Does Cycling Count Towards Your 10,000 Steps: Converting cycling into steps


Aiming for 10,000 steps a day is a common challenge, with many of our Fitbits, and Smartwatches tracking this number for us. But can you use the time you spend cycling towards these steps?

In general, the time you spend cycling counts toward your daily steps. However, using your smartwatch to work out how many steps you do while cycling is not accurate. The best way to work out how many steps your cycle is worth is to use a conversion table. For example, 2000 steps are equal to 4 minutes of cycling.

If you are looking for more information on the conversion tables or if you are looking to work out how many calories you burn while cycling compared to walking, take a look at the rest of the article below.

Should cycling count towards steps?

It has been shown that people who take more than 7500 steps each day live longer. While the initial aim for 10,000 steps started as a marketing campaign from a Japanese company selling a pedometer, the fact that studies have shown that the number of steps you take each day correlates with your life expectancy is the main reason people still aim to hit that 10,000 step goal.

When you remember that the reason for aiming for this step count is to become healthier and be fitter, it’s easy to appreciate that cycling should count towards your step count.

It is however important to remember that the 10,000 steps per day recommendation is not a replacement for a workout. One of the main advantages of the 10,000-step goal is that you are spending less time sitting down and more time moving around. The whole point of living a more healthy lifestyle is about making changes that happen outside the relatively small amount of time each week you exercise.

Why does cycling not count as steps?

The amount of energy you expend for each pedal you do on a bicycle is not equivalent to how much effort it is to take a step (you have to put more effort into pushing off from the ground while walking). Put simply, it is easier to pedal 10,000 times than it is to take 10,000 steps.

You can’t directly count each pedal of a bike as a step on your step tracker.

When using a pedometer or fitness watch while cycling, you may well find that the cycling you do is not picked up by the device.

How do you convert cycling to steps?

Many people will work out how many steps their cycle was worth by simply calculating how many miles they cycled and seeing how many steps this is.

Any site that starts by telling you to start using a ruler, pedometer, and pencil to work out your stride length, is simply working out how many steps in distance you cycled. This isn’t really what you are looking for when you want to know how many steps your cycle is equivalent to.

There are 2 main methods to convert your time spent cycling into steps. The first option is best if you are using the 10,000 steps goal to get generally fitter or become healthier, the second method is better if you are using the 10,000-step challenge for weight loss.

Method 1: Converting cycling to steps for healthy living

As per the UK’s national guidelines for living healthily. We should all be aiming for 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Cycling falls into the moderate exercise category.

If we presume that this 150 minutes of exercise is being split evenly over the week, this equates to 21 minutes of cycling per day. So 10,000 steps of walking each day is equivalent to 21 minutes of cycling, which at the average speed of 12mph is 4.28 miles.

For this conversion, the speed at which you are cycling does not impact how many steps your cycling is equivalent to.

Converting the number of steps to minutes of cycling

Number of stepsMinutes of cycling (Nearest Minute)Distance when cycling at 12mph
10002:000.4 miles
20004:000.8 miles
500010:302 miles
750016:003 miles
10,00021:004 miles
A table showing how much cycling is equal to 10,000 steps

So for example, if you have 5000 steps left for the day, you can cycle for 2 miles at 12mph to make up for this.

Converting minutes of cycling to the number of steps

Minutes of cyclingDistance when cycling at 12mphNumber of Steps (Nearest 500)
1:000.2 miles500
2:000.4 miles1000
5:001 mile2500
10:002 miles5000
20:004 miles10,000
60:0012 miles29,000

So for example, if you cycle for 20 minutes at 12mph, that is equivalent to all 10,000 of your daily steps.

Method 2: Converting cycling to steps for weight loss

If your main goal of the 10,000 steps challenge is weight loss, a better comparison between cycling and walking will be how many calories you will burn rather than minutes of activity.

Obviously, it is easier to go a long distance when cycling and so the number of calories you will burn for each mile will be less. However, the number of calories you will burn per minute of cycling may be greater depending on the speed you are traveling at.

Walking 10,000 calories will burn an average of 388 calories. So how many minutes of cycling do you need to burn this many calories?

Converting the number of steps to minutes of cycling


Number of steps
Calories BurntMinutes of cycling needed (8mph)Minutes of cycling needed (12mph)
1000393 minutes 30 seconds1 minute 48 seconds
2000787 minutes 6 seconds3 minutes 39 seconds
500019417 minutes 36 seconds9 minutes 3 seconds
750029126 minutes 24 seconds13 minutes 36 seconds
10,00038835 minutes 12 seconds18 minutes 6 seconds

For example, if you need 2000 steps to meet your 10,000 step goal for the day, you can instead do 7 minutes of cycling at 8mph, or 4 minutes of cycling at 12mph.

