Rower vs Air Bike – FIGHT!

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What’s the best metcon equipment for a home gym or garage gym?

Is it the air bike or the indoor rower?

That’s what we’ll discuss here.

We’ll be looking at the pros and cons of indoor rowers like the Concept 2 Model D rower and air bikes like the Assault Fitness AirBike.

NOTE: We’ve posted an up to date comparison of Rower vs Assault Bike over on our sister site, you may want to get the latest details there.

A Concept 2 Rower in use at a gym.
A Concept 2 Rower in use at a gym.

Assault Fitness AirBike - the fan bike most popular in CrossFit
Assault Fitness AirBike – the fan bike most popular in CrossFit

Both are low impact exercise.

There’s no jarring impacts to the joints.

Can’t run? You may be able to row or bike instead.

There’s no jarring impacts when using an air bike.

Concept2 Rower in the gym with an attractive woman
Likewise, the rower is low-impact too.

Back problems? The Air Bike might be the better bet.

Your lower back is kept in a relatively static position.

Concept 2 rower in use
Here we get a glimpse of the dynamic movement of the back when using the rower – the air bike might be better for those with back issues.

The forward lean required for the rower could cause you problems.

The air bike seat gets uncomfortable pretty quick.

Assault AirBike has a minimally comfortable saddle (bike seat)
Air Bike – the seat is pretty uncomfortable. But typically you won’t be on it long anyways. (Insert bike seat joke here.)

The rower is definitely the better choice for stead state cardio or LSD (Long, Slow, Distance) type training.

Couple on rowers in the gym
Rower – not just for attractive women – attractive men can use it too.

The Air Bike is better for intervals and sprints – think HIIT style training (High Intensity Interval Training).

Woman on an assault bike in the gym.
The Air Bike is almost purpose made for HIIT training – High Intensity Interval Training.

But, you can do intervals on the rower as well.

In either case there is little residual muscle soreness (or DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.)

This is because there is not really an eccentric loading in either.

The “negative” part of weight lifting is what makes you sore.

There’s just not much of that at all in the air bike or rower.

Here’s one advantage of the air bike – you can turn it into a “legs only” or “arms only” workout.

To use “legs only” – don’t use the handles.

Woman posing in the gym with an air bike.
Here’s another way to make the Air Bike easier – stay off of it.

For “arms only” – rest your feet on the pegs on the front wheel.

The rower is fully body at all times – you can’t selectively use your arms or legs only.

But more importantly, the air bike is a more miserable experience ALWAYS.

That’s mainly because on an air bike you NEVER STOP WORKING.

On a rower, you are “resting” as you return to the catch position. That’s 50% of the movement.

On an air bike you have to stay in constant motion the entire time – there’s no respite.

You can’t free-wheel, you can’t coast. It’s all motion – all the time.

Let’s move on and talk about logistics and space utilization.

Rower at extension
The rower is full body at all times , unlike the air bike.

Rowers take up more space – but only when you are using them.

Working out in the gym – enjoying these rowers. This takes a good deal of space.

The Concept 2 Model D is easy to hang on the wall , and it breaks into two pieces for convenient storage.

Air Bikes take up a smaller amount of floor space, and there’s no way to hang them on the wall.

Woman on an air bike.
Air Bike – takes up less floor space, but harder to store out of the way afterwards.

But, they typically have wheels so you can move them out of the way quickly and easily.

Air Bike vs Spin Bike

What’s the difference between a spin bike (like Peloton) and an air bike?

There is a lot of difference.

Spin bikes have resistance, but it’s not due to a fan.

Spin bike is more like riding a real bike or road bike.

A Spin Bike in use
A Spin Bike is very different than an Air Bike. A Spin Bike is like riding a real bike – you can coast, you might have to shift gears, etc. In the right circumstances, it is pleasant exercise – especially if you are in the back row.

You might change gears.

You can coast.

Almost forgot – you also don’t use your arms much.

In comparison, the air bike is an all together different experience.

She’s not smiling – because she’s on an air bike. You aren’t here to have fun.

There’s not really any coasting – you can’t free wheel.

The infinite resistance from having to spin the fan means the faster you go, the harder you work – and there’s never a gear change to lighten the load.

You also can push and pull with your arms.

Sexy woman on an air bike with a view out the window.
Air Bike – having a view out the window makes it slightly more bearable.

And air bike is more of a full body workout.

It’s also less pleasant.

As we discussed earlier, when you are on an air bike you never stop working.

That’s why the air bike is a more miserable experience.

In short, are you trying to replicate an on the road bike riding experience?

You want a spin bike.

if you are “engine building” or want the ultimate metcon tool – get the air bike.

Rower vs Air Bike – In Summary

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

The Rower and Air Bike are both low impact, full body exercise.

They both require a relatively expensive piece of equipment.

You can get excellent results using either exclusively.

But, it’s also fun to have choices – I like to do them both.

Sexy woman on an air bike with a view out the window.
Air Bike – This stock photo was so good I decided to use it twice.

Air Bike or Rower?  Which is the best metcon tool for you?


  1. This site has plenty information I, as a beginner, am looking for. I found it when searching for “bike vs rower”. I got echo bike, but I also want to get rower. I am in the 50s and the doctor told me to keep the heart rate below 140. The echo bike is very good, but I can easily get my heart rate above 150. This is why I plan to get the concept 2 rower as soon as these are back in stock.

  2. Hi, I am looking for a home gym complement piece of equipment that won’t collect dust after 3 months. I have used rowers as a part of crossfit – almost always for the warm up, and sometimes in the WOD. I a not familiar with the air bike/echo bike. My base has minimal space and some maneuvering of either rower/bike is necessary. I am a former triathlete but the stationary bike bores me to death. Dreadmills do the same. I have spent years on both. I am 55+, overweight, powerlifter, professional dieter :} , in need of aerobic conditioning. I use to spend hours+ running and biking but cannot anymore. I still cannot decide bike vs rower for my cardio, warmup, heart health, fat loss.

    • I think the rower will be more useful to you. That said, it’s as stationary as everything else you’ve mentioned that you don’t enjoy. Personally I have both so I can mix it up – that helps me from getting bored with one or the other.

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