While both provide many health benefits, deciding whether an exercise bike is better than a rowing machine depends on several factors. For instance, a stationary bike is ideal for toning the lower body, while a rower is best for full-body workouts.

Let’s compare both exercise bikes and rowing machines in detail in the following sections. Understanding how these fit into your goals and lifestyle should help you decide which machine is best.

Exercise Bike vs Rowing Machine

Before getting into the nuances of these popular fitness machines, let’s differentiate them first in terms of how they work.

An exercise or stationary bike primarily uses the power of your feet and legs to start a constant cycling motion. It’s like any other outdoor bike, but it stays indoors and in one place. You can adjust your speed, resistance level or, sometimes, incline to make your biking workout more challenging. Some models come with movable handles to exercise your arms, too.

On the other hand, a rowing machine uses your upper and lower body to mimic the boat-rowing action. It allows the combination of cardio and strength training in one go. At a leisurely pace, rowing workouts are relaxing but you can also boost your speed or resistance for an intensive training session. These machines function differently. And several other factors make them distinct.

Differences Between Exercise Bikes and Rowing Machines

Here’s a comparison table for a quick look. Scroll down further to learn more.

CALORIC BURN* & WEIGHT LOSSModerate: 210 to 294 caloriesModerate: 210 to 294 calories
Vigorous: 315 to 441 caloriesVigorous: 255 to 440 calories
Best for extended workoutsBest for short, intense workouts
CARDIO FITNESSEasy to learn for faster cardio gains; suits most users of any fitness levelNeeds more practice time for optimum cardio benefits; suits athletes and rowing enthusiasts
MUSCLE BUILDINGStrengthens the lower-body musclesStrengthens the upper and lower-body muscles
INJURY RISKSLower risk of injury; ideal for injury or surgery rehabilitationImproper rowing form can cause knee or back pain
EASE OF USEEasy and comfortable to useMore challenging to master
SPACE EFFICIENCYSmaller footprint but usually not foldableLarger footprint but can be folded or stored upright
COST & MAINTENANCEMore affordable; easy to maintainMore expensive; easy to maintain
*Caloric burn is based on a 30-minute workout. Also, note that caloric expenditure depends on the person’s body weight.

Caloric Burn

Calorie burn rate is probably the most vital deciding factor on whether exercise bikes are better than rowing machines. After all, we use either equipment to increase our energy output and lose weight. So, which one is more efficient in burning extra calories?

According to the findings of Harvard Health Publishing, low to high-intensity cycling and rowing burn the same amount of calories. However, based on the results, you will burn slightly more calories on exercise bikes at vigorous mode than on rowers. Why is that? It’s probably because cycling workouts are easier or less physically demanding than rowing.

The rowing position is not as comfortable, and you need more effort to complete a stroke. Also, constant rowing movement results in significant knee bending that can quickly tire us out, especially beginners.

On the other hand, bike pedalling in a seated position is more comfortable and beginner-friendly. Regardless of your fitness level, cycling is doable. That means you can easily exercise longer than the usual 30 minutes. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is also easier to pull off on stationary bikes. Naturally, longer and more intense workouts lead to more efficient caloric burn. And you will be more motivated to stick to your workout routine when exercises are not that difficult.

Cardio Fitness

Boosting the cardio system is an essential benefit of any exercise. In the short term, good cardiovascular fitness keeps you at a healthy weight, enhances immunity and lowers fat levels. In the long term, these cardio effects protect you from all sorts of diseases, especially as you grow older.

Both exercise bikes and rowing machines provide good cardio, but which is better? For this factor, the stationary bike gets the upper hand. That’s because anyone can use an indoor cycling bike regardless of age, gender or fitness capacity.

Moreover, you do not need a long time to learn proper cycling before you gain its cardio benefits. On the other hand, rowing is a compound movement that needs some practice and figuring out. Some newcomers may not immediately master the proper form, which can affect cardiovascular performance.

Differences between Exercise Bike and Rowing Machine (spin bike vs rowing machine)

Muscle Building

Do exercise bikes strengthen muscles better than rowing machines? Both target the muscles, particularly those in your thighs and butt. This effect is vital if you are using either machine for weight loss. The thighs and buttocks are among the softest parts of our body.

Firming them up by cycling or rowing should give you a better-looking physique as you lose weight. But if your fitness goal is to tone the muscles, you should focus more on using an indoor rower. Rowing machines put more muscles to work than exercise bikes. A rowing machine targets over 80% of your muscles. Each rowing stroke is 65-75% leg work, which includes your glutes, quads and calves (Phung 2013). It’s also a 25-35% upper body workout involving your arm, chest, upper back and core muscles.

On the other hand, exercise bikes focus on your leg and thigh muscles. Varying your bike settings can also target your arms, core and back muscles to a certain degree. But your legs and thighs will still be doing most of the work. It doesn’t mean that exercise bikes are not ideal for muscle training, though. Some athletes, for instance, prefer cycling to make their leg muscles stronger.

Injury Risks

Both exercise bikes and rowing machines are low-impact exercise equipment. That means they boost your heart rate without straining the joints. There’s no jumping or running involved in cycling and rowing, and you have both feet flat on the pedal or footboard.

However, if you’re figuring out which has a lower injury risk, go with an exercise bike. Unlike rowing, a cycling routine will not cause back or knee pain, especially among beginners. Pedalling at low-to-moderate resistance is even suitable for rehabilitating an injury or surgery. A recumbent bike is perfect for this purpose.

While rowing machines are suitable for the elderly, a stationary exercise bike would be a much safer option for them to stay active. Seniors with pre-existing knee or back issues and balance problems will also find cycling more forgiving.

A rowing machine is safe for all. However, you do need to practice and observe the correct form to prevent pain or injury. Find out how long should a senior use a rowing machine. Also, remember not to overuse either cardio machine to avoid muscle soreness post-workout.

Is an Exercise Bike better than a Rowing Machine

Ease of Use

Most of us experienced riding a bike when we were younger. And a few probably do outdoor cycling as a hobby. This fact makes indoor bikes more familiar and easier to use or master. On the other hand, rowing is not a readily accessible skill to many. People would not learn it until much later. So, most beginners will likely struggle and need more time to learn proper rowing.

But then again, modern smart bikes and rowers now come equipped with the latest technology to show a variety of workouts, track your progress and more. Adjustable settings for the seat, console, resistance and incline also ensure you stay comfortable throughout your routine. These extra features should help any user adapt to either exercise machine.

Space Efficiency

Which is better for a small home or apartment: an exercise bike or a rowing machine? Most indoor cycling bikes are about 1.5 metres long and 50 centimetres wide. On the other hand, rowers are typically 2.5 metres long and 60 centimetres wide.

From these average measurements alone, we can say that rowing machines have a larger footprint. However, a rower’s storage mechanism is also worth considering. Can you fold it in half or store it upright to save space? And if you’re doing upright storage, do you have enough ceiling height or clearance?

A stationary bike, while more compact, is usually not foldable. So, in this case, find the machine measurements and have a dedicated space for it at home. Generally, for less spacious home gyms, a compact exercise bike will be easier to handle than a rowing machine.

Cost and Maintenance

Aside from caloric burn, the price and maintenance requirement are most people’s top considerations when choosing a fitness machine. So, which one is more expensive?

A good stationary bike costs between $500 and $1000, whereas an indoor rower of similar quality is around $1000 to $1900. Rowers generally cost more than bikes, and you can usually find a good exercise bike even within the budget category. Consider getting this an exercise bike if you’re on a tight budget.

But what about maintenance? Which one is harder to clean? Indoor bike parts are almost similar to outdoor ones. Cleaning and maintaining a bike shouldn’t be too hard. While it looks more complex, maintaining a rowing machine is easy, too.

All you need is to read your instruction manual and follow the instructions. However, if you have an air rower or exercise bike, you might need more time cleaning the flywheel.

Pros and Cons of Exercise Bikes

Bottom Line

Both exercise bikes and rowing machines are great pieces of fitness equipment. However, consider your goals, preferences, lifestyle and other factors when selecting the machine that suits you best.

If you’re a beginner, want to lose weight or have limited space and budget, a stationary bike is a good option. On the other hand, choosing a rowing machine is an excellent choice for advanced gym-goers into muscle toning and intense full-body workout.

Whichever machine you end up with, a good rule of thumb is to read reviews and a few buying guides. Don’t forget to compare product features and prices, too.

1. Do ellipticals burn more calories than bikes?

A general 30-minute elliptical trainer workout can burn 270 to 378 calories. On the other hand, moderate stationary cycling can burn 210 to 294 calories. So, an elliptical machine burns slightly more calories than a bike. However, boosting your cycling intensity and duration can enhance your caloric burn rate.

2. Is an exercise bike better than a treadmill?

Exercise bikes and treadmills are equally excellent for cardio training and weight loss. But people with joint issues, limited space or tighter budgets may find indoor cycles a better option. On the other hand, experienced fitness buffs who are into high-impact and challenging workouts will likely choose treadmills in a heartbeat.