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Weight loss tips: How much weight can you lose riding a bike?

Learn how many calories you can burn just from cycling

A man in helmet riding a bike on a road with railings with a view of a mountain and forest in the background.
Getty Images

You likely have fond memories of riding your bike as a kid, but what about now? Is your bike gathering dust in the garage? If you are wondering, “Is cycling good for weight loss?” then you will be happy to hear that it can be a great tool to use on your fitness journey. In general, there are numerous benefits to cycling, including free transportation and getting to spend time outdoors.

More of us are finding ourselves at home behind a computer screen more than ever before. The modern American adult spends up to 11 hours a day sitting, and if you work a desk job, you are likely hitting that number. To get exercise, most people hop into a car and head over to the gym or attempt to gain the self-motivation to work out at home. But imagine if getting from point A to point B provided us with the daily exercise required to meet our weight loss goals.

A man with black backpack and white helmet cycling to work on a road.
Biking

Can you lose belly fat by cycling?

Belly fat is infamously stubborn and difficult to get rid of, so finding an effective way to defeat it has become a hot topic. To understand if cycling offers victory in the battle of the bulge, it’s important to understand the mechanisms of losing weight.

It’s as simple as this: You lose weight by burning more calories than you consume through food. Any physical activity will burn energy by utilizing the calories we ingest. Say you want to ride your bike to work. You first take in a hearty breakfast, say, 500 calories, before hitting the streets on your pocket rocket. You start working up a sweat, and as you do so, your body depletes the energy derived from the breakfast you just ate.

Once your body has burned off your 500-calorie breakfast, it has to turn inward for additional energy reserves to get up that cursed hill that you dread. Your body then turns to your fat reserves to complete this task — some of which could be belly fat. So, riding a bike will burn belly fat if we expend more energy whilst riding the bike than the energy we gained from the day’s food. However, it is important to keep in mind that everyone burns fat in certain areas before others based on factors such as gender and genetics.

Diet is fundamentally as important in weight loss as exercise. By this logic, then any physical activity can be used to burn off calories, right? Right! However, we are impatient and pressed for time. Taking a walk burns calories, but people run because it burns many more calories in a shorter period. So, the next important question is, “How many calories are burned through cycling compared to other forms of exercise?” We turn to science and data to answer this question.

This Harvard study looked at calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weight classes across a massive range of exercises. The following table summarizes the important data, showing calories burned in a 185-pound individual performing the activity for 30 minutes.

Activity Calories burned
Weight lifting: General 133
Circuit training: General 355
Aerobics: Low impact 244
Running: 5 mph (12min/mile) 355
Bicycling stationary: Moderate 311
Bicycling: 12-13.9 mph 355
Bicycling: BMX or mountain 377

As you can see, bicycling does burn an impressive amount of calories compared to other common forms of exercise. Here, the type of cycling, as well as its length and intensity, becomes critical when determining the effectiveness of the exercise. What we mean by that is this — a 30-minute HIIT cycling class at the gym looks very different from a leisurely 30-minute Sunday bicycle ride to the nearby grocery store on a flat road. The key here is exercise intensity and length.

Want to lose weight and get fit by riding a bike? The great news is that we’ve shown that cycling is, in fact, highly effective at burning calories and, therefore, body fat. Now it’s time to shift up a gear.

A man's hands holding the pedal of his bicycle as another male cyclist overtakes him on a road by a body of water.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How much should I cycle a day to lose weight?

The answer to this question largely depends on your age, starting weight, and fitness level. A person who cycles every day will use fewer calories for the same cycle than someone who has never cycled before because their body has adapted to this exercise. So, in terms of how many calories a person should aim to burn through each cycling session, there is no one answer. But that’s a disappointing answer, so let’s try to do better.

Many trainers, health gurus, and exercise advocates say that burning 400 to 500 calories a day through exercise is a good goal to set your sights on. In this article, certified trainer Brooke Taylor recommends burning 500 calories in exercise sessions five times a week. Using this rule of thumb and the data used in the Harvard study, we can determine how long it would take to reach the 500-calorie mark performing these cycling exercises.

There you have it! It takes approximately 45 minutes of moderately intense cycling for most adults to reach their calorie expenditure needs through cycling. Do this five times a week, and you’ll burn 2,500 calories!

Cycling type Minutes required to burn 500 calories
Bicycling stationary: Moderate intensity 48
Bicycling: 12-13.9 mph 42
Bicycling: BMX or mountain 39

Cycling can be an affordable and efficient way to get in some exercise and lose weight. With the added bonus of being an environmentally friendly form of transport, bike riding to and from work or to the grocery store can be a great way to reach your daily exercise goals. If you are looking at using a bicycle as your main form of exercise, a good way to start is by riding for 45 minutes at moderate intensity. This will burn approximately 500 calories per cycling session, setting you on track to meet average weekly exercise goals.

Is 30 minutes of cycling a day enough?

While we do mention 45 minutes as a great place to start, 30 minutes daily will certainly positively impact your health as well. You would likely burn around 330 calories in that period, and that would add up to 2,310 calories per week if you are consistent. If your work or school is 15 to 30 minutes away, consider making biking there a part of your routine.

Man cycling on road
Photoboyko / Adobe Stock

Is outdoor cycling better than indoor cycling?

One drawback to cycling, especially for people who live in colder climates, is that it can only be a seasonal activity. Thankfully, when it gets too cold, you can head indoors to get your ride in on an indoor stationary bike. But does that give the same level of exercise as an outdoor bike?

The answer, for the most part, is yes. However, unlike riding outdoors, where intensity and resistance come naturally with hilly terrain, most indoor bikes need the rider to vary intensity and resistance manually, and if you forget to do that, it can make the workout too easy. However, if you use a programmed workout on the bike, you can get a solid workout on a stationary bike, with the added bonus of not having to dodge traffic while you’re riding. So, it really comes down to what you prefer, but biking inside or outside can be a great way to lose weight.

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Christine VanDoren
Christine is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist with an undergraduate degree from Missouri State University. Her…
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