Cycling is a tried and tested method of exercise and has been popular for decades as both a sport and as a form of cardiovascular exercise. So much so in fact, that it is a common part of many people’s regular exercise routines. A big question that comes along with that, however, is what the best way to do it may be. Outdoor cycling is the standard for most, but as far as exercising goes, indoor exercise bikes are the go-to for many of us too. So which is it?

Both indoor and outdoor bikes are a great exercise in some form or another, after all. They're both useful for training your leg muscles, both are a low impact cardio exercise, and both also help to raise your heart rate and improve stamina and fitness in general. So what's the difference?

They're still massively different, obviously, and that alone is grounds for their own advantages. It's important to know what is best for your needs before jumping in, and we're here to pitch the two against each other and see what really is going to be best for you.


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Indoor Cycling Benefits

Since we love them so much, we're going to start by looking at indoor exercise bikes first of all. They alone are enough to write about!

Control

First up, indoor cycling, of course, has much more controllable factors than outdoor cycling does. Everything is adjustable, from the resistance of the machine to the conditions you are cycling in. You can really tailor your workout to suit you!

However, this can become a downside, especially if the exercise is frequent and begins to become very monotonous. Motivation can really take a hit. Don’t panic, though! There are ways to combat this, like going to classes and working out with friends or trainers to keep it fun and different. The control is still there, and you can mix things up too.

Environment

woman on an exercise bike at home

Biking at home puts you in total control of your surroundings. If consistency is your thing, indoor is brilliant! Get some energetic, motivational music filling your room, notch the temperature down or up until it’s spot on for you, and slip into your ultra-comfortable gym training kit, so you’re ready to smash your workout.

This environmental control is often more than enough to give people more confidence to work out to the best of their ability without fear of looking bad for whatever reason or becoming self-conscious. It's a huge factor if those kinds of things are important to you.

Practicality

Leading from this is, of course, the sheer practicality of an indoor bike. It can be placed in almost any room in your entire home, as well as anywhere else that is practical for you to get the most out of it. It requires next to no maintenance and allows you to work out whenever you are free without having to set aside too much time out of your busy day, keeping you free to do other things that you love.

It’s also one of the most common machines to find in a gym if you are a member or considering joining, so you can get access to this exercise very easily for a reasonable price. Basically, they're nice and easy to keep. You can use them wherever you like without much effort. That's great.

Style Variation

people training on exercise bikes at the gym

Indoor cycling has even more benefits aside from the control and practicality of the machines too. The indoor exercise bike can come in several different variations, such as the classic upright bike, perfect for exercising the cardio system and helps out the legs. On top of those, there are things like assault bikes which take things to a whole new level (see here for more). There are tonnes.

More advanced machines like studio bikes offer a much more specified workout to the cycling sport rather than the exercise. That makes them ideal for the realistic feeling of cycling or training for the sport itself. A big point that's often forgotten about.

This means that it can be useful for people trying to get more exercise and avid cyclists that may not have much time on their hands or if conditions are not practical.

Finally, there is the recumbent exercise bike with a mechanism that allows the user to be almost horizontal and has a backrest, with the peddles in front of the user rather than below. All of that helps to make things much more comfortable. It's great for reducing impact and making the exercise much more kind to joints, widening the range of potential uses.

Cost

One final huge advantage of an indoor exercise bike over an outdoor cycle is that the price for an exercise bike is dramatically lower than a typical outdoor bike. Typically, they'll last for a much longer time too.

These indoor bikes also require less upkeep and less free time and not have many issues in general wear and tear damage. (You're way less likely to get a puncture after all).

Outdoor Cycling Benefits

So it sounds like we've made up our minds, but that's not true. It's always vital to see both sides of the coin. That's the only way to find an exercise that you truly love and will want to keep up long term after all.

Enjoyable

a group pf people cycling in a line on the road

One benefit of cycling outdoors that indoor cycling can't match is the enjoyment factor that so many people love so much. The exercise itself is not only an extremely enjoyable sport for many but is also a very relaxing and enjoyable experience or even a hobby and can be done simply for pleasure. It gives the added benefit of exercising for pleasure rather than exercising as a chore to better yourself. That's massive.

This is also taken even further when the social side of things is taken into consideration. Practically everyone has been out over the weekend and seen a huge group of cyclists all doing their thing, be it racing or just riding. The potential for the hobby is huge, with people riding all over the place with friends sharing a love for cycling. Family bike rides to competitive racing; it all works in your favour.

Environment & Conditions

When looking back to the comfort of exercising in your own home like an indoor bike, the outdoor bike offers the complete opposite to this, but in a good way. Conditions like the weather can drastically affect the workout in more ways than one.

The sunshine, for example, can be a huge motivational factor when considering exercise and can really help give that extra little boost. Even wind can offer a new challenge or a head start and again involve this shifting dynamic: outdoor cycling.

Inclines/Declines

Man cycling down a hill in a wooded area

The act of cycling outdoors in real environments gives a much more functional workout than just cycling at home. The trials will offer inclines and declines, recruiting different muscles and techniques to keep progressing and really offer variation to the ride and the workout.

This means that unlike other exercises such as the use of a studio bike, where the bike often requires little effort to continue the movement and only really utilises the hamstrings at certain points, all of the leg muscles will be used and provides a much more effective workout if the effort is put in.

Outdoors

Outdoor cycling has its own practicalities, just like indoor cycling does. Possibly the biggest practicality is the fact that the exercise is done outside, so you don’t need to clear a huge space just to be able to get the machine in the house.

You can cycle different routes and explore new areas as you see fit or find the best route to suit your needs and your individual goals to really make the most of your workouts. This element of adventure and excitement really does help the motivation keep going and encourages you to get outside and experience new places. You can even take your bike on trips with you and explore newer places.

Travelling

Man cycling through a city area to work

Unlike indoor bikes, the outdoor cycle has its own real-world advantages and usages outside of exercising. Cycling to different places can, of course, be a valid substitute for driving and helps not only yourself but the environment as a whole.

This also applies to other practicalities like commuting to work and avoiding traffic, giving your day a kick start and making you as productive as you can be. This also works well in terms of other life bonuses, such as the commute taking time out of your day anyway, meaning you don’t have to do as much exercise with the rest of your day, giving you more time to do the things you love.

The Winner?

In this clash of titans, both are quite clearly successful in what they set out to do. The indoor bike appears to be better suited to trying to achieve your fitness and cardio goals, especially as part of a balanced and focused workout or on its own in some cases.

It also appears to be very successful in substituting for the outdoor bike at less favourable times of the year. The outdoor bike, however, is clearly still the king of its intended purpose.

It is a great sport and outdoor exercise and even a great hobby! It is fun and healthy; what more can be asked of it. They will both always have incomparable benefits, so it is simply a case of finding what works best for you!


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Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. Exercise.co.uk assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.