Anyone working in the health and fitness sphere will have a story about an air bike, and will hence naturally desire the best air bike. Why? Because they have the ability to topple even the most seasoned athlete thanks to the punishing workouts they are capable of delivering. Air bikes look tough and will make you tough if you use them often enough.
Like a strange amalgamation of an elliptical machine, exercise bike and giant desk fan, the best Air Bikes uniquely work the upper and lower body in unison thanks to its familiar crank and pedal set up that is mated to a slightly less recognisable set of stalks or handles. Drive some torque through the cranks and those handles move, meaning users can supplement power from the legs with the mighty back and shoulder muscles - creating a sweaty workout without the punishment on joints.
Although they take up a similar footprint to, say, a static bike or bicycle mounted to a turbo trainer, they offer so much more, delivering a pounding workout that perfectly compliments High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions.
See, the large fan at the front means users are treated to almost infinite amounts of resistance. There are no dials or fancy electronic settings here, because an Air Bike simply gives back as much as you put in.
What is the best Air Bike?
Rewind a few years and there was really only one name in the Air Bike game and that was Assault Fitness. The AssaultBike has been a regular fixture in CrossFit Boxes and on professional sports training grounds for some time now, acting as a mightily efficient way to get the blood pumping or add that cardio edge to a strength workout.
The AssaultBike Elite (£1,249.99) is still arguably the daddy and many professional athletes will back up that fact, simply because it is built to take absolute units and its resistance delivery is beautiful smooth, predictable and linear.
That said, Schwinn is now a close contender and its Airdyne range is also well worth considering, especially if budgets are slightly tighter. In fact, there’s not much separating our top spots here, so it will likely boil down to price for most buyers who aren’t keeping fit for a living.
Buying an air bike: what you need to know
Unlike the running machine, cross trainer and exercise bike market, there isn’t a huge array of choice when it comes to picking an Air Bike. This is good news, in so much as you don’t need to trawl through pages and pages of options, but not so good when it comes to choice and a variety of price points.
Cheaper bikes can be found, and we’ve included some of these in this very list, but the fan at the front tends to be smaller, meaning the amount of resistance the bike produces tends to be measly. Above all else, the general build usually involves lots of plastic and soft metals, meaning they can’t withstand the daily torture of a hardcore HIIT session.
Of course, you can get a relatively gentle workout from these machines but it sort of defies the point. They deliver the best results when properly pushing the body through heavy sprint intervals, followed by periods of rest. More basic models don’t really allow for users to hit this maximum effort.
The sweet spot is around £500, where manufacturers like Schwinn offer a paired-down version of its halo models that are built to last and offer the resistance users demand. So when buying, look out for those models that boast single stage-belt drives, which essentially create resistance through the use of a large fan, rather than messing about with flimsy chains and the manual brakes.
On top of this, the further you move up the price range, the more features you generally get. More comfortable saddles, better adjustability, an on-board performance-tracking computer, wind deflectors to reduce the fan breeze and footpads for isolating the upper body are just a few good examples.
The best air bikes, in order
The brand is one of the originals and still widely regarded as the best, but the AssaultBike Elite is a chunkier, more robust version of its best-selling AssaultBike Classic, which has been known to cause commercial gym owners a few headaches. Here, the frame, fan, handles and seat post have all been beefed-up to cope with the sort of athlete that can produce enough wattage to power a small business for a week.
For the rest of us, it means we get greater peace of mind surrounding what is, let’s face it, a fairly sizeable investment. But not only does this machine feel like it’s built to withstand enemy fire, it also provides one of the smoothest and natural feeling rides around, with brilliantly linear resistance delivery.
Perhaps one of the biggest let downs is the provided seat, which is a tad uncomfortable and gets a bit slippery as the workout progresses. But it’s not a major issue, because it uses a common rail system, meaning you can essentially opt for any saddle you like.
The rest of the build is absolutely brilliant, with oversized steel used where possible and robust twist grips used for any of the adjustable features. The handles have also been revised for greater versatility and although there aren’t as many grab positions as the Schwinn Airdyne, the AssaultBike Elite covers all of the important bases, allowing for a classic pronated overhand grip and a more bicep-centric hammer grip. There are also footpegs for resting feet and isolating the upper body.
Unlike much of the competition, the AssaultBike Elite features a computer that doesn’t require mains power or batteries. Because of this, the LCD is fairly basic but allows users to connect with Bluetooth and ANT devices for accurate heart rate read-outs. From this, it’s simple to access the basic time, distance, and calorie goal programs but there are also some neat built-in HIIT timers.
Above all else, the user experience is easily the best out there. Everything feels extremely well built and the fan’s resistance is delivered so smoothly. There are no awkward lags to contend with and the handles don’t feel like they are about to snap off in your hands. It’s a hardcore unit that takes home-based interval training to the next level.
• Read our Assault AirBike Elite air bike review
The JTX Mission Air Bike is a robust home exercise bike that can provide a full body workout in itself. It is small enough to be transported around the house if needed but stable enough to stay still when it’s time to work out on it. The fact that it doesn’t require an external power source makes it ideal for non-communal spaces such as garage gyms or home gyms set up spare rooms.
And it is probably best to keep the JTX Mission Air Bike away from communal areas at home as it can generate quite a lot of noise when the fans are going full speed. If you don’t mind the noise – or have a decent pair of noise cancelling headphones at hand – we would recommend getting the JTX Mission Air Bike, especially if you are after a cardio machine that can work your whole body, hard.
• Read our full JTX Mission Air Bike review
Like the aforementioned AssaultBike, the Schwinn Airdyne AD8 feels weighty and robust straight out of the box. How do we know? Because simply bolting this thing together is enough of a workout for one day.
Despite its hefty components, it feels surprisingly compact for such an aesthetically intimidating piece of fitness equipment and its smooth pedalling experience and cleverly perimeter weighed performance fan ensure that resistance is delivered predictably.
The multiple grab handle positions are excellent too, allowing the user to rest weary shoulders during a punishing workout or at least divert some of that lactic acid to other areas. An onboard computer works best with the provided AC adaptor but there is an option to install two D batteries if that’s not possible.
Once active, the computer easily syncs with most heart rate monitors via Ant+, giving a much more realistic read-out on calories burned. Users can also call up info on watts generated, time, distance, speed and RPM, with nine built-in programmes that range from interval sprints to dedicated fat burn and aerobic programmes.
Again, the seat is a little awkward to get used to and some areas on the display are difficult to read. Annoyingly, the provided bottle holder isn’t really deep enough for proper bicycle bottles and there’s nowhere to place a smartphone during a workout, which could be annoying if you are using MyZone or other fitness trackers during a workout. But it’s difficult to fault the overall build quality and rider experience, which is definitely up there with the best of them.
Perhaps not quite as beefcake as the Elite and Schwinn, this offering from Taurus still sits at the top of its range and features high end materials to ensure that it can take a battering from even the fittest of individuals.
It uses largely the same resistance technology as the more expensive options, although slightly less attention has been paid to the quiet operation and wind deflection that you get with the more expensive options here. On top of this, the onboard computer is a more pared-back affair, tracking speed, distance, time and calorie burn, with the ability custom programme interval training sessions. There’s just not the option to pair a smartphone or heart rate monitor, like there is with the pricier rivals.
Still, this top spec Taurus has been reinforced in all of the important places, ensuring it delivers a smooth but extremely robust ride, no matter the strength or experience level of the user. This is most apparent in the arm joints, which have been reinforced to ensure there is no lateral play or risk of them prematurely breaking.
Sitting at the opposite end of the price spectrum to the AssaultBike Elite, the Fitfiu BELI-150 really is for those who are keen to merely dip a toe in the Air Bike waters. The build quality is reflected in the price, so go hard on those handles and they are likely to work free after a while.
Although the fan offers increasing levels of resistance as the user pusher harder, it is also possible to adjust manually via a twist grip mounted to the crossbar. It means the riding experience isn’t as natural as rivals listed here and it can’t offer the sort of punishing resistance levels that hardcore HIIT fans demand. That said, it is neat, small and light, making it perfect for those with cramped spaces at home.
Think of this as the Schwinn Airdyne AD8’s little brother, packing much of the same fan technology into a much smaller and lighter package. The upside is a similar focus on solid build quality, while the fan technology is extremely smooth and reliable (if a bit loud)
The downside is the relative lack of resistance compared to its larger sibling and the fact the arms and cranks aren’t quite as resilient to those users who can push serious power through the pedals.
An onboard computer tracks all of the important metrics and even saves data on previous workouts to ensure users progress over time. Although it does have an annoying habit of cycling through metrics, rather than resting one one.