The Match-Up: “In this Corner…”
The Assault Fitness AirBike and Rogue Fitness Echo Bike are the two most common examples of flywheel bikes found in CrossFit affiliates and other functional gyms. Whether as a cause or an effect, this means that most of the competitions that involve an event including an AirBike use one of these two brands.
The Assault Bike is by far the most common bike historically, but when Rogue Fitness released their version, the Echo Bike, in the end of 2017 it became popular almost immediately. This is largely because of Rogue’s great rapport with the fitness community at large. I’ll compare the two brands, first based on the product itself (user experience) and then on how the units (Calories, Watts, Distance) stack up.
Which Bike is a Better Buy?
With similar price points, the Echo Bike is often described as “overbuilt” in a favorable sense, as in it’s sturdy and won’t break down. The Echo Bike is belt-driven, which makes the ride slightly quieter and often smoother. Plus, the chain of the Assault Bike is a frequent weak link during max effort sprints, occasionally resulting in catastrophic failure. But most chain breaks happen from sudden stops: a user error. The Echo Bike directs more “wind” towards the user, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your climate. If you live in a colder climate, considering putting a shield for wind on your Echo bike, offered as an upgrade through Rogue.
While the Echo Bike is similar in overall size to the Assault Bike, it is a bit bulkier. This includes a slight increase in handle height and width (distance apart), which can create inefficiencies and discomfort for smaller athletes. The seat on the Echo Bike is limited in forward slides, where the Assault Bike is limited in backward slides. This may factor into your consideration of which product to buy if you are a very tall athlete (prefer Echo Bike) or very short athlete (prefer Assault Bike).
The Rogue Echo Bike is more responsive than the Assault Bike in the sense that it spins up and winds down quicker. This prevents “Ghost Calories,” which is a phenomena where an Assault Bike rider continues to get (possibly several) calories once they have gotten off the bike because of the momentum spinning of the machine. My estimates are that the Echo Bike cuts the number of Ghost Cals in half.
Outside of Ghost Calories, this increased responsiveness of the Echo Bike has some implications for overall feel of the ride. Some athletes like it because they need less time getting the bike up to speed, but personally I find the momentum of the Assault Bike to mimic what happens on the road or trail (a real bike) more closely. Then again if your goal is carryover to actual cycling, I would recommend the Concept 2 BikeErg over any of the AirBike brands.
Ultimately, I think there are advantages to both brands and they are similar products in both quality and price. I know many affiliate owners and athletes who prefer the Echo Bike, but I still lean towards the Assault Bike for my personal preference.
Check out more specs and pricing on the Assault Bike here.
Check out more specs and pricing on the Rogue Echo Bike here.
Do Both Brands Measure Output the Same?
In terms of how they measure work, the bikes are comparable, but they are definitely not identical. By no means would you want to compare your results on a test-retest from one with the other. However, I wouldn’t even do that with a bike of the same brand and generation, especially with the Assault Bike. For this reason, if you do a test on one bike, I would only recommend using that exact bike to do your retest. This is because even within brands there is variation of resistance. These models base calories, distances and watts on the Revolutions per Minute (RPMs), so even though one bike (of the same brand) may spin with less effort, since the RPMs stay consistent so do the calories, distance and watts. Basically, there are inaccuracies.
Older models of the Assault Bike -that have the pedals with rubber tread- tend to spin at higher RPMs with the same effort than the newer models that have metal pedals. The main reason for these intra-brand differences is deformation of the fan blades over time. If a few of the fan paddles become slightly turned, a common occurrence, they become more aerodynamic and slice through the air easier, resulting at higher RPMs at the same bodily output.
Both AirBike brands lack an on-board computer like Concept 2 products (the reason why C2 rowers are used in the Open), so there is no account for the discrepancy (the reason why AirBikes aren’t used in the Open).
Counting Calories (& other measures)
Comparing the models, there is a general consensus in the CrossFit community that the Echo Bike is slightly more difficult than the Assault Bike, especially when the RPMs climb in all out effort. At cruising RPMs, the difference is less noticeable.
Depending on which Assault Bike you measure it against, you are looking in the neighborhood of a 8-12% reduction on RPMs on an all out effort. This is a ballpark figure because each person’s peak wattage will be different, and therefore so is their place on the power curve.
The Assault Bike is what I call a “Momentum Machine” because it rewards the sprinter. That is, the athlete that can get it up to speed and then slowly bleed watts for the rest of the effort is rewarded.
This concept of “bleeding watts” is a much more effective strategy for gaming the Assault Bike (I talk about it here) then it will be for the Echo Bike.
The takeaway: There is variation (up to 15%) between brands as well as individual bikes.
Too Many Discrepancies for Online Competitions?
Practically, the implications of this are that you don’t want to compare a score on one bike with the score on another. This is the fundamental reason why an air bike has never been included in the CrossFit Open or other CrossFit online qualifier events for Sanctionals. One, there isn’t one brand that has a monopoly (like Concept 2 for the rower). Two, each brand has slightly different metrics for the same output. Three, there are discrepancies within the same brand. Until the AirBike can be universally standardized, it will be reserved for competitions that have a fleet of bikes within the same model (e.g. CrossFit Games, Sanctioned Events, Local Competitions).
Nonetheless, the AirBike is an incredible tool for driving adaptation and even if you are an athlete training solely for the Open or another Online Qualifier, I would still recommend using it in training. The difference is you should aim to use it as a means to drive adaptation rather than optimizing (a.k.a. gaming).
Want more? Listen to Training on the Assault Bike on The Fitness Movement Podcast.
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