Converting minutes of cycling to the number of steps (8mph)

Minutes of cycling (8mph)Calories BurntNumber of Steps (Nearest 250)
1:008250
2:0010250
5:0025500
10:00491250
20:00982500
60:002947500

For example, if you do 10 minutes of cycling at 8mph, this is equivalent to 1250 steps towards your 10,000 step goal.

Converting minutes of cycling to the number of steps (12mph)

Minutes of cycling (12mph)Calories BurntNumber of Steps (Nearest 250)
1:0010250
2:0019500
5:00481250
10:00952500
20:001905000
60:0057114750

For example, if you do 10 minutes of cycling at 12mph, this is equivalent to steps towards your 2500 steps of your 10,000 step goal.

Can you use a pedometer for cycling?

First of all, I want to reinforce that the best way to work out how many steps the cycling you do is worth, is to calculate it using the tables above. However, I appreciate that some people will want to use their step tracker apps or devices to monitor this instead of working it out each time, even if it is less accurate.

If you are trying to keep track of your daily step count, then you’re likely using a step tracker, smartwatch, or pedometer.

There are a few ways you can use a smartwatch or fitness tracker to monitor how many “steps” you are doing while on a bike.

Options 1 – Manually calculate the steps your cycle with the tables above and update your fitness tracker

If you plan to calculate how many steps your cycling is worth yourself, then you can add these steps directly to the device that you use to monitor your step count each day. This helps when you are looking back over time to see if you are reaching your goal. And means you don’t have to remember which days you did and didn’t go for a cycle.

Not all activity trackers allow you to modify the steps you’ve done each day, most notably Garmin devices do not allow you to edit your data at all.

DeviceCan you modify your step count?How to
Apple WatchYesHow to add steps to the Apple Watch
FitbitYesHow to add steps to a Fitbit
GarminNo
Google FitYesHow to add steps to Google Fit

When using this method it is important to make sure to turn off your activity tracker for the period where you are cycling. Otherwise, you run the risk of it accidentally picking up some of your movements and counting these as extra steps.

DeviceCan you pause the step counter?How to
Apple WatchYesHow to turn off activity tracking on the Apple Watch
FitbitYesHow to turn off activity tracking on a Fitbit
GarminYesHow to turn off activity tracking for Garmin
Google FitYesHow to turn off activity tracking for Google Fit

Option 2 – Use your pedometer or fitness tracker to monitor your steps directly.

Some people, quite understandably assume that smart-watches and Fitbits measure your step count by monitoring your location and how far you move. While the most advanced and expensive versions do this, the majority work by monitoring their own movement. Normally through the swing of your arm, with each swing equating to one step.

This means that while you will get some credit for any steps recorded during your bike ride, this amount is simply the amount that your Fitbit was able to detect from bumps while you were cycling.

For example, if you are sitting on your bike, with your smartwatch or Fitbit on your wrist, then it is not going to be able to monitor any steps at all, as your arms move a very small amount when you cycle.

Because of the way they work, the placement of your step counter will impact how well and how accurately they measure the cycling steps you are doing.

If you are using your watch in this way, there are a few tips you can use to get around this. The first is to place the watch somewhere that it will be better able to monitor the movements you are making. For example, attaching it to your ankle.

Having the tracker on your ankle will help the device pick up each pedal you are doing and track each of these movements. Keep in mind that if you attach your Apple Watch or Fitbit to your ankle when cycling, it won’t register the same amount of steps as the tables above as it will be measuring a different type of motion.

In fact, this method is likely to overestimate the number of steps your cycle is equal to.

Another disadvantage of this is that while the device is on your ankle, you can’t measure other data, such as your heart rate, speed, or the calories you are burning.

If you are unable to attach the watch to your ankle, other people have suggested attaching it to your shoe, the pedal itself, or a backpack where it will be bumped around a little more with each pedal.

If this is still proving to be inaccurate then you can also try putting certain devices such as Google Fit into “Treadmill running” mode, this will be better at counting small movements as steps.

Overall

As you can see, there are multiple ways to track the “steps” you are doing while cycling, the most accurate is to convert your cycle into steps using one of the conversion charts we’ve created above.

Another key point to remember is that the 10,000 step goal is there to keep you more fit and active, ensuring you remain mobile and active throughout the day is just as important as it is to meet your 10,000 step goal.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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