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2 Mar 2021

Cross trainer vs exercise bike: which should you buy?

We've examined the pros and cons of these popular pieces of cardio equipment, including costs, how much space they take up, and their health benefits
Woman riding an exercise bike indoors

Gym addicts of the UK rejoice! If all goes to plan, gyms are due to reopen from mid-April. But if you've enjoyed saving money by not forking out for a pricey monthly membership, you may be looking for a more affordable way to get in shape for summer.

It's finally starting to warm up after recent, near-Arctic conditions, making the prospect of an outdoor jog a tad more appealing - and getting outside for exercise is a great way to top up immunity-boosting vitamin D.

But it's also true that the elements can work against us in any season - whether that's torrential April 'showers' or scorching summer heat. Indoor gym kit offers easy access to exercise all year round, and you can pick up a basic exercise bike or cross trainer from around £100.

Exercise bikes are the most popular option; they offer a good cardiovascular workout without putting pressure on joints. But cross trainers offer many of the same benefits and can be unfairly overlooked.

Most of us only have space for one piece of kit, so we've scrutinised the key features and costs of both to help you decide which to go for.

Find out more about these and other popular home gym equipment in our guide on how to set up a home gym.

At a glance: exercise bikes and cross trainers compared

Woman using a cross trainer

A key benefit of both exercise bikes and cross trainers (also known as elliptical trainers) is that they each offer low-impact cardio workouts that cause less stress to your leg joints than running or other high-impact workouts, making either choice ideal for those with joint problems.

They both have variable resistance levels that let you set how much force you need to apply to stay in motion.

Cross trainerExercise bike
Cheapest priceFrom £100From £80
Typical size (length x width)1.5m x 0.7mUpright bike: 1m x 0.5m
Recumbent bike: up to 2m x 0.5m
Average exercise brand customer score*63%64%
Pros- Offers a low-impact workout that avoids pressure on joints
- Works out both lower and upper body
- No risk of saddle friction
- Offers a low-impact workout that avoids pressure on joints
- Natural, familiar cycling movement
- Recumbent exercise bikes available
Cons- Motion can feel unnatural
- Best exercise bike brands outperform best cross trainer brands in our survey
- Doesn't work out arms or upper body
- Long periods in the saddle can be uncomfortable

As you can see, there's little to choose between cross trainers and exercise bikes when it comes to cost, size or how Which? members rated their machines in our 2020 customer satisfaction survey, and both offer a good cardiovascular workout.

Do exercise bikes or cross trainers burn more calories?

This is the question that everyone wants answered but, unfortunately, the answer is similar to that of the age old conundrum: how long is a piece of string?

Some sources argue that, because you're using your arms as well as your legs, you'll burn more calories with a cross trainer; others reckon you'll find it easier to push yourself harder on an exercise bike, so burn more calories this way.

Ultimately, if you put in the effort, neither is better than the other for helping you stay fit and burn calories, but there are some differences in how they operate that are worth considering.

Exercise bikes: key features and benefits

Man riding an exercise bike

Exercise bikes are a great cardio workout, and it's not surprising that they're the most popular home gym product among Which? members, according to our survey.

The cheapest upright bikes cost as little as £80; they'll only offer a few resistance levels, but typically have relatively small frames that you may be able to fold for easy storage.

Mid-range models with more resistance settings, monitoring features and quality of life features can cost over £150, while premium models such as the Peloton bike - with high-tech extras such as stat tracking, live-streamed classes and built-in entertainment - cost the best part of £2,000.

The top-scoring exercise brand in our survey has an impressive 77% customer score. Head to our guide on how to buy the best exercise bike to find out which it is.

Who would an exercise bike be good for?

Man riding a bike outdoors

If you love to cycle, a dedicated fitness machine is the most natural way for you to move your exercise indoors. Whether you're a newbie looking to kickstart your first cardio regime or a seasoned user who wants to peddle against heavy resistance and really get a sweat on, a bike will provide an excellent cardio workout as long as you put in the prerequisite effort.

Exercise bikes won't specifically help tone your arms, though any cardio exercise will burn calories (and fat) and can help improve your overall physique.

Popular exercise bike models

Below, we've selected two popular models of exercise bike at the opposite ends of the price spectrum. To read more about them plus a wider range of models, visit our guide on how to buy the best exercise bike.

  • Budget exercise bike: Opti Manual Exercise Bike (£80). It's basic, but it provides you with the fundamentals for a cycling routine. Buy it now at Argos.
  • Premium exercise bike: Peloton Bike (from £1,750). Peloton has become a household name thanks to its premium range of exercise bikes offering personal training and livestreamed classes. You must also subscribe to its All Access Membership for its classes (£39 a month). Buy it now at Peloton.

Read more about the Opti and Peloton brands in our guides to Argos and Peloton exercise equipment.

Cross trainers: key features and benefits

woman using cross trainer at home

For an equally rigorous cardio workout that also gets your upper body moving, cross trainers have you covered. They're the less obvious alternative to exercise bikes, and the motion may take a while to get used to, but the fact that these machines engage 80% of your body's muscles makes them an appealing purchase.

Plus, because you're standing up, there's no risk of saddle discomfort.

Who would a cross trainer be right for?

If you want to work your upper body to improve tone, then a cross trainer may be a better bet; cross trainers offer a fuller body workout, toning arm, back and shoulder muscles. They can also be a good alternative for someone who enjoys cycling outside but who wants something different to do indoors.

The top-scoring cross trainer brand doesn't do quite as well as the best exercise bike brand, but with an upper customer score of 72% compared to just 51% for the worst, it's still well worth checking our survey findings before making a purchase.

For more on the benefits, read our guide on how to buy the best cross trainer.

Popular cross trainer models

We've highlighted a cheap and a premium option; for more top tips plus a wider selection of popular models, visit our guide on how to buy the best cross trainer.

  • Budget cross trainer: Opti Magnetic Cross Trainer (£150). This popular budget model doesn't have any bells and whistles, but offers eight resistance levels and a forward and backward motion. Buy it now at Argos.
  • Premium cross trainer: Nordic Track Commercial 12.9 (£1,499). Nordic Track has built a name for itself as a premium cross trainer brand. This model is a touch cheaper than a Peloton Bike, but comes with the same type of on-demand workout classes (included in the price). Buy it now at Nordic Track.

Two-in-one models: the best of both worlds?

The differences between the two types of exercise equipment are slight, and what will produce results for you is buying equipment that you will use regularly and push yourself with.

If you're still torn, consider a hybrid exercise bike/cross trainer. These let you mix up your workout, and could be a good choice if you plan on sharing a machine with someone who prefers a different type of exercise.

Choices are limited, particularly at the premium end of the market, where manufacturers focus their efforts on doing one thing well. But here are a duo of budget and mid-range options that could be worth a look.

  • Opti 2 in 1 Air Cross Trainer and Exercise Bike (£140). For an extra £60, you can upgrade the Opti manual exercise bike highlighted above to a hybrid model. Buy it now at Argos.
  • Pro Fitness XTS2000 2 in 1 (£350). This lets you work out either sat down or standing up, with two sets of handles for either style. It has more than 20 user programs and 16 tension settings. Buy it now at Argos.

Is it worth investing in home gym equipment?

Woman staring through a rain soaked window

As the weather warms up and light starts to appear at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, you may be pondering whether it's worth shelling out for home gym equipment.

But don't forget there are benefits that apply regardless of the temperature, or the restrictions we've been living under. Here are a few.

  1. Exercising inside is arguably safer than hitting the streets, eliminating the risk of road accidents, hitting potholes on a bike, or the damage you can do by falling at a high speed.
  2. It can complement outdoor exercise, reducing the risk of bad weather scuppering your enthusiasm.
  3. Indoor exercise equipment lets you control your routine and keep track of progress more easily than exercising outside. You can adjust resistance to simulate your preferred elevation and pace.
  4. Some forms of exercise are trickier to do outside. While you can walk or jog as easily outside as on a treadmill, replicating the movement of a cross trainer is more challenging.
  5. In the longer term, it's a much cheaper alternative than a gym membership; you'd likely only get a couple of months gym membership for the same price as that £80 Opti exercise bike.

All that said, the great outdoors provides endless space to run and ride for cardio, and the best type of exercise is the kind you'll want to do.

Wherever you work out, a fitness tracker could help keep you motivated to reach your fitness goals. Buy the best from our pick of the top fitness trackers.

* Our October 2020 survey of the general public rated brands for different types of exercise equipment. The average customer score for exercise bike brands was 64%, while the average score for cross trainer brands was 63%.

Exercise equipment selected based onpopular UK search terms and availability; we've only selected models from brands that achieved decent scores in our survey. Exercise equipment availability remains limited as a result of lockdown.