What the hell is an air bike, and how can it make me seriously fit?

Everything you need to know about Air Bikes or Fan Bikes and how they can whip you into shape in half the time of other cardio machines

What is an air bike?
Everything you need to know about Air Bikes or Fan Bikes
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It might look like a Victorian fitness contraption but the air bike (or fan bike to some) is one of the most effective ways of absolutely monstering the cardiovascular system, therefore working up a sweat and burning fat in the most time efficient way possible.

Read our best air bike guide

Sometimes referred to as the “Misery Machine” by those who have fallen foul of its punishment prowess, an Air Bike consists of pedals that are attached to a large fan at the front, which in turn is also powered by long grab handles. Think of it as the sweaty lovechild of a classic exercise bike and an elliptical. The result is a piece of equipment that simultaneously works the upper and lower half of your body, requiring the heart and lungs to work doubly as hard to keep up. 

Adored by American Footballers, who often use them to warm up on the touchline, as well as cage fighters and CrossFit types, the Air Bike has experienced a resurgence in popularity with a large cross section of the fitness community, as they work perfectly with en vogue High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Tabata-style workouts, where short recovery sessions and rapidly followed by intense bursts of exercise.

The unique combination of an upper/lower body workout and the fact that an Air Bike’s fan naturally increases resistance as the user increases inputs (it basically offers infinite resistance levels) means it is possible to spike the heart rate with little more than some old-fashioned effort. Perfect if you only have ten or fifteen minutes to exercise.

What is an air bike?

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(Image credit: Unsplash)

How do I use an Air Bike?

Unlike a more traditional exercise bike, elliptical machine, treadmill or step machine, the Air Bike isn’t really designed for long, drawn-out cardio sessions where a few episodes of your favourite Netflix show are consumed via a snazzy multimedia panel. You have to work on an Air Bike to get the most out of it

Search the internet and you will see them referred to as the ‘Devil’s Tricycle’ and even the ‘Misery Machine’ thanks to its inherent ability to leave users sucking for air after a punishing workout. Of course, it is possible to gently rotate the legs for the duration of Friends, but users will soon get bored and will likely have issues with the slightly unnatural cycling experience.

Instead, those serious about fitness should view an Air Bike as the ultimate HIIT machine - employing a workout where you perhaps first warm up for around five minutes, before going hell for leather for ten to twenty minutes and wrapping things up with a decent cool down. We’ve suggested some HIIT and Tabata sessions below. 

Assault Air Bike

The Assault Air Bike is on of the biggest names in the game

(Image credit: Assault Fitness)

Why should I buy an Air Bike?

If you are looking for extremely intense but short workouts, the Air Bike is definitely the contraption for you. Although it is possible to remain in a gentle fat burn zone (around 70 per cent of your maximum heart rate) for extended periods of time, the Air Bike is best used to get the heart rate spiking and coax the cardiovascular system into aerobic and anaerobic states - i.e when you are gasping for breath and essentially training your heart and lungs to be able to push harder and further next time you work out.

The Air Bike is also fantastic as a warm up machine, incorporating the majority of major muscle groups and getting the blood pumping to those areas that require it. Hop on an Air Bike for five minutes before a tough strength workout and it’s a great way go getting the back, shoulders, glutes and hamstrings firing.

Similarly, the Air Bike is also a great tool for rehabilitation, as it doesn’t have the same impact on susceptible joints, such as the knees and ankles, as running or other explosive forms of athletic exercise.    

What is the best air bike to buy?

Like many large pieces of cardio fitness equipment, the Air Bike doesn’t come cheap, with even the very basic machines coasting around £350. However, it warrants parting with a bit more cash to get things like a fully adjustable seat, on-board workout computer and more heavy duty parts that are built to withstand punishment. Plus, the larger the fan at the front, the more air resistance the bike can generate. 

Assault has long been one of the top names and its Elite Assault Air Bike is arguably one of the best out there, featuring seriously chunky parts that even professional athletes have trouble bending and breaking.

Assault also understand that athletes like to isolate body parts, meaning its products feature pegs for resting the feet if focussing on an upper body workout, while it is possible to also focus on the lower body with pedal power alone.

The Schwinn Airdyne AD8 Dual Action Air Cycle is another highly recommended unit, boasting brilliant features, such as a detailed onboard computer that features preset interval workouts, as well and the ability to hook up to ANT+ heart rate monitoring devices for more reliable calorie burn and heart rate zone information.

Realistically, it will come down to budget and the amount of space you have available at home or in the pain cave, as the Air Bike is a hefty piece of equipment that requires a fairly large footprint to incorporate those flailing arms, as well as the large resistance fan.

Schwinn Airdyne A8

The Schwinn Airdyne AD8 comes highly recommended 

(Image credit: Schwinn)

Example Air Bike workouts

The CrossFit community loves the Air Bike (often referred to as the Assault Bike, as that’s the go-to brand), as it has easily quantifiable markers for effort. Essentially, the Air Bike offers infinite amounts of resistance, so athletes can compete on calories burnt in a set period, which you’ll often find in one of CrossFit’s publishing Workouts of the Day (WOD).

For beginners, try easing into the Air Bike with some simple interval training, focussing on the on-board computer’s RPM (revolutions per minute) setting or manually counting your cadence by noting the number of pedal revolutions in a 10-second period and multiplying that by six.

Warm up for five minutes by gently cycling at 40rpm for two minutes and then increasing this figure by 10rpm every minute until you reach the five minute mark. 

What is an Air Bike?

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Once warm, aim to push/pull hard for 30 seconds, ensuring cadence is at 80-90rpm throughout the sprint period, before reducing the speed to 30-40rpm for two minutes. Repeat this interval five to eight times.

Intermediate users can build on these intervals with longer and more intense sprint period, while simultaneously reducing the rest period.

Alternatively, try the CrossFit way and harness your Air Bike’s onboard calorie counter (if it has one) to burn a set amount of calories in a minute. Start with three calories in the first minute, six in the second, nine in the third and so on. It only takes ten minutes for things to really hurt. 

Advanced athletes should look to add additional off-bike exercises to a punishing interval training techniques. An example of this could be a 10-calorie burn on the Air Bike followed by ten burgess off the bike. Alternate between these until five sets has been reached.

Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. When he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing. He's also a man who knows his tools, and he's provided much of T3's drills coverage over the years, all without injuring himself.