Are you shopping for a new cross trainer? On top of the various models and features to consider, you’ll have to overcome the rear-drive vs front-drive elliptical hurdle, too. So, which one is better?
If cost and space are your priority, then the less expensive, more compact front-drive elliptical is best for you. However, if performance and longevity are more important, consider spending more on a rear-drive elliptical.
The choice between these two elliptical set-ups is dependent on several other factors. There’s also stride length, maintenance and noise level, to name a few.
Let’s describe each of them more so you can compare better and choose the machine that best suits your preference and needs.
Rear-Drive vs Front-Drive Elliptical
The drive mechanism of an elliptical trainer refers to the location of its flywheel – a metal disc that moves the pedals and handlebars.
A flywheel in the front is a front-drive elliptical. Similarly, a flywheel at the back is a rear-drive elliptical trainer.
You might think that the flywheel placement makes little difference.
But it does affect several factors that make your elliptical machine a fair or excellent choice.
Here’s a comparison table for quick reference. Scroll down further for a more detailed explanation.
|Flywheel at the back
|Flywheel in front
|Up and down motion in an upright position
|Forward and backward motion in a leaning position
|Longer for optimum stride length
|More compact for tight spaces
|Heavier flywheel for smooth, quiet rides
|Higher incline levels
|Heavy and bulky
|Not very suitable for tall users
|Requires frequent maintenance
The rear-drive elliptical came first before its front-drive counterpart.
Although these machines look almost the same, one of the noticeable differences is the feel or motion you get when using either.
For instance, the rear-drive machine makes you feel like bouncing up and down.
Some prefer this natural movement as it is more akin to running outdoors or on a treadmill.
Users also say they tend to stay upright while pedalling this elliptical type.
On the other hand, front-drive ellipticals elicit a shuffle-like movement, where your feet go forward and backward.
It is more linear, and the feeling is similar to a stair climber.
Also, using the front-wheel-drive elliptical makes you lean forward towards the handlebar.
Verdict: There is nothing wrong with either of these exercise motions and forms. It’s all up to your preference and comfort level.
Front-drive elliptical machines generally have smaller dimensions. These are best if you have limited space or a small home gym.
But there is one crucial downside of using an elliptical with a small footprint: shorter stride length.
The stride length is the distance of the foot pedals at their furthest point away from each other.
With an optimised elliptical stride, you can activate the right muscles and get optimum toning and calorie burn.
So, if you are tall or have long legs, you are likely better of with a rear-drive machine.
While this type is bulkier and takes up more floor space, it should make your stride feel less awkward.
Verdict: For this rear-drive vs front-drive elliptical factor, choose the latter to save space. But taller users should go for a rear one to ensure optimum stride length and body workout efficiency.
A relevant factor in elliptical size is the flywheel weight. You see, front-wheel-drive machines are more compact primarily because they have smaller flywheels.
On the other hand, rear-drive machines are usually bulkier because of a heavier flywheel. But for smooth routines, an elliptical with a heavy flywheel is best.
Moreover, the extra weight makes the machine more stable. It also minimises noise as moving parts of your elliptical tend to rattle less.
Verdict: Pick a rear-drive elliptical for a steady, quiet, and smooth elliptical workout. Alternatively, you can consider getting a high-end front-drive unit with a heavy flywheel.
Adjusting the incline of your elliptical is one way to burn more calories and build muscle. But this factor is a matter of personal preference.
If you want to incorporate incline into your body workouts, front-drive ellipticals typically have higher adjustable settings.
The NordicTrack 9.9 Elliptical, for example, can go up to 20%.
But if pedalling uphill is not your cup of tea, rear-drive ellipticals have lower incline levels.
Verdict: Go for a front-drive elliptical if you prefer working out with intense incline options. But you can also stick to a flat incline with a rear-drive unit.
The rear-drive design is simple and requires fewer moving parts.
That means there are fewer machine components that would need repair or replacement. With fewer moving parts, noise is minimal, too.
On the other hand, a front-drive design has more small parts, making elliptical maintenance more crucial. There’s a higher chance for them to break down or need service.
This problem is likely for cheaper front-drive ellipticals, where pedals run on rails at the back. Their single-wheel rollers can wear out quickly with frequent use.
Verdict: Rear-wheel-drive ellipticals are generally more low-maintenance. And this should make them last longer, too. But front-wheel-drive models are equally durable, provided that you allocate time to clean, stabilise and check them from time to time.
Rear-drive models generally cost more than front-driven machines. So, if you are buying on a limited budget, it’s best to look at the front wheel range.
However, as mentioned earlier, front-drive ellipticals are also high maintenance.
While their initial cost is more affordable, breakdowns or part replacements can add to your expenses.
Verdict: Front-wheel-drive models are more budget-friendly. But before buying, make sure to assess their construction and customer service. Check their warranty coverage as well.
Which Elliptical is Best for Me?
The best elliptical trainer for you depends on your workout goals and preferences.
And judging from our point-by-point comparison, we can see that both ellipticals cater to different user needs.
Here’s a quick guide for you to make selection easier.
Choose a front-drive elliptical if you:
- are a beginner or casual elliptical user
- prefer an intense workout with variable incline levels
- have limited space or budget
Choose a rear-drive elliptical if you:
- are an experienced elliptical user
- like smooth and quiet elliptical workouts
- can spend more on a low-maintenance machine
This rear-drive vs front-drive elliptical comparison highlighted how one change in machine design makes a big difference.
And thanks to that, ellipticals are now more adaptable to our individual needs. Have you decided which one to get or use from now on?
Check out my elliptical cross trainer buying guide if you want to learn more about this machine and its features.
1. Are there different types of ellipticals?
Aside from flywheel placement, ellipticals also come in various design types. These include the compact, standard, cross trainer and glider models. Usually, the type of elliptical machine also dictates its weight and stride length.
An elliptical flywheel that weighs 9 kg is ideal for home users. But flywheels can be heavier than this, especially those for commercial gym use. Machines with heavier flywheels generally perform better but are more expensive. The best way to choose is to test some out and evaluate them based on comfort, stability and noise level.
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