of your performance.
The Rogue can’t match the functionality of the PM5 but is simple to use: Step on and burn a stack of calories.
Assembly and functionality
The Concept2 requires a few screws and drivers to assemble but is relatively straightforward to do so. The size of the Rogue Echo makes it a little more difficult (you may need a second person to help move the box around) but both companies keep the assembly as simple as logistically possible with easy-to-follow instructions and useful equipment. Both should take less than 30 minutes (not including unpacking and disposal of the packaging).
Weighing a hefty 127lbs, the Rogue is less portable than the super-light Concept2 BikeErg (68lbs), although its transport wheels do make moving it around a lot easier.
Once you step on the bikes, both machines are surprisingly quiet considering they use air resistance. The noise of the air rushing over the fans means they might annoy your household if you live in a small house, but you shouldn’t be too worried about upsetting neighbors thanks to their belt-driven systems keeping the noise at a minimum.
Both feature adjustable seats, comfortably accommodating a range of heights and weights. Whereas the seat on the Rogue can be adjusted up and down as well as fore and aft, the saddle on the C2 BikeErg can only go up and down.
That said, the handlebars on the BikeErg can be adjusted fore and aft while the moving handles of the Echo Bike are obviously set in the one position. These are different approaches to achieving the same outcome: Ensuring you can find the perfect riding position for you.
The overbuilt nature of the Echo Bike means it can support the tallest of people, while also being adaptable enough to suit those of shorter stature. The C2 BikeErg is a slighter machine, so its max-weight is 50lbs less than the Echo.
Training effect and appropriate uses
The Rogue can deliver a brutal full-body workout with its slightly stiff handlebars keeping the upper body occupied while your legs battle against the 10 steel blades on that enormous fan. This makes it a great option for conditioning programs like CrossFit which focus on full-body development.
The BikeErg is probably better suited to replicating real-world cycling and building endurance in your legs. Using the damper and acclaimed PM5 monitor you can create incredibly intense workouts, simulating uphill and downhill cycling.
Air Bike vs BikeErg: Which is Best For You?
Neither bike is better than the other and which you get depends on your fitness goals. The versatility and ability to deliver a full-body workout make an air bike slightly better for improving general fitness. A bikeerg shouldn’t be ignored though and if your goal is muscular endurance and toning in your legs, along with burning a load of calories, go for a bikeerg.