Stationary bikes & treadmills are popular options at gyms and as at-home cardio machines.
But which one’s the better choice?
This article does a head-to-head comparison of the fitness benefits and features that exercise bikes & treadmills each provide, so that we can see which equipment’s better suited for our workout goals.
Bikes vs. treadmills: Which one’s better?
There is no clear-cut ‘winner’ between a treadmill and a stationary bike, as far as which one is universally better for everyone.
Both the treadmill and the stationary bike have the advantage in one or more of the following areas, but both offer very similar benefits in several of those other areas too.
I compared many important qualities:
- calories burned
- weight & belly fat loss
- cardiovascular benefits
- muscle building
- bone strengthening
- HIIT potential
- low-impact friendliness
- injury risk
- space required
So the determination of “which one’s better” will come down to each person’s individual needs & preferences.
Up ahead we’ll look at how the treadmill and exercise bike stack up against each other in each of those categories that I just listed.
This will make it easier to decide which one’s a better fit for our respective fitness goals.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant medical & sports science resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
Comparing a bike vs. a treadmill 10 ways
The first 8 of these 10 areas of comparison all deal with how bikes & treadmills affect our health & fitness when we climb on them & go.
You’ll see that in 5 out of the 8 categories they come out even, with no clear winner.
And the last two categories only factor in if you’re planning to buy either a bike or a treadmill and use it in your home.
1. Calories burned per hour
To see whether a treadmill or a stationary bike burned more calories per hour, I consulted with four authoritative & popular calorie calculators & charts:
- Harvard Medical’s calories chart for 30 minutes of activity
- American Council on Exercise physical activity calculator
- HealthStatus.com calorie calculator
- NutriStrategy.com activity chart
(These links open their calculators in separate tabs if you’d like to input your own numbers.)
I compared as many levels of intensity as I could, from slow walking & slow pedaling all the way up to vigorous stationary cycling & sub-3-hour marathon running speeds.
Treadmills & bikes come out pretty even when comparing similar intensity levels, which you have to approximate anyway.
It is true that someone who is able to run at speeds greater than 8 mph for extended periods of time will burn more calories than someone vigorously cycling, like in a Spin® bike class for example.
However – not many people can run at that 8 mph pace for very long, if at all. Dedicated runners who are in excellent shape and regularly compete in 10k races average that speed.
Note: Online you may come across blog posts that say treadmills burn more calories than a stationary bike.
If you do though, notice how they provide no context or research source to back their claims up.
Bottom line: Treadmills & stationary bikes offer generally similar calorie burn rates.
The amount of calories burned per hour on these machines depends mostly on the effort of the person using them.
2. For losing weight & belly fat
Both the treadmill and the exercise bike can be a part of a successful fat-burning weight loss routine.
As I pointed out earlier, they’re capable of burning a lot of calories when you take your effort & intensity up a notch.
Moderate jogging and stationary biking both average a little over 500 calories burned per hour, so consider them even in this area too.
It’s important to realize…that in the end, losing weight and getting rid of belly fat both come down to one thing, and it’s not whether you’re on a treadmill or on a bike.
We lose weight (including belly fat) when the amount of calories we burn is more than the calories we eat & drink, every day.
3. Cardiovascular benefits
Consistent exercise on both a treadmill and a stationary bike are great forms of aerobic exercise that will provide you with cardiovascular & other health benefits, as noted by our US Dept. of Health here.
In a comprehensive review of dozens of research studies comparing the cardiovascular benefits of cycling & running, this report published in Sports Medicine considered both activities similar in their results.
4. Muscle building
But as far as muscle building goes, they fall well short of other forms of exercise, such as strength training.
If you’re looking to develop bigger leg & glute muscles, consider adding a sprint interval routine to either your treadmill or bike workout.
Body types: marathon runner vs. sprinter
Think for a sec about the body type of a long-distance runner, who’s doing a form of cardio similar to your time spent on a treadmill or stationary bike.
Then consider the muscular body of sprinters.
Sprinters have more muscle in their legs than runners or cyclists because of the way that their leg muscles are activated during sprints.
This study originally published in Scientific American goes into detail why sprinting builds more muscle than slow, longer-distance exercise.
5. Bone strengthening
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, high-impact activities like running, jogging, and to a lesser degree walking, all help with strengthening your bones and rebuilding lost bone density.
And the National Institute of Health seconds that emotion too, noting that it’s the weight-bearing exercises like these that trigger your bones to become stronger.
On a stationary bike there is much less impact, because your feet don’t repeatedly land onto the ground or the treadmill.
Riding a bike does provide some bone strengthening due to your pushing down on the pedal at the beginning of each stroke.
But its affect on improving your bone density & bone strength is much less than it is compared to jogging or running.
6. HIIT potential
High intensity interval training has been shown to provide a boatload of benefits.
It’s easy to understand and put into your weekly exercise routine.
Incorporating it into your regular cardio workout a couple of times per week can do wonders for your fitness & weight loss goals, as well as improve several of your body’s key metabolic functions.
Both the treadmill and the exercise bike provide the right kind of aerobic activity that is ideal for adapting to interval training.
7. Low-impact friendliness
The tradeoff of the treadmill’s ability to provide better bone strengthening is that jogging & running are not low-impact exercises like riding a bike is.
Many people with chronically painful joints – knees, hips, ankles – find it difficult to walk for an extended period of time.
And so running is obviously not an option for them either.
One of cycling’s benefits, whether indoors or out, is that it can provide a great aerobic workout that’s non-stressful to the bones & ligaments in your knees, hips, & ankles.
Running on a regular basis can cause its share of injuries due to its high-impact nature.
Advantage: stationary bike
8. Injury risk
Both treadmills and bikes have very low risk of injury since they’re stationary pieces of exercise equipment.
Running outdoors or riding a bike through the streets or countryside have higher potential for injuries.
The treadmill does have a moving running belt. If it were to suddenly stop for some reason, or if you temporarily forgot how fast it was moving, you could lose your balance and fall.
Advantage: stationary bike
This category comparison is for those of you who’re looking to buy a bike or a treadmill for home use.
While both treadmills and stationary bikes come in a wide range of prices, a treadmill will cost more at any tier of quality.
I know this because I have product-tested and evaluated dozens of bikes & treadmills built for use as home cardio machines.
I’ve posted many of those product reviews here on heydayDo.
Good treadmills generally cost more than good bikes
If you’re looking to buy a treadmill you can run on, reliable models that are built to last start at about a thousand bucks and head north from there.
Decent exercise bikes for the home gym can be found a few hundred dollars cheaper than that.
This article of mine Best Heavy Duty Treadmill evaluates 5 of the top-quality treadmills built for home use for avid runners & overweight people alike.
You can see there that the prices can get over $3000 if you’re looking for durability that matches what’s found in the more expensive models you see in commercial gyms.
Comparing the cost of quality
These two pages below list the various product evaluation articles I’ve written after test-driving all kinds of treadmills & stationary bikes.
They can help you get a feel for what quality to expect in different price ranges.
Advantage: stationary bike
10. Space required
This feature also matters only if you’re considering one of these cardio machines for your home.
The floor area required by a stationary bike is much less than that of a treadmill while in use.
And again if you’re intending to run, those higher quality treadmills are even bigger than the low-budget walking models.
Most treadmills and exercise bikes fold up to one degree or another, and the bikes have the smaller space ‘footprint’ there as well.
They’re generally easier to move somewhere to put away if need be, because they weigh much less than treadmills of comparable quality.
Advantage: stationary bike
Bike vs. Treadmill Summary
So we see that the health & fitness benefits that stationary bikes and treadmills provide us are very similar in several key areas:
- Calorie burning
- Weight & belly fat loss
- Cardiovascular benefits
- Muscle building
- Use in high-intensity interval training
The treadmill has the edge for being a better machine to improve your bone density & strength, since running, jogging, & walking are all bone-building weight-bearing exercises.
And the flip side of that coin is that the stationary bike is a much better choice for people who have joint & arthritic pain to such a degree that walking, let alone jogging or running, is too painful of an ordeal to go through.
Exercise bikes are a great choice for low-impact cardio workouts.
The moving deck of the treadmill makes it slightly more risky for possible injury.
And if you’re planning to use one at home, well-built treadmills cost more and are much larger than stationary bikes of similar quality.
I hope that this detailed comparison of bikes vs. treadmills and its accompanying research is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.