What Is A Magnetic Exercise Bike & How Do They Work?

Magnetic Exercise Bike

Welcome to this guide where we’ll be looking at one of the different kinds of resistance you can get on a home upright bike. If you’re wondering what exactly is a magnetic exercise bike, we’ll go into detail and help you decide whether or not they’re right for you.

What is a magnetic exercise bike?

Many exercise bikes use something called magnetic resistance which is one of several commonly used methods to provide physical push back when you are riding your fitness bike. It has a number of benefits over competing forms of resistance and is relatively cheap to build into gym gear. There are some drawbacks to this kind of braking however, which we’ll cover below.

The idea behind this is simple and if you’ve ever played around with magnets as a child, you’ll be able to easily grasp how it works. The rider hops on the bike and the pedalling motion turns the crank which will rotate a large front-mounted fly wheel. One or more magnets are built into the into the brakes on the bike and the closer they are to the metal of the wheel, the more work the cyclist will have to do in order to move the flywheel.

Increasing and decreasing the level of work

The resistance is increased or decreased by the magnets being moved closer of farther away from the spinning flywheel. This can normally be set manually or via the built in programs your new bike will have. You’ll have a high degree of control over how much resistance you’ll get which is one of the benefits to this kind of setup.

What’s so good about magnetic resistance and why do so many modern exercise bikes use it?

Woman sitting next magnetic bike

The magnet-style type of resistance has really come into it’s own in just the last few years and we’ve seen it in everything from rowing machines to exercise bikes. It’s relatively cheap to implement, maintenance free and one less potential issue for fitness retailers to deal with after the sale.

As a buyer of a new bike, here are some of the best things this kind of braking has in store for you:

Shhhh! It’s really quiet…

One of the biggest selling points of using this kind of resistance is that it makes a lot less noise than other forms of resistance (see below for what those are!) As there’s no friction or moving air involved, it means that the noise produced by the bike can be minimised.

This is also hugely dependent on the rest of the bike however. A noisy flywheel, or creaking frame will still make a lot of excess noise, regardless of how ‘silent’ the magnetic resistant is. But, on the whole, a decent quality magnetic bike will mean you can cycle in the early hours without waking the rest of the house.

It can make for a lighter bike

Rather than relying on a whopping heavy flywheel, the resistance can come from the simple use of those magnetic brakes.

One less moving part than can wear out

Another problem with friction pads is that they do wear out over time. (Albeit a lot of time!) With magnetic resistance, there’s nothing grinding away and nothing to wear out.

Smoother ride

Another plus with this kind of magnetic resistance is it can often make for a much smoother ride. As such, it’s ideal for anyone looking for a more gentle riding experience than spin bikes.

What kind of bikes have magnetic resistance?

Pedal - Magnetic Bike

There are several popular kinds of exercise bikes on the market, spin bikes (the ones used in classes in commercial gyms, upright exercise bikes, and HIIT style air bikes. We’ve seen magnets used in both spin bikes and especially the upright bikes, where riders remain seated and benefit most from the smoother motion provided by this kind of break back.

Is this the best kind of resistance for an exercise bike?

Here’s a wquick run down of the main kinds of resistance and how it’s used on modern bikes.

Air – Ideal for HIIT as the difficulty ramps up almost instantly. Not for the faint hearted though. This kind of bike and resistance is incredibly physically demanding. It’s also noisy. On the plus side, you’ll get an insane amount of exercise in a very short time. Noisier than magnets but the way to go if you want the toughest workout there is.

Water – Very rarely used in exercise bikes but we have seen some that do use it. More commonly used in rowing machines, where it provides a constant and aurally pleasing kind of workout. As far as indoor cycling, it’s a bit on the expensive side.

Flywheel – A large heavy flywheel can make for a more realistic ride with great feedback through your legs. It can add to the weight and price of the bike though.

Fabric brake pad – The benefit here is you’re getting ‘infinite’ resistance, which can quickly be set to a difficult level, or eased off for bike sprints. Normally found in spin bikes but you can get it in some uprights. It’s noisier than magnets, can need replacing and doesn’t feel as natural either.

What are the down sides of bikes that use magnets?

Woman on magnetic bike

The only real downside with magnetic resistance on an indoor bike is that you can technically out power it if you’re in good shape. There’s a finite limit to the amount of resistance that can be provided with this method and if you’re adept at cycling you might find your out pacing your bike.

Don’t let that put you off however. Just check the reviews and make sure this bike is suitable for your level. Another option is to get a bike that has a combination of resistance types. Normally magnetic and some form of friction-based braking. Then you have the best of both worlds.

Final thoughts – is magnetic resistance the best for you?

For most home users of an exercise bike, magnets are an ideal way to get a solid workout from your bike. It’s quiet, feels fluid and smooth and makes for lighter, cheaper indoor bikes. If you’re a keen cyclist you’ll likely go for a turbo trainer and anyone looking to get into home spin classes should probably go for the industry standard pad braking instead.

If you’re looking for an upright bike and you’re either new to cycling or up to an intermediate level, I’d definitely recommend a bike with this kind of resistance.

Any comments or questions about magnetic bikes, shoot me an email or leave a message below.

Happy cycling and keep working on your fitness goals!

Tom Armstrong

Hey! I've been training in all kinds of places, with all kinds of equipment for the best part of 30 years. I love training with my weights at home and writing about new products and training methods online. Well, with a name like Armstrong, I would have to be into training, right